Excuse me, did you drop this?

April 27, 2022

This quote caught my eye some time ago, so I saved it. “To leave the world better than you found it, sometimes you have to pick up other people’s trash.”  (Bill Nye) 

I think the quote is true and good advice, but I also believe that there is nothing wrong with bringing it to the attention of the offender (thus the title for today’s post).

I suppose that I am becoming (if not one already) an old curmudgeon; however, I just can’t let some things go by without trying to bring it to the attention of the offender and bystanders (some might call it shaming).

I live in the small Village of Milford in Southeastern Michigan. Like most villages, towns and cities we have laws that were enacted for good reasons, many for reasons of public safety. Our streets have signs clearly pointing out places where (and who is to) to stop at corners and where and when left hand turns cannot be made. Yet every day I see people choosing to ignore those signs. They are effectively thumbing their noses at our laws because to obey them might cause them some inconvenience.

I take whatever opportunity I get to point to them as they go by or to honk at them if I see them making that illegal turn or cruising through a stop sign intersection. Sometimes they just smile at me sheepishly and acknowledge with a head nod that they realize what they have done. Sometimes they are so distracted by looking at their phone that they don’t even see me. Sometimes they show their complete disdain for our laws by flipping me the bird. Those last ones are the most disgusting of all, since they obviously know that they are breaking our laws and just don’t care. They are saying, “Your stinking laws don’t apply to me.”

Another sign of this self-centered disdain for others is the litter that we see on the sides of streets. Many feel that, when they have finished their takeout meal or drink, it is OK to just roll down the window and toss their trash out. Others, taking heed of Nye’s advice, adopt sections of roads and spend hours picking up that trash. Which do you think is leaving the world a better place?

I think that kind of self-centered disdain for others and the rule of law is at the core of much of the political unrest in the country. The concept of “we”, that we are all in this together, has given way to the concept of “Us” vs. “Them”. Obeying the laws of the land has always been largely a voluntary thing, but it was more the norm before the deep political divide that now seems to have hold over the country. The appeal of individual freedom to do as one pleases has come to dominate our thinking and weakened the concept of the collective good (a bedrock of societies) and the rule of laws.

I don’t disagree with Nye’s thought that we must be willing to pick up the messes that others leave behind, but I don’t see anything wrong with also letting them know that what they did is not right and not in the common good. We must continue to promote and reinforce the common good; otherwise, we just join one of the groups – Us or Them – and that’s not good for anyone.

Excuse me did you drop this?


Losing sight of the common good…

April 22, 2021
Earth Day

Today is Earth Day. In his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote today – “There is a great need, and growing support, for the introduction of new values in our society—where bigger is not necessarily better—where slower can be faster—and where less can be more.” (Gaylord Nelson, First Earth Day 1970) 

As I thought about Earth Day and how it has been marginalized over time, it came to my mind that, as a nation, we have lost sight of the concept of “The Common Good”. In fact, some politicians have demonized the common good by positioning things that are for the common good as socialism. Their political philosophies are more in tune with anarchy than with anything that is for “the common good”.

Yet there is a need to recognize that there are things that we need to do as a society that provide benefits for all – that promote the common good. Taking care of the planet upon which, we live is just one of those things, but certainly an important one. I know a local personal trainer who uses the motto, “Your body is the only place that you have to live.” Well, Earth is currently the only place that we all have to live. Someday, maybe we will be able to hop intro a spaceship and fly off to another planet, but for now, we are stuck here. Let’s not mess it up.

Self-centeredness has been around forever, but it came to the fore in the 1970’s. The 1970s were dubbed the “Me decade” by writer Tom Wolfe. Christopher Lasch was another writer who commented on the rise of a culture of narcissism among the younger generation of that era. But it wasn’t just narcissism that increased back in the 70’s; it was the rebellion against government and being governed. That rebellion, perhaps sparked by protests against an unpopular war (Viet Name) in the 1960’s and fanned by racism and the white backlash caused by the civil rights movement, gave rise to an anarchist movement disguised as conservatism. What was being “conserved” was an old, privileged way of life that had outlived its usefulness.

The shift from “what’s good for me” to “what’s good for us all”, was perceived as a threat because it  effectively disenfranchised the privileged people of the day (basically whites) and shifted both power and resources towards those who had been excluded from both. That gave rise to rear-guard actions that continue today, as the old, privileged class tries desperately to hold on to power. To those people, things done for the common good is just code for losing power and the ability to control things and people.

So, along came the scientists and environmentalists sounding alarms over the damage that mankind is doing to the planet. They created a day – Earth Day – to both celebrate the planet and to raise awareness of the bad things that are happening. From their foxholes the conservative rear-guard just saw it as another intrusion of government in their lives, another socialist movement of “them against us” and they fought back. They poo-pooed the scientists’ warnings about global warming, they resisted regulation on emissions or a shift away from fossil fuels for power, and they tried gut the enforcement of environmental protections by defunding the agencies responsible for enforcing them. They did not just lose sight of the common good, they fought against it. They believed that “what’s good for them is bad for us”.

It is a good thing to have an Earth Day once a year, although we should all be concerned about the Earth every day of the year. Perhaps we should have a Common Good Day also to focus upon the things that we need to do to make life better for all of us. It’s not socialism, it’s just common sense. Maybe we could call it Common Sense Day.

In the Old Testament we are told of the common good –

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” – Jeremiah 29:7

So, seek the welfare of the Earth, because there we shall also find (or lose) our own welfare. Happy Earth Day!


Are we willing to pay the price?

July 14, 2020

In a post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Freed used this quote – “The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people.”  (Saul Alinsky)

Right now, it feels like the price of democracy is an endless squabble between polar opposites, each intent upon destroying the other. There are many issues that the politicians in Washington should be able to agree upon, like fixing our decaying infrastructure and providing equal opportunity for all to succeed; however, agreement almost always breaks down over the issue of how to pay for those things. One side wants to tax the well off to help those less fortunate and the other side says, “I got mine, you go get your own and leave mine alone.” There is an almost total lack of any sense of “the common good”. In fact, one side has labeled that sense of the common good as “Socialism” and attached a stigma to that label.

It is a shame that so many people who self-identify as Christians at the same time reject the basic tenants of Christ to love thy neighbor as yourself. Repeatedly in the Bible we are admonished to take care of those in need and to help those less fortunate than us. It does not say, “I’ve got mine, you go get your own.”

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but indeed and in truth.”  –  (1 John 3:17-18)

-and-

“Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.” – (Proverbs 21:13)

I suspect that were he alive, saying and doing the things that he did back then, Jesus would be labeled a Socialist; especially if he said –

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  – (Philippians 2:4)

So the question becomes, is that Socialism or the price of democracy in looking after the common good? Is the availability of healthcare services for all a Socialist idea or something that is the common good? Is providing an education and equal opportunity to all of our children a Socialist idea or something that promotes the common good. Does insuring equal justice for all mean we have become Socialists or just that we have recognized that it as a key component of the common good.

If the key roadblock to agreement on providing these things is who will pay for them, have we become like the rich man who wandered away from Jesus when he was told he must sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. He left because he had many possessions and could not bring himself to give them up. He put his money and his possessions above doing the right things for the common good. He was unwilling to pay that price.

Not even the most ardent Socialists are espousing that you must give all that you have to help the poor; however, they are asking that everyone, especially the rich, give to support the common good of all. For the rich that price will be larger, because they have much to begin with; but for all there is a price we must pay to support the common good.

Recently we have been challenged as a nation by a virus that seeks to do harm to our common good. This far, many have not shown the willingness to pay the price (wearing masks, social distancing and good hygiene) for the common good. Those who refuse are essentially removing themselves from the common good and saying to the rest of us, “I’ve got my health; you go get your own.”

The choice is ours to make, like the choice give to the rich man by Jesus. Do we do what is right for the common good or do we wander off mumbling to ourselves about the price being too high, like the rich man. In this case, the mumbling will likely be caused by trying to talk while on a ventilator. I choose to make the sacrifices that I am ask to make for the common good of us all.

Mask up people!