Live but Live Differently

I've been trying to think more positively lately about what it means to live in American culture. Generally, when I think of American culture, I think of exploitative economic practices, selfish individualism, nationalistic idolatry, and a whole myriad of other negative things. And it is true, I believe, that American culture is quite contrary to God's imagination for the world--it is at least something less than what we must hope for as followers of the God who is redeeming everything. But what culture does not have its problems?

The subtitle of this blog is "Searching for Whatever is Good"--a phrase inspired by a verse in Paul's letter to the Philippians, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Highlight again that it says "if anything is excellent..." I believe that this means that as Christians, we should be always looking for the good in anything. We should always be ready to affirm God's goodness--the good that God originally created--wherever it may be, even in the most unexpected places. In prayerful posture, Saint Augustine wrote,
"Evil, then...has no substance at all, because if it were a substance, it would be good... To You, there is no such thing as evil in Your entire creation. This is so, because there is nothing from beyond creation that can burst in and destroy the order that You have appointed for it. However, in the parts of creation, some things do not harmonize with others and are considered evil. Yet those same things harmonize with others and are good, and in themselves are good."
By this principal, then, nothing is evil in and of itself. Evil, indeed sin itself, is when good things fail to harmonize, when they are manipulated or turned away from the things of God's dominion. This means that we must not necessarily be on the lookout for which things, which lifestyles or philosophies, to reject. Rather, we should be on the lookout for the right way to harmonize the good wherever we find it. We must reclaim the good, reclaim God's reign in the world. We must learn to celebrate.

So back to American culture. There are things of American culture, centerpieces of its' sinful nature, which are indeed evil--things to be rejected. But we can only reject those things on the basis of celebrating the good in them. Capitalism, namely unregulated (laissez-faire) capitalism, can be and is most often horribly oppressive and unfair to the poor. Thus we must reject it, we must come out from it. But at the same time we can manipulate it and find ways of celebrating it but finding ways to make it harmonize with God's goodness. We can for example, as consumers, purchase only that which is made in fair conditions, forcing businesses to act justly in order to compete for our business. We can call upon the compassion of others.

People tend to go one of two ways; toward blissful ignorance or radical rejection. Radical rejection is, of course, a good option in many cases where it is possible but it is naive to think that we can escape the world in which we live. Economics will always be there, we will always have to live somewhere, we will always have to eat somethings, the poor will always be among you. And God did not create us to escape these realities. Indeed it is in the stuff of life--homes, families, fields (Mark 10:30), and particularly bread--that we experience God and his Kingdom. He created us for this. What we must do, then, is learn to practice and celebrate the good in these things, to find ourselves as salt and light within the world. As we do this, we will find that the church is and can be an alternative society within the dominant society. Church will not be a bunch of people who reject all sorts of things. Church will be people who know how to live in the world, how to find and celebrate the good, and people who show extravagant beauty in all the mundane things of the world. The church will be a radical community of celebration--people who eat but eat differently, buy but buy differently, sell but sell differently, live but live differently.

I want to see the good in everything, even in the things of American culture, and I want to affirm it and celebrate it. I want to do it all differently. I want to live how God made me to live.