Lane Unhjem was working on his farm near Crosby, North Dakota, when his combine caught fire. While fighting the flames, he went into cardiac arrest and was hospitalized. If his farmstead had gone unharvested, the loss would have been devastating for his family.
In response, sixty local farmers came together with eleven combines, eleven semitrucks with trailers, and several grain carts with tractors. In about seven hours, they harvested approximately fifteen thousand bushels of canola and thirty-five thousand bushels of durum across a thousand acres. Their wives also made a month’s worth of meals and filled a freezer for the Unhjem family.
A friend explained: “The outpouring of support for Lane and his family is not surprising for those of us who live here. We have a long history of helping people in our community when they are faced with tragedy or hardship. We strongly believe in faith, family, and the Golden Rule.”
As you read this story, did part of you wish you lived in their community?
A pastor walked 175 miles for the poor
An electrician called to help an elderly woman with one of her light fixtures discovered holes in the ceiling where raccoons were getting into the house. She didn’t have proper running water and the kitchen sink was broken. In response, he organized “Gloria’s Gladiators,” raising $100,000 to renovate her home completely. The electrician hopes the movement will spread to help other elderly people in need.
Rev. Zac Morton of First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown, West Virginia, recently completed a 175-mile walk over eight days to draw attention to extreme poverty and homelessness in his state. When he arrived at the State Capitol, he made contacts and built relationships with leaders with whom he will be working on future solutions.
The pastor explained: “As someone who strives to emulate Jesus, I believe it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all people of faith, to advocate for people who are up against it the most.”
I have been quoting frequently from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ magisterial new book, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times. Let’s visit his transforming insights one more time today, beginning with his description of morality: “A concern for the welfare of others, an active commitment to justice and compassion, a willingness to ask not just what is good for me but what is good for ‘all of us together.'”
When we read Sacks’ remarkable book, we learn that such “concern” is not just essential for farmers who suffer heart attacks during the harvest season, elderly people in dilapidated houses, or “people who are up against it the most,” but for the rest of us as well.
What saves us from anarchy
Western society was built on three piers: democracy, free-market capitalism, and consensual morality. The first two cannot sustain us without the third.
Sacks notes that our survival instincts propel us to competition for power (politics) and possessions (capitalism). However, we also need cooperation, lest competition devolve into anarchy. Winners victimize the losers; the wealthy victimize the poor.
We will cooperate with family and close friends, in part because our survival depends upon them. But if we are to cooperate in a larger sense, we need a shared morality and value system that enables us to trust people we do not know enough to sacrifice ourselves by cooperating with them for the common good.
As the farmer’s friend in North Dakota explained, “We strongly believe in faith, family, and the Golden Rule.”
“A society of individualists is unsustainable”
Tragically, individualism has replaced cooperation in our culture. Darwin convinced us that humans are not made in God’s image but are just one branch of the primates. Freud explained religion as the voice of conscience when we feel remorse for acting out our base instincts. Evolutionary psychologists define a human as just a gene’s way of making another gene, here by sheer accident.
In short, we are merely individuals locked in competition with other individuals.
Sacks summarizes individualism’s worldview: “We are nothing, our planet is insignificant, our existence is a mere caesura in time. Our noblest thoughts conceal base intentions. There is no freedom, only necessity or worse, mere random chance. There is no truth, just hegemonic narrative. There is no moral beauty, just a sordid struggle to survive.”
However, as Sacks notes, “A society of individualists is unsustainable. We are built for cooperation, not just competition. In the end, with the market and the state but no substantive society to link us to our fellow citizens in bonds of collective responsibility, trust and truth erode, economics becomes inequitable, and politics becomes unbearable.”
Is this where we are today?
How to be the change we need to see
The good news is that our faith points the way to a better future. Here’s the foundational biblical fact about humans: “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). As a result, every person I meet today was created by my Father. They are not my competitor for survival but a member of my family.
The coronavirus pandemic and the crises it has created provide us with an historic opportunity to love others as our Father loves us. So, ask God to help you help someone in need today. Encourage those you influence to do the same. And pray for the body of Christ to manifest the love of Christ around the world.
I will join you. Together, we’ll be the change we need to see, one soul at a time, to the glory of God.