Earlier this year, I visited a gastroenterologist for the first time. I had spent months suffering from chronic pain in my chest and gut, and nothing seemed to help, so my nurse practitioner referred me to a specialist. Within a few months, after tests and exams, and more appointments with more tests and more exams, I finally got my diagnosis. Within weeks of starting a treatment plan, my condition was cured.
Modern man and woman are acting out lives bereft of meaning, wonder, and purposeful work. This is the norm of twenty-first century living, rather than the exception.
But that’s not why I’m telling you this. I’m telling you this because sitting in the gastroenterologist’s office for the first time, I had to go over my full medical history and list of medications. There I was, rattling off my prescriptions (I take a few) as this serious-looking man in a white coat scrawled away on his serious-looking clipboard. I told him I take Zoloft every day. “It’s for anxiety,” I said, with some reluctance. (I don’t like admitting that I’m anxious.)
The gastroenterologist stopped his scribbling and looked me in the eyes, peering over the reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose. “It’s 2019,” he said, flatly. “Of course you have anxiety.”
Anxiety is having, as they say, a moment in our day. And it’s one of the symptoms of modern society’s decline that Jake Meador diagnoses in his book, In Search of the Common Good, from InterVarsity Press:
[T]he common life of the United States—families, neighborhoods, small businesses, voluntary organizations, and so on—are failing. We do not know our neighbors and are desperately lonely. We are anxious. We are economically insecure. We delay family formation, if we ever get around to it at all. The result: we are beset by despair.
Meador returns to this idea of “the common life” throughout In Search of the Common Good, exploring our lived experiences as a digitally connected, increasingly polarized humanity that’s lost its grip on the things that make us image-bearers of God. Modern man and woman are acting out lives bereft of meaning, wonder, and purposeful work. This is the norm of twenty-first century living, rather than the exception.
Meador posits a better way, offering a vision of life and community that draws us more deeply to one another, to our Creator, and more deeply to ourselves. It’s a life that leans toward intention, to purposeful rest, and to work that rises above the daily grind:
Christianity is not, as is often thought, some set of individual principles a person can try out if they want to find a greater sense of meaning and purpose in their life. It’s actually a true account of the basic nature of reality. It tells us how the world works and how we work and why. It tells us why we long for friendship and how friendship can be sustained. It tells us why we can almost hear the laughter of God himself in the laughter of beloved friends gathered together for a long-anticipated reunion.
I’m an anxious person. And given that it’s 2019, there’s a not-small chance you are too. Of course, Meador’s book isn’t the end all, be all on the subject. Due to the complexities of mental health, past trauma, genetics, and a thousand other variables, worry and despair will sometimes beset even the most purposeful and peaceful people on earth. But we cannot look upon the fruits of our modern lives—the increased polarization and cruelty of our discourse, and the rages of economic injustice and racialized violence—and not conclude that we are a people in desperate need of healing and another way of being.
In Search of the Common Good is a book for our troubled times, one that diagnoses the roots of our splintered culture and the misplaced hopes we’ve placed on technology, humanism, and politics, and reorients us toward lives in step with the Kingdom of God. For those seeking a framework for stepping out of this fractured disillusionment and toward purposeful community, Meador’s book could be just what you’re looking for.
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