Center Lines - October 2007

Two events over two consecutive week-ends have been pivotal for me. Each in its own way spoke to my faith, challenged my vocation and simultaneously gave me new possibilities and new directions.

The first event was the Shared Leadership Ministry Table's two-day program at Sky Lake with Walter Brueggemann on the theme A Possibility of Vocation for The Church. Brueggemann is one of the world's pre-eminent Old Testament scholars. He has authored more than 50 books, hundreds of articles, and several Biblical commentaries.

Brueggemann sees God's interactions with the Israelite people - and by extension us today - as a relationship rooted in generosity and wishing for, yearning for the well-being of all. God, he believes, wants the best for all people all the time. The problem, Brueggemann says, is anxiety, fear and anger. People who live with anxiety, fear and anger have no time for the common good. They have no concern for the common good because their enormous anxiety saps their energy. We do not need to look far for examples of things that make us anxious: war, global warming, substance abuse, rapacious greed, racism, a problematic health care system, and on, and on, and on. The most common product of our society, says Brueggemann, is anxiety. And it requires immense acts of generosity to break the patterns of anxiety, anger and fear.

The good news, he says, is that there is an alternative. The Church has the antidote to fear and anxiety. The abundance of God is the answer to anxiety. Those who are immersed in deep generosity are able to get their minds off of themselves and engage in the work of community. This truth is entrusted to the Church. Jesus Christ confirms it. The arm wrestle is to see which vision will win: anxiety or abundance. The task of ministry is to defeat the power of anxiety and proclaim God's abundance. The pastoral task of the Church is to provide support so we can take the first steps to get out of the journey of scarcity and onto the path of abundance for which God so yearns. The new dream begins with a new vision.

In sum, Brueggemann re-energized me to look beyond the present reality and to instead envision the possibilities which God offers. I was pushed and inspired to take "Pharaoh's vision of scarcity" and refashion it into a vision of abundance and possibility.

Wrestling with the themes of Pharaoh and visions was helpful, because the very next week was the Special Session at which we addressed issues related to annual conference boundary lines and the possibility of living our faith-life together in different ways.

To help frame the discussions that day, the Boundaries Task Force, of which I am a part, used the imagery of the Israelite people standing at the River Jordan daring to cross over into the Promised Land without knowing what was there; knowing only that God had called them to trust and go. At the Special Session we were encouraged to step forward boldly in the same faith and follow where God is leading us.

Some took exception to this depiction. They said that our boundary-related conversations and decisions felt more like standing at the Red Sea with Pharaoh's army bearing down on them and being forced into choices not of their own making. I resisted this vision, this model of looking of looking at the matter - mainly because it was not my idea! Once I got over that, however, I could see their point and I could see that their vision - like mine - was based on facts and experiences we all had undergone together. I silently confessed that I myself had felt their feelings more than once.

Then I thought back to the prior week-end with Walter Brueggemann and I realized that the truth was not a matter of one vision or one particular way of seeing things being right and another wrong. Each could be a correct and true interpretation of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Like the vision of scarcity or abundance, the question was to which vision would I stake my claim? Which would I choose, standing under threat at the Red Sea or standing with hope and promise on the verge of a new land? I found I was "arm wrestling" within myself. Some days at some times the imagery of the Red Sea resonates. On other days and at other times I am motivated by the vision of a promised land.

As to which will have ultimate sway and receive the most of my energy, the choice is mine. The same choice is ours. May we choose wisely, well and with the confidence of our faith.


By: Reverend Mark Marino On 10/10/2007