September 2009

Volume 2

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Movies and television programs have ratings to let us know what to expect. This comment by Walter Brueggemann deserves a rating of PD, prophetic and disturbing:

Our society is marked by a deep dislocation that touches every aspect of our lives. The old certitudes seem less certain; the old privileges are under powerful challenge; the old dominations are increasingly ineffective and fragile; the established governmental, educational, judicial and medical institutions seem less and less able to deliver what we need and have come to expect; the old social fabrics are fraying under the assault of selfishness, fear, anger and greed. (Brueggemann, “Conversation”)

We may find ourselves wanting to challenge or even deny Walter Brueggemann’s prophetic statement, but just a brief reflection on our culture makes our arguments crumble. His brutal honesty reminds us why prophets have never been popular. Brueggemann goes further:

Because the church has been intimately connected with the old patterns of certitude, privilege and domination, it shares a common jeopardy with other old institutions. Church members are confused about authority, bewildered about mission, worried about finances, contentious about norms and ethics, and anxious about the church’s survival. (Brueggemann, “Conversations”)

This bold statement cannot, should not, be easily dismissed. We need to wrestle with its implications for the church and the missional leader.

If Brueggemann is right, then we have become exiles and find ourselves in a “liminal” space. The term “liminal” has its roots in the Latin limin, meaning “threshold.” To be “liminal” is to be in an ‘in-between’ state or space. To be an exile, therefore, is to be in a liminal space—to be in transition.

Len Hjalmarson argues that “liminality” is “where all transformation happens. It is when we are betwixt and between, and therefore by definition ‘not in control.’” Hjalmarson concludes that unfortunately too many spend most of their time trying to maintain their own little worlds. Yet as long as we stay within ‘our comfort zone’ nothing will ever happen to change the crisis of credibility and direction which Brueggemann describes (Hjalmarson, “Forty Years,” 1).

Richard Rohr would concur and adds:

Nothing good or creative emerges from business as usual. This is why much of the work of God is to get people into liminal space, and to keep them there long enough so they can learn something essential. It is the ultimate teachable space… maybe the only one. Most spiritual giants try to live lives of ‘chronic liminality’ in some sense. They know it is the only position that insures ongoing wisdom, broader perspective and ever-deeper compassion. The Jewish prophets . . . St. Francis, Gandhi, and John the Baptist come to mind. (Rohr, in Hjalmarson, “Forty Years,” 1)

The fact is that when we hear such prophetic words many find themselves inspired for a moment, then intimidated or even overwhelmed by the experience of being in the space between “what was” and “what is yet to be.” We might find ourselves resonating with Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Most people would know the story about Dorothy and her dog Toto who were caught in a tornado’s path and somehow ended up in the Land of Oz. Dorothy is told that the Wizard of Oz can help her return home and so she heads toward the Emerald City. During her travels she meets some memorable friends and foes. Scarecrow is in search of a brain. Tin Man is searching for a heart. Lion is searching for courage. Off they go down the yellow brick road towards Emerald city, Dorothy wearing her ruby slippers.

The journey is not safe, in fact it is frightening. They are pursued by the Wicked Witch of the West and those nasty flying monkeys. The woods are full of wild beasts and in her anxiety Dorothy finds herself chanting: “Lions, and Tigers, and bears, oh my!” In one scene, Dorothy makes the astute observation: “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Whatever our memory of Kansas might be, “the way things use to be,” it is just that—a memory. Missional leaders, those who are seeking to share in the missio Dei (the mission of God) learn to recognize and embrace this liminal space. We understand that often God’s people have only really discovered what it means to be God’s people when they were in exile or in a liminal space.

So how do we cope with life and leadership in this disorienting exile? Missional leaders are in many ways like Dorothy. They do not travel alone. They see their dependency on God, and their inter-dependency with others and willingly enter into what Al Roxburgh refers to as communitas.

Communitas is the willingness of people to risk entering a new commons where they journey together as God’s pilgrim people in order to discern the future that God’s Spirit might be bringing forward to them. It calls for leaders on both sides of the polarity to recognize the gifts of the other and a readiness to submit themselves as novices to each other. (Roxburgh, The Sky Is Falling, 111)

As we seek to serve together, and serve well, in this ever changing environment we must faithfully use the resources God has provided. We need to think deeply in order to discern what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st century. We need to wisely exegete scripture, ourselves, culture, and our churches. We need to use our hearts and invite the Spirit of God to nurture passion and conviction within us. We need to have courage and step out in faith that the God of the exiles is calling us to move forward. We need to have the courage to trust that even though the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys may show up their impact on the kingdom work will in the long run melt away.

Most analogies are imperfect. The Wizard of Oz falls short because the missional leader knows that magical slippers do not exist and that formulas and gimmicks will only lead us down the wrong path. Furthermore, the veil must be pushed aside as we are reminded that the Wizard, the humanly created solutions, lack real power to enable true transformation. The missional leader also knows that we are not called to lead towards some type of ecclesiological Emerald City for the answers. Neither are we to lead people back home (“the way things use to be”). Instead, the missional leader is led by the Spirit and guided by the conviction that we are called to live and serve in transition somewhere between “what was,” “what is,” and “what is yet to be” as sojourners and servants in, and for, the Kingdom of God.


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