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From Your Bishop... Faithful living in the unknown

Posted: October 23 2023 at 06:00 AM
Author: Bishop Dan Schwerin

Liminality Quote

God still chooses to share the work of co-creation. Might the giver of all grace have second thoughts about sharing the work of creation with humankind?  

One need not look far to see our penchant for violence and self-interest. Would you risk sharing the work of creation with humans? Such a risk requires a deep faith in the mission and in the people called to serve it. God continues to be steadfastly engaged in the mission of reconciling the world and making known the kin-dom of God. God continues to call us to make disciples of Jesus, baptizing and teaching all that Jesus commanded, even to the close of the age, to quote Matthew’s Gospel. Despite the pain that surrounds us, the focus of our mission is healing.  

I just received an email from a pastor who named our context well. He says that the most committed disciple-leaders in his congregation are not very engaged, either physically or financially. The complexity of serving as a clergyperson and the technology to shepherd both virtual and in-person community is increasingly challenging. Insurance costs are up. Fuel costs are rising. Add to this the increased secularization of our mission field and our own internal dynamics that have diminished the love inherent in our witness.  

This period has been called liminal space. Liminal comes from the word limen, which refers to being at a threshold. Many leaders are using this language to describe the uncertainty facing us in our conference and local church context.  

In her book How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019), Susan Beaumont writes, “The Christian story is by design an invitation to liminality” (p.4). Beaumont writes that three spiritual shifts are necessary from us: moving from knowing to unknowing, advocating to attending, and striving to surrender. This is a moment of yielding, letting go, and letting be so that we have hands open to grasp God’s newness.  

This season in our life together takes me to prayerfully consider “negative capability,” coined by the poet John Keats. Keats wrote to his brothers about remaining in a mind of uncertainty and unknowing so that he can be attentive to creating. I know from writing my own poetry that it is uncomfortable to step out of the known to risk real creativity.  

This balance reminds me of the work of therapists: they have a great deal of technical knowledge, but they also must, like a midwife, prepare an environment in which the client risks facing the unknown newness that needs to emerge for healing to take place. In this way, deeper is the way forward.  

In Mark 4:27, Jesus tells a parable of a sower who is spreading seeds. He ends it by saying that the seeds that will sprout, though the sower “does not know how.” Spiritual leadership in this season must be grounded in a deep trust and capacity for negative capability, so that we can deal with troubling uncertainty. God continues to go before us and with us. God continues to believe and invest in the mission. I believe our mission is slowly moving from institutional maintenance to kin-dom influence, from internally focused to missionally focused.  

Fellow disciples, thank you for your faithfulness. There is nothing as satisfying or healing as being an open-table people, living into beloved community. It is good to be in ministry with you.  

Know that I am praying for you.

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