"missional discernment"

Listening to Eccentrics

From Latin, "eccentricus" derived the Greek, "ekkentros" meaning out of the center.


                                Out of the center. 

Out of 




Not quite like "normal".

Some eccentrics are famous, wealthy and reclusive billionaires. Others live on the streets and speak to passersby with emotion and confusion. But the vast sum of eccentrics are all around us. Literally, around us, not in the center of us.

Recently I have had fun in my Introduction to Psychology class.  I begin my first lecture by trying to define what we mean when we speak of the "self." Where is your "you" and my "me"? I try to lace my lectures with simple experiments that students can perform with minimal preparation. One that I find particularly interesting deals with the attempt to locate the self.

William James wrote about the self as that to which we attach ourselves.  In Richard Lipka's book, The Self: Definitional and Methodological Issues, he lines out the three selves James works with. First, the "material Me (body, clothes, family, home, property), the social Me, and the spiritual Me," (page 45). In his 1890 publication, The Principles of Psychology, William James spoke of the self as:

In its widest possible sense, however, a man's Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank account.

The first experiment we do is a variation on the kid's games of "Sweet and Sour". This game tests the expectations we have for reciprocity. The rule of reciprocity, an expectation that my actions toward another will affect in the other a response. In the game, Sweet and Sour, one waves at people driving past. My kids have played on the street and in the back seat our car on the highway. As someone sees you, you wave at them. If they ignore you, they are considered sour, if they wave back, they are sweet.

But the shortcoming is the we extend ourselves to all those we acknowledge. And from those we acknowledge, we expect reciprocity. But first, there are the many we do not see. We miss them for lack of time, or attention, or interest. Second, there are those we do not see, because in seeing them, we might not like what we feel; whether it be obligation, confusion and misunderstanding, or even disgust.

When we come out of our centers, edge ourselves to the threshold, to the liminal spaces will we be able to respond, with reciprocity, to those acknowledge us? What stories might we tell of "living on the edge"?

You Won't be Able to Discern God's Actions...

...if you don't know what...

...God cares about.

This morning I was reading a wonderfully short blog by Scott McKnight, entitled "The OT's Most Important Command"* It got me thinking on a couple levels. 

Leaning on the work of Walter Brueggemann (and who wouldn't?), McKnight reveals a little know fact in the Hebrew language. There are no adverbs. Brueggemann explains, "I’ll give you a little Hebrew grammar.... Biblical Hebrew has no adverbs. The way it expresses the intensity of the verb, it repeats the verb. So if it says give and you want to say “really give” it says “give give” right in the sentence–”give give.”

This little lesson in grammar is not without a point. So if one wants to find a high priority command, look for lots of verbs repeated. With this in mind, Brueggemann says the most stressed command in the Old Testament is not what people might think.

How about,

  1. "Love the LORD your God..."? Nope
  2. "You shall have no other God's before me"? Nu-uh.
  3. "You shall work on six days, and the seventh is a sabbath to the LORD"? No.
  4. "Beat your swords into plowshares"? Not that either.

So before I reveal what McKnight wrote from Brueggeman, let me ask if we really know God well enough to share God's priorities? As a missional conviction, we need to be in mission where God has initiated mission. We look in our neighborhoods, along our sidewalks, where we work and where our kids go to school. We hope to see God active in our worshiping communities and active outside them as well. But we can be blind to what God is doing because we are seeking the actions of God in the wrong places.

If we know God's priorities, might we discern God in action in those places where God's priorities are made manifest?

Missional discernment needs people who know God. Prayerful, reflective, spiritual people who seek the heart of God in a living, personal relationship.

But missional discernment also needs to know about God. To have learned about, acted upon, engaged in the biblical narrative revealing God in action, let's us know this God we are seeking to know deeply.

Often I have thought we need to "know God" more than "knowing about God". But I'm rethinking that. Without knowing about God, we might be chasing a relationship with a god of our own creation. We need both knowing, and knowing about.

So, according to Brueggemann, what is the Old Testament's most important command?


Deuteronomy 15

, you get a law about seven years. It’s called the 

Year of Release

. It says that at the end of seven years, if a poor person owes you money, cancel the debt." As Brueggemann explains, "[The law] says to not be hard-hearted (or tight fisted) about granting poor people space to live their lives, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord God brought you out into the good place." Scott McKnight adds, "So grammatically, the Old Testament scripture with the 

most emphasis

 as in “you must must must must 


 do this” is a passage about forgiving debts."

God cares about releasing debts. This is big. Very big. And it let's us know where God's heart is.