People of Possibility

“People of Possibility,” Susan Ryder

Matthew 17:20– Jesus said, “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Deborah L Johnson– Maintaining possibility consciousness is your prime responsibility. . . .With possibility comes everything. . . . With possibility comes everything. With possibility you take off the limitations. . . . You let the energy flow. . . . You are no longer fixated on your own preconceived notions of what ought to or should be done.

Jay Michael– Faith is not dogmatic belief or blind conviction; it is trust in the availability of fresh possibilities. It begins with a circular movement of water or air, with a flickering eddy, with an atom of amber in a fire. It begins in constructive fantasy.In the healthy spiritual life mindfulness of sensory detail is not enough. It is not enough simply to pay attention to things as they are. We also need the capacity to be lost in our thoughts; to wander in reverie; to be out of sync with constraints of what is, so that we can be attuned to the world of what can be.Suffer the little children who dwell in possibility, for theirs is the kingdom of love.

Listen to the MUSTN’TS – Shel Silverstein
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,

New Covenant Community has historically been a “people of possibility.” When nearby congregations began to move away from campus almost 30 years ago our founders said, “That’s okay, we’ll start our own church, and make it in our progressive image!” While other Christians believe depravity and original sin are the core of human identity, we see the goodness, potential, and promise instead. When some insist on creeds and affirmations of faith in order to truly belong, we celebrate creative thinking and coloring outside the lines. While many preach that this world is fallen and our only hope is in an afterlife, we fall in love with the possibility of heaven right here on earth. Theologically, we are the people who believe that whoever or whatever God is, that Sacred Mystery is about love and compassion, not judgment and condemnation, and so too should we be about love and compassion, not judgment and condemnation.

Psychologically in a way, we are a people of “why not?” Why not give people another chance? Why not try something new? Why not risk a little failure? Why not say yes? After all, to us the possible has always seemed more likely than not! For instance, in our early years, after reading one of his books, NCC’ers reached out to Jesus Seminar Scholar John Dominic Crossan to ask if he’d be willing to come and speak here in Normal. The worst that could happen was that he would say no, so why not ask – if you aim at nothing, as the saying goes, you will hit it. But guess what – he said yes! Not once, but twice. So did Marcus Borg. And Matthew Fox. And Sister Simone. And Brian McLaren. So in effect – for many years – being a people of possibility has been part of our very foundation. And as we consider our future, I have no doubt that same “can-do” spirit will inspire whatever decision we make about our place, both literally and figuratively, in the future.

But what about each of us personally? How open have YOU been to “Why not?” How’s your faith in possibility doing? As we honor our community’s history of what’s possible, we need to allow space for the reality that trusting in possibility and saying yes may not be as easy for us individually. As one of the contributors to this “possibility” series put it, “When I think of possibility, I think of all the people and opportunities I’ve closed the door on: I will never see eye to eye with my sister. I couldn’t possibly leave this job to start my own business. I will never have close friends like I had where I used to live. I will never really make a difference, so why bother?” It may be easier for some of us to count the times we’ve said no than the times we’ve said yes.

We tell ourselves so many things about who we are and what we’re not good at, and it’s not really because we’re pessimistic. More often than not, it’s about protecting ourselves. There’s comfort in convincing ourselves that whatever XYZ is, it’s an impossibility; it’s hopeless. That way we don’t have to try and risk failure, hurt or disappointment yet again. All of which is to say that maybe being a people of possibility has more to do with being a people of vulnerability and courage. The work isn’t just about believing in possibility. It’s about being willing to endure a few wounds along the way. Because it can hurt to be hopeful. Especially with all that is going on in our world and society right now, we need to acknowledge that. Causes we care about and put our time and effort and energy and imagination, and maybe even some hope and cash into, are dealt blow after blow after blow, and we end up feeling our efforts were in vain. But I would rather try and fail than not try at all, and just give up all hope.

During the third and fourth centuries, wise men and women fled out into the desert to find a place where they could be fully present to God and to their own inner struggles at work within them. The desert became a place to enter into the refiner’s fire and be stripped down to one’s holy essence. The desert was a threshold place where you emerged different than when you entered. Many people followed these ammas and abbas, seeking their wisdom and guidance for a meaningful life. This tradition was referred to as “seeking a word.” These wise desert mothers and fathers would offer people a word or a phrase to ponder for weeks, years and even a lifetime. The idea behind this practice was that a simple word – when reflected upon with discipline – has the power to create possibilities in us and in the world. These words weren’t instructions as much as invitations to open oneself in new ways, new possibilities. As one writer puts it, they are about deepening and unfolding, rather than fixing and improving. So this morning I invite us to lean into that work of unfolding by trying out this ancient practice of picking a word that will help keep us open to new possibilities throughout this month of possibility, and beyond.

There are so many words to choose from: embrace, listen, home, wholeheartedness, patience, presence, blossom, soar, overcome, treasure, nourish, expect, release, finish, delight, follow, lead, to name a few. It’s not hard to imagine how holding any one of those in front of you on a daily basis would open possibilities and expand the way you walk in the world. But how do you find your possibility word? Well, it may be more of a matter of it finding you. For some of you, it will be easy. It may simply come to you immediately. If not, take some time – make a list of words and then read it over until one pops out at you in neon lights. It may help to ask yourself questions like: What do I need? What do I want? What do I need to focus on? What is in the way of saying yes?

I hope when you leave here you will consider finding a way to hold on to your word beyond these walls. You might put your word on your computer screen saver or cellphone home screen. Maybe you will write your word on a rock or draw it on the mirror in your bathroom. Creative folks have made vision boards of their word, or made a drawing or painting. Whatever your method, this holding on to your word, ongoing pondering of your word, is key to making the exercise work, and keeping us open to new possibilities throughout this month of possibility, and beyond.

God Says Yes To Me – Kaylin Haught
I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said
And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes