Monday, August 2

Theology Moment: Non-Anxious Presence

I recently wrote a blog post titled, “Post-Modernism is Dead…Wait…What?“ In it I raised four points.

  1. We need to learn how to use technology within a theological context,
  2. We need to be evangelicals within this new context,
  3. We need to be a non-anxious presence in our communities, and
  4. We need to teach critical analysis of all things spiritual and religious.

I recently followed up #2 here. This is a follow up to #3.

In the 1960's, we started undergoing huge changes.  Many scholars consider that post-modernism started during this time...the late 1950's or early 1960's.   Post-modernism deconstructs the rules that run our lives and run our society (the concept of separate but equal).  It deconstructs groups (women act this way v. men act this way).  It started a sea tide of change in which the normal was erased and something new began.

During this time, the ecumenical movement was planted and sprouted.  Relationships between churches flourished.  New denominations formed that were consolidations of other denominations.  A movement towards the 'one' church vs. the many churches was afoot.  The United Methodist Church consolidated two churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America started a consolidation movement and eventually combined three denominations, the United Church of Christ consolidated two denominations, and so on.  None of these were particularly consolidated because churches were in decline, but because a move towards ecumenism, cooperation, and common mission was afoot.  In many ways, this movement flew in the very change that post-modernism demands.  Ecumenism caused a splintering of the norm which resulted in a movement towards the one church.  It is a weird holding together of post-modernism (towards individual worth) while still holding onto modernity (we still have a formula that contains the ultimate answer).

The ultimate result of ecumenism can arguably be the idea that denominations are not important.  And thus, the move into post-denomination.  The ecumenical movement brought many good things, but the drive towards the one church diminished attachment to denominations.  I suppose that this attachment would ultimately have fallen with post-modernism, but ecumenism may have helped it along.  Hence the decline in membership of protestant churches within the western, developed world.

The end result is that the generations that were pre-1965 tend to want to hold onto the formulas that worked and the generations post-1965 tend to reject those formulas.  This creates not only a generational gap, but an entire culture gap.  Gulf.  Chasm.  Canyon.  This is further exacerbated by the change in which capitalism is functioning in our society.  Maybe I am just making things rosy, but I remember, as a child, it actually seemed like my father's company cared about the whole person and that there was some balance between what the company wanted and what the person wanted.  This particular international, very successful company had campgrounds for its employees, Christmas parties and presents for the kids, etc.  A place of family belonging.  It is no longer that way.  People are parts to be plugged in where they are needed.  And if that part costs too much, a cheaper part can be found in a country that has lower standards of living, environmental care, healthcare, etc.  Everything is sacrificed to become profitable.  Morals and ethics cannot be legislated and where they once seemed to matter, nobody in ultimate leadership in companies, gives a rip any more.  If they did, why would a time where we are experiencing the greatest unemployment be a time when corporations are experiencing the greatest profit?  It is a time where corporate profits are at a record high while wages are at a record low.  Hmm.  More evidence that post-modernism has fully taken over.  Hard work does not lead to more pay and a better future.  The formula has become unhinged.

Why this discussion?  Well, it is where my meandering brain has taken me.  But ultimately, it is to illustrate why people are so polarized in our society.  It is ultimately very anxiety producing to live into a place that has no definition.  For example, the statement "Hard work does not lead to a better future" can go three ways.  It becomes:  hard work = better future, hard work = what's the point?, or hard work = satisfaction of doing the work without expectation of reward.  People rarely like the 2nd or 3rd way.  That makes 90% of people in our society anxious.  We, as ministers, have a choice:  add to the anxiety or subtract from the anxiety.

In the story of the woman who was subject to bleeding for years (Mark 5:25-34), we have an anxious woman who is reaching out to Jesus.  Jesus feels her touch.  What could Jesus' response be?  He could be annoyed that someone "took his power" without asking and lecture those around him about the abuse of power in society.  He could lecture her on the proper method of seeking healthcare.  Or he could present a non-anxious, healing presence.  He presents the non-anxious presence when he says, "Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."  Hey...she was already healed.  What suffering would Jesus free her from?  Anxiety produces suffering, ulcers, rapid heart rate.  Maybe she is freed from anxious living.

All to often I cringe when I read some of the writings from people of faith.  People on the right rant about the decline of values while hell in a handbasketpeople on the left rant about the way our society is abusing the everyday worker.  They both claim that society is going to hell in a handbasket.  Yikes.  Hell is a scary place.  And we are putting our people into hell every time when cause their anxiety to increase.  Ultimately, we end up winnowing our audience so that the only ones who hear us are those who agree with us.  Everybody else nods their heads politely and plugs their ears and hearts.  A prophet that produces anxiety is not heard in his own home.

What to do?  Can we simply teach gospel values without scaring the crap out of people?  I think so.  We can teach love of God and love of neighbor and self through illustrations of following God's call and strengthening people so they have the courage to go through new doors and experience a new creation.  It takes courage, not anxiety or fear, to live into a new thing.

People need a non-anxious presence.  People need people who live from a place of peace, not fear or anger or anxiety.

So take a moment and become a person of peace, if only you can do it for yourself.  Recite this scripture as a mantra.

Relax your eyes.  Sit comfortably.  Loosen your arms and let your feet rest gently on the floor.  Breathe deeply.  And say slowly and deliberately, pausing between each line.  If you have a different image of the divine, feel free to substitute it.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


Thank you for staying with me through my rambling thoughts.

Be Still
Be Still by Saeed Almadani at


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