After the incredible IAF action we participated in the previous week, I have spent the past few days pondering, "what next?" I'm not alone in that pondering, either. As I talk with colleagues and you about that action, the inevitable question is, "what next?" The pernicious undertone to that is always, "can we sustain that level of energy and expectation?" And as I kept thinking on it, I realized that I was becoming anxious. I don't actually know what will happen now. I have some IAF textbook tactics, but those are broad and generalized. They don't actually mean anything unless we understand them in the context of Anne Arundel County. But as I began to examine the Scripture for this Sunday, from Exodus 16:1-16, I began to realize the folly of living in a "what's next" philosophy.
In the Broadway musical Oklahoma!, the cowboy Will Parker journeys to Kansas City. Returning to the more "podunk" Oklahoma, Will begins to sing of the wonder of the modern city:
Everything's up to date in Kansas City / They gone about as fer as they can go / They went an' built a skyscraper seven stories high / About as high as a buildin' orta grow.
The cowboy's wonder continues to grow, including his excitement of a burlesque show!
As he works his way through the wonders of modernity, his audience constantly asks him, "What next?" While the setting is that of a rosy musical set in a mythical rendition of Oklahoma at the turn of the twentieth century, the question "What next" is perhaps the one that most constantly faces us.
Another musical score written a few years before Oklahoma!, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, captures this drive and this energy. Starting small, the music crescendoes into a constant pace of building and movement and construction -- the American spirit of 1924! -- and captivates us with the possibilities of what we can build! We finish one thing and then are pressed, with the force of Gershwin's music pushing us along, to ask, "What next?"
This constant drive to build, create, build, and create, anticipates an anxiety in ourselves that whatever we do, and whoever we are, is not enough. Our anxiety is not our own, either: it is something that we inherit from the world around us, a world beset by scarcity and debt. "What next" is the question we feel we must ask because if we aren't creating a "what next" moment, or aren't a part of a "what next" moment, then we will, we fear, be irrelevant, unimportant, and then cut off from what we need (income, respect, friendship, meaning, etc.) to be fully human.
To think that way, however, is to not think in the terms of the abundance which God grants us. Now thinking in terms of abundance versus scarcity is really, ridiculously difficult. Even the Israelites, freed by God through awesome divine acts, couldn't learn to trust it. if they could not, what hope does a twenty-first century American have of trusting in abundance, particularly when our bank accounts register a ledger of debts?
This Sunday, we will share in how we can experience abundance, and how we can begin to push back against scarcity, by working toward what theologian Walter Brueggemann calls "the common good." We will share how we can allay our anxiety in order to be agents of the common good, and how our congregational life is one of the most important indicators of how we work for the common good.
See you Sunday, and bring a friend!