By Ervin Stutzman
I recently had the privilege to hear some wonderfully provocative teaching on stewardship. Walter Brueggemann, a prolific author and former seminary professor, taught at the School for Leadership training at Eastern Mennonite University. To see photos or hear the podcasts, go to http://www.emu.edu/seminary/
Walter’s imaginative and disarming rhetoric prompted a basket full of laughter and a bushel of thoughtful questions. His ideas about scarcity and abundance in our society connected deeply with some things that matter deeply for me. And I’m convinced they matter for Mennonite Church USA. Walter pointed us to the imaginative stories of Scripture, showing us that they address issues of vital importance to our day. He spoke about the conflicting narratives of our own day—scarcity vs. abundance, anxiety vs. trust, accumulation vs. generosity, monopoly vs. community/neighborhood, and violence vs. peacemaking.
Like many of us, Walter sees a close link between the American Dream and the military-industrial complex. He spoke about the dilemma of deciding whether or not to applaud the announced presence of service personnel on Delta Airlines.
People who’ve known Walter for years say that he’s becoming more like an Old Testament prophet. He spoke forthrightly on issues in a disarming way.
This training event for pastors and other church leaders was enhanced by a planning team that included the business community as well as the educational community. This blend of planners brought together a rich combination of stewardship ideas for pastors and leaders to consider. Since the first plenary session was free to the public, the conference drew a range of people from young to old, including a good number of university students. On the second night, when guests had to pay, one student drew a good bit of attention by protesting that he didn’t have the money needed to get inside to hear a lecture about why we should be generous with our money. The Dean of the seminary presented this ironic scene to Walter, who responded with his usual disarming humor. This led the planners to open up the Wednesday evening lecture and worship time, including communion, to all comers, with the opportunity to give a free will offering.
Walter commented several times about the dynamic worship he experienced at the event. He poked fun at his own denomination, the Episcopalians, who hire people to sing for them. He was only half-joking when he asserted that the narrative of accumulation gradually chokes people up until they can only mumble. The narrative of generosity calls forth songs of joyful praise.
We have lot to learn about stewardship from the Scriptures, from modern-day prophets like Walter Brueggemann, and from each other en route to God’s preferred future. At least we’re on the way.