Possibility thinking

Two items I will have with me every time I venture outdoors for a canoe camping trip: A spork (one end is a spoon and the other a fork) and my hat. Well, on the first night of this recent trip, both suffered serious damage. 

While washing up after dinner by the campfire, my plastic well-used spork exploded in serveral pieces. It was done. And then the strap for my well-worn hat, essential for keeping the hat on my head during windy lake crossings, ripped. It was done. What would I do if in the next gust my hat would fly away? Even more concerning, how would I eat my food for the rest of the trip without any cutlery?

Fortunately, I was not alone. John was with us. And he is an outdoor survivalist. For those my age, remember the original TV show “MacGyver”? Well, he was MacGyver. Bush-crafting is John’s passion. And, wouldn’t you know it, he had some paracord handy – that orange rope that can hold up to 500 pounds. He cut some off, melted the ends with his lighter, and in no time had my hat all strapped up.

Then, John eyed a deadfall cedar tree lying on the ground at the edge of our campsite. He said, “That wood is perfect for carving …” He took out his knife and before our next meal the following day, had carved a spoon for me. Impossible! I would never have thought …

Living in faith will challenge us to live into what we might first think impossible. Having faith, according to Brian McLaren, is “to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible.”[1] What we think is possible and what we think is impossible will be different for each of us and will depend on the unique circumstances and challenges each of us faces.

Normally, that line is not blurred. Normally, that line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible is a hard and straight line that we dare not cross. Because in this world we are rewarded for reducing our reality “to a series of scientific obversations and algorithms.”[2] We are rewarded for presenting only what is empirically justified.

And this is not all bad. Naming what is possible respects our limitations. At times we need to acknowledge our vulnerability, our limits and the real constraints pressing on our capacity to function and produce.

When followers of Jesus come up against the prospect of scarcity at the feeding of the five-thousand, in their minds they immediately want to offload their responsibility for others. They advise Jesus to “send them away so that they may … buy something for themselves to eat.” Even when Jesus challenges them, “You give them something to eat,” the disciples are still in the ‘what is possible’ side of the line; you can follow their logic: “Are we to go buy enough bread for everyone?” [3] You can just hear them saying – “We can’t afford that!”

Our minds naturally resist thinking beyond our limits, and our fears. Our minds will want to understand God and the world we inhabit according to the rationalized conditioning of our culture. Yet, while our world and faith can be understandable through our heads in many ways, our world and God is most powerfully experienced through our hearts.[4]

In this sermon series, we have been considering the question: “Why congregations?” And a vital piece to answering that question is something many of us have cherished coming together to worship and serve, because congregations create space—onsite and online—for awe and wonder. 

To be in awe and express wonder is to cross that line from what is possible to what is impossible. The stories of Jesus’ miracles and healing that we read about from the Gospel of Mark intend to create a sense of awe and wonder about God and God’s good purposes on earth. That’s why we have congregations: To learn, and train the heart’s eye to see the possible in what might appear, at first, impossible.

Yet, this awe and wonder of God is born not from some herioic, newsworthy spectacle. The character of God’s greatness that moves us into the realm of awe and wonder comes from the simple things, and the often mundane and hidden acts of service and love.

Paracord is just a piece of rope. And felled cedar logs are common in the bush. Yet, John took these simple gifts and used his skills to express caring love for me. Simple things and simple, generous acts created in my heart a sense of awe and wonder for the goodness in it all. My inner vision of God expanded in that experience.

Brian McLaren promotes what I call ‘possibility thinking’ in reflecting on the vision and poetry of Isaiah[5]; he writes, “Could we ever come to a time when swords would be beaten into plowshares? When the predatory people in power—the lions—would lie down in peace with the vulnerable and the poor—the lambs? When the brokenhearted would be comforted and the poor would receive the good news? 

“If you think, Never—it’s impossible, then maybe you need to think again. Maybe it’s not too late for something beautiful to be born. Maybe the present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t see or even imagine.”[6]

When we grasp this essential truth, we are freed – freed to love, to celebrate, and to hope.


[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), p.68-69.

[2] Cameron Trimble, “Why Congregations?”,  https://convergenceus.org/category/cpr-connects/, 10 June 2021

[3] Mark 6:36-37

[4] Cameron Trimble, ibid.

[5] Isaiah 2:4, 11:6, 61:1-2

[6] Brian D. McLaren, ibid.

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