At the Gate: 3M Living

Sitting at the gate, I see the new way of thinking, believing, and acting that God calls us to live. Like so many others, Walter Brueggemann’s writings have influenced me substantially, and they continue to do so. [1] And as you know, we are currently reading his book, ‘Journey to the Common Good’ in the Oboedire community. This post emerges from my ongoing attention to and appreciation for Dr. Brueggemann’s influence.

Recently, he wrote a summary piece about the prophetic imagination that has been a major emphasis of his since 1978. [2] Reading it, I was inspired anew, not only regarding his influence upon my life and ministry, but also in a renewal of resolve to live prophetically. In this post, I summarize it as 3M living—the formative flow from mysticism, to message, to ministry.[3]

First, mysticism. I have written about this before. I will not repeat what I have said, other than that the word/concept is being liberated from stereotypes and returned to its rightful place. The prophetic tradition is a contributive factor to this recovery. Walter Brueggemann calls them “emancipated imaginers of alternative.” [4] This is another way to describe mysticism.

In his recent article (cited in footnote #2), Brueggemann describes what I am calling mysticism in these words, “prophetic imagination always asserts that “the days are coming” when an alternative world will emerge among us.” The prophets are mystics. They see things, imagine things, envision things, dream things—things revealed to them by God (e.g., “write what you see”)—things which they then declare (i.e.”thus says the Lord”) as a means to awaken those who have been asleep.

Awakening from an excessive rationalism, scientists and theologians are combining to restore the credibility and significance of intuitive knowing. Like all other ways of knowing, it is held accountable by reason and responsibility. But the fact is, mystical knowing is valid. Indeed, it is the genre of knowing the Bible commends when God is “doing a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19) and leading us from darkness into light (Isaiah:9:2).

And what do we see? We recognize how the current order no longer reflects the will of God. We see that the current world fails the real-world test in a variety of ways. Brueggemann frequently lifts up the contemporary practices of predatory capitalism, white-supremacy racism, and aggressive nationalism as examples of how we fall short of the glory of God in our day. Mystics see this, and what they see becomes what they say. And that takes us to the next point.

Second, message. The prophets simultaneously expose sin and envision redemption. They call people to look at life in new ways (repent) and to live into God’s future “filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The call evokes a choice and issues a challenge. The message liberates us from believing “Egypt” (the old order) is all there is, all that’s supposed to be, and all that ever will be. It envisions a “Promised Land” (a new order) where God’s steadfast love will define our life together and direct us toward the common good. As Bruegemann puts it in his two-volume study of Exodus, we are delivered out of empire and delivered into covenant. [5]

As such, the message is a summons, “Get moving….away from captivity and toward freedom.” The message is an action, not just an affirmation. It is what some today are calling lived theology—what John Wesley called “living faith” (in contrast to dead orthodoxy) and “faith working by love”—social holiness. Brueggemann uses the term ‘neighborliness’ to ground it all in the second great commandment (Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:39).

The message leads us into the wilderness—into liminal space, disorientation, struggle, testing, disorder, and anxiety. As Paul Tournier described it (using a trapeze analogy), we are “between the bars,” having let go of the first bar, but not yet grasping the second one. It is the in-between time of doubting, a “necessary suffering” (Richard Rohr’s term) that includes the temptation to go back to “Egypt.” We see this in Jesus’ ministry to lead others into the reign of God, but the cost of discipleship was so high that “many turned away and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). But as John wrote in his prologue, those who did not reject him were given grace to become children of God (John 1:12)—that is, to be in the family who experiences the new creation. But the message is not only something to experience, it is something to enact. The message becomes a ministry.

Third, ministry. Specifically, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), objectively commenced by Christ (Colossians 1:20) and commissioned/continued by us. Christ has broken down the dividing wall (Ephesians 2:14), and we are called to remove walls that divide. The removal does not leave separated sides but ignites a coming together so that all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

Furthermore, this reconciliation moves toward a convergence made possible through the one who is Alpha and Omega, as he brings all things together—all things on earth and in heaven (Ephesians 1:9-10). The ministry of reconciliation is a cosmic soteriology, so that as in Adam all died, in Christ all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22). Love triumphs, and a number too large to count, from every people group and nation, live together forever in the new heaven and new earth.

This is 3M living: mysticism, message, and ministry. It is not a way of life reserved for a few, but rather one offered to all. And when we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it (Mark 8:18), our mouths will exclaim a fourth “m”—marvelous!

[1] Some of you will recall that from mid-October 2017 through mid-January 2018, I wrote a series here on Oboedire entitled “The Prophetic Task” based on Brueggemann’s views of prophetic ministry. His book, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’ remains in print, with a 40th anniversary edition published in 2018.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “The Pathetic Imagination,” (February 19, 2023). A humorous slip of his tongue spawned his updated reflection of the prophetic imagination. This is a “keeper” article that summarizes how the prophetic imagination has ignited his own prophetic ministry. In addition, his website ( is a storehouse of treasures from his mind and heart.

[3] Matthew Fox’s emphasis on the mystic-prophet has further enriched my vision of 3M living that Brueggemann has enabled me to see. Fox’s books, ‘Prayer, A Radical Response to Life’ (originally published as ‘On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear’) and ‘Creation Spirituality’ are in mind as well in this post. Dorothy Soelle described the same idea, calling it “mysticism and resistance.” Richard Rohr calls it “contemplative activism.” Barbara Holmes describes it as “crisis contemplation.”

[4] Walter Brueggemann, ‘From Judgment to Hope’ (WJK, 2019), Preface.

[5] Walter Brueggemann, ‘Delivered Out of Empire’ (WJK, 2921) and ‘Delivered Into Covenant (WJK, 2021).

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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