Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Liminality

Before I start, I'd like to say, I'm sorry if in processing my journey I ever come across as not caring about church. I probably love the church more now than I ever have. I know that on a blog, what we think we said and what others hear are not always the same thing, so I just wanted to make that clear.

The last couple of years, an ongoing question in my heart has been - where do we fit, as far as church is concerned. In the meantime, we have involved ourselves in several church relationships, attending both a congregational church and house churches.

Over time, the angst surrounding this question has drifted away, and though the question still might appear unanswered, it is no longer a source of fretfulness and worry. At least for us.

There are others though who would like us to define ourselves more clearly. In their minds, the next logical step in our relationship with them is to become more deeply involved in their program. I understand that their invitation is made with good intentions.

The Internet Monk, in his post "How God Ruined Church For Me" describes church this way:

"The world of churches is like a big mall, and there are many different kinds of stores. You choose one store–ONE–and you go there for everything you need. You are LOYAL to that store. You BELIEVE in that store and what it’s all about; in the way it does things. You persuade others that your store is the one and only store real shoppers patronize. You buy name brand merchandise at every opportunity. It’s your store. Yes, there is a mall, but you only need one store.

...The Christian world seems to work better when we find our niche and stay in it."

We remember what it was like to be so invigorated with the vision in your heart that you can't imagine why others would not want to participate. We saw the fruit and growth in the lives of those who embraced the vision and became involved. We know how good and fulfilling it could be.

Now we are in a different place. I know it makes some people uncomfortable that we haven't picked a team, so to speak. But what if the place of transition is exactly where we are supposed to be, and what if trying to escape that process is not what we should do?

Liminality is a period of transition, during which your normal limits to thought, self-understanding, and behavior are relaxed, opening the way to something new. (from Wikipedia)

If we recognized liminality as part of the journey, maybe we would not be as quick to rush this process in ourselves or in others.

I haven't read Frost and Hirsch's books yet, but I am anxious to see what they have to say about this.

10 comments:

Heather said...

It's no coincidence that I read your blog today. My husband and I are currently in a place of trying to find God's best ... God's place for our family. Thank you for sharing your thoughts an your journey!

Blessings!

Robbymac said...

Grace,

I've just read as far as chapter five in "Exiles", and if the rest of the book is as good as the first four chapters, it's gonna be one of my "top five recommended" books.

Chapter four dealt with liminality and communitas (read the book, it'd be better than me trying to explain an excellent chapter in a blog comment box).

I love books that make me think, and this one qualifies (at least, four chapters' worth, for now).

Love the "Dear John" letter...

grace said...

Heather,
Blessings to you and your family too as you follow God.

Robby,
I just received 6 books yesterday, and I want to read them all at once. Not to mention, I've had a ton of blogs to catch up on. I wish my brain had a USB port. I think I might be developing spiritual ADD.

Now I want to read Exiles first, but I should be reading Chasing Daylight first because I have a book club on it in a week. And maybe I should read Shaping of Things to Come before Exiles since it was written first, but I'd love to jump into Forgotten Ways since everyone else is reading it now. And if I plan on seeing Graham Cooke next month, it'd be nice to have read Permission Granted before I go. I let my husband have Organic Church to read first. :)

Alan Knox said...

Grace,

Great post! A young man gathers with us occasionally. He also occasionally gathers with another group. That other group told him that he needed to "join" them (membership) if he wanted to continue being a part of them. I told him to "join" anywhere he wanted, but he was always welcomed to fellowship with us.

Why must we make "church" into something exclusive?

Thanks for this post!

-Alan

Trish said...

I think there's a place for liminality when between churches. But I also think it can become an impediment to local church commitment.

Using the Internet Monk's cariciture of "the world of churches" as a foil to justify liminality is flawed. The entire analogy is predicated upon christian consumerism and church retailism. These are never valued as reasons for local church commitment in the New Testament.

grace said...

Thanks Alan,
I wonder if we could learn to develop committed relationships without legislating them?

I have enjoyed your recent thoughts on "worship service." I like that you are taking ecclesiastical concepts and fleshing them out to real-life situations.

Trish,
Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that consumerism shouldn't be a factor in church commitment.

The part of IM's analogy that I was trying to point out is the need to boundary and brand people into well-defined categories. In trying to keep the post a reasonable length, I didn't expand upon the things your comment was concerned with.

Without de-emphasizing commitment, I would like to emphasize trusting the ability of the Spirit to lead people through the phase of liminality when their hearts are set on walking in obedience with the Lord.

Neutral is not necessarily a comfortable position for me. Learning to trust God to lead me through the uncertainty is actually a step of growth.

Pam Hogeweide said...

our family attends two churches, though at one church we are more relationally involved. At times I have felt like a woman who can't decide between lovers. But then I realize, Oh, this is about the kingdom of God, not loyalty to one over another.

We do have a commitment to give financially to one church, but not both.

I used to look at people like you, Grace, and me, as wishy-washy rootless women who can't commit to anything. At one time I judged a person's spiritual maturity by the relationship they had with a local church, any gospel church, but they had to be plugged in somewhere.

My life today would be just the kind of person I would fret about say, um, five years ago. Definitely ten. And fifteen years ago I would have wondered if someone like me, or you, is even (gasp!) saved.

Now let me quantify for the readers out there in Bloggy Land, I'm not saying wishy-washy church avoidance is something to just let go. People avoid traditional church communities and church commitments, like membership, for all kinds of reasons. What we're talking about here is trying to discover what Being church can look like when Going to church is looking different, or even non-existent. Though some of us in cyberspace don't currently attend a church (you know who you are !) there is a seeking out of Christian fellowship through other means. Like through blogging, or whatever.

Liminality is a new, fancy word and concept for me. I'll have to think on that one for a bit.

Grace, your new book arrivals have me drooling at the keyboard. The last book I bought? Crafts from Recycles... 99 cents from the thrift store... at Christmas someone did give me Brennan Mannings' Book, Ragamuffin Gospel.
good read.

fr'nklin said...

there's something to this liminality stuff. in our church plant what I've noticed is as we get closer to the start date...as we begin to come together EARLY on Sunday a.m. and stay afterwards...setting up, tearing down, doing a job that requires everyone's help...something is happening. Our group is bonding. I don't think it's because we're a church. I think it's because we're a group of people w/ a goal...a need...and we are working together to accomplish something. We are all in a state of transition and community is happening as a result.

I know you'll like the books. I loved Hirsch's stuff on liminality. I think there's something to it...but I'm not sure what!

Alan Knox said...

Grace,

You ask, "I wonder if we could learn to develop committed relationships without legislating them?" I've come to the opinion that we can't legislate relationships at all.

Thank you for the comment about my blog. I've enjoyed the interaction lately.

-Alan

grace said...

Pam,
That's so true, it's about the kingdom. I understand that people who aren't here really can't relate, because like you said, a few years ago, I wouldn't have understood either.

As we allow God to redefine what membership, commitment, community, and being the church will look like in our lives, I am aware that it makes people nervous because in their mind, it's just plain wrong.

But at the end of the day, I have to follow God to the best of my ability, knowing that He can direct me, and obey Him, even when it doesn't look like others say it should.

Fr'nklin,
I love that aspect of kingdom life too, when you know you're "in the zone", building the vision that God put in your heart. I'm glad that you are experiencing communitas, and I look forward to following your journey.

alan,
I agree, but allowing that freedom seems too extreme to many people.