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Christianity, Flying, and Liminal Spaces

I tried that iFLY simulated skydiving thing this week. There’s a moment when you’re standing outside the wind tunnel and you have to put out your arms up, walk through, and sort of fall into the wind. And then suddenly... you’re flying.

The scariest part was stepping through the door. I had a split second thought, “Am I really doing this?” and “WHY am I doing this?” But I ignored my brain and told my legs to walk.

I also learned a new phrase: Liminal spaces. It means in between, midway, limbo. A liminal space is “a state or place characterized by being transitional or intermediate in some way.”

It can describe a physical space – like a hallway, threshold, or like my doorway into the wind tunnel.

You’re not in the place you came from, and you haven’t arrived at the place you’re going.

It’s more often used to describe emotional, psychological, or even spiritual transitions.

Liminal spaces are places of uncertainty, change, and waiting. They, by nature, feel unsafe.

And so we try to avoid them.

A lot of Christians right now are in liminal spaces. They’re finding that the traditions taught to them in their youth have proven disappointing, toxic, and even dangerous. There is a cognitive dissonance between the religion they were taught and the Jesus of the gospels. For some, their leaders have disappointed them, and so they’ve moved on.

They know they’re stepping into something new, but many haven’t yet landed anywhere. Some call it deconstruction. Others call it reconstruction. Maybe it’s just reevaluation and ownership of our own faith.

We don’t have much patience for liminal spaces, especially in ourselves. In the Christian world, liminal spaces are frowned upon because, as Christians, it’s expected we should know everything, or “have arrived,” or be certain of all things.

Therefore, we’re uncomfortable with our own doubts and the doubts of others. We’re uncomfortable when someone is reevaluating their faith. We’re uncomfortable when someone is rethinking women’s roles, or the nature of the church, or LGBTQ issues, or the nature of existence, or what the Bible is, or what sin is, or what Christianity is.

We’re “afraid“ that someone will arrive at a “wrong“ conclusion.

But liminal spaces are places of extreme honesty and extreme humility. Liminal spaces are real. There’s nowhere to hide.

Some of us have willingly entered into these spaces, and others have been forced by being kicked out of our church or no longer welcomed.

The good news is they’re actually places where I think God wants us to be – maybe all the time. When I’m confident of my views, my conclusions, my definitions, then I don’t really need to rely on God, do I?

I would say the prophets of the Old Testament and the disciples were in an almost constant liminal space.

When Moses went to Pharaoh, he certainly didn’t have this God called “I AM” figured out. He couldn’t defend a developed theology of YHWH (Yahweh). He just knew what he had to do and told his legs to keep walking.

The theology of Jesus’s disciples was not fully formed, and they could not perfectly explain Jesus or God, contrary to what you may have been taught. Jesus didn’t sit them down and describe the “hypostatic union.” He just let them get to know him bit by bit, and revealed himself in small experiences. Why do we think we have to be any different?

Pastors Are Stuck

Sadly, I think the downfall of many pastors is that they are not allowed to be in a liminal space. They’re expected to have everything figured out. They must never doubt, because they are supposed to be an example to their congregations. So they stop walking and are paralyzed.

I would submit that the best pastoral example is one who is wholly transparent and loving, in the midst of their liminal spaces. Unfortunately, pastors are usually held accountable by a board that will not allow this. If a pastor is not certain — or is not pretending they are certain about specific issues — they will be replaced by someone who’s a little better at pretending than they are.

Allowing others to be in liminal spaces can make us uncomfortable. Perhaps this is why there's such an outcry against deconstruction. It makes OTHERS question THEIR faith. The old guard needs to categorize people who deconstruct as “fallen away,” “backslidden,” “gone liberal.” The pejorative categories are seemingly endless.

But liminal spaces are where life happens. It’s where we’re awake. It’s where there is purpose.

Allowing someone to rethink how the Bible works in their life, allowing a friend to have doubts without trying to correct or show them where their thinking is wrong, or allowing questions to go unanswered, even allowing yourself to walk through unknown doorways – these liminal spaces – this is the love and grace that so many need and that is so absent in the Christian world today.

Who knows? If we keep walking, maybe we’ll have an experience of flying we couldn’t possibly imagine.

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