Living on the edge

I am finally back home after a weekend at Bendigo and the National Vineyard Conference. I have a bit to think about from the conference, mainly from Alan Hirsh's two sessions. I expect to have my mindsets challenged whenever I hear him speak, and this week I had my vocabulary expanded too. Alan spoke about 'liminality' – defined on www.dictionary.reference.com as "the condition of being on a threshold or at the beginning of a process". Alan used the word in an anthropological context to refer firstly to the state of young African adolescents abandoned to their month long initiation process in the forest – a time of uncertainty and danger. In the state of liminality, the African boys band together, forming "communitas" (my second new word for the week) to increase their odds of survival. Alan distinguished "communitas" from "community" – the former formed in the face of threat and crisis, the latter referring to safe and nurturing social setting. I had a bit of trouble locating "communitas" in the dictionaries. I was eventually referred to www.anthrobase.com , an anthropological website. "Communitas" as people standing outside society, characterised by "intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging, often in connection with rituals". Hmmm, this does sound familiar. However, unlike our "huddle and cuddle" Christian communities, (thanks Alan for this charming expression too), Alan suggested that Christians together should look more like "communitas", formed out of a state of liminality. In plainer English, our Christian journey should be close knit, uncertain, dangerous. This is what the disciples together with Jesus looked like. The metanarrative of the bible is a constant state of liminality, punctuated by God's people banding together against the odds. What would it mean for our churches to look like this now? I am not much of a huddler and cuddler, so the whole idea of church living on the edge feels fraught with danger and utterly exciting to me. This is our mission, should we choose to accept it. But how?

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