Liminal space

A colleague of mine recently introduced me to the concept of liminality – the situation of disorientation that occurs between to places or situations. The idea has its roots in thinking about rites of passage, those transition ceremonies that an individual would go through as they move from one phase of life to another. It has also been used as a concept in other arenas. One area I’ve found fascinating is its use in design – the creation of rooms or spaces that are supposed to throw the visitor a little off-balance before they reach their destination.

I’ve also found it helpful as a way of thinking about the time we are living in right now. The old way of doing things has ended and we are now in a period of disorientation before the new way becomes clear.

Disorientation and discomfort are not easy environments to exist in, especially for an extended period of time. But, in the liminal process, they are important stages in order to be fully prepared to move into the next space and we shouldn’t rush through them.

I keep reflecting on the time that the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. Was that their liminal space? When they ran out of Egypt (Exodus 14) did they expect to be in their new homeland within days, or weeks? Did they really expect it to be 40 years and what was God teaching them in that time? Their lives didn’t just stop but they hadn’t reached their destination.

If this is our preparation time, our liminal space, are we paying attention to how we grow in this time, or are we just wishing it were over?

Totton in lockdown

Strange longings

Every day seems to come with a new prediction of when the current crisis will come to an end. These are tempered by the threat of a second peak or a fresh wave of the virus. There are questions about what will happen when lockdown restrictions are relaxed. Too soon and cases spike again, too late and the economy takes a greater hit.

I completely understand the desire for restrictions to be lifted. We moved to a new home six weeks ago to be closer to my parents. Five weeks ago the barriers went up and, though we’ve seen them and chatted face-to-face, I haven’t been able to give my mum or dad a hug, I’d really like to. I would also like to welcome friends into our new home and invite our new neighbours over to enjoy a barbecue and a glass of wine, oh, and I really miss live sport.

Yet, while I long for this I’m also scared that we will lift the restrictions too quickly and the benefits of this season will be rapidly forgotten. Quality time with my wife and children. Meals being the focal point of our day, rather than rushing from one activity to another. Talking to colleagues around the world as Zoom calls have become a natural part of our working pattern. Daily exercise as a family.

There have been other benefits too. Being able to openly question our accepted working practices and think afresh about how we do what we do, even if the long-term vision remains the same.

So here we are, five weeks into lockdown and while I’m ready for it all to be over I don’t want the end to come until some of those changes have become embedded in the way we live and work and we have become better at asking tough questions and adapting what we do to what we discover.

When hitting pause may not be the best move

Last week my inbox filled with messages of people waiting for life to get back to normal. Events were being postponed and meetings were being put on hold in the expectation that the coronavirus was going to pass and life would at some point return to how it was before.

I understand completely the feeling of loss and desire to return to what is typical and routine. Maybe even more so now as we enter the third week of the UK lockdown and the beginning of the Easter school holidays. A long weekend on the beach or a barbecue with friends is exactly what we feel we need in the Prior house right now. It’s just, I don’t think that talking about going back to normal is going to help anyone. And, for those of us that lead others, giving the idea that this will all pass and things will carry on as they did before could end up creating many more problems.

I work in the christian global mission sector, where we expect to see things become very difficult for years to come. I assume that giving to charity will decline as supporters lose jobs and this will lead to organisations closing. Our ability to work in many countries will be limited too, whether that’s due to the cost of travel or tighter restrictions on international travel. Ultimately, the whole shape of the way we work is going to need to change.

I would like to suggest that there is a different way to approach the current situation that could lead us to a better future. Partly it involves changing our language so that we create the space to think and reflect. Being prepared to cancel events rather than postponing them. Instead of talking about things ‘going back to normal’, speak about discovering the ‘new normal’. 

The other element is to start asking some good questions that will help us all navigate the transition to whatever is to come. Some of the questions I’m asking include:

  • What have I stopped doing during the lockdown that I don’t want to start again afterwards?
  • What good practices have I started that I want to keep going?
  • What have I learnt about myself and my colleagues during this time?
  • What is God opening my eyes to that I would have missed before?

Maybe you could suggest some other questions you are asking?

Reflections on Faith Camp 2018

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Faith Camp, but the experience was amazing and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to be part of the last one.

Here’s what I took away from the week:

  • It’s wonderful to be amongst a group of people that expect God to be at work in this world in amazing ways. I think some parts of the church know that God is at work, but here they see God at work.
  • The message that I heard most clearly from the week was the need for me to find time and space to be alone with God. I’m planning my first, semi-silent retreat this October.
  • No matter how much a church may focus on the work of the Holy Spirit, there’s always a need for a course or a programme to help put building blocks of faith in place.
  • Oh, and 3,000+ people singing is pretty amazing (see the video)

Searching for peace

Yesterday was fascinating. I spent the afternoon in London with a load of mission leaders talking about the theology of risk. The premise being that, the attitude of mission agencies and the western church is risk-averse, yet the areas of the world that could still reasonably called unreached carry a significant risk for Christians that want to work there.

Maybe I can write more about this in the next day or two. But, after the meeting, I headed over to St Paul’s Cathedral for choral evensong. I don’t go very often, but on occasion, I’ve found it provides an hour of calm and space for reflection in the midst of chaos. After the last two weeks of business, today it was welcome.

I arrived slightly late, in the middle of the singing of Psalm 88. Considering the conversations of the day about our attitude to risk, I was left wondering exactly what Heman the Ezrahite was going through to compose this…

Psalms 88 (NLT) 
O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out to you by day.
I come to you at night.
Now hear my prayer;
listen to my cry.
For my life is full of troubles,
and death draws near.
I am as good as dead,
like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
into the darkest depths.
Your anger weighs me down;
with wave after wave you have engulfed me.

Interlude
You have driven my friends away
by making me repulsive to them.
I am in a trap with no way of escape.
My eyes are blinded by my tears.
Each day I beg for your help, O Lord;
I lift my hands to you for mercy.
Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?
Do the dead rise up and praise you?

Interlude
Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love?
Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?
Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?
O Lord, I cry out to you.
I will keep on pleading day by day.
O Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you turn your face from me?
I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
Your terrors have paralyzed me.
They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
They have engulfed me completely.
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.

Searching for peace

It has been pretty lousy few days. The car broke and is now at a second garage as they try to diagnose how much damage has been done to the engine.

The car broke and is now at a second garage as they try to diagnose how much damage has been done to the engine.

I’ve had a couple of days of difficult work conversations.

Add to that, there are a few aspects to my work that require all my concentration right now. I’m not sure I have ‘all’ my concentration to give.

So, tired and frustrated, I opened my Bible and read Psalm 34 (NLT).

I will praise the Lord at all times.
I will constantly speak his praises.
I will boast only in the Lord;
let all who are helpless take heart.
Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness;
let us exalt his name together.
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces.
In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened;
he saved me from all my troubles.
For the angel of the Lord is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
Fear the Lord, you his godly people,
for those who fear him will have all they need.
Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry,
but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.
Come, my children, and listen to me,
and I will teach you to fear the Lord.
Does anyone want to live a life
that is long and prosperous?
Then keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies!
Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right;
his ears are open to their cries for help.
But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil;
he will erase their memory from the earth.
The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
He rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
The righteous person faces many troubles,
but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.
For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous;
not one of them is broken!
Calamity will surely destroy the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
But the Lord will redeem those who serve him.
No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Verse 10 really stuck out, ‘Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.’

I went ice skating with Amy this morning as an early birthday celebration – I’m going to be away for her actual birthday. The kids are fine, healthy and happy. Tany’s doing well, we can encourage and support each other, even when things are tough.

And while work and car issues are frustrating, difficult and costly, we’ve never been left short of what we need. Yes, we’ve been ‘hungry’ for a while, but never completely without.

Searching for love

Last Thursday I was in London, a little under a week after three men went on their crazed attack on London Bridge and around Borough Market.

I wanted to visit the area, to pray for those who had been directly impacted by the violence, to pray for my country as we work out how to respond to yet another act of terror and also to pray for the church in this area, as these communities try to work out how to bring light into a dark situation.

Of course, on Thursday there was still a significant police cordon around Borough Market. Some roads and businesses were closed, as was Sothwark Cathedral which stands right on the edge of the market.

On the opposite side of the road from the market, just where Borough High Street turns into London Bridge, there’s a space that has been covered by flowers. Some from those who were there last Friday, but mostly from people who wanted to express their feelings of sorrow and loss.

Next to the place where the flowers have been laid, there’s a wall that supports a raised pathway. The wall has been covered with multicoloured post-it notes. Short messages of love and hope from people trying to express something of their emotions and hopes.

‘Don’t fear, don’t hate, fight back with LOVE’, says one message. ‘London will come through using love and tolerance’, says another. Yet another says, ‘From Manchester with love’, more striking with it being days since the Manchester Arena bomb attack.

The themes of love and unity come through again and again as people try to process and respond what took place.

I walked on from London Bridge, along the bank of the River Thames, and over the Millennium Bridge and up towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

The dome of the Cathedral stands out above much of London’s skyline. Some of the newer skyscrapers have taken different shapes due to the various protected views that exist to this point in the city. It’s an impressive building that has stood in its present form since 1675.

It has also meant a whole lot to London. During the Blitz, there was a team of fire wardens posted around the Cathedral to protect it in the event of a firestorm. The feeling was, as long as St Paul’s was standing, London would survive.

Across the road, on Sermon Lane, stands the National Firefighters Memorial, a reminder of how much this city suffered during those months of the second world war. Over 40,000 dead, thousands more injured and a whole nation impacted.

For me, walking past this memorial, the Cathedral and various other churches that are dotted around that part of London, put more of the previous week’s events into context.

Disasters, large and small will continue to impact this world. No matter how well policed and protected our cities become, it will not put an end to those who want to do harm and who view death as the ultimate tool to bring about their agenda. How we process these events, reflect on them and consider what death my mean matters more than ever.

Reflections on global missional leadership in community: personal thoughts

The room that was buzzing with discussion from all corners of the world is now empty. Last week was both excellent, and hard work. Excellent to be involved in that network, and to intentionally listen to different groups and points-of-view, knowing that at the core, our desire was to see God glorified and his mission advanced in each of our contexts. Hard work, in that it’s sometimes difficult to listen to and accept points-of-view that challenge your preconceived ideas.

Having said all that, the hard work really starts now. Sitting in a room, where you’ve gathered for the purpose of discussing global missional leadership in community, it’s easy to see everything as possible. Leaving that environment and going back to the daily routine (whatever that may be) and not losing all the good thoughts from the week is where the real challenge begins.

How do I take the discussions of last week, develop some personal outcomes and bring them to bear in the areas where I have some influence?

Some things I’ve been thinking about in relation to leadership:

Intentionality: It’s easy for me to think I’m in leadership by accident and just rely on personal attributes and experience to see me through. But, I as I find myself entering a new season of life and a new role with new responsibilities, it’s important that I rethink the context of my work and what I need to lead well in this new context. I need to be intentional in equipping myself to lead.

I can also make a choice to lead when the situation arises, or be intentional about my leadership. It’s very easy to wait for the ‘right time’, whatever that may look like, but I’m starting to see that I can have some influence over enabling the time to be right.

Millennials: Almost all involved in this consultation acknowledged that there is a challenge in enabling millennials (Gen Y) join mission within our organisations. It’s not that we aren’t open to the next generation, it’s just that our systems and structures are so often formed around the boomer generation that those born in the 80s or later don’t feel that they fully fit with us.

Globalisation, nationalism and polycentrism: Influence and leadership now comes from all over the place. There are Christian centres of influence outside of Europe and North America that should and can lead in a global environment. How do I take on a posture of learning and openness with my brothers and sisters from other countries and still contextualise for my own context?

Change and opportunity: We are all dealing with change. In the car travelling to the airport today, my colleagues were talking about how the pace of change in the last 25 years is equivalent to the pace of change over the previous 200 years. There’s a leadership challenge in there. How do we lead in an environment of continual change? As digital technology continues to advance, travel becomes easier, but maybe political and ideological challenges have a significant impact on our world, how do we lead within this?

There’s more to think through with all of this, and other things I’ve not yet mentioned. I’ll try to develop my thoughts in the days to come, but I’m now at the airport getting ready to fly home. It’s time to go and find my gate and get back to my family.