[Note: Like I said in my last two posts, my Roundtable Preaching Group does more than sermon preparation – at least in the traditional sense. Yesterday we spent rich time with the extraordinary Jen Lord who inspired this post.]
Maybe you’ve heard the word “liminal.” It gained popularity in theological and sociological circles in the early 20th Century by scholars like Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner. Liminal times are “threshold moments” when we are on the cusp of a new chapter in our lives. From child to adult. From single to partnered. From child-free to parent. From active employee to retired. Rites of passage are essential tools for nourishing us through these transitions.There’s also the word “liminoid“ which is to liminal what opioids are to opiates. Opiates are pain relievers that come from natural plants like poppies. Opioids are pain relievers that come from synthetic drugs like fentanyl. The “-oid” suffix implies that something resembles the preceding thing, but it’s not exactly the same. (One is fake-ish?)
Jen Lord pointed out that we humans confuse “liminoid” moments with “liminal” moments all the time. Halloween is a “liminoid” moment, for example, in that a rough and tumble boy can don makeup and a dress for the night and it can be okay. On Halloween we can try out different identities but actually the boy in this example hasn’t been permanently changed into a woman. It was a costume. Comic Con events, virtual reality games and war re-enactment groups could be examples of liminoid moments. People are not actually transformed into Captain America or a member of the Star Trek Bridge Crew or a Civil War soldier. They are temporary roles we might play. [Another Note: some people dress as the people they truly are inside and they are not wearing costumes. I’m not talk by about Trans people or gender fluid people here.]
Take notice Church People. We in the Church can easily fall into liminoid moments when we think we are experiencing a liminal moment. Examples:
- The Christian who dresses up for Church on Sunday, but leaves Church without anything changing in her soul. She goes back to work Monday being her same angry gossipy self.
- The worship experience draws huge crowds offering entertainment/amusement/fascinatation/spiritual intoxication. But the highs are short-lived. There is no actual spiritual transformation or community-building.
There’s also the word “limivoid“ which was coined by Bjorn Thomassen in 2012. While liminal experiences transform us into a new way of being and liminoid experiences – at least for a moment – seem to transform us, limivoid experiences are deceptive. Those who lead us promising salvation actually create chaos. They set themselves up as purveyors of truth when actually they perpetuate destruction. Scripture calls such leaders false prophets.
Note that Jesus gave his life in sacrifice to others for the sake of love. False leaders only serve themselves while saying that they are serving the people.
This is heavy stuff for a Friday. But here’s the thing: now more than ever, there is a deep need for authentic, self-sacrificing, loving rituals which carry us across the thresholds of life. Rites of passage are important. They give our lives meaning. They satisfy us deeply.
This is what the Church offers in the 21st Century – if we are being faithful. True spiritual community gives us meaning and purpose. It’s less about bells and whistles and fog machines and costumes. And it’s more about real life and genuine compassion and being the people we were created to be.
I love real Church. But it’s hard to find.
Image of doors into a new space at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.