Posts Tagged With: liminal

Serving in the Liminal Space

How do you talk to graduate students about serving where they are – especially if you have not walked the path to tenure?  Yet, like most people, I have been in many in-between places in life.  Places in which it is easy to just wait until the next goal is met to do the important things in life.  Once I get the degree – then I can serve at church.  Once I make the next pay grade – then my position will be secure and I can witness more about Christ to co-workers.

However, as I review my life and look at that of others, it soon becomes evident that much of life is lived in liminal spaces – in the now and not yet – and not at the end points. Victor Turner in his study of rites of passage and other rituals, such as pilgrimage, highlights the in-between time as a significant element during such practices.  It’s not merely a time to get through.  Its very structure sets the stage for transformation.  We are not in a comfortable, known place and are therefore more open to change.

At such times the opportunities for a deeper community – one Turner defines as communitas – confront us. As we live in-between and encounter others who are walking along similar paths, traditional barriers to relationships are often relaxed and new connections are possible.  In these communities there are plenty of opportunities to serve – and be served.

From a theological perspective, Christians are always in a liminal space.  We are fully redeemed because of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  We are made right with God.  Yet, creation is not fully restored.  We continue to sin.  So, we wait for that time of complete renewal.  But how do we wait?  Putting everything else on hold, or by fully diving into each moment?

In the Bible we see this is action.  Noah, Abraham, David, the exiles, the disciples – they all leave places of comfort.  Jacob was the home body – but after he deceived Esau for the second time, he must leave his place of comfort.  Not until this departure does he encounter God in powerful and life changing ways.  He could have taken this time and sulked, just waiting for Esau to calm down.  Head down, doing his work. But instead he is aware, meets God, listens, and follows.

Where does God call us, today?  He calls us to live where we are now as He serves us. During these uncomfortable times when we are waiting to reach the next step, we are whole people in relationships – with God and with our neighbor.  Moreover, it is through people that God continues to restore his creation, build his kingdom, as we live out our vocations in work, family, society, church.  Therefore, even in times of liminality, when we haven’t yet reached that next end point, we are living in vocations in which we are serving others.

Whether or not you are a graduate student, and finding yourself in a liminal space, consider the following:

  • Be aware of the many times of transition ahead along with the opportunities they bring.
  • Consider how God calls you to serve others through your unique vocations.
  • Most importantly, know the ultimate story, God’s story, toward which you are moving.  It puts everything else in perspective.
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Categories: Journey Living | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Occupation Isolation in Campus Ministry

Recently someone shared with me the concept of occupation isolation.  In American society, we usually receive affirmation about our occupational identity outside of ourselves.  This could be through an understood job title like doctor, teacher, pastor; a shared corporate culture such as at Google, University of Cincinnati, or Fidelity; or people seeking out your skills such as a carpenter, a computer specialist, or editor.

However, some jobs just do not fit into categories that people understand or can affirm.  Campus ministry is often one of these jobs – a ministry that takes place between two large institutions – the church and the academy.  One could say this ministry exists in a liminal space on the threshold of the two groups with which it’s associated.

In my case I am serving outside of the usual model in my church body – which is a pastor leading a church or Bible study near campus.  Furthermore, without formal education in ministry, I am not considered a rostered church worker.  Even though a group of churches pays my salary, I don’t fit into any category of minister within the larger church body.  So, I spend a lot of time explaining to people what I do within the church.

On the other hand, I am seeking to connect with the university – especially within the departments where I have experience and/or am serving servants – English departments, graduate school, international students.  In this arena it can even be more difficult to explain my position that exists between the church and the academy.  This recently hit home when a paper of mine was accepted for a literature conference this fall.  I’ll be giving a paper on pilgrimage as used in the novel Little Women and am excited about this opportunity.  However, when I see my name in the midst of other presenters who have university affiliations, I again feel outside of a group.

Except for a few times that students really connect with what I’m doing or supporters send words of encouragement, I feel that I am alone in manufacturing my job.  Yes, hopefully within God’s call, but still rather alone in the eyes of the world.  When someone comes to an event at which I describe how I spend my time in ministry and then asks me what I do for a living, I cringe inside.  I wonder if I should find a job where others know what I’m doing.

Reflecting on the idea of occupation isolation highlights how much our identity within a community matters within our lives.  I like to think I’m above this need, but I’m not.  Wanting to be known and accepted is not necessarily a bad thing, we were made to live with and among other people.  Knowing that isolation is a concern in a job such as campus ministry, I’m now more actively seeking community and ways to define this work – instead of wondering what is wrong with me.

One last thing, there is an element of freedom in having the opportunity to define this ministry outside of normal structures.  In this liminal space there is the possibility of reaching others who are on the margins where God is at work in the places in-between.

Categories: Campus Ministry | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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