Liminal: adj. Intermediate between two states, conditions, or regions; transitional or indeterminate.
Among other things, I learned a new word during my first week long intensive of my graduate program. Liminal. It actually is an anthropological ethnographic term. Or in English, a term used in the study of humanity and its diverse cultures and societies.
Liminal is the term used to describe a transitional phase of a human’s life. For example, when you are engaged to be married you aren’t technically courting or dating. Neither are you married. You are betwixt and between. You are kind of single and kinda almost married, but not. It isn’t until the minister or officiant says, “I now pronounce you Mr. and Mrs. So and So…” that you fully receive a status again. Liminality, then, essentially, is a time of not belonging.
Here I find myself. In the liminal.
After graduation, I wound up remaining in the same community I graduated from. I took a position at the Christian counseling center down the road, began working full time, while completing my graduate program online. Even though, I am still at Emmanuel College, I am not. I don’t belong as an Emmanuel College student. Regardless of the fact less than 6 months ago, I was. But on the other end, I work with ten different therapists and two other members of the office staff. They all have families, are married or almost married. Except for myself. Oh and then in my graduate cohort, once again the only one not engaged in full time liturgical ministry or married with a family, yea that would be me again. In searching for a community of believers at church to connect with and relate to there is a group of college students, and a group for young marrieds out of college. But nothing for singles. Nothing for liminals.
I guess, I just don’t quite belong.
This isn’t some rant from a single amidst ‘the ring-by-spring’ culture. Rather it is the heart cry of a liminal longing to belong.
I know I am not alone. Around this community, and across the country, the globe even, there are millions of liminals. In every shape, shade, and age looking for a community of their own. A place where those who don’t technically belong, somehow belong together.
We as the church have pushed this group further and further to the edges. We have overlooked them, missed them, and simply abandoned them. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression most often begins between the ages of 20 to 30. Obviously, every case is different, but possibly more than at any other time in their lives, these are the years people are navigating through liminality. Discerning career paths, moving away from home, looking for a spouse, purchasing homes, making long-term decisions, stepping fully into their identity, no longer being sheltered from responsibility, cruelty, vulnerability. It all hits at once. And the church is missing it.
Brothers and sisters, I am begging you, look for the liminals. Love on them. Don’t try and merge them in with another group at your church gatherings.Don’t force them to conform to one label or another. Don’t play matchmaker or assign them all the tasks that everyone else can’t do due to family responsibilities. Just love us right smack dab where we are at. Just take the time to listen to us. Our longings, our questions, our pains, our dreams, our hurts. Cultivate an environment where we as liminals can come together and simply belong.
After all, we were all once liminals. Not simply in respect to those of you who find yourself well into adulthood. But we were all exiles, outcasts, and liminals prior to grace.
Paul in the latter half of Ephesians 2 is speaking to the Gentiles of the church of their former life prior to becoming a part of the body of Christ. The Message translation puts it this way: “It was only yesterday that you outsiders to God’s ways had no idea of any of this, didn’t know the first thing about the way God works, hadn’t the faintest idea of Christ. You knew nothing of that rich history of God’s covenants and promises in Israel, hadn’t a clue about what God was doing in the world at large. Now because of Christ—dying that death, shedding that blood—you who were once out of it altogether are in on everything…” (11-13)
At one point, we were all outsiders. On the edges of the family of God in need of grace.
“…Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (16-18)
Christ’s death on the cross, opened the door for all on the edges to come home. We became equals. In ethnography, liminality is also known as a state of equality. There is no hierarchy, because technically there is no structure. At the end of the day, every member of the church, be it bishop or janitor, is a sinner saved by grace. We are equal in the Kingdom. No sin too great. Nor saint too sacred. We are all liminals. And yet…
“That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.” (19-21)
God built his church not only for the liminal, but of the liminal. The church is made up of people who at once had no where to belong, but through Him, now do. Christ came so that all might belong. Therefore, we as the church need to be more intentional about looking for, listening to, and loving on the liminals.
We are all longing to belong.
We are all liminal.