buzz words and good concepts

Every so often new buzz words enter into common usage. Most of the time such words stay buzzy as those using them take hold of them third or fourth or fifth hand. Thomas Kuhn, for instance, brought us “paradigm shift” which now is more often used less as what he intended (massive change in which everything is re-assessed and old questions are re-examined in the light of new discovery) and more to say maybe a sermon should be twenty minutes instead of twenty five. When everything is a paradigm shift, it’s not really a sign that things are changing as much as every little change is given increased stature. In growth fields change is a lot like middle east troubles are for End Times enthusiasts. Money is made on finding the next big thing so the best way to be found a prophet is to emphasize everything, because it might actually work out as a big change.

The buzz word of late in churchy circles is liminality. This really isn’t new, it’s been floating along the edges for a while. However, it’s getting increased play and as such it’s getting plenty overused and overapplied. I finally heard the beginnings of a decent explanation a few weeks ago by Alan Hirsch, who is sharp enough to know where that idea originated.

I bought a book that deals with the concept. A ministry book. I don’t really like ministry books to be honest. Too breezy and simplistic and I can’t help think in most cases that I’d be better off going to the original sources. Wheaton had a truly awful social life, but it drilled in me the need to go deeper in texts, to find the root of ideas, to follow the book trails.

Got about fifteen pages into the ministry book and was weary. Ever watch one of those pop psychology gurus on PBS (that’s all the local PBS plays on weekends around here these days)? Ministry books are a lot like that to me. I know some folks really treasure them and they provoke paradigm shifts for untold numbers. For me? I get exhausted by them. Not all, but most, because most aren’t really saying anything new. They’re repackaging. And very few actually are uniquely Christian. Counting the amount of Scripture quotations in most ministry books is a fairly easy process. Rarely does one have to move past the fingers and onto the toes.

So, I got weary and because I’m in a season of life where I can choose what to read and choose what not to read I put that book down and hopped onto my friendly neighborhood internet bookstore, who apparently values my occasional review of obscure theological works.

Anyhoo, I searched for the starting point of concept of liminality as it seems a fine idea for my developing thinking on the process of Christian maturity (in bookstores Fall ’08, or at least a half year after I finish writing it, which means starting it first). Got The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure by Victor Turner, a book he wrote about various rituals in African society.

All this to note why the occasional quotes from Dr. Turner might be popping up around here. Such as this one:

The neophyte in liminality must be a tabula rasa, a blank slate, on which is inscribed the knowledge and wisdom of the group, in those respects that pertain to the new status. The ordeals and humiliations, often of a grossly physiological character, to which neophytes are submitted represent partly a destruction of the previous status and partly a tempering of their essence in order to prepare them to cope with their new responsibilities and restrain them in advance from abusing their new privileges. They have to be shown that in themselves they are clay or dust, mere matter, whose form is impressed upon them by society.

If you’ve gone through God’s process of maturing, you’ll recognize this. James did.

Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

What’s interesting to me is that we’ve so lost sight of the process of Christian maturity that those who encounter trials of many kinds assume they are doing something wrong, or are cursed, or otherwise out of favor with God. Just the opposite really. Though, that’s a hard teaching in a consumeristic society.

God just isn’t really sensitive to that, I suppose. He does what he does and trains how he will train, which is curiously consistent and curiously forgotten, until we run head first into the wall of his training.

This entry was posted in bit of wisdom, Holy Spirit, Jesus, ministry, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to buzz words and good concepts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *