liminality and status system

In my continuing look at Victor Turner I find he gives us a very interesting comparison between the characteristics of liminality and the characteristics of established status.

Here’s the list of contrasts

  • Transition : state
  • Totality : partiality
  • homogeneity : heterogeneity
  • communitas : structure
  • equality : inequality
  • anonymity : systems of nomenclature
  • absence of property : property
  • nakedness or uniform clothing : distinctions of clothing
  • sexual continence : sexuality
  • minimization of sex distinctions : maximization of sex distinctions
  • absence of rank : distinctions of rank
  • humility : just pride of position
  • disregard for personal appearance : care for personal appearance
  • no distinctions of wealth : distinctions of wealth
  • unselfishness : selfishness
  • Total obedience : obedience only to superior rank
  • sacredness : secularity
  • sacred instruction : technical knowledge
  • silence : speech
  • suspension of kinship rights and obligations : kinship rights and obligations
  • continuous reference to mystical powers : intermittent reference to mystical powers
  • foolishness : sagacity
  • simplicity : complexity
  • acceptance of pain and suffering : avoidance of pain and suffering
  • heteronomy : degrees of autonomy

So this is the list comparing the qualities of the transitioning self to the qualities of the established self. The important question is what is the transition. When does it begin and when does it end. If we say the transition is “into the church” then we see forms of church that take on the attributes of established selves. This includes structure, and property, and technical knowledge (liturgy, organization, and leadership patterns), distinctions of sex and wealth, and all the rest. The convert is taken out of their old life and during the process of catechism is placed into the new establishment of the church. Thus something as simple as baptism can be the entirely of liminality in such a model. The politics of the church is then the new rules by which a person learns to function and advance.

This assumes the church as a goal. Is church the goal of the New Testament in the Gospels or the epistles? No. The goal, from what we learn from Jesus, is the Kingdom of God. Thus the church is not the goal but merely the collection of those who are participating in the transition from one kingdom to another. We who have been freed from the bonds of slavery to Sin and the Law are even now transitioning into taking up the patterns of the Kingdom of God. And so this transition is marked by a seeming permanent liminality in which we cannot find the established structures until the Kingdom has come in full. The Church has thought itself as a mini-model of the Kingdom and so organized itself according to the structures of status and establishment. Only in doing this it has stalled the process of transition. True maturity means taking hold of those patterns of liminality in full, as individuals and as individuals gathered together for the same goal.

Thus, we might be able to use this list as a guide to our own methods of growth. If we fall into the established side in our goals or structures we will be embracing a stalled life in some respect. The more we take up, and take up into ourselves, the more we will reflect the principles of the coming Kingdom and be more in tune with the Spirit of God who, as a Person, is the Kingdom of God among us.

That’s why the New Testament is filled with the language that admonishes people towards the qualities of the liminal state and away from the qualities of the established state. We cannot settle or stop because we have been called to become heirs and citizens of the Kingdom that encompasses eternity.

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