liminality

I was talking with someone about the transition between 2017 and 2018 recently and they remarked on how often they have heard the phrase ‘liminal space’ in recent months. Liminal space is the time between what has been and what will be. It’s a threshold. It can be a moment (such as the split second before Big Ben bongs in a new year – the time between one year and the next) and it can be an a lengthy period of time of waiting. In some ways life is a constant liminal space – we are not time-travellers so live in an eternal present where we can’t go back to what was and the future is always just out of reach ahead of us.

It doesn’t even have to be temporal, it can be an emotional space or a spiritual space. Theologically Christians think of living in the Kingdom of God tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’. Liminal space can be unsettling because there is uncertainty. It involves waiting (patiently?) and is a time of potentiality. There may be hope, there may be fear. It is also a place of possibilities, a place where we may be transformed and where creativity may flourish because nothing is fixed.

I think that I focused on the phrase ‘liminal space’ because it resonates at the moment with my own personal experience. I am on a waiting list for some surgery that I have been told will be ‘soon’ but at the time of writing that is as definite as they are able to be. I was told that it could have been before Christmas (which meant having to cancel some engagements to allow churches to find someone else – ‘maybe’ is not a helpful answer to a church when they ask you if you are able to come and preach or take a service!) and am still having to work on a week-by-week basis as the phone call could come at any time. I found this very frustrating because of the disruption to those I am trying to serve and the restrictions it places on what I believe I am called to do.

Liminal space may seem like wasted space – it’s space where hopes and dreams remain just that and ambitions are unrealised. But I decided that I was going to look for the possibilities: the transformative and creative experiences that this liminality may offer me. One thing it has given me is more space in my diary so I have been able to do more reading than I often get space for (and reduced the size of my pile of ‘to read’ books). I have been able to exercise a bit more creativity and use my imagination in putting together some reflections on the Kingdom of God. I have been able to take the initiative in meeting up with some people (and as so often seems to happen finding that God’s timing was in this). And the contents of my email inboxes have been kept to single figures!

But what happens when we feel the weight of being in a liminal space? Psalm 40 feels like it was written when David was in a liminal space:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.

Blessed is the one
who trusts in the Lord,
who does not look to the proud,
to those who turn aside to false gods.
Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire –
but my ears you have opened; –
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come –
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.’

I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly;
I do not seal my lips, Lord,
as you know.
10 I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help.
I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness
from the great assembly.

11 Do not withhold your mercy from me, Lord;
may your love and faithfulness always protect me.
12 For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
13 Be pleased to save me, Lord;
come quickly, Lord, to help me.

14 May all who want to take my life
be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
be turned back in disgrace.
15 May those who say to me, ‘Aha! Aha!’
be appalled at their own shame.
16 But may all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
‘The Lord is great!’

17 But as for me, I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
you are my God, do not delay.

(NIVUK)

The psalm starts positively – David had waited patiently in his slimy pit and the Lord had rescued him and put him on solid ground. Great! Things can only get better now – and the psalm certainly feels like it’s moving in that direction. Yet it finishes with a call for the Lord to remember David in his needy state and not to delay in rescuing him. Has he fallen back into the slimy pit? Or is this a psalm written while David is in a difficult liminal space so that his first statement was a remembering of past times when God rescued him and his last statement is a cry of hope for the future, built on the confidence of knowing that God had rescued him in the past?

One response to the weight of liminality is to remind ourselves of moments when we have experienced God’s presence and salvation in the past and re-build our confidence in the present on the foundations of God’s faithfulness to help us face the future. In the past David had sung a new song because of his experience of God’s rescue and that meant he was able to speak confidently about his God in the present even if he was in further difficult circumstances. The liminal experience became a creative experience. How might you express creatively your experience of God’s faithfulness (you may not be a singer but God has given you creative gifts perhaps as a poet, a flower-arranger, an artist, a dancer, a builder, a carer, a theologian or even a preacher!)? Or maybe you can take David’s words and make them your own.

And let’s also remember that when Jesus said, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” it was a statement of fact. For his followers we know that his Spirit is in us. He is with us. Fact. He doesn’t ride to the rescue at the last minute like the hero in a movie when all seems lost, he is with us in the slimy pit (or however our liminal space manifests itself). He is with us. It’s a fact that doesn’t even depend on whether we feel his presence. We are not alone even if our emotions are masked by depressive illnesses and God feels a million miles away – he is with us. If you go and stand in a deep dark cave with someone you trust and turn off the lights you may not be able to see them or sense their presence, but the fact is that they are still there. So is God. That knowledge may not change the circumstances but it may enable us to look at them differently.

May you know blessing, joy and peace of God’s presence and the encouraging comfort of remembering his faithfulness this year whether you are standing on firm ground or find yourself in a slimy pit.

that moment when your computer needs to update and you need to use it… urgently

I usually prepare my sermons in the first half of a week. That gives me space to reflect on it and adjust things. I usually wait until the Sunday morning to do any final adjustments before saving it as a PDF and sending it to my tablet computer from which I like to preach. This is what works for me.

Yesterday morning I switched my computer on just before 8am and gone to get a cup of coffee. When I got back to my computer I was faced with a message that told me that Windows 10 was installing new updates and that it may take a while.

old-man-window
Sometimes you have to wait for ages for your windows to update

Oh.

I needed to be on my way soon after 9.30am.

I did research options to see if I could intervene and stop the process but none of them seemed safe enough to attempt if I wanted to be certain of accessing my computer afterwards.

I then prayed. I prayed that the update might finish in time for me to access the computer and get hold of the sermon, or that at the least I might be able to remember enough to preach something close to what I had been working on earlier in the week.

I thought of an update(!) to an old joke that I could tell at the start of my sermon: A preacher’s computer decided to update itself on the Sunday morning so he couldn’t access his sermon. He had to go to the church without his notes. As he stood up to preach he explained the situation to his congregation and finished with these words, “… so today I will just have to rely on the Holy Spirit for my sermon. Next week I hope to do better.”

I posted something on social media via my phone so I could get some sympathy (with hashtags in case Microsoft monitors them) and perhaps some extra prayers. Other Ministers expressed that they were having similar problems – solidarity in frustration.

And I looked again at the passage from which I was preaching and tried to recall what I thought I was going to say.

By 9am I was entirely ready to leave: the car was packed, the satnav knew where to direct me, and I was clean and tidy. But my computer had only reached about 75%.

By 9.30am we were at 96%. But the final 4% seemed to be taking ages.

At 9.38am the computer announced that it had finished installing the updates. I smiled with relief and waited for it to boot up.

Except that the booting up was taking much longer than normal, presumably because it was still updating itself.

I managed finally to get into the computer and print off the sermon (on paper, not high tech tabletty stuff) and leave the house by 9.45am. I got to the church safely and on time and all went well from there…

This morning I tried to find out if there were settings I could change to ensure that this didn’t happen again. I couldn’t find a ‘ask my permission before installing updates’ setting. Instead there was a setting in which I declare my normal working hours within which Windows should not install updates. It had been set to 8am – 5pm. The updating process had happened just before 8am, but it took well over an hour and a half that took it into my declared working time. I have now adjusted that setting so that my declared working hours start earlier and finish later (at least as far as my computer is concerned).

So I offer a few reflections:

Did God speed up the updating process? I don’t think so. But he gave me the patience and serenity to cope in what was a very frustrating time. That often seems to be how he answers prayer – changing me rather than the circumstances.

Will I change the way that I work? Probably. I will transfer the sermon to my tablet earlier in the week so I have a back up I can use, but still do my final preparation on a Sunday morning and if necessary send a newer version to the tablet at that stage. Do we adapt ourselves to others or expect them to adapt to us?

What else have I learnt?

  • That God is more reliable than the other things I rely on to fulfil the calling he has placed on my life and I need to rely on him more and them less.
  • That it’s helpful having some good friends who offer good advice, prayers and (if nothing else) make me smile. I need to be ready to do the same for them.
  • The computer programmers who designed the software don’t appear to have thought through the implications of not asking us whether it is convenient to update at that particular time. How often do I pause to think through any unintended implications of my actions that may inconvenience others, even when they seem like a good idea?
  • It would have been helpful if a pop-up message had told me that they weren’t going to ask my permission to update in future so I knew what to do about that. How often does my failure to communicate fully with others cause them upset?

Be blessed, be a blessing

s l o w m o t i o n . . .

snailI had an interesting experience yesterday. I was preaching at a church where I had previously done a magic show for their leaders and their partners. Yesterday one of them told me that he had taken a video of some of the show, and in particular had a slow motion video of a ‘knife throwing’ illusion that I performed with Stew the Rabbit. Initially I was a little bit alarmed as I thought he would say that the slow motion video showed how I had managed to perform the illusion.

Then he showed me the video.

The video is about 38 seconds long but captures what probably only took about 10 seconds in real time. At first, because the action is slowed down so much, nothing seems to be happening. In fact for the first ten seconds you can’t tell whether or not the video is running – other than by watching the counter at the bottom of the screen tick over.

Then, slowly, imperceptibly, the illusion unfolds and (I am rather chuffed about this) even in very slow motion you can’t see any of the sneakiness I employed. Sadly I can’t post video on my blog site as I am too cheap to pay the extra needed to be able to do that, but if you are interested you can watch it on youtube (spoiler alert you will see part of one of my illusions).

Watching the video reminds me of how, because we live life at a fast pace, we can sometimes think that nothing is happening when what we really need to do is wait patiently. We hear about negotiations between parties who are at loggerheads (nations, employers / employees, partners) and because we don’t hear how things are going we think they are failing when significant progress is being made behind the scenes. We make plans and because we don’t see instant results we think that the plans have come to nothing. We pray and because we don’t get an instant answer (or the one we want) we imagine that God’s not bothering to respond this time.

But just because, from our perspective, we can’t see any visible results it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening, or that nothing will happen. Patience is a virtue for a reason (it’s something God’s Spirit enhances within us – slowly)! Perseverance is commended in the Bible because we see things in real time on a linear space-time continuum rather than from God’s perspective beyond time (and yet with us in it too).

Don’t give up just because it looks like nothing is happening, be patient, watch and pray. (This is also good advice if you have lit a firework and nothing seems to be happening!!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

being a good patient

waiting-for-my-planeThis bloggage is nothing to do with my surgery or subsequent transformation into a Minion (see previous bloggages if you don’t know what I mean).

Way back in February I ordered an illusion from a manufacturer in the USA. And they sent it off to me in the post. I waited.

And waited.

I was patient.

And I waited some more.

Eventually I ran out of patience and emailed the company to say that it hadn’t arrived and we agreed that it was not going to arrive so they said they would send another one. The thing is that they make the illusions themselves so they had to make another one before they could send it.

Time passed.

Eventually they told me that another one was on the way.

(It was now May)

So I waited.

I was still patient (mostly).

I waited some more.

And eventually I contacted the company and they agreed that it was not going to arrive.

So they made another one…

And I waited.

Then (at the beginning of August) they sent the third one, just as the first one arrived back at the company marked ‘undeliverable’ with no explanation about why that was the case.

So now, guess what?

I am waiting.

I now have a tracking number that enables me to know that the package is currently at Chicago’s O’Hare airport waiting to cross the Atlantic.

But I have no idea if or when it will make it to me, especially as we are moving house on Tuesday next week and while I am redirecting the post I don’t know if this will be included in that.

They say that patience is a virtue.

I think it is more than that. I think (agreeing with St Paul in the Bible) that it is a fruit that God’s Spirit grows in us as we allow ourselves to be open to him. And I am not just talking about patience in waiting for parcels, events or even people. I think it is primarily about patience in waiting for God’s timing. That comes with a growing acceptance that God (who sees everything) has a far far better idea of what is going on and what the best thing would be than my best and most certain plan ever could be. It comes with a willingness to pray ‘Thy will be done’ and mean it. It comes with a willingness and determination to wait for THE moment even if it means staying in a slimy pit, walking through the darkest valley or even being willing to remain there until we shuffle off this mortal coil.

That’s not easy. But it’s much more than a virtue. It’s hard. It’s robust. It’s a determined attitude. It’s a willingness to surrender to God. It’s not easy to understand. And it’s not something we can manufacture.

But when we really do allow the fruit to grow (and help create the right conditions for it to flourish through a ‘Thy will be done’ approach to life) we will find that it is also a source of peace, strength, comfort and hope.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

pacing

TrafficHow do you feel when you are driving along a single carriageway road and someone in front of you is driving way below the speed limit and slower than is necessary in the prevailing weather conditions?

It is one of the things I find irritating when I am driving (but am praying for patience to grow). I can understand it if there is a vehicle like a tractor at the front of the queue of traffic that is unable to go above a certain speed. Indeed there’s something almost comical about the tractor driver trying to urge every last mile per hour out of his powerful vehicle that probably has more horsepower than any of the cars behind it but has gearing designed for off-road driving not on-road.

That’s not what am talking about here. What I find difficult is when a car that is perfectly capable of reaching the speed limit for that road is being driven much slower than necessary. And because of the layout of the road (or the roadmarkings) nobody is able to overtake them. They acquire a queue of traffic behind them that is forced to drive at the speed of the car at the front. There’s one road in Colchester that seems to attract these drivers. It’s a road with national speed limit signs at the start (aka 60mph) but many drivers seem to think that the speed limit is 40mph.

In those circumstances, to try to calm myself down, I try to think of reasons why they are driving so slowly. Perhaps their car is in ‘limp home mode’ and is electronically restricted to a reduced speed in order to protect a sick engine. Maybe the driver has only recently passed their driving test and is still a bit anxious. Perhaps the car is a pedal car and the driver is pedalling as fast as they can…

Whatever the real reason, it does mean that everyone else is reduced to travelling at the speed of the car at the front.

Sometimes travelling at the speed of the slowest person is not such a bad thing. In collective decision-making it is often good to try to move gently enough for everyone to understand and be ‘up to speed’. If you are walking in a group it is best to travel at the speed of the slowest person so that nobody is left behind.

And I am grateful that Jesus walks with me on the journey of life at my pace. He doesn’t race on ahead or hang behind. He paces himself perfectly to walk with me.

I have commented before that perhaps my favourite passage in the Bible is Luke 24, where Jesus walks alongside a couple of his friends after his crucifixion and resurrection. For the whole journey they did not recognise him but he walked at their pace and taught at their pace. It’s a brilliant narrative.

Through whom is he accompanying you today? Or who is he accompanying through you?

Pace yourself.

And I will seek to be more patient behind the wheel of my car (especially as I will spend a lot more time there in my new role!).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

recapturing an attitude of gratitude

We live in a world that is moving at breakneck speed. I don’t just mean the speed with which we are hurtling in our orbit around the sun, or the speed at which our planet is spinning. The pace of life itself seems to be accelerating,  enabled by advances in technology, innovations in organisational techniques, and even pressures to perform well and outperform others.

and if you are anything like me you get rather frustrated when things do not move as fast as you think they should. Right now I am experiencing ‘techno-angst’ caused by my computer running a necessary and important backup process while I am trying to do other things with it. My computer is definitely a bloke because it struggles with multitasking and everything is running slowly this morning as a result. Tasks which it could normally manage almost instantaneously are now preceded by animated cursors indicating that the computer is thinking about doing something. I have not bothered measuring how long these delays are, nor how much more slowly my work is being produced, but I would not be surprised if, over the course of the year, there were significant numbers of days being lost to employers and home life that are being accompanied by these animated icons.

We have assimilated technology and the instantaneous nature of communication to such an extent that we now get frustrated when it doesn’t operate at the expected speed. When our broadband connection runs slowly we grind of teeth in frustration. When our computer fails to multitask as well as we hope we experience steam coming out of our ears. When traffic does not flow at top speed we rant at it (either internally or verbally). When change does not take place as quickly as we would like we sigh and roll our eyes.

We forget that it was not so many years ago that all of this was the stuff of science fiction. I was commenting to someone yesterday that when Star Trek: the Next Generation first appeared on our TV screens and they were controlling computers with touchscreens I thought that this was somewhat fanciful. I now use a tablet computer in my daily life and even use it to preach from instead of pieces of paper! (There is always the frisson of excitement with the thought that the tablet might freeze or crash in the middle of the sermon and I will not have a backup plan. Living on the edge!) science-fiction films were computers were controlled by voice were considered to be at best visionary or even somewhat unlikely just a couple of years ago and now we talk to our mobile phones to discover information and I am dictating to my computer right now.

In the hymn Abide with Me there is a line: “change and decay in all around I see”. Many people still associate change with the K: it is seen as a bad thing. We would much rather not have to change so that we can carry on within our comfortable lives. Change is disturbing, disruptive and disorientating. At least it is if we view it negatively. Change for a hungry person that brings food is welcomed. Change for the homeless that brings accommodation is embraced. Change for those who are shackled by guilt that brings liberation is celebrated.

I have commented before in a bloggage that most of the world does not have access to the technology with which you are reading this. Many of them would not even dream of it because it is so far beyond their daily experience. So before I start ranting about the speed of my computer I should bear in mind that the majority of the people in this world do not even have access to a pocket calculator. Before I complain about being stuck in a traffic jam I should remember that billions of people travel by foot, all would never be able to save enough money to own their own vehicle. When I I’m frustrated that I have not got a signal on my mobile phone I should remember that even though there are probably more mobile phones in the world that people, most people in the world do not have access to them, or even a landline.

It’s all about recapturing that attitude of gratitude. I think it’s a lovely phrase because it strips off the tongue, but it’s an even better phrase because it reflects how God would have us live: grateful to him for all that we have, grateful for all the blessings that we experience, grateful for the people around us who stand beside us even in the worst of circumstances, grateful for Jesus.

and… Relax. Breathe. Smile.

Be blessed, be a blessing. Make it so (for ST:TNG fans you will understand that reference)

 

ITILTOE – toilet is out of order (see previous two days for context)

One of the worst things about atheism is that ultimately there is no one to be grateful to.

than queue for waiting

Queue Line 2Apparently we Brits are quite polite. At least that is a reputation we have internationally. Allegedly we naturally form queues when waiting for something when people from other countries and cultures will start some form of rugby ruck or maul and pile in. It seems that we have a reputation for being patient people. I think I need to offer the world some caveats and amendments to this reputation. I would also suggest that this perception may be amended during the 2012 Olympics.

  1. When waiting in a queue at a bus stop the little old lady who arrives at the last minute, just before the bus arrives, will always take precedence over those who have been waiting for hours.
  2. When there are multiple queues you will always join the one that is moving slowest. This provides you with plenty of opportunities for deep sighing, eyebrow raising and tutting in the direction of the person in whose direction the queue is pointing.
  3. The natural queueing instinct can be overridden when there is chocolate or ice cream involved.
  4. The speed of movement of the queue is inversely proportionate to the length of time left before your car park ticket expires.
  5. Patiently waiting for parcels to be delivered becomes more difficult if you have to go out later in the day.
  6. Parcel delivery companies will usually leave it until the last minute of the “delivery window” in order to deliver an item for which you are waiting. The exception to this rule is that if you assume a last-minute delivery and go out, take a bath, or engage in any other activity that makes it impossible for you to answer the door the parcel will be delivered much sooner.
  7. When waiting in a doctor’s waiting room or at the hospital patients are no longer called “patients” after half an hour. Beyond this point they may be designated “victim, grumpy, bored or impatient.”
  8. There is a threshold of time beyond which fellow queuers develop a queue camaraderie. This threshold varies according to the length of the queue, how fast it is moving, and the importance of the activity for which the queue is waiting. For further analysis of this phenomenon see also ‘Blitz spirit’.

It seems to me that if someone could patent something to make queueing and waiting more bearable they could make a fortune. How do you bottle patience?

This seems to be one spiritual fruit that rarely ripens!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

patiently impatient

Dear Bloggists

Today’s apparent silence has been because someone had broken the internet. Or at least the part of it to which we are supposedly connected. This is becoming a frustratingly frequent occurrence. I am impatient for them to fix it.

Isn’t amazing how quickly we assimilate technology and start to rely on it? It was less than 15 years ago that I got my first computer with a dial-up modem (6k!) and now I get frustrated that I don’t get the ‘up to’ 20MB broadband speeds. I am impatient when things don’t download instantly.

It was less than three years ago that I got my first internet-friendly phone, and now I am frustrated that my Blackberry is not 3G and is slow at connecting to the www, never mind that it is connecting far faster than my first modem! I am impatient to connect.

It is easy for us to have the same attitude to what God does in our lives and through us…

We have four people preparing for Believer’s Baptism at the moment and I am thrilled to bits. But I want more.

We have regular newcomers coming along to our church, and it’s a joy to meet them and for them to join us for this part of their journey of faith. But I want to see more.

There are people who are coming to faith in our church, which is FANTASTIC! But I would love to see lots more.

Is it wrong to be impatient with God and what he is doing? Or is it the case that he could do a considerable amount more through us if we stopped trying to do things on our own and joined in with what he wants to do? If he wasn’t so gracious he would probably be getting quite impatient with me!

A man lay sprawled across three entire seats in the posh theatre. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the man, “Sorry, sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”

The man groaned but didn’t budge. The usher became impatient. (There’s the link)

“Sir, if you don’t get up from there I’m going to have to call the manager.”

Again, the man just groaned, which infuriated the usher who turned and marched briskly back up the aisle in search of his manager. In a few moments, both the usher and the manager returned and stood over the man.

Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move him, but with no success. Finally, they summoned the police.

The copper surveyed the situation briefly then asked, “All right buddy, what’s your name?”

“Sam,” the man moaned.

“Where are you from, Sam?”

With pain in his voice, Sam replied, “The balcony.”