LGP Stories

Personal Stories from DMINLGP

Once Upon a Time: a visual ethnography

Written by: on June 8, 2017

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Liminality: A Poem

As she stepped through the doorway onto the Virgin Atlantic plane, she imagined crossing the wardrobe threshold into Narnia. While she’d travelled internationally, and even lived overseas, she’d never flown across the sea by herself. What was she doing? she asked herself. Why did she dare embark on this adventure? Should she grab a fur coat as she walked through the wardrobe into the forest, as she moved down the aisle to find seat 43E?

Moving into a temporary time and place, especially for the purpose of re-creation, is known as liminality. Explored by Victor Turner in the 1960s, liminality is a threshold, a place of crossing over. Liminality is that in-between place, a time/place of transition; the place between departure and arrival. Liminal is what happens during camps or retreats (or Advances!), as we’re pulled out of ordinary routines into something temporarily disruptive, in order to return changed to our place. Liminality is transformative rituals– baptisms, weddings, which move us from one reality to a new reality.[1]

What was she hoping for in England? Well, she supposed, maybe a portion of her identity restored. For too long she’d wrestled with losing her identification as a missionary (was it failure? or was it taken from her? or maybe she’d given it away). Self-doubt was a constant companion for her. Maybe she was hoping to shed that demon.

What she discovered, upon making her way from Paddington Station to the hostel that was their first home in England, was a group of strangers who knew neither her nor her demons. What she discovered was fellow students, advisors and mentors who were, secretly, her kin. Who knew? Students who, like her, were seeking something new, reimagining themselves, who discovered they needed each other. And guides who supported, led humbly, encouraged and challenged this new batch of first-years.

As this menagerie of students coalesced, they explored London together, soaking in sights, sounds, and smells of the place. Telling stories, laughing to tears, visiting pubs, walking (and dancing) across bridges and underground, and past bell towers and into theatres and churches. This batch of first-years discovered they’d been transformed into something new, The Sevens.

During the days, they listened to and absorbed concepts from leading practitioners, each working through the question, “how do we re-imagine ‘church’ in a post-Christian context?” So creative were the models! Each practitioner working from a different starting point, explored the current reality, what wasn’t working, and how to be a faithful community who lived the good news of Jesus in a particular place.

Our protagonist was particularly struck by MaryKate Morse’s lecture on the nameless woman clinging to the threshold of Judges 19. The spiral of how Israel lost its way, deteriorating from honoring the authority of named women leaders such as Deborah, to dismembering the voiceless, murdered concubine. Sacrificed and left on the wooden crossbeam of the house, she became a victim of anti-liminality (is that a word?), prevented from crossing the threshold of hospitality. She also became a foreshadowing of Jesus, humiliated, murdered on the beam of a cross. But unlike this nameless woman, Jesus didn’t remain on the threshold. He crossed over into death—a liminal place—and returned transformed and transforming.

The Sevens travelled to Oxford and explored the sights, sounds and smells of this ancient city, which seemed to dwell in a different century. In Oxford, our protagonist roamed in and out of stories, real and imagined. She stepped into Wonderland, Narnia, and Middle Earth. She wore her gown/shawl and carried her wand/pen, sensing that magic was only a veil away. She wandered the gardens, the staircases, the library, seeking to catch a glimpse of the White Rabbit or Harry Potter. And she recognized that part of her role, the role of a DMin student, was to offer a defense of the poetic, the metaphoric, the mythic, as Lester Ruiz dancefully worded it.

And one day, in a thin place, the veil between ordinary and magic was removed. She sat in the chapel of St Frideswide, with a humble and kind man, life coach Curtis Strauss. With St Frideswide looking down on them, he challenged her to voice her vision out loud. To rename herself and allow herself the dignity of a new identity. No longer ‘missionary’, she verbalized the name ‘pastor’; her shoulders lightened, her emotions released, and a demon was vanquished. What a gift to hand somebody.

Like a celebration, gifts continued to be given. Emma Percy contributed a model of mothering pastor. An affirmation that much of ministry is domestic, cyclical and without tangible ends. That pastors and mothers both preserve, foster growth, and encourage acceptability; this includes risk, letting go, and the tension of living in community. This model requires developing relationships of authenticity and trustworthiness. It challenges the pastor to equip people to grow together relationally, and to recognize that “the food is in the fridge,” that they can feed themselves.

She savored gifts given by Martyn Percy as well. Poet, “ecclesiologist” and dean of Christ Church, Oxford, Martyn understands the world through smell and the sensory: “Smells matter. Polycarp, as he was burned at the stake, ‘smelled of freshly baked bread,’ a fragrant offering. Bread is home, is Christ.” Martyn suggests that extraordinary signs of the Kingdom of God include coffee and meals together, that imagination includes spotting the gap and stepping into it, and that being called into ministry means being occupied with God and what God is about.

Jason Clark helped our protagonist recognize that we exist in the time between time, the beachhead of now and not yet, that we’re called to engage in everyday activities for the glory of God. Our protagonist felt lightheaded, as if waking from a dream. Knowing and choosing to resist the dread of stepping out of the wardrobe back into the reality of real life. As Jason reminded them, the present is the only time in which things must be done[2]; we must consciously live and work in the present. Determined, she wrapped her wizard’s robe/wings/shawl around her shoulders, hugged her beloved new kin, and bravely[3] stepped freshly formed across the plane’s threshold for the journey home.

[1] See especially Herminia Ibarra, Scott Snook, and Laura Guillen Ramo, “Identity-based Leader Development,” in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, ed. Notin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana (Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2010), 657-677).

[2] Kierkegaard said this, too.

[3] I am thinking here especially of the heroic risk-taking bravery of the ordinary, in Chris Lowney, Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-year-old Company that Changed the World. (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003), 209.

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About the Author

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Katy Drage Lines

In God’s good Kingdom, some people minister like trees, long-standing, rooted in a community. They embody words of Wendell Berry, “stay years if you would know… the genius of the place.” Others, however, are called to go. Katy is one of those pilgrims. A global nomad, Katy grew up as a fifth generation Colorado native, attended college & seminary and was ordained in Tennessee, married a guy from Pennsylvania, ministered for ten years in Kenya, worked as a children’s pastor in a small church in Kentucky, and served college students in a university library in Orange County, California. She recently moved to the heart of America, Indianapolis, and has joined the Englewood Christian Church community, serving with them as Pastor of Spiritual Formation. She & her husband Kip, have two delightful boys, a college sophomore and high school sophomore.

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