Hell in the hallway
I picked up the book Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth by Samuel Chand and following the time-tested Adler practices learned in this course, I perused the front and back, along with Table of Contents, before looking at the back inside flap. There, staring at me was Dr. Chand, in all his airbrushed glory. My reaction, I regret to say, was not charitable. How would I learn anything about pain from someone who had some marketing agent eliminate any trace of angst from the photo? I wanted to hear from someone who had taken hits for the team, who had come eyeball-to-eyeball with death and had meekly survived.
Thankfully, I discovered as I began reading, Dr. Chand did provide a back story that made him a credible witness. Born in India into a pastor’s family, he emigrated to the USA at age twenty. These early years were lonely and challenged by poverty – he recounts not talking to his family for the first four years and relied on dumpster-diving at the local grocery store for food – and as an Indian immigrant in the Deep South, he faced hateful discrimination even from his Bible college board and staff. His own story of persevering through pain is echoed in over a dozen other leaders who recount their own unique challenges, and how God somehow, miraculously, takes devastating experiences and fabricates a new pathway forward that redeems the pain for positive impact.
The book reads more as a devotional book than an academic exploration of the pain of leadership. However, one approaches stories contemplatively not academically. How can this story speak to me in my situation? The experience of Bishop Mark Chironna of Church on the Living Edge is one story that caught my eye, specifically for his use of the term “liminal”. He identifies liminal space as being that critical juncture where pain meets us, and we are formed into someone new. He declares:
“Liminal space is a concept in theology and psychology. It is the intermediate, in-between, transitional state where you cannot go back to where you were because a threshold has been crossed, and you have yet to arrive where you are going because it is not yet available to you. Essentially it is the hallway between the past and the future. I can tell you quite candidly: it’s hell in the hallway.”
When we’re in our rooms, we’re comfortable and occupied with the task at hand: in the kitchen we cook, in the bedroom we sleep, in the bathroom we shower and shave. The purpose of the room guides our activity and gives meaning. It’s when we transition to the liminal space of the hallway that we let go of the former tasks and begin anew. No one normally camps out in a hallway. It’s a place of surrender – a difficult process for those of us who love being in control and who are more concerned with image management than authenticity. With so much uprooting in the liminal space, it’s also the time when God has the greatest opportunity to change us because our hearts are more tender and pliable in the midst of transition.
Being in limbo is an opportunity to rest in God and trust Him for His provision and leading. It’s also a place where strategic life decisions are made that propel us forward into a better future. I think of our various readings over this course which proclaim this same truth.
We learn of Ignatius in Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership and of his militaristic past, and during a long recovery from injury found himself captivated by a book on the lives of the saints. “A profound and permanent religious conversion during his convalescence gave him a spiritual destination, but translating that goal into mature, sensible engagement in the everyday world proved a long, drawn-out, torturous process.” In the solitary year he spent in bed, Ignatius gathered a vision that would lead him to begin a company of pilgrim activists that continues to shape our world.
Sometimes being stuck in the hallway means living in the tension between certainty and doubt. Dominic Erdozain, in The Soul of Doubt, writes of Luther, Spinoza, Calvin, and Wesley, and their theological meanderings which abandoned the primacy of the Catholic church in setting doctrine, and drove the responsibility to the individual to ascertain truth. Many of these characters would live in the liminal space that forced and cultivated greater faith. When we abandon institutions, we force ourselves into the hallway to recognize our own need for vibrant faith.
Finally, the metaphor of William Cavanaugh’s book, Being Consumed, speaks to a place of liminality. He holds up the Eucharistic bread as the Body of Christ, and we see in this the self-surrender of our Lord, leaving his identity and place of belonging to become one of us. “…[T]he mission of Christ is also the very form of self-emptying, in which he who is in the form of God is abandoned to the cross… Thus, in the very discipleship in which the Christian ‘loses his soul’, he can attain his true identity.” In the Lord’s surrender, we find ourselves. It’s another gift of the liminal space where leadership pain bears lasting fruitfulness.
In the pain of my own leadership, I’ve found regular spiritual direction with a discerning friend to be a life-saver to offer a different, more robust perspective while I’m stuck in the hall. He follows an Ignatian spirituality, and together we’re reading James Martin who cites the example of Ignatius.
“Ignatius … reminds us to strive for indifference to all created things. That means not shrinking from accepting sickness, poverty, dishonor, or even a short life. Through a variety of meditations [in the Spiritual Exercises], Ignatius reminds us that life will often present us with hardships: this is assumed in the Exercises, as it is assumed in the Christian tradition.”
We will encounter all kinds of pain on our journey. Will we run from it, or allow it to change us as we wait in the hallway?
 Adler, Moritmer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. (New York: MJF, 1972), 34.
 Chand, Samuel R. Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth. (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015), 56.
 Lowney, Chris. Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year Old Company That Changed the World. (Chicago: Loyola, 2003), 41.
 Erdozain, Dominic. The Soul of Doubt: The Religious Roots of Unbelief from Luther to Marx. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.
 Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008), 83.
 Martin, S.J., James. The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 293.
17 responses to “Hell in the hallway”
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Yes, Mark. Beautiful. Liminal space also caught my attention (though I must admit, I was much more critical of Chand than you, without ever having seen a single photograph of the guy.)
I think of the period of missionary adaptation as liminal space, so in a way, my whole project is about helping people navigate the “Hell in the hallway.”
Where is the liminal space in philanthropy?
Good question. For me, it’s kind of like the whole kingdom of God theology where we are caught between the now and not yet. Philanthropy strategizes to impact the world, yet it rarely happens in the way we expect.
Congratulations on accomplishing our final book of this semester.
Every week for a couple of years I had a guy drop in the church to let me know if I would name it and claim it (just have faith), I could eliminate the problems in my life. I cringed weekly, and after reading this book, I thought of God using our pain, not removing it, as an act of love. I finally told the guy he didn’t need to stop by anymore…
Your hallway illustration is strong! And I believe you did a great job fleshing it out, including using the outside sources. As always, well done Mark!
That was probably a wise call on your part to disinvite the guy. 😉
I love the illustration of the hallway, yes it can be hell but I have found myself learning to rely on God much more, and learning who I am in Him while in the hallway. How does the hallway play itself out in the world of philanthropy? I think it would be an interesting process. Is it the waiting for the go ahead to use the resources or is it the process of moving the givers into the direction you feel God using them that gives you the greatest pain?
My response would be that money is just a tool. I am more concerned with what’s happening in people, and I hope that in giving well they can also be changed.
We just reviewed all of our ministries as a gesture for the beginning of the next fiscal year. Though some are ongoing, and somewhat easy to evaluate, it is those that events that are periodic, or in some cases, costly, that really cause the greater scrutiny. I viewed the “hallway” in that same light. As ministers, there are a number of things that may verify that our ministry is working…but sometimes it is those less than obvious, or more strenuous efforts that help to show us whether or not the congregation…or the minister is actually growing. Those rough reality checks can slap a minister into submission or fight mode.
Mark, I saw more of a “minister growth” book in this reading, rather than a book for the congregation. Did you see it more helpful to clergy or to congregation folk?
Thanks for your observations from your own ministry. As we evaluate ministry effectiveness, I would be reluctant to measure success based purely on statistics of apparent growth. I think we all long for substantive transformation in individuals and through programs, but sometimes it is a challenge to discern this. Knowing the heart of the program leaders and their calling may help.
I see this book as being designed for ministry leaders rather than the congregation, but like others have blogged, I would suggest the author had a limited view of what makes for success.
I saw the picture of Chand the same way you did, thanks for seeing the subliminal message inside the airbrushed picture. You could be a police detective for sure! We’ll talk more in person about your deductive skills in HK.
Excellent compare-contrast with Chand’s liminal space and our previous authors. Well done! Can you translate the ‘hallway” metaphor to more of an outdoor context? For the last 3 months I lived in a small 1 room living space. I did not have any hallways to hold doubt and certainty at opposing ends. When I flew, I had a 3-foot isle between the flight compartment and the main cabin, but I assure you doubt was pushed all the way to the back of the plane. We had to focus on certainty to survive. I wonder if leaders applied more survival instincts into their hallway moments what would happen?
You, more than most, have “lived” in the hallway. I respect that place of service and calling and am looking forward to learning more the next time we are together.
Thanks for this post, Mark!
I liked the way that you approached Chand and his “airbrushed-ness”, to call that out. But then, how you also took what he had to offer, like the notion of the “liminal space” of the hallway. “Test everything, hold fast to that which is good” is what the scripture says, and that is what you have done here. You also took us back through the course readings for this semester and tied in some strings and streams. Well done.
I struggled to know how to approach this book until I discovered the liminal space metaphor. Then from that nugget, I found I could see alignment with the other readings.
Mark your intro cracked me up. I read it digitally and missed the picture of the author. Between you and Mike description is making me what to google a photo :-).
“a difficult process for those of us who love being in control…”; you wrote on the hallway as a place we don’t want to be, hang out and maybe even acknowledge. I feel like I am standing in the doorway of my ministry feeling like there is a change coming my way. This hit me where I am see it as a disruption to a plan that I currently have and not yet wanting to see it as an inevitable transition.
“Being in limbo is an opportunity to rest in God and trust Him for His provision and leading.” I have have probably said this (or something similar) many times over the years and believe it-especially for someone else. When we find ourselves living it, our perspective changes. Limbo living, hallway living is scary but we know also part of the journey.
Greg… for the photo, check this out: http://www.samchand.com/
Great to hear from you and see you tomorrow!
This is a wonderful post, Mark. Humorous in the beginning, gracious throughout, connections to other readings, and focused on an area that is so important, and particularly relevant for my life in this time. Once again, as five years ago, we are about to move into liminal space as a family. I love Brueggemann’s Spirituality of the Psalms, where he describes the biblical movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation. Disorientation and liminal space seem quite synonymous to me. Thank you for drawing this out.
Enjoyable last post for the quarter Mark. I loved your illustration of the hallway being the place where we struggle between certainty or doubt. Your statement was well written: “Many of these characters would live in the liminal space that forced and cultivated greater faith. When we abandon institutions, we force ourselves into the hallway to recognize our own need for vibrant faith.” I wish more of us were forced into a space where we found more vibrant faith, even if it involved a little pain.
Hi Mark! I found your observation about Chand’s book being more of a devotional than a leadership book interesting – I didn’t have the chance to dig into it that deeply. Your hallway picture was a great visual to demonstrate your thought on a place of struggle – and transition – I may use that with clients! As a leader do you tend to be the runner or the hang out and hang on?