Omarm deze liminale ’tussentijd’! (Global Missiology)

In het redactionele stuk van Global Missiology ( van oktober 2020 schrijft Wanjiru M. Gitau over het omarmen van de liminale ’tussentijd’ in deze tijd van corona waarin we afstand moeten houden. Gitau schrijft in het Engels:

In this issue of Global Missiology we are confronted with the reality that crossing frontiers and crossing cultures in order to take the gospel to others is not what it once was. The disruptive reckoning has been going on for several generations, but it is the global coronavirus that seals this disruption and serves as a major wake up call. The coronavirus has disrupted the most significant aspect of mission: travel and human contact in meetings, conferences, church activities, and generally busy work. Of necessity, many events have shifted to online activities. Christian mission was meant to consist of human-to human contact conveying the love and care of God and inviting a personalized response. This interaction was personified through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Along that same vein, one particular episode of Jesus’s life on earth represents the best response to our contemporary disruption. For the moment, what matters is not his great commissions. Not his teachings or his many miracles. Not the disciples’ mission in Acts.

Rather, what particularly instructs us now is the 18 long years of Jesus’s silence, during which we know little about what he was doing. After the episode of a 12-year-old Jesus traveling with his parents to and from Jerusalem for their annual pilgrimage, there comes a time of utter silence about his life. But we can imagine. Luke 4 can help us recreate his teen and young adulthood years. When we meet Jesus in Luke 4 (and also Matthew 4), his responses to the devil’s temptations are deeply steeped in awareness of scripture. When we meet him at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, where he had been brought up, a scroll is handed to him by an attendant. He unrolls a specific scripture, one that replays the suffering, poverty, and injustices of his day. His exegesis of that text, although we are not told the content of his sermon, demonstrates  people’s condition in the entire region. What is notable behind this text reading is that Jesus had lived in this world, and though he had not activated his mission all these long years he had become thoroughly educated, both formally and informally. When we later encounter the immense suffering of ordinary people, including through the injustice meted out by the Romans and the burdens imposed by religious leaders, we cannot help wonder why Jesus did not engage sooner to change the situations. We wonder until we realize that Jesus took time to learn, to study, to understand, in fact to interact with his people at a very human level, in a context of working as a carpenter himself. He is so ordinary that the people do a double-take: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”

And that is the point. While he was young and unknown, Jesus existed in what anthropologist Victor Turner refers to as a liminal space. Early on he knew that he must be about his father’s business. But the business must await the fullness of God’s set time. So he lives in this in between place. A liminal condition is that place of contingency, “between and betwixt,” aware and yet so limited, disordered, even disintegrated and troubled because one is pained by one’s own limitations and the pains of others. Like the hero in the making, one starts to see new possibilities, but they must await the proper moment, the crowning rite of passage. To otherwise force change through immature action is to short-circuit the real work of transformation that must take place in a person, and that later in the world he is going to face. So he humbles himself and endures an invisible, ambiguous existence, so ambiguous that even powers that be later have a hard time tracing his roots. He is a persona non grata. But that is what an important mission takes. Liminal existence.

Lately, as Christians have grappled with the loss of fellowship over the virus shutdowns, there has been a great deal of talk about revival of all things church and mission. But we really are not ready for renewal of any kind, unless, like a good bag of tea, we are soaked and steeped in this space where we are almost useless to the world. Liminality precedes renewal and transformation. A great deal of angst is generated in this status, and nothing of consequence seems to be happening, but yet a lot is happening! Yes, like the cocoon metamorphosing into a butterfly. It’s like the baby growing in the mother’s womb. It is a space even of doubt. For some, it’s a dark passage where they must reinvent themselves. And, no, it’s not exile, because exile entails expulsion and exclusion. Neither is it suffering and persecution, because the whole world is forced into this space together. It is just that Christians are invited intentionally to engage the apparent obscurity of this uncertain space. Just as Jesus in his 18 years, and then his 40 days of wilderness inaugurating experience. When we finally meet him, we meet a man very well aware of his world. A man who does not engage in confrontation with the Roman occupiers, although he could have called a legion of angels at his command. Even the crowds he fed could have formed his army. He resists pragmatic shortcuts to fulfilling his mission. He goes about deliberately, almost inefficiently forming the community that must carry on his mission. But that intentionality is exactly what forms a different mission than anything the world has ever seen.

Scholars like to fish for paradigm shifts. Social activists want to change and want it now. Evangelists want conversions and as many as possible so they can preempt hell. And church plants want multiple lights on a hill, lots of church communities on the landscape. There is a time for such. But if our time of disruption, enforced by a disease, shuts all that down, let participants in the overall cross-cultural mission movement, in its many expressions — evangelism, church planting, social care — set aside the frenetic activity, and lean into this Selah moment. We have heard it said that the word Selah means something like, “stop and listen,” as with a musical interlude. Let’s stop and listen. The time for action will come soon enough.

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