coverFred Polak (1961) writes of what he calls the “broken future of western culture.” He notes it is the first time we have experienced an “absence of persuasive positive images of the future.”

And isn’t that OUR story — the story of the western church? True, we still have hope — we still say that we believe God’s kingdom has come and is coming. But we have transferred much of that kingdom hope to the systems and technologies that have improved our lives. Increasingly that secular hope feels empty. At the same time our churches are greying and looking thin, our budgets decreasing, our buildings closing. It feels like the church itself has a broken future — we have entered a liminal space.

The transition from modernity to post-modernity and from Christendom to post-Christendom, combined with the rise of new media, have generated a liminal space for entire communities of faith. Churches are entering a nowhere land that has come into being in the turbulent waters of societal shift. We have become travelers with maps that are outdated and no longer describe the landscape.

In liminal space identity is suspended. Complex cultural forces are now generating liminal space for entire communities of people. In The Critical Journey Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich describe faith transitions as “hitting the wall.” This difficult phase often occurs for individuals in mid-life. Now, however, it’s happening for whole organizations. Hitting the wall is a manifestation of liminal conditions for faith organizations. Churches that have hitherto been very outward oriented, busy and successful, find themselves confronted with new questions as they begin to decline, and a thriving ministry passes into memory. Why do we do what we do? What are our end goals here? Where have we placed our hope? The outward journey gives way to an inward journey that requires heart work and the integration of the shadow self.

On Friday evening we saw Steve Bell in concert singing, along with his classic work, new songs like ‘Turn It Around.’ There comes a time when we realize that we have lost our way, and that the orienting point might be the point of our departure. We have to reach back, turn it around.

3 Comments on broken futures

  1. Dorothy says:

    Len…is this a new book of yours? Would this be an excerpt from it? Can you please explain the term liminal. I’m not familiar with it, although I can guess from its context. Thanks

  2. It’s a new book I am contemplating 🙂 Here is some more on ‘liminal’ —

    We live in transitional times. The word “limina” means threshold, a place that is by definition in-between. Liminality is a space in-between, a transition point. Contradiction is one of the elements of liminality. One April Sunday my family and I visited a young church community in our town. On the way to the meeting we noticed two very different restaurant signs. The first invited, “Come in from the cold; warm food and hot drinks.” The second proclaimed, “Swing into spring. Escape the heat with our smoothies and frappacinos.”

    Is it winter, or spring? When the seasons are in transition, and the old season hasn’t quite given way to the new, we don’t know what kind of weather to expect or even how to dress on a given morning. When we walk out the door it might be hot, or it might be cold. Worse, it may start out warm then shift to cold while we are on the road. We are plunged into uncertainty.

    When the church is in transition, the same kind of confusion surfaces…

  3. Dorothy says:

    Thanks, Len, that helps to understand liminal…seems like a useful word at this time in history. Wonder if it’s a new word? I say “yes please” to the new book idea! Dorothy