By Alan Hirsch While danger and crisis necessarily expose a person or a group to the possibility of destruction or failure, they also provide an opportunity for people to find the inner resources to overcome evil and enrich themselves as a result. Relationships develop into comradeships in such situations. Without using the explicit word “liminality,” seminal missiologist David Bosch rightly notes that strictly speaking one ought to say that the Church is always in a state of crisis and that its greatest shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it. This ought to be the case because of the abiding tension between the church’s essential nature and its empirical condition. . . . That there were so many centuries of crisis-free existence for the Church was therefore an abnormality. . . . And if the atmosphere of crisislessness still lingers on in many parts of the West, this is simply the result of a dangerous delusion. Let us also know that to encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the Church.
As mentioned in the previous blog, liminality (the conditions of risk, marginalization, or challenge) is the catalyst that awakens the possibility of communitas. We need to embrace it and learn from it. In many ways this relationship with liminality and communitas is reflected in the writings of a key organizational thinker and futurist Nassim Taleb. In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, he introduces the concept as follows:
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond simple resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.
The antifragile person or organization gains strength from occasions of stress or harm. This strength is much more powerful than resilience where the aim is to simply survive and return to some previously normal baseline of health. Antifragile organizations and people improve with stress and actually learn from and by adapting insights gained by risk and stress. The experience produces a robustness that enables them to thrive when faced with serious adversity. For instance, bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are antifragile systems. Equally of concern are the jihadist movements in the world that seem to be constantly learning and adapting to different strategies and tactics to counter them. According to Taleb, the larger point for the church as a whole is that depriving systems of vital stressors is not a good thing and in fact can be downright harmful. This needs to be heard because the historical church in the West is profoundly nonadaptive (we still largely hitch our thinking about church to obsolete European ecclesiology); we are risk averse and obsessed with our own safety.
Contrary to what we might feel, danger and risk can be good, even necessary, for us. Liminality can either create communitas or destroy us. Risk is the price we pay for genuine adventure, and without adventure, civilization is in full decay. The same is equally true for the church. And once again, it is largely because we have structured community in isolation from any real engagement with the world. We are missing the liminality-communitas experience because we have largely excluded the missional component that requires us to leave our safety zones and undertake risky engagement with the world. For some Christians, that might simply mean crossing the street.
Risk-Tribalizing can bring out the very best in us because liminality (the conditions of risk, marginalization, or challenge) highlights “the paradoxical nature of good and evil—at least as to how we experience it.” It highlights goodness and gives it a wholesome aspect that evil in itself denies. Or as the ever-insightful C. S. Lewis said,
I do not think the forest would be so bright, nor the water so warm, nor love so sweet, if there were no danger in the lakes.
This is an excerpt from the new edition of Alan’s cornerstone book, The Forgotten Ways https://goo.gl/wG08vD
Bosch, Transforming Mission, 2.
Taleb, Antifragile, 3–4.
Taleb, Antifragile, chap. 3. Taleb’s ideas are similar to the seminal ideas of economist Joseph Schumpeter, who maintained that economics is an evolutionary process of continuous innovation and “creative destruction.”
C. S. Lewis, quoted in Carnell, Bright Shadow of Reality, 109.