Reaching out in shared Chaos

I participate in a joint program with Ukraine and the United States that trains and certifies Ukrainian mental health professionals to address the vast trauma of war and its aftermath. The certificate program includes extensive teaching, learning, training, and supervision. American and Ukrainian mental health academics and professionals act as teachers and mentors. This takes place over Zoom, with the eight hour time difference. A translator is always present translating from Ukrainian to English and back again.

With increasing Russian missile attacks on civilian targets and infrastructure, utilities are always uncertain. Power blackouts are frequent. Wifi service is often interrupted. For example, in the case of my regular translator who lives Kiev, the electricity was out in her apartment building this week. To find Wifi service for our meeting, she drove to a nearby service station to find a signal. When that didn’t work, she cruised in her car until finding a community Wifi. Her car is her office, equipped with laptop and auxiliary batteries. More than once she has Zoomed in from a parking garage outside a hospital.

I work regularly with a supervisee in the program, and yesterday the electricity was out in his office, so he had to drive to a metro station to catch Wifi to Zoom in for a meeting, then back to his office to meet with a first-time client in the darkened offices. When we Zoomed in the evening, he was back at his apartment, that did have electricity at the moment. He said that utility crews are exercising super-human effort to get everything back online after attacks. “Imagine,” he said, “we are a European country in the 21st century and we are actually uncertain if we will have electricity, heat, water.”

These counselors deal with all of the garden variety mental health challenges anyone would see anywhere, and all of the trauma that accompanies war: fear of attack, separation from family, deaths and losses, relocations, and deprivations. Like chaplains serving in the front lines of the military ministering to their troops, or mental health workers in the midst of a disaster, these persons are in the midst of crisis, chaos, suffering, and vast uncertainty. And yet they stay. They serve. With resolve.

These are liminal guides, serving in extreme liminal circumstances, among a collective of persons experiencing complex social liminality.

My role, minor as it is, involves walking along side a liminal guide who is liminal himself. In addition to whatever insight might be shared, I am striving most to stand in solidarity, walk alongside, share the common humanity, to dwell in the land of deep darkness until the light shines. Kyrie Eleison. Господи помилуй

Combat or Humility in Multifaith Liminality? John W. Morehead

John M. Morehead is the Director of Multifaith Matters and He is the co-editor and contributing author for A Charitable Orthopathy: Christian Perspectives on Emotions in Multifaith Engagement, and Encountering New Religious Movements: A Holistic Evangelical Approach, and the editor of Beyond the Burning Times: A Pagan and Christian in Dialogue.

In this liminal month I thought I would take the occasion to write about opportunities we have for reflection on how many Christians enter the space between their congregations and the sacred spaces of others. Unfortunately, some of the more insightful lessons come by way of questionable forms of liminal multifaith encounter. I will address two of them in the Christian encounter with Latter-day Saints and Pagans.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known popularly as the Mormons, is a faith where ethics, ritual, and performance are especially significant. Although Christians usually focus on their doctrine, and where they diverge from historic orthodoxy, this is not the heartbeat of their lived religion. One of the more important aspects has been pageantry. When I first arrived in Utah in 2005 a friend of mine took me to the Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti. This annual event was held for two weeks and drew an average of 15,000 people each night. The pageant used drama, costumes, and spectacle to tell the story of the experiences of their founding prophet, Joseph Smith; the story of the Book of Mormon, one of their books of scripture; and the exodus of Mormon pioneers in their westward trek. This was a faith-promoting event, but just outside the temple grounds where the pageant was held, Christian apologists and would-be evangelists stood shouting Bible verses, holding up signs demeaning Joseph Smith, and calling Mormons to repentance from their “cult.” I was struck by the pageant, both in its artistry and what it meant to Mormons, as well as by the confrontational methods of the Christians. Many times, the feelings stirred up by the evangelists would lead to shouting and threats of violence, sometimes requiring police intervention.

Although the LDS Church no longer puts on such pageants, other religious groups pursue their own sacred expressions in public space. One such example is WitchsFest USA held in New York’s West Village during the summer. Pagans don’t meet in buildings and formal houses of worship, and instead gather outdoors in order to pursue their spirituality and build community. The Pagans weren’t alone. Some thirty “street preachers” were there, holding up signs and preaching “sermons” with heated rhetoric through bullhorns. This clash was picked up in an article in Religion New Service where the festival’s organizer, RavenHawk, is quoted as saying that the preachers “aren’t just protesting. They are collectively at war with us.”    

These examples aren’t the only ways Christians are entering liminal spaces and engaging religious others, but they are far too common. And in the American context of post-Trumpian, Christian nationalist polarization such militant engagement may happen even more frequently than in the past.

In this season of liminality, as we reflect on what it means to enter the liminal space with others, we have to ask whether the Christlike way of cruciform humility is best embodied through combative boundary maintenance and heresy hunting under the guise of gospel proclamation, or whether we and the other would be better served in liminality as a way of encounter, learning, and mutual transformation.