Church: A Taste of Suspended Space



We recently held a funeral for our church. A celebration of life, I should say. In true church fashion, we set tables and lit candles and filled our plates with food and our cups with wine. We had an open mic that was meant to be one hour, but turned into three. We hugged and sang and laughed and cried, and everyone got up to say what everyone else meant to them, and it made me realise we should probably throw more “end of ” parties because there is something healing in the act of remembrance. But even more than that, I was reminded of what it feels like to be church.

Our church here in Amsterdam has come to an end. It’s complicated, in the way that church things can be. It aches, because what I had loved about church hasn’t been there for a long time. It’s changed, and maybe even more painfully, I have changed. Like too-tight shoes, it hurts to take them off, but it hurts even more to leave them on.

Four years ago I was visiting a friend in Cape Town, staying in a beautiful house on a hill that overlooked the sea. I spent the first week flat-out in bed with a terrible flu. During that week I had nothing to do but rest and read. Wrapped up in a duvet, surrounded by a pile of books and a genuine desire to know, a cascade of unconscious beliefs came undone. Four years is really not that long ago, so it’s almost embarrassing to admit, but one of the beliefs, which drastically changed for me during that week, was my view on the equality of women in the church.

Since then, we were gifted with the time and energy of an egalitarian pastor in Amsterdam. But he left, and new leaders came, and for me, the new shoes were just too tight.

Theologian Peter Rollins has this notion of “suspended space.”[1] He talks about entering into church and divesting yourself of your various labels and positions. It’s an attempt to create a space where there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, neither male nor female. In suspended space, we set aside our identities as a conservative or liberal, a feminist or a refugee, a lawyer or a cleaner and we really listen to one another.

This is as hard as it sounds. Can I really walk into a church building and release myself of these hard-fought labels and identities? Can I release those around me?

Is it possible to sit next to someone and truly hear what they have to say and love them while they are saying it, even when we hold to beliefs that feel so diametrically opposed to one another?

This idea feels too radical in the midst of an American election season, the refugee crisis in Europe, and a whole host of other topics where we cannot be silent. Of course,

. Listening and truly hearing, so that for a moment we are granted the chance to experience what it means to be “one in Christ.”

Last week in our celebration, we had a taste of suspended space.

People stepped up to share, just as they were. Some were eloquent and some were not, and some I agreed with politically and some I did not. But for once, our labels were not our identities. The point was our shared history. The joy of someone getting their papers, the tears of being reminded of another’s pain. Here, each person who took up the mic offered a small piece of who they were, and they were heard. They were received.

It was holy ground.