Living neither here nor there

Rev Edward McKenzie

2.11.2021 | Congregational Life, Refined

Edward McKenzie, minister of Cregagh congregation, shares his reflections on how he is finding living in these ‘in between’ times as he seeks to follow Jesus in everyday living and church life.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?” Lewis Carroll

Strange days

I wonder if Lewis Carroll, writer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, were to look at the world we inhabit in these strange days, would he feel as if his wish had come true?

Blog_Nov_EMcK-(1).jpgHow many times of late have you heard the phrase, ‘strange days’, but they are aren’t they? Everything feels out of focus, slightly ill-fitting and poorly proportioned and it doesn’t make much sense. What will the winter bring? What does tomorrow have in store? Questions bubble up in our minds and collide. The world that Carroll speaks of becomes all a bit too real.

One of the questions that has been on my mind lately is how to strike the balance between being bold and careful. Is that not the most important mission for the church just now? How can we be courageous for Christ, but yet not foolhardy and reckless? How are we to achieve that balance in our everyday lives and in the work and witness of our congregations?

Finding a middle ground

As we find ourselves in the ‘in-between’, living while ‘neither here nor there’, this is our challenge and our opportunity, to be bold and careful. It means encouraging the fearful - those who have been driven paranoid by misinformation to come to worship and engage again in church life. It means tempering the daring - those who would drop all restrictions right now to think of those who are not ready for that just yet. It requires us to drive hard for the middle ground, teaching us all as a family of believers to learn the joy of loving each other and compromising for the sake of others. For it is in the middle ground we will meet and that is where the gospel can flourish.

The joy of being equally unhappy

Thinking about this as I look ahead to the festive season, I am reminded of the Battle of the Christmas Dinners. You won’t have heard of it but it was quite the controversy. A year or two after we were married, my wife, mum and mother-in-law all made declarations that they each wanted Christmas “in their own home”. This, of course, I pointed out was impossible if we were to spend Christmas together. In work that felt something like Brexit or late-night Stormont negotiations a compromise was reached of a three-year cycle between the trio of houses. If everyone couldn’t be happy, well at least everyone could be equally unhappy was the end result. For the most part this has worked well over the last number of years as we have enjoyed and endured, as families do, Christmas together.

Perhaps that is what we must all settle for at the moment, being equally unhappy. For some we are not moving fast enough, for others far too quickly. I wonder could we be those who do not look too far ahead, but focus on more immediate and short terms goals; those who would allow themselves to be challenged by folk who hold a different position on the issues around restrictions and how to do church in these ‘strange days’. For being equally unhappy and unsettled gives us a unity, a shared experience that will help us to check and balance one another in the middle ground of being bold and careful together for Christ and his kingdom. In doing so there is joy to be found.

All we need to guide us through the shadows

Holding on to what is certain helps us in all of this. In Deuteronomy chapter 9 Moses told the Israelites, as they were about to face the intimidating enemy of the Anakites, to be assured that the Lord was with them and that his righteousness and power would see them through. In Christ, that promise is ours today and for all our tomorrows. In that there is joy, not happiness that comes and goes with the seasons, but a deeply rooted assurance that the world cannot touch nor destroy. The Holy Spirit whispers the Saviour’s words to us, “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

That reliance upon what is true and certain is beautifully summed up by Lewis Carroll as he wrote to a friend in 1897, answering questions about his personal religious views:

“I believe that when you and I come to lie down for the last time, if only we can keep firm hold of the great truths Christ taught us—our own utter worthlessness and His infinite worth; and that He has brought us back to our one Father, and made us His brethren, and so brethren to one another—we shall have all we need to guide us through the shadows. Most assuredly I accept to the full the doctrines…that Christ died to save us, that we have no other way of salvation open to us but through His death, and that it is by faith in Him, and through no merit of ours, that we are reconciled to God; and most assuredly I can cordially say, "I owe all to Him who loved me, and died on the Cross of Calvary”

A world that makes a little more sense

As we live and do church in the ‘in between’, neither here nor there, in strange, confusing and uncertain days let’s pray that we would find the way to be equally unhappy for each other’s sake and in doing so find the indescribable joy of the truth of God’s promised presence in Christ. That through him we would know wisdom, be guided through the shadows, and one step at a time find ourselves in a world that makes a little more sense.


Rev Edward McKenzie is the minister of Cregagh congregation in East Belfast.

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