Zizek, the Space In-Between, and Mission

51dNiLKX1GL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-49,22_AA300_SH20_OU15_Warning: A more academic/philosophical post lies ahead. May require some background interest in philosophy and political theory.

In his preface to Interrogating the Real, Zizek talks about one of his key modus operandi: the idea that the Real is only ever encountered in the parallax.

The parallax point of view happens when an object is viewed from two different places (almost at once) realizing the object itself moves when the point of view changes. In the parallax, there is the apparent displacement of an object, caused by a change in observational position. Zizek is interested in the “parallax gap” which happens when you are caught between the two points where no synthesis or mediation is possible.

I suggest there’s a space that occurs when a person is caught between two communities and suddenly finds herself displaced by both communities unable to fully identify with either. Detached from one’s deep immersion within a community of formation, and caught in between, we get sufficiently dislodged from our inherited ways of understanding so that we can in fact see something in two different ways that are incompatible. It is only in this moment that Zizek says a true encounter can take place and what he views as the Real becomes possible. It is at this point that a new framework emerges, not so much as the synthesis of both communities (in the standard overused account of Hegel), but as something ( a possibility) that is completely new  (we called this space ‘prodigal’ in Prodigal Christuianity).

Forgive me if this little riff on Zizek seems obtuse.  But I think this experience of the “in between” is really important for pastors/missionaries who find themselves in the new cultures of N America and elsewhere. I think if we can go allow ourselves to be in this “space in between” (as Al Roxburgh calls it) we can indeed be the instrument of God in Christ to see something new emerge that is full of the gospel.

As I put on twitter, just as Zizek sees that  ”Philosophy emerges in the interstices between different communities” so also mission emerges in the disruption between different communities. Mission assumes we are sent, we are displaced, disrupted. Mission happens in a space where we are seeing things from another point of view while at the same time carrying with us our previous ways of understanding the same things. This is the space of mission.

Elsewhere I have called this the “angst of dislocation” and I more and more convinced it is an important space to inhabit for all pastors, international workers. It is impossible not to if we would engage the changing contexts being forced upon us even in North America. Unless we allow for the disruption, we cannot truly inhabit these new places. (Northern’s D Min Missional Cohort is studying ethnography for a whole week with this as part of the emphasis!!).

Zizek says that the apostle Paul, while being proud of his particular identity (a Jew or a Roman citizen) was nonetheless aware that, in the proper space of Christian absolute Truth, “there are no Jews or Greeks …” Over and over again this is the space God uses. Abraham leaves Ur for the promised land. Israel is displaced in Egypt. Israel is displaced and in Exile. Jesus,  the Son of Man, has no place to lay my head.

Unlike Zizek.. I do not believe we lose our identity. I believe it is disrupted and found again brand new and real and alive as we walk through this space of the in between.  I believe every pastor and or missionary/international worker should allow themselves to be tested in the angst of dislocation because the true missionary pioneer must be able to enter this space with faith, trust and total dependence upon the God of Jesus Christ again and again in order to be used by God in the life of mission.

Posted in Al Roxburgh, D MIn Missional, Missional Leadership, Pastoring in Mission
8 comments on “Zizek, the Space In-Between, and Mission
  1. Dan Jr. says:

    Good to have you back in the atmosphere. This post is up my alley.

    God had to take me, my wife and my Leading Team on a serious pilgrimage through the “angst of dislocation”. We consistently had to refresh our Kingdom-hopes and commitments to each other to make it through the gauntlet. To plant a seedling-community far outside the Empires walls felt exceptionally frightening and not yet safe. That deep feeling of belonging and rootedness was hard to manufacture. Many of us wanted to bail on the process because of the emotional fortification it required in us.

    Ever so slowly we emerged like a little piece of grass through the pavement. This had nothing to do with numerical growth and everything to do with finding our sense of abode. Once in awhile we are still reminded that we are in Exile but at least we’ve made a warm fire and a little outpost for the Kingdom of God.

  2. Isn’t this some of what the early desert monks tried to recover in the wake of Constantine? They entered the desert in order to force a kind of parallax. The whole element of the demons encountered in solitude and prayer starts to point to the place where we see the material and intelligible worlds simultaneously. There is, in this regard, a new identity that emerges, a more Christ-like identity that is found in the virtues cultivated in ascetic practice. (Of course I could go on and on about the askesis of radical, missional christianity.)

  3. David Fitch says:

    yep .. and yep … Dan and Josh … yep and yep

  4. Todd says:

    Father Rohr describes this space as the liminal space “on the edge of the inside.” At least that is my interpretation of his description of the prophetic position.

    I recall our conversation over the phone several years ago where you described this need in different terms.

    Love. This.

    More. Please.

  5. Not sure if this is worthy of a comment, but…


  6. Lori Taylor says:

    I am writing my DMIN project on liminal space. The relevance for the church, especially leaders, continually surprises me. And so many people either try to run from or manage this space without knowing the beautiful potential of it. I’m convinced, though, that a significant task in liminality is mourning our losses.

    Looking forward to more from you on this!

  7. Tim Blake says:


    I remember your post on the Angst of Dislocation. The process began in my life about a year ago. It took me on a journey that I never thought possible. It challenged some of my most very deeply held beliefs. I found myself in a place where there were few others around me in terms of my evolving theology. What happens when you begin to realize that those around you, who hold tightly to the traditional evangelical theological systems are becoming like foreigners to you? This is where I found myself.

    At the same time, when you are in the middle of that kind of dislocation, as bewildering and uncertain as this process can be, there is an inner drive that pushes you forward, an certainty that God is pushing you in this direction. The irony here is that while there is an unsettledness, an angst inside during this journey, there is, attached to it, a peace and hunger to go further on the journey, an excitement at the newness of what is taking place. It’s like planting seeds in the garden and watching something new sprout out of the ground. Further, once the new place, the “new normal” has been reached, it’s like game day, to use a sports analogy. You know that the time of “troubles”, with all of their unsettledness and unknowns, has brought you to this place. It brings a very real and deep sense of gratitude to a very big picture God who knew at the beginning how this would end and where we would end up.

    The angst is something that should be embraced.

  8. all the time i used to read smaller posts which as well clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which
    I am reading at this time.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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