Are There Really Any Thin Places?

Thin PlacesOne of the new books that’s getting some buzz in the missional blogosphere is Thin Places by Jon Huckins and Rob Yackley, both of whom work for NieuCommunities, a collective of missional church communities who foster leadership and community development.

Subtitled Six Postures for Creating and Practicing Missional Community, the book covers listening, submerging, inviting, contending, imagining, and entrusting. I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know what Huckins or Yackley would say, but I’d be interested in hearing their thoughts (and yours) on Tony Jones’ recent assertion (at the Funding the Missional Church conference) that, “There are no thin places. Every place is a thin place.” (Meaning: There is really no sacred/secular divide.)

What do you think about “thin places”?

You can read three excerpts on “missional-monastic community” from Thin Places on Jon Huckins’ blog: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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  • Keith Brenton

    I understand (I think) the intention to communicate that any place holds the potential to find God there.

    But I don’t think that the concept of “thin spaces” should be quickly denounced as nonexistent by someone who perhaps has never experienced one.

    In fact, I think it’s as imprudent as it would be for me to say there are no neutron stars or duck-billed platypuses or such a thing as love because I’ve never seen such and can’t tell you what color it is.

  • Christopher Smith

    Could we say that any place COULD be a thin place. I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s lines:
    “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

    • Steve Knight

      Well, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet now, haven’t you, Chris? Quoting Wendell Berry like that … ;-)

  • Kelli Driscoll

    I certainly do not think that their is a dicatomy between secular and sacred, but I think there are thin places. I like to think of it in light of the sun, we are always in the sun’s light. Whether our own back is turned or our side of the planet is turned away, it is there. Thin places are like looking up at noon and feeling that bright light embracing you, seeing it even through closed eyelids.
    As for God, and as a pastor particularly, I know thin places. Sitting on the bed with the wife of a just deceased man, holding his not-quite cold hand and her warm hand praying, that was a thin place.
    It seems to me that Tony Jones’ hardline “there are no thin places” thought is just as much a hardline as the secular/sacred line modernity loves to place on the world.

    • Steve Knight

      I love that analogy, Kelli, thanks for sharing it!

  • Joe Bumbulis

    Is it or can it be both/and, neither/nor? There are no thin spaces implying that all spaces are/can be sacred; yet there are some spaces where people of faith have found are more thin than others. That doesn’t exclude other places as thin places, but recognizes the tradition and experience of a community of faith, which also implies all that is needed for a place to become thin is the validation of a community or person pointing to it.

  • Jon Huckins

    I absolutely understand and affirm what Tony is trying to get at (I don’t think I’m assuming when I see his point here being rooted in Moltmann’s Panentheism). In a world (especially in the Christian culture) that endorses dualisms that greatly diminish the reality of God in the here and now, his point can be a helpful corrective. With that said, I think Chris brings up an important point in quoting Berry (in fact, I think we actually use this quote in the book) on sacred places. In Jesus, all things are made new (or in the process of) and the Kingdom of God becomes a present reality. While the sacred is all around us, we don’t yet all have the eyes to see it (Maybe Jesus words in Mark 8:18 point to this reality: “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”). Our interpretation of a Thin Place (and there are many other equally valid interpretations!) is when we are awakened to the reality of the sacredness of the Kingdom that surrounds us (Kelli, your stories illustrate this well). It is not only those moments when we have the ears to hear and the eyes to see, but the moments we realize we are actually key players in God’s project of illuminating this Kingdom to all humanity…that our stepping into the rhythms of Jesus can bring about new Kingdom awakenings for our community and our neighbors.

    • Steve Knight

      Thanks for commenting, Jon. I’m looking forward to reading the book!

  • Liz

    I understand what Tony was getting at when he said there are no thin places (i.e. every place is sacred) but I love what was stated in the video … “a thin place is a place where the heaven and earth is thinly separated” … “a place where God’s kingdom is being made real” Obviously some intentional living has to take place for that to happen.

    • Steve Knight

      Thanks, Liz!

  • Lucas Land

    I agree with what’s been said already, particularly by my friend Joe Bumbulis and the Wendell berry quote sums it up best. I don’t know if I have much to add except I met someone from NieuCommunities recently and was impressed by what I heard and the person I got to know.

    I do think that the postures that NieuCommunities practice are a good way to talk about thin places. Perhaps places where the thinness seems to occur more often are places where people have been in that posture for longer. At the same time anywhere can be a thin place with the proper posture. When Collin Richard explained how they practice the postures it made a lot of sense to me.

  • Aaron Culley

    I agree with what others have said, in not buying into the sacred-secular divide, but at the same time, I think that some places are indeed “thin places,” and this is something I’ve experienced myself. I suspect that what is (or isn’t) a “thin place” can vary greatly from one person to another. I know that for myself, there are certain places and/or situations where it seems much easier to experience a connection with the Holy Spirit. Conversely, there are some situations or place which I’d consider “thick places,” in the sense that there are too many things (or in some cases, people) who get in the way and create a barrier.

  • Christiana Rice

    I would agree with you, Aaron, in bringing up that there can also be what you refer to as “thick places,” where Kingdom values are not a reality – where the fruit of the Spirit is perpetually defiled. I experience it in my own neighborhood where corners or spaces here seem to be “thick,” in a spiritual sense, with darkness. The authors of this book are my dear friends and community mates with NieuCommunities. Dark places certainly exists in our neighborhood but we’re often surprised by how the light of the Holy Spirit illuminates “thin places” in unexpected moments with unexpected people. Sometimes these are the very places where our family of origin, or our culture or our faith background has instructed us to avoid and label as “dark” and “unreachable” by the light of Christ.

    • Steve Knight

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and personal experience on this, Christiana!

  • Rob Yackley

    I agree with my friends who argue passionately that God can be experienced anywhere and at any time and therefore no place is inherently sacred or secular. At the same time, most of us don’t see the ways of Jesus being lived or experienced everywhere all the time. There are times when the kingdom of God feels real and now and times when it feels like an idea whose time has not yet come. In real time the possibility of life as it as meant to be lived is simply not the same thing as the experience of that promised life. St. Columba’s description of thin places simply acknowledges that there are times and places when the possible becomes tangible and those times and places are worth living for.

    • Steve Knight

      Amen, Rob, thanks for commenting!

  • Colby Martin

    For me, the value in talking about a “Thin Place,” is that it helps to articulate that A) Like Tony says, all places are places of God’s presence and reality, but B) I am, more often than not, not in a position or posture to see it, acknowledge it, know it, feel or experience it. So a Thin Place, then, becomes more about ME discovering the connectedness of Heaven and Earth, and less about a connection occurring between the two. The place itself and the veil separating the two, if you will, doesn’t then become thinner, but rather my capacity to see it and know becomes greater THUS it FEELS thinner. So with that, I think that there are Thin Places, but not because there exist other places where God’s presence is not present or available. #circleofficiallytalkedinto

    • Steve Knight

      I’m resisting my temptation to make a “circular reasoning” joke (or any other “circle” joke really) ;-) No, seriously, thanks for posting this, Colby. I’m really looking forward to hanging with you again at Wild Goose Festival in a couple of weeks!

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