First published April 22, 2013
Doors are symbols, metaphors, why have we found them so potent? Why are they the symbol of our decisions and our fate? The movie 'Temple Grandin' uses doors as all the opportunities we are given in life and challenges us to enter them. How did something so banal, every day and ubiquitous become so symbolic? The symbolism stretches back millennia and even Jesus described himself as a door in the gospel of John (chapter 10, verse 9).
Because of this I thought it might be an interesting experiment to watch people entering into the various doors in the world. Yes, this sounds like stalking, but I assure you, it was all for science. One Sunday morning I observed people entering a church, the mall, the bus, a café and the escalator. I wanted to compare and contrast the various habits; looks, attitudes and emotions that I witnessed while watching these people. Using this data I hope to look at what might be a Christian attitude towards 'The Door'.
While I was sitting outside Riccarton mall I noticed that without fail every person or group of people entering the mall were self-absorbed. Not necessarily in a selfish manner, just in the sense that they had a goal that nobody else could interfere with. The doors represented the beginning of a personal mission that must be fulfilled. Therefore even families would break up into smaller groups when entering the mall. People were on phones, plugged into iPods or just staring at the ground, rubbing shoulders with people who could be statues for all they knew.
The door became a conflicted space pretty quickly, with people all trying to figure out their own story before entering. Some people were waiting, they were the most annoying, as the doors were for the people on a mission, and those on a mission clearly did not appreciate the presence of the waifs on the outside, those people who had no personal goal yet. The door changed people, curved their souls in on their own selves, and made them someone else. Whatever they were about to do, that's what they were about to become.
The café door
The café was a little different. Entering a café door represented social interactions. Therefore the door is treated with suspicion; it's looked through before it itself is approached and opened. This suspicion is possibly because of the risk of entering into the café. It's somewhere you need to have a seat, friends and interaction in order to fit in. Here again is the manifestation of people on a mission. It's focused inwards, people have a goal in mind and all other considerations are pushed aside until after the door is crossed. Conversations are stopped just outside the door, to be picked up again only when a seat has been taken. The door became to people a risk, and it was treated with due suspicion until it was opened.
I also examined people entering escalators and bus doors. These two cases illustrate another aspect of doors. People would enter them with the same habits as other doors, slow down look around and stop whatever was being done. But then the reversion back to previous activities is not on. The mission focus is not present. Instead there is sudden relaxation. Both on the bus and on the escalator people became aware, looked around, seemingly removed and aloof from all the societal pressures they had felt up until that point. The bus or escalator became a neutral space, an elongated door.
Our own language seems to cohere with this as we have a fancy word to represent this 'inbetweenness' this 'neutrality'. It is 'liminality', used to describe people or places that are between two locations. It is derived from the Latin word 'limen' meaning 'door way' or 'threshold'. This reveals something else about doors that we assume: they are neutral. They are spaces between which give us a slight break. But they also become what we want them to become, and allow us to become what we want to become.
The church door
I want to talk finally about the church door. The church doors gathered people quite differently to the mall. It brought families together, as they waited at their cars to gather together before entering. People were smiling at each other, aware of their surroundings. The door is a symbol of unity for the people entering. It literally pushes them together as they go through the big doors (This is one of those old churches with two large doors that 3 or 4 people can walk through at a time). The door changes them as they enter, and they become a part of the bigger story of Christ and his church, of the gospel. The door almost functions as a small picture of what happens as we enter the kingdom through Jesus.
The challenge I see for us is to replicate this attitude throughout the week. Every door we enter challenges us to conform to the world, to fulfil our own little story, to compete with others for the fulfilment of our mission. However, as Christians we are called to carry the story of Jesus around with us, so we must not let the liminal areas of our society change us.
We do not get to become whomever we want every time we enter a door, instead we are a new creation in Christ, by entering in through his door. So, when we enter the mall, the café, or any other public space let us remember that we bear the gospel, and not just our own little goal. In not being conformed at the entrance ways to the various idols the world has set up, we can shine the light of Christ, offering his door as the only way.
Dale Wang (22) is studying his final year of a BA(hons) in Classical Studies at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. He has been heavily involved in the Christian Union on campus, being their communications officer and leading bible studies.
Dale Wang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/dale-wang.html