Yesterday, I made some comments about “The Neutral Zone” in my sermon. I did say that I had a very good reason to mention it, aside from the fact that it exists in the universe of Star Trek!
That very good reason is that it’s a concept of William Bridges that Peter Steinke mentions in his book, A Door Set Open. He says that “change is an event. Our experience of the change is transition. He cites three movements—endings, the neutral zone, and beginnings—in the transition experience.” We might think of “endings” as the chapter or the phase of life that is drawing to a close. “Beginnings” would be the next step or the new reality that has now appeared. It’s the middle one, “the neutral zone”—in which things seem chaotic and unsettled—that can really unnerve and alarm us.
Steinke comments, “Leading change brings out both reactive forces and responsive ones.” That first one, reactive forces, is when we become defensive. Sometimes people speak of instinct, the “lower brain,” or the “reptile brain.” We sense danger; anxiety kicks in. Anxiety is an automatic reaction to a threat, whether that threat is real or imagined.
That second one that leading change brings, being responsive, is when we are reflective. This is learned behavior. We are free to exercise reason and creativity and imagination. We’re free to explore possibilities. We’re using the “upper brain.” And it has a physical response. Instead of tightness, there tends to be a sense of calm. We remember to breathe!
Anxiety can overwhelm us. In Galatians 5, the apostle Paul warns his sisters and brothers, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (v. 15). He’s addressing a different matter, but I think his words are appropriate here.
The neutral zone can be a scary place. We can learn the wrong lessons there. We can learn how to bully each other. We can learn how, in ever so slight a way, to belittle each other. And that can be expressed in a thousand different ways.
So it’s true, the neutral zone can be a scary place. But it’s also necessary, though not in the Star Trek sense of keeping enemies apart. It’s necessary because that’s the time and place to re-orient ourselves. We hold on to what is good and true from the past, but not so tightly that we cannot embrace the future into which the Spirit is leading us.