I had a super intelligent aunt who was shocked one day when I told her I had attended an “ultra-liberal” church a few times. She was a rector in the Episcopal Church, a denomination that is not a bastion of conservatism. However, I will never forget what she said when I told her I had attended this church. “Oh David, you don’t want to go there. They don’t believe in anything!”
In reality, they did. Did they agree with her theology?
I suspect that was really where she was coming from. They were very accepting of wide ranging faith ideas and their ultimate concern was for social justice. Let’s just leave the name off, please. It doesn’t matter.
The not believing in anything part; that is the set up for my comments.
People today think that the only way you can believe anything is you have to be associated with extremes. If you are conservative, you have to be extremely conservative. You have to “toe the line” of the conservative world view. If you are liberal, you have to be extremely liberal, I mean “flaming liberal”. You have to be this way because it tells everyone what you believe.
Often in the minds of people the extremes are pitted against each other and neither side wants anything to do with the other.
Of course this leaves the middle. What some call the “mushy middle.” I really think many people don’t think the middle position exists but let me tell you it does. People may think that the mushy middle “does not believe in anything” but it does. In my opinion, the mushy middle has to mean something for a Christian to survive in today’s political times.
For me, the mushy middle is where the core values of Christianity exist.
You might think that wrong but I have many, many conservative friends. I lean a little more to the left on the political spectrum than I do to the right but let me tell you what allows me to have some fine relationships with my conservative friends: I feel we are all Christians. Our Christian core values of God, salvation, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit [the Christian life], beliefs about eternal destiny, the church, faith, baptism and communion are the really important values that we all have in common. Other cultural values [especially those about politics] are just not that important.
Christian values cut across party lines or at least they should. Yes folks, there are liberals who are Christians, born-again Christians at that. Of course there are conservatives who are Christians, for that political persuasion seems to have hijacked Christianity. That’s not true; they really haven’t. Christianity is a big tent that refuses to be limited to one thing called a political party.
What I have developed with all my friends is a language that focuses on our mutual interests. We tend to not debate politics or when those topics of the day come up, we don’t use language that creates barriers. I try to understand what another person says, why they say it and the value of their ideas. In communication this is called other-centeredness, or taking the position of the other. It takes work. It takes time. It takes empathy. It takes thought and sometimes a great deal of patience.
Today, we have so many opportunities to communicate but we don’t take the time to think before we speak, chat, tweet or fire off that text. The tongue controls so much of the body. In James, he writes “when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships for example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boast. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body” [James, 3: 3-6].
Let me close by imploring you to find a way to use your expression gifts for understanding others, for learning their position, for finding a way to build a bridge instead of erecting a wall.
There is value in discovering mutual interests even if you have to learn to live in the mushy middle.
You might learn something there.
You might learn that love for your fellow man is possible.
In the mushy middle.