The Ferocious Middle 2: Christians and Guns
Last week I posted a blog called “The Ferocious Middle” in which I advocated that Christians should begin to build communities that offer a middle ground in a divided world. (If you haven’t read it… go do that, see ya back in a minute.)
I believe it’s the call of the Church to articulate a vision for what this middle ground could look like, and ultimately its incumbent upon us to live it out (not just talk about it) so that our weary world can see it: a down payment of what we believe is the certain future of a completely reconciled world.
Nice idea Noah, but how ya gon’ do it?
Everybody thinks they are in the “middle” and all the crazies are left or right of them. Everyone I know occupies a set of thinking, that they would describe as “common sense.” One problem, they only hold that thinking in “common” with others who occupy that certain position, however left/right/or otherwise that position is. Everyone thinks they are the middle, so there really is no middle.
My kind of middle is not a position, or set of positions. It is a way of holding positional thinking in tension, holding it accountable to shared goals, and most of all, holding those positions with integrity and dignity in relationship with others who, if not for the commitment of occupying this treacherous, ferocious middle ground, would be enemies.
Articulating the Middle
America woke Monday to the horrifying news of the shooting in Las Vegas. It’s Wednesday today, there are still people dying from their wounds, the dead aren’t even buried in the ground, and the national conversation about gun control is a roaring wildfire. Lines are drawn, sides are picked, the war machine is in full swing.
This is fresh, this hurts, it’s happening now. It’s as good a place as any to start articulating the middle. Let’s talk about what the middle is, and is not.
In the Middle We Are Passionate
Yesterday my wife Ali, in her personal blog, made an impassioned plea for gun control. You can read it here. It’s an emotional argument, it believes in something tenaciously. It’s one of the many reasons I love that woman so much: she doesn’t believe in things softly. What a woman!
That’s also one of the reasons we came to The Gallery; we saw right away a group of people who believed in things deeply, fully, and with passion. The middle ground I’m advocating for is not about giving up what you believe. We ought to believe in things with our whole heart, soul, mind, strength. I know no other way of good living. All the best people are radical. I am radical. There are things in this world that I believe in with all the fibers of my being. I’m prepared to die for them. The wonderful, beautiful, ferocious middle is full of people who believe in things and are ready to die for them.
But we don’t believe for our own sake, we believe in them for the sake something bigger. We believe in them because God calls us to love our neighbor. To our radicalism we must add equally radical humility, care, discernment, peace, and patience.
In the Middle We Do Disagree
Boy do we ever. But we do it a certain way: eye-to-eye, with care for the other. Whatever else we are, we are in this together. We need space to disagree passionately. All my best friends are people I can argue with without having my sense of identity threatened. In the middle, ours is a disagreement that has a foundation of relationship and love. We can argue about anything and we can remain reconciled.
There is some stuff we don’t do when we argue:
We DO NOT EVER degrade and dehumanize. All people are made in the image of God. Setting up a “them” that are somehow less valuable than “us” is absolutely off limits. Even and especially our enemies are to be shown grace and care.
We do not misuse others and or their words. Let people speak for themselves. If you are repeating someone else as part of your argument you better make sure you’ve understood what they are trying to say. In a culture of misquotation and misuse we must guard our words lest someone use them to hurt us. In the middle there is freedom speak because we trust others are not out to get us.
We don’t Assume the worst. If we are to occupy the middle, we have to assume that our friends and foes alike are all people, image bearers of the Most High God, who want to live in peace and prosperity. We must assume, even if we disagree with arguments, thought process, words, etc. that these people want and deserve to live good lives. All people, even sick people want to love and be loved. Many don’t know how to do that. We must show them.
Back to what we do in the middle:
We Do Seek Deeper Understanding and Empathy
People have reasons. We need to hear them. Experience is a great teacher. It’s easy to throw rocks at someone/something that we have little or no experience with. This is applicable in the gun control debate, but it bears particular importance for Christians who are seeking racial reconciliation (that should be all Christians, BTW.) When you disagree with someone, it’s time to buy them coffee, have them over for dinner, spend some time with them.
We Do Assume Good Intentions: read above in the “Don’t section.” Repetition = reinforcement.
We Do Avoid “Camps”
Ok, maybe just I do this one, so take it or leave it. It’s so easy to label our thoughts, to join a “camp” of people who share our thinking. I’m a “Republican” or a “Democrat” a “Liberal” or “Conservative” an “evangelical,” I believe in “_____________” political position.
I understand that definitions are important to understanding. If people don’t understand what you are or what you think, then how will they know where you stand, how to approach you, how to talk to you? Well… Maybe that’s the point. Definitions, especially political/religious ones are a short cut to describing identity. Maybe we need to spend the time getting to know people’s character and core first, before we get their list of polarizing definitions.
Choosing a political (or other) “camp” is a power play that is meant to show that you stand with others who believe like you do, and are thusly amassing a majority. It’s meant to help you feel like you are not alone, like you are right in your thinking. “Camping” is by nature divisive. As opposed to camping in nature… which is wonderfully healing and good, definitely go do that.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been allergic to labels all my life. I’ve not found much that I can say unequivocally that I am 100% aligned with. There’s people and things that I resonate with and even support. But generally, I resist labels until I simply can’t avoid them. The list of labels is short for me: Child of the Most High, Husband, Father, Pastor, Pietist, Mission Friend. It doesn’t work for everyone, but my suggestion for healthy living in the middle is to make your list as short as you can stomach.
In the Middle We Are United
Here’s where it starts to get exciting. In the middle there is so much that we share in common. In the ferocious Christian middle, we care about others. All lives are sacred because God has made them sacred. Even and especially the lives of our enemies are sacred. We agree on this because God has told us to, and it’s not optional. We can unite around common care and concern for others.
We are united in a hope for the future. The Biblical vision of the world is that of people and place reconciled to God. In it, the entire world is united by, in awe of, and bathed in the love of an expansive, unfailing creator God. In the Christian middle we never, ever, for any reason stop hoping for the renewal of all things. This hope fuels all we do.
We are united in our desire to understand the other. We recognize that understanding takes work, but at the core, we must deny our own necessity to be “right” and do the work of understanding our neighbor. No one is asking you to give up your conviction. You are being asked to shut your mouth long enough to know why someone else holds a conviction that you don’t understand.
We are united in the need for reconciliation. For so long in my life I was satisfied with being “right.” Being right was enough. I never needed to be reconciled to the people around me, because I had the truth and that was all I needed. Because of the transforming work of Jesus in my life I can no longer be “right” without being reconciled. In Christianity, reconciliation (which is rooted in relationship) is required. Reconciled living is an impossible, unfinishable, monumental task, but it’s one worth undertaking. I realize this challenges thinking behind typical Christian truth claims. How many Christians have gone to their graves being “right” without any good news coming from their mouths? Christianity as a whole is dying in America because we are so focused on defining and identifying truth that we have forgotten to live it and let it transform us and the world around us. The goal is reconciled creation, we must be reconciled to each other, and we must share the sense of urgency and passion for reconciliation that the Gospel compels from us. In the Christian middle we are united around the need for being reconciled to everyone.
In the Middle We are Distinctive
Loving your neighbor, praying for your enemy, believing in the hope of a remade world: these are distinctively Christian things. This middle is not like anything else, it is distinctively shaped by the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus. We believe in doing it because Jesus told us to. We believe it is possible because the triune God and His Holy Spirit make it possible.
While many other people are good, we can’t expect the world to subscribe to the standard set by the sacrificial love of Jesus and the hope filled wonder of the Resurrection future. This is a distinctive life. We hope by living it well we can show the world that it is both beautiful and the best possible way.
In the Middle We Are Incarnate
The middle is not a psychological abstraction it’s an embodied people. We become the middle by living in it. Our congregation gathering around the Lords table becomes the home for this new way of life and thinking. We have to live the middle into existence. It requires face-to-face relationships, hugs, sharing of bread, hearing the confessions and prayers of others, and singing. The Christian church has a unique opportunity to live ethics, to live politics, to live reconciliation and community in a way that almost no one else does.
Let’s get specific: what does it look like?
It looks like people with opposing views, for instance on gun control laws, slowing down to hear each other, not dehumanizing one another to “win” the argument. We aren’t throwing bombs at each other, we are gathering with one another to worship the triune God. We care deeply, we have informed opinions, we share them. We trust our friends, hear their points of view, and pray with and for them. We share concern for the dead and dying, for the shooters and the shot, for friend, stranger, and enemy. We hope for a world free of violence, we are united around that, though we probably all see different means to those ends. In the end, even when we disagree, we look each other in the eye say, “peace be with you” and approach the table together, ready to eat the Joyful feast of the Lord's Supper, where we proclaim with our lives, our words, our tongues and bodies, the Lord’s death, until he comes again.
The middle is possible. It’s difficult. It’s filled with hope and beauty
On the heels of the feast day for Francis of Assisi we join with his prayer. A prayer that seems to me deeply rooted in the ferocious middle.