I believe that the middle ground is the great unexplored territory of the American world.
We all know what voices from the left and the right sound like. They are always the loudest. Some of those voices sound sane at times, but more often than not I find myself struggling to figure out how someone can really see the world “that” way. Why are we willing to build our identity out of popular opinion?
You’ve seen this identity building happen, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Some current event happens, something is at stake in what someone prominent said, or what someone did. The resulting “conversation” is essentially a race to publicly identify sides. Once the celebrities, politicians, and pundits choose a trench we all retweet, share, like, and emoji their “position”, as a way to say: “I’m in THIS trench over here! It’s the superior one, just so you know.”
We clamor to IDENTIFY with one side or the other, we need people to know WHO WE ARE; what we stand for.
Who we are = our identity.
Any time we identify with one position or the other, we are building identity.
Fueled by social media this process of communication, of identity building, plays out over and over again in our American context. The national anthem protests by certain NFL football players/teams (and the ensuing chaos of public speech) are the latest example.
Maybe its not the best metaphor, but I cant help but think that the way we speak to eachother is not unlike the battle field of the first world war. We sit in our foxholes, digging deeper, adding another sandbag to the entrenchment. Every once in a while we hurl a grenade. The boldest among us gather their friends and lead a charge. Little progress is made and the cost is high.
We should learn from our past experience with wars. While there may be big ideas and big powers that drive the fighting what we know now about the war is that the enemies, who have been taught to hate us, are more like us than we might have imagined. They are just kids from some non-descript town, they have hopes and fears and dreams like everyone else. They are not so evil as we thought they were. They are there because circumstances conspired against them to put them on the field. They have beliefs, yes, but they are human like us. In the end, no matter how necessary the war, humanity suffers.
The great chasm between the sides, barren and desolate, riddled with evidence of our past conflict, is the middle ground. It’s a ferocious and unhospitable place laced in bodies and barbed wire, with no friends, no flag, no visible future.
We have more territory in America that fits this description than we care to admit, even if it is just metaphorical.
Jesus lived in such a place. Jesus was a Jew, yet he rejected the identity that the Jewish establishment, both left and right, were trying to force on him. Jesus died a traitor’s death on a Roman cross so that the hope that had previously only been for the people of Israel would be open to Romans in every corner of the empire (and everyone else, going beyond the boundaries of time and citizenship.) Said another way: Jesus allowed his identity as a human to supersede his religious, political, and national identities, he became the new Adam, so that in him all humanity could find a home in God’s plan. Jesus challenged the hottest political, social, and religious topics of the day by offering a home in a new middle ground.
Jesus didn’t abandon his beliefs or morals to occupy this middle ground. He didn’t soften his position. (food for thought, even that term: “position” used in this way is a military term.)
Jesus’ middle ground wasn’t about entrenching in one fox hole or another. It was about coming out of foxholes and envisioning a future where enemies on both sides of the battle could be part of a new humanity; A new IDENTITY. An identity not as Pharisee’s or Saducees, Levites or Benjamites, not as Romans or Jews, or even Men or Women. But as family and friend, united in the common bond of being made in the image of God.
The Apostle Paul Made it plain:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
And again in Colossians:
"Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."
I Believe in the middle ground.
I believe that there is a new frontier of conversation and invitation. I’m doing everything I can to build my identity there. I believe that the Church (those who go by the name of Jesus) is called to lead people out of their foxholes and into a new identity as loved children of God, joined together by a force more powerful than the forces that seek to divide them.
I believe this middle ground will be just, compassionate, and free. There will be relationship and conversation that was not possible before. I believe it will be hard won. I believe that many will not understand it.
I believe that if people see it, they will be irresistibly drawn to its promise.
Anyone who knows me knows I have TONS of opinions. But I believe that the hard work of exploring middle ground requires me to not use my place and voice as pastor to gather others to those opinion positions, but to gather people of many of opinions to Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit will lead us from there.
I believe that one of my calls as a pastor is to articulate a vision of the middle ground; To describe the preferred future where we have different and better conversations. I believe and hope that my congregation is working towards being a visible promise of that future.
To all who feel trapped in the trenches: angry, tired, committed to their cause, but weary of the battle. Lets get at eye level with each other around the Lord’s table. Let’s build a new identity as brothers and sisters in the family of God. Let’s build a home here… in the ferocious, unexplored, beautiful, middle ground of Jesus.