If you have ever played a game where the person in the middle of the circle is trying to capture something or tag someone so you can get out of the circle, you know those games can be really rough. Having been in a church youth group, I’ve played everything from “Fruit Whomper” to “Viking 123”. Sorry, but explaining how to play those games would take too long and you would have to play it or see a demo to understand. It’s more fun when you play with a group of super exuberant teenagers or college freshmen.
In real life, it can get even rougher whenever you are discussing some hot topic issue. As I think back to 2020 and before, the battle lines are drawn in such a way that it is hard for anyone to agree on anything. On the one hand, you have the extremists. You know who they are.
The ones who breath fire.
The ones who demand you agree with them on every single point on their manifesto.
The ones who use language short of all caps on social media.
Meanwhile, some of us like me are scratching our heads wondering and thinking “Yeesh! Where did that come from?” For some of us, those hot-topic issues are actually too hot to handle; we fear that we will be burned so we avoid being drawn in. Or maybe we thought about it just a bit but then we got distracted, like thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight. Or we have a screaming kid which takes precedence.
Or most likely, we are trying to find some middle ground which aims to take best of both sides. Often times, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Take gun control. On the one hand, certain people should really, really not be able to own a gun. On the other hand, the right of self-defense is sacrosanct. There are times when you have to defend yourself because the police cannot get there in time. According to one study, the best police response time is 9 minutes. The average mugging is done and over in less than 2 minutes. You do the math. As I said, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The problem with the middle ground is that people will try to pull you over to their more extreme camps. If you take the middle ground, you are seen as the compromiser, and with all the negative connotations for being the compromiser. Take the case of the Dutch theologian and philosopher Erasmus in the 1500s. Erasmus was a contemporary of Martin Luther. Like Luther, Erasmus saw the bad theology and the bad practices of the Roman Catholic church of the time. Like Luther, Erasmus criticized the corruption and abuses. But unlike Luther who eventually broke with the church, Erasmus did not. Erasmus ended in the unenviable position where the Catholics saw Erasmus as too radical for them and the Lutherans viewing him as not radical enough.
So what do we do? Do we cower in fear? Do we not speak up when we should be speaking up? We could try to argue that our “middle” ground is really the truth. We could try to change the subject to something less contentious, like whether GIF should be pronounced G-IF or J-IF.
To rise above the conflict, I would rather we focus on how we express ourselves. Rather arguing for a compromise position, we also must focus on how the message is received.
There is a rule that I follow: Speak the truth in love. Lovely rule, but extremely hard to follow. We are great at shouting the truth but that’s all we are doing: shouting. Where is the love? Where is the listening? In my previous post Is Anyone Listening? , I mentioned that it would better if we spent more time listening and truly understand others before we jump in with our opinions. We may think we are doing others a favor by speaking truth, but I argue that the second half of the rule has just as much weight.
We ought associate the famous passage on love from I Corinthians 13 with weddings. The passage begins in verse 4: Love is patient, love is kind. However the Greek word for love in is agape – the all encompassing soul love, not the lesser eros / romantic love. C.S. Lewis called this the Gift-Love in The Four Loves. It is the love that gives and asks for nothing in return.
Put that together with truth and it is better than the middle path. It is greater than trying to accommodate all possible view points. You can stand by your principles without stepping on other’s toes.
I can tell you who embodied this best, but that’s for another time.