The Middle

For those that know our Bishop knows that he is all about the extreme center. 

When I first heard about the extreme center– for reasons unknown, I was a bit hesitant about it.
Maybe because it was a bishop saying it.
I know one day I’ll grow out of this rebel against authority and institution phase — if it is a phase–  but apparently the time has not come yet.
And trust me, I know very well that it is this very institution that is the hand that feeds not only me, but my entire family.
And — I’m never trying to purposefully be a ‘rebel rouser’ or a ‘trouble maker’ or whatever niffy terms you can come up with.
There are things that rub me the wrong way and sometimes I feel the need to express my thoughts. But to be fair, is there ever a right way to speak out on the wrong (I feel/perceive) about the Hand that feeds me?

When I was in Nashville recently, I met with an old friend from my former conference. And we were exchanging stories about our struggles of being young clergy with a table full of other young clergy, when she shared, “Joe was one of the biggest troublemakers in our conference. No one has taken his spot since he left.”

I kinda sat there thinking… I never thought that I caused that much trouble. It never was my intention to ever earn such a reputation nor was it something I wanted.
To this day, I still assume that my words will remain amongst the 50 or so hits I get on this blog…
For, what is a fly to a lion?

But here is a fly mulling over the words of a lion.
After chewing and mulling on the idea of the extreme center, I began to realize that the bishop is right. Theologically, emotionally, spiritually — the best “place” to be; the best position to hold is the extreme center.
After all, it’s what Wesley believed in: the via media. 

Extremists (on either side of any spectrum/pole) tend to be, well, often useless. They’re essentially the same person with different fashion tastes.
I feel like, at this point, the extremist on one side would rather win over the extremist on the other side than bring about good for everyone. Their fight has become about them and only them. It’s about who’s right — not the greater good for all.
What happens is we just shout over each other and never get heard. Which causes us to shout louder.

Vulnerability is crucial in bringing about change — especially in bringing about change in the other person. By change, I don’t mean “converting” them to your school of thinking — but bringing about change in that person to listen to you and equally as important (if not more), you listening to them.
Vulnerability helps us to get to know one another; allows us to see one another as actual human beings that have feelings and find that we may have a lot more in common if allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open.
But we don’t take time to do that.
Or, we wait for the other side to — not meet us in the middle — but to come talk to us on our side. So we wait, while digging our heels further into the ground.

There needs to be more people that resides in the tension that is the middle — the extreme center. I think it will help us to be more open to being open and vulnerable and willing to listen.
We need more in-between people, perhaps, to help bridge the (emotional/spiritual) gap created by the extremists on either sides. Perhaps if we hold the tension that is the in-between, we are able to listen to both sides of arguments and maybe we’d be more committed to uphold the tension rather than attempt excommunicating the other.

Wille Jennings in the Commentary on Acts writes:

The power of in-between existence (Christian existence) is love without contradiction, and such love is always possible. It is possible for Timothy to love the Gentiles of his father and the Jews of his mother and with both and through both and in both to perform his commitment to Jesus. This is the inner logic of the Christian — to perform multiple loves in loving Jesus.

But here’s the rub — at least for me.
And the reason for the initial hesitance I felt when hearing about the extreme middle: while it’s a great place (best place… right place…?) to be intellectually — it’s not the best place to hold physically; in practice.

One side effect of being in the middle is that it can lead to inaction and/or keep us at a distance or on the sidelines from the real work of reconciling.

Jennings points this out regarding James’s response in Acts 15:7-33 and his recommendation on the way forward between the Gentiles and the Jews.
Again, Jennings (emphasis mine):

[James’s] recommendations would make table-fellowship with Gentiles possible for Jews. Indeed such table-fellowship does open the door to the possibilities of life together precisely in the most intimate reality of communal existence, the sharing of food. Yet James’s powerful recommendation is at a distance. We must never forget this distance. 

We can’t physically build bridges from the middle.
When building a bridge, we have to choose which side to build from.
Richard Rohr argues that we must build from the side of the powerless; the oppressed; the poor.
In fact, it’s what Jesus did.
It’s one of the factors that riled up the religious leaders against him.

Because, if we start from the side of the rich; the powerful; the popular; the famous… suburbia…  — we won’t want to finish that bridge — or even start building it — because we will want to stay there.

Willie Jennings writes:
The disciples are those who surround people left for dead.
We are not to be the Robin Leaches of the world spending time with the rich and famous.
Rich, famous, powerful people rarely (if ever) are surrounded by people left for dead.

While holding the in-between tension, we need to stand with the poor; the outcast; the oppressed; the powerless — the ones who are left for dead.
So when we talk about loving all of God’s children: we need to particularlyespecially love the kids who are oppressed; powerless; the poor — the kids left for dead.

But we’re hesitant to.
Because our ideology/theology may get in the way.
Or, much like James, we make powerful recommendations from a far distance without ever getting our hands dirty working on building that bridge. (Think about it — according to the Bible, what more did James do with the tension between Gentiles and Jews besides give a powerful speech? That thought stings because that’s me, often times… )

I mean, if we’re chanting “Build a wall” which side are we standing on…?
Are we really standing with Christ who –with his words and actions — declared that the poor and needy will not be overlooked?

Disciples are watched,
especially by those in need.
Disciples must be seen,
especially by those in need. 

(from Commentary on Acts by Willie Jennings. I warned you I’d be doing a lot of reflecting on the this book…)

And… for a mental break… why not take a break and listen to one of the best Jimmy Eat World songs:

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