Muddling Through the Middle May 16, 2011Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Core Values, Transformation and Change, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Mission & Purpose, Values, Vision
I read an article a few years ago that stated that our brains are hardwired to avoid ambiguity. Even though mature reasoning demands a high level of abstract thinking and working through contradictions, conundrums, and puzzles, the normal state is one of binary certainty. We want our lives to operate in a safe, clean, organized fashion. This is why people will so adamantly defend one position over another — they are trying to simplify the complexity of life and escape the mists of ambiguity. Good luck with that. We really do not live in a “yes/no,” “good/bad” “either/or” world. The gray areas are significant and when we adopt the either/or option, we turn most of life into competition — “win/lose,” “fight/flight,” “us/them,” ”right/wrong.” This is short-sighted, hazardous and self-defeating. But, according to brain research, it is also natural and normal. Our working brains seek resolution. When faced with “maybe,” we will strive toward a definite “yes” or a definite “no.”
And we all know what this means in the church. If we resign ourselves to doing the limbic tango, we will never train our brains to function at higher levels. We will turn everything into a binary choice — bickering endlessly over who is right and who is wrong. Instead of rising above our base natures, we give into the less-mature state and create dissonance instead of harmony and resonance. How sad. There is so little to gain by division — especially in a church called to multiplication. Mature thought and developed cognitive process lead us from conflict through compromise toward true, honest, creative collaboration. We enter into the creative processes of God when we cease to destroy and divide and begin to build bridges and strengthen relationships. We stop hiding the treasure we have been given in a sock in the ground, and we work together to become good and faithful stewards. By the power of the Holy Spirit we begin to realize that Jesus wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said that we would do even greater works than he did. This wasn’t a simple wish or pleasant sentiment — God actually expects us to do great works together (greater even than Jesus did).
We cannot achieve this by continuing to focus on our decline, decay, and death. All the well-meaning “leaders” who keep opting for lower-order, binary thinking are doing us a disservice. The “look how badly our ship is sinking message” and the “death Tsunami” prophecies of our future certainly make us an attractive alternative to all those proto-Christians sitting on the fence trying to figure out where they’d like to get involved. “Ooh, let’s join the church that’s failing!” I don’t think so. Of course, we could hire some secular ad agencies and consultants to tell us who we ought to be and what we ought to be doing. That will also instill deep confidence in a culture that is looking for relevancy and purpose.
Binary thinking won’t take us anyplace new or exciting, but it is certainly safe and undemanding. Reverting to the least mature cognitive reasoning process is simple and easy. It reduces stress and requires no effort. It allows us to throw up our hands in frustration when “those people” disagree and thwart our best efforts. It always provides us with someone else to blame for the poor results we do get or the good results we don’t. It gives us all kinds of simplistic “either/or” slogans — “either you’re on the bus or you’re not, but the bus is leaving either way!” I can still hear the shrill whining about those who “aren’t on the bus!” from a previous place of employment… But, think for a moment. What changes if instead of “us/them” we reframed our reality to “all of us?” What if we viewed everyone at the table as responsible to work together toward “both/and” instead of “either/or?” What would we lose? What could we gain?
We lose being right, getting our own way, imposing our will or beliefs on others, and being smug and egotistical. We lose the risk of being on the losing end. We lose the dissipation of energy and resources to build fences and dividing walls. We might make mistakes — just like the ones we make now by demanding our own way, but different. We trade one “truth” for a different “truth” – almost always painful and scary. But we gain so much. We gain a larger family — people to love and respect and honor and care for — and by whom to be loved, respected, honored and cared for. We gain “God-sight,” seeing others as beloved children of God. We gain allies and friends, coworkers and collaborators. We gain community — moving from binary competition to multi-faceted diversity and complexity. Chasing another metaphor — we are transformed from corded rope (tug-of-war, anyone) into colorful threads woven into a tapestry. We begin to embrace the oneness, the wholeness, the unity and the promise that Jesus and Paul proclaimed in scripture.
Of course, this can’t happen by accident and it won’t happen naturally. The only hope we have is supernatural — guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit to grow up and function in mature and enlightened ways. We allow Christ to be our peace, as the author writes in Ephesians, and to break down every dividing wall of hostility that separates us. We stop looking around thinking “who let YOU in?’ and instead we respond with gratitude that God let US in. This life has not been given to us so that we might give in to our baser natures and choose up sides. Let us choose to be on God’s side (which is truly all-encompassing — what “side” exists apart from God?) and let us choose to be made one in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to ALL the world.