"Jenkins left alone in the middle." This headline caught my eye but it was not about me.
The story that followed was about a situation that faced John Jenkins, a 6-foot-3, 351 pound member of the University of Georgia football team. The junior shared playing time this season with another nose guard, Kwame Geathers, for the Bulldogs first seven games.
Geathers punched a Vanderbilt player when the two teams met a couple of weeks ago. As a result he was suspended for the first half of the Georgia-Florida game last Saturday. So for the first time this season, Jenkins was left alone in the middle and would not alternate plays with this teammate.
Although the headline was not about me, and I know nothing about playing nose guard, there have been times that I have felt "alone in the middle." It has never made headlines but I have found myself in the middle of:
- liberal and conservative theologians
- right and left-wing political views
- discussions and experiences of traditional and emerging worship
- the haves and the have-nots
- passion and apathy
- decisiveness and ambivalence.
Many times I have avoided the low road, but I have not always taken the high road. Often I am on middle ground.
There are many issues over which people are polarized. Some folks will argue to the death for their position and are unwilling to concede one inch of ground. Compromise is not in their vocabulary. It is as if to give up anything is to give up everything. They believe if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.
I acknowledge that there are situations that deserve and demand our total support. Unwavering commitment. Complete loyalty. I will not pretend to identify issues that warrant our full attention, and I confess that I may not always recognize matters that are of utmost importance. However, I am certain that many things that "bend us out of frame" are not really that significant. They are peripheral and often petty. And they divide us.
I do not intend to minimize the magnitude of social and moral ills in society. I refuse to fantasize that all is right with the world. I recognize that everything is not as it should be. There are injustices and inequities against which we must stand firm. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." But some of the things that alienate us from one another are secondary matters at best.
Christians argue about fine points of theology and there certainly is a place for that. Strong biblical standards are essential, but in our efforts to be sure we have sound doctrine we sometimes forget the simplicity of the Gospel. People of faith should be passionate about things that matter but we can still be respectful and gracious towards those with whom we disagree.
Our quarreling and contentiousness often diminishes our influence.
Karl Barth, a world-famous Swiss theologian, gave a last lecture across the United States shortly before his death. A student in one of his seminars could not fully understand Barth's complex ideas and theology. So he asked him, "I know you have written volumes and volumes of theology, but can you sum up your theology in a single sentence?" Then the famous theologian answered, "Yes. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!"
I read that when Mao Tse Tung attempted to crush the church in China, things seemed very bleak. In 1972 however, a message leaked out which simply said: "The this I know people are well." The Communist authorities did not understand the message. But Christians all around the world knew instantly that this referred to the famous children's hymn. Miraculously the Chinese Church, instead of being crushed, experienced significant growth under persecution.
I do not know if this story is true, but I believe the point it makes is right on. It leaves us "in the middle" of many debates over non-essentials. God came into the world through Jesus Christ to love and redeem all people. If Christians everywhere would focus on that truth and live out of that reality, we would be and would make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," 10/31/11. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]