I posted a couple of weeks ago on Facebook about the middle. I wanted to expand upon that posting.
The middle is often viewed with disdain. People say that if you sit on the fence, you are lukewarm or indecisive. The middle man is usually seen as being the one that gets the short end of the stick.
However, I believe that in our current day the middle is where we as clergy should live. There are so many people rushing to align themselves with causes that sit on the edges. Extremism has become a way of life for people of every political, religious and social standing. Civility has been lost in our political and social discourse. We have adopted an “us” verses “them” mentality. But that is not the message of the Christ.
The message of the Christ is one of love. Love does not run to the extremes that exclude, vilify, marginalize, or dismiss people. Love embraces all people. In love there is no “us” verses “them”, it is WE.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we are called to stand against inequality, injustice, hate, bigotry, racism, and all the other forms of discrimination. I do not believe that we will be effective by vilifying those who disagree with us.
When I see videos on Facebook of police and Black Lives Matters protesters marching arm in arm, I am overjoyed. They have mastered the WE. They are living in the middle. They are not vilifying each other, but rather working together to rid the world of hate, anger, racism, and violence. That is what we should all be doing.
But when I see protesters at Planned Parenthood clinics calling women entering the clinics whores and sluts, telling them they are going to hell, despite the fact that the woman may only be there for a cancer screening, I am disappointed. When I see protesters calling for the death of people they view as opposed to their movement, saying that whole segments of society are going to hell because of who they love, or being violent in the name of forcing change, I am saddened. This is not what we as Christians, or we as clergy, are called to do.
We are called, as Saint Paul said, to become “…all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
We should not rush to the edges; we should not become extremist. It will not effect change in our world. It will only serve to divide us as a people. We can only effect change by standing in the middle. We have the unique ability to be an anchor so that those who have drifted to the edge might have a lifeline back to the middle. We can stand, silent, prayerful, in the middle, with our anchor attached firmly to the Christ. We can effect change by being the lighthouse.
The lighthouse does not ride on the ship. It does not stand miles away from the coast. It does not drift in the water off the coast. It stands in the middle. It marks the point where the two major forces join. We can be that lighthouse.
It is time to set aside the rhetoric that divides people. It is time to stop with the “us” verses “them” mentality. It is time to unite people.
Here are some novel ideas on uniting people:
Remain civil in your discourse. Online discussions are the worst about this. This is because it is hard to hear the tenor in which things are said. Someone’s short to the point response may not be them being rude, it might be them on a cell phone trying to type with a keyboard that is 2 times smaller than their fingers (trust me, this is me most of the time!). Their formality in their messages may not be condescension, but rather formality and an attempt at showing respect to you. It is always better to assume the best in someone rather than assume the worst. It will defuse so many situations.
Stay away from politics. This is a hard one for me. I love politics. I love to discuss politics. But I live in the deep South. Here my politics are heresy. So rather than anger people, I try to take Saint Paul’s tact and be all things to all people. That means I have to sometimes grit my teeth and say nothing when someone is attaching my political views. I don’t go on the defense. I don’t even share that they are talking about things I support. I merely smile and bless them. That also defuses so many tense situations.
Religion is not a weapon. As clergy, many of us already know this. But there are times it is hard to remember in the heat of a discussion. Our Christ taught us love. We can preach and live love if we are using the Bible as a sword. We should be gentle in our discourse on religion. We should show the love of the Christ to everyone, regardless of who they are, what religion they are, and who they love. If we cannot do that, we have missed the entire point. Christ calls us to love. It is time we as Christians start loving.
Lastly, for all else, use the 5 second rule. I want to share with you a little tidbit about me. I have been on anti-depressants for 15 years or so. Rather than deal with my issues from my childhood and young adult life, I was given medications to mask the problems. Now 15 years later, I am working on those issues. As such, I have also been able to lower the doses of some of my medications. One of the things that anti-depressants do is they regulate emotion. So I experienced a very muted set of emotions for 15 years. Now that I am working to come off the meds, I experience more emotions that before. It is has led me to have to use the 5 second rule much more. It really works. When you read something, see something, experience something and you are tempted to react immediately, take 5 seconds to breath first and then ask yourself if this is something you should get worked up over. Is this something you should respond to? What would Jesus do? (In my case, I ask what a dear Bishop of mine and a priest of mine would do.) Only after that 5 seconds and a little thought, should you react. This will save you and everyone around you a lot of grief. It has for me!
These are not hard things. They are habits we should work to incorporate into our daily lives. Civility, love, charity, and understanding are not bad words. They are words that bring us closer to what the Christ taught. Let’s start living them.
The Right Rev. Gregory Godsey, OSFoc is the Managing Editor of Convergent Streams. He is the Presiding Bishop of the Old Catholic Churches International and the Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (AL, FL, GA, and SC). He is also the Director of the Office of Communications and Media Relations for the OCCI. He lives in North Augusta, South Carolina with his wife and son.