As a culture, we tend to think in dualistic terms. We boil problems and situations down to two sides, often setting them up as opposites. This tendency goes back thousands of years and can be seen in ancient philosophy and the Christian scriptures. Examples of this include: light and dark, good and evil, love and hate, hot and cold, yes and no, friend or foe, sick and healthy, life and death. January’s events highlighted how extremely divided our nation has become and how far apart different elements of society have decided to set up camp. As the distance between factions on numerous issues continues to widen, the space between them seems to be shifting from a place of dialogue and discourse into a battleground filled with trenches. Some pundits have stated lately that today’s geo-political climate reflects that of the late 1920s and 1930s, which boiled over into the world-wide conflict of World War 2. I would like to suggest it also echoes the trenches of World War 1, a drawn-out stalemate that exacted a horrifying toll on millions.
How did we get here? Did ultra-polarization become popularized, standardized, and/or even deemed patriotic when Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me death”? Has college sports fan culture contributed to the problem as team loyalists praise their colors while weekly denouncing the opponents and urging for them to be destroyed? Political opponents on ballots are routinely in media said to represent “rival” parties and labeled “enemies”, which are much more divisive terms. Slowly, it seems our dualistic tendencies have led us, in my opinion, to conflating and confusing which things are and are not true opposites, failing to understand when opponents are enemies, and broken down our ability to recognize when the concept of opposites should not be employed.
In the first chapter of John’s gospel, we find the beautiful opening passage:
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would believe in the light. 8 He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
10 The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light,
but the world didn’t recognize the light. (John 1:5–10, CEB)
Here we see the opposites of light and dark being used to amazing effect. The light is Christ, coming into the world. But do you notice where the man from God named John (this is not yours truly) is? Do you recognize where the people, the world, are? If darkness is pierced by unextinguishable light, then logically it is not darkness anymore. So then, what is it? Where are they? If the world was not in the light, but there was light, does that mean the world is actually in some hazy, gray area in between light and dark?
Friends, I ask you to consider, how much of life happens in the murky, unclear, gray? Choices are not always cut and dry, black and white, or simply this or that. The pandemic church leadership experience has been one fuzzy decision after another, moving forward in faith through a fog of unknowns and swirling clouds of doubt. If we consider where, in the hazy environment of John 1, the one sent to represent God is, we note that he was right there in the middle of the fog, preaching so that others may find their way.
As we enter into February, which in Georgia is often a murky experience in itself pandemic or not, let us remember that we are called to represent Christ, the light of the world. Let us not do this by setting up camp with ourselves and ostracizing or criminalizing others who do not know the light we have to share. Friends, I urge you to prayerfully go and carry Christ’s light out into the uncertain middle and share that light with those who need it, lovingly finding ways to meet them in the spaces in between.