The Third Way: Not Really A Way At All…Is It?

This is a response to this post:
I THINK I FINALLY HAVE FIGURED OUT WHAT THE THIRD WAY OF THE UMC IS

Toy, I think you’re onto something with this description of the Third Way thought-experiment. However, what you’re pointing out is precisely what makes it so compelling to me.

There is no shortage of left vs right debates — polarised people lined up behind certitude-infused, contentious ideological persuasions. We know how to have those conversations. We know how to use loaded language which triggers predictable (over)reactions from the other side. We know how to bluster, how to swagger and how to fight. We know how to drive in a wedge, and how to widen its gap.

What we do not know how to do is live in tension. To let mystery hang unresolved. The more time I spend dwelling on the tenets of faith, specifically the words of Christ, the more I think this was what he was setting up. He regularly answered questions with questions. Whatever else that does, it seriously hinders certainty.

This approach didn’t work for a lot of people in Jesus’ time. It doesn’t work for a lot of people now. And I think that might just be the primary indictment of the incarnation upon mankind. We declare that we know — insist that the tensions are resolved, make our pronouncements and point our fingers. But what if the whole point is that knowing is outside of our pay grade? The quest that began with Adam and Eve continues to take us off course. I’m fairly convinced that liberals and conservatives are equally out of line in their fixed (op)positions.

So then, as you’ve said, it comes down to pragmatics. Is there room for people who want choose to affirm LGBTQIA* people, and people who view such deviations as sinful? If they all put away their accusations, owning that accusations themselves are rooted in egocentrism and the kind of arrogance which is intrinsic to human nature, well, then perhaps there is.

Unfortunately, what I see most is posturing which seeks to co-opt the gospel, thereby missing its greatest intention(s).

In my opinion, the way forward must be as distasteful to the left and the right camps, as it is affirming to the unique souls within their camps. If it doesn’t cost everyone equally, then how could we ever trust it? And if the thing that is costs us is the trust of our own understandings, that’s pretty equal in my view.

Not to mention biblical.

Virtue in Vice, and Vice Versa

Can we ever be wholly good? Can we ever be wholly evil?

If we believe we are purely virtuous, we are in the greatest danger of causing harm. If we believe that we are purely evil, then we have no capacity to provide any benefit.

We are never entirely either only good or evil — indeed, those who have tried the hardest to be one or the other have failed.

Where the church has claimed the moral high ground, it has exhibited a general inability (or unwillingness) to access this complexity. And so, naturally, do its detractors. (Especially if they’re former church members, well-trained in its poorest forms of argumentation.) Not making this any easier is the fact that both sides have untrustworthy perspectives. And, additionally, we follow at least a societal/cultural paradigm if not an intrinsic, human-nature one, that cries out for clear dichotomisation between right and wrong.

People who believe that the church is purely virtuous are blind to its vices, so they assume that accusations of them must be baseless. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the reasons they’ve been “made up” must also be speculated upon, speculation which undoubtedly reflect poorly on the would-be prosecutor.

On the other hand, there are people who can’t help but see vice in the structure and the dealings of the church (or at least whatever side they disagree with), and they cannot accept that there is any virtue, or at not enough virtue to justify its continued existence. From within that mindset, there must be corresponding accusations levelled at the defendants, which also call their character into question.

This isn’t just a church phenomenon. It happens on all levels, from continental to individual.

If we cannot accept that there is both virtue and vice in all of us, and therefore all of our human institutions, it will lead unyieldingly, inevitably to abuse. In both directions: we are in stark danger of becoming abusive when we either presume its presence, or its absence.

So if we are impure, how do we arrive at justice?

Be warned, this is an unpopular message as our culture lifts its new-found voice in the cause of justice: we must start by recognising that we are incapable of it. Sin is more than just doing bad stuff. It exists in our murkily-mangled motivations for even the best things we do. And perhaps most troublingly, it exists in our internally flawed perspectives of what the best things even are, and why!

Each individual has a valuable and unique perspective, but each perspective is uniquely susceptible to flaws.

We can be a benefit. We can speak up for the oppressed, and we can restore dignity to the down-trodden. But even our most successful engagements cannot provide objective justice. No amount of human effort can possibly earn us the capacity to redeem, to reverse harm, or to re-establish innocence.

Until we recognise that we are all complicit in villainy, we will continue to a blind quest for retribution against villains, thus needlessly perpetuating cycles.

We need to dream about justice. We need to imagine it, and probe it, challenging both status quo and our imagined improvements. We need to enlarge our minds to their very limits. And we also need to know before we start that we aren’t going to arrive at it.

Though it may be better, nothing that we do in the name of justice can ever be perfect.

Life is a journey toward a destiny. We don’t get to pick the final conclusion, but we do get to choose the direction — intentionally or not, it’s a choice we are always making.

Thoughts on Legacy, Mediocrity and Balance

As I head towards 40, questions about the meaning of life don’t slow down. In a sense. But in another sense, perhaps I’m getting more comfortable with the questions, and not having a perfectly satisfactory answer.

Of course, there is pressure to make it make sense. To artificially solve tensions. Or to ignore them. To do whatever it takes to make a mark. To yield to the pressure to prioritise lofty aspirations regarding one’s legacy and posterity.

I’m beginning to understand that I’m rejecting those pressures. Or more accurately, I suppose, that my rejection is becoming more deliberate and concrete.

This isn’t to say that I’m immune to mid-life crisis. Not at all. In fact, I would describe it the other way: I think I’ve been in perpetual life crisis. I’ve said that as a joke. “Life Crisis” was even the witty name I came up with for a band I was a part of.

But as with many jokes, it worked as a mask to hide an unknown truth.

I’ve watched people approaching a different age — an age where mortality is even more real and inevitable — who treat legacy with a sense of desperation. It seems like as we cross from any stage to another, we’re in a constant last-ditch attempt at meaning.

Some of this crystallised within me when I was talking to a older gentleman with a gorgeous old car. The way his eyes sparkle whenever he speaks of it, there’s no secret that he loves that machine. He’s kept it, maintained it and meticulously restored it for nearly five decades. It’s a precious symbol of so much of his life, his most intimate and treasured relationships. But unfortunately, somewhere along the line, I believe the symbol unintentionally became the surrogate. This tragedy is repeated throughout history: the all-encompassing love of a thing overshadows all that the person thought it enabled or epitomised.

This is my fear: that I would ever invest my being into something that is ultimately trivial.

There is both internal and external pressure to abandon balance due to its apparent tendency to lead us — not to greatness, notoriety and a lasting legacy — but to mediocrity and corresponding historical obscurity.

Mediocrity? Obscurity?

What if living into all the tensions of all of our loves is the goal of being alive? What if it’s all about becoming aware of the double-binds, and the idols that we cling to, or over-abandon? As a Christian, and as you might be able to guess with the name of this website, I don’t believe that my life belongs to me. That includes my legacy.

One of the most difficult disciplines of my faith is to entrust meaning to an obstinately invisible deity.

Sure, I want it. I want validation from people that all my memories and desires are important, and count for something. But not nearly enough to pay what it costs for many of the people who’ve have earned it…or the innumerable forgotten faces along the way who lost their souls having never even gained their chosen world.

All things considered, it’s good to be reminded of that every once in a while.