Sometimes it sucks to be in the middle. I only have one sibling and so it never could have been the case in my household growing up, but you often hear the stories of the “forgotten” middle child. Middle management is often stuck between the gripes of their employees and the demands to carry out initiatives by top management.
Middle school can be the most awkward of times as one transitions from the simplicity and innocence of their elementary years into the complexity and travails of being a teenager and all that business called puberty.
When it comes to religion and politics, it seems much easier to join one side or the other. It’s much simpler to identify who your group is and conversely, who the “enemy” is. Life can seemingly go much smoother when you are safely entrenched with your family group and you know for the most part that everyone is going to think and act the same way.
But sometimes when you are with a family for a while, you start to notice some things that just don’t seem quite right. Maybe not the core ideals that attracted you to the group in the first place, but some of the other stuff. Matters that should be more peripheral and not nearly as important but are treated like they are essential, or all but. Issues that the more you look at them, the more you realize that we aren’t thinking or acting right. Things that appear to be unhealthy excesses and extremes. Maybe even some items at which you think the “enemy” is doing a better job.
And so you say something. But it doesn’t go over too well with the family. Because that is not how you do things in the family. You are to stay loyal and united and questioning the way things are done is definitely not appropriate.
And so that leaves you stuck in the middle. The “other side” still doesn’t like you much because you’re still part of the enemy and you will still question or speak out against some of their sacred cows. Therefore, you are still hated and continue to be identified with all the worst of your family group. And now your own side isn’t very fond of you either for not falling in line and being a good soldier.
I have shocked church friends and family members with comments I have made on theological subjects. Remarks I have made showing that I may not be fully on board and question some elements. No, not words questioning items like the reliability of the Bible or the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice. But rather comments showing that I may not be fully convinced of the pre-trib, pre-mill position and that I am open to the possibility of other eschatological positions. Or remarks like I think there are true believers who are Catholic or Orthodox. And of course one that we have covered here before, that I think it’s okay for Christians to drink, even for pastors to do so.
I have angered and frustrated friends and family members that I am not on board with Donald Trump now that he is the presumptive Republican nominee. Because, I am told, we must now band together and the most important thing is defeating the enemy. And besides, many of our Christian leaders are now getting to know Trump and telling us he’s really not that bad and there’s actually lots of good things about the man. Wait, what is that, I hear? You dare question our Christian leaders?
I’m sure I could offend many more people many more times, but I often keep many of my thoughts to myself. I express myself better in writing than I do in spontaneous verbal conversation and so this blog and Facebook have given me avenues to express my thoughts more so than I have before. But even at that, there are many circumstances where I keep my mouth closed or limit what I have to say. Yet the things I have managed to say over the years have pushed me more and more into the abyss of the “middle”.
I still identify with my families. But for some in my families, I am the ugly red-headed step child. (No offense to red heads, just using a common expression to make a point.) I am the one who is too “open” to all those other dangerous ways and thought systems. I am the who is angrily accused of playing the devil’s advocate, because darn it, we know that we’re right and you shouldn’t be challenging us like that. And I’m not even very talkative or confrontational by nature. What it must be like for those who are so.
Part of the problem is certainly with me for not always communicating in the clearest or most understanding fashion. But part of the problem is also a perceived disloyalty for questioning those within the family or the way things are supposed to be done within the family. And yet another part of the problem may be a blindness of family members from being able to see the bigger picture and faults within, because if this is the way we do it and our leaders advocate for it, then it invariably must be right. To quote from a recent Russell Moore article, “Forgetting who we are and forgetting our mission can leave us particularly vulnerable to false teaching that doesn’t sound false because it comes from “our side.”
I try to follow my conscience and speak for what I believe to be right and that sometimes gets me stuck in the middle. And you know what? I’m probably wrong on some issues and the righteousness actually lays more on one side or the other. But if I think the truth of an issue lays more towards the middle or even the other side I am going to try to stick with what I believe to be right.
In our increasingly divided and vociferous culture (including the church) that cries for battle, being in the middle is often like being an enemy…. to both sides. I know there are others who get stuck in the middle with me. Let’s hang in there as we absorb the blows.
May God give us the wisdom and strength to do and say what is right.