living in the middle

I recently read a fantastic New York Times piece written by Trevor Noah following this year’s election.

Noah discussed his unique position growing up during the apartheid in South Africa as a person of mixed ethnicity. His mother black, his father white, he was forced to live between lines clearly drawn between races, clearly enforced by guns.

Several ideas in this article struck me as interesting:

  • America’s (can I say, humanity’s?) dislike of nuance: For example, even something like comedy divides our nation, an idea so  foreign to Noah. Even in the midst of a 1980s South Africa, in the midst of racial oppression and division, he found that comedy crossed lines and brought people together.
  • Divided people are easier to rule: This one is pretty obvious, and is the whole point of apartheid.
  • The importance of dialogue and nuance: The only reason Noah says he survived was because he had to “learn how to approach people, and problems, with nuance.”
  • If we stick to the sides, we will never reach the middle. Noah concludes that life and people are more often in the middle than they are on the sides.
I can’t help but think of how difficult it is for Christians to live between lines drawn by the world and by the church. We often have an inability to live between the lines of different sides of issues, perhaps because of the way we saw faith manifested around us or maybe just because of innate confusion around defining “the middle space.” When I was first thinking about this idea of the middle, I even questioned its veracity. Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to compromise and to separate ourselves? But doesn’t it also tell us to be in the world, to be inclusive, to reach out and love our fallen world and fellow human beings? How do we practically reconcile these?

Noah makes an interesting and perhaps convicting argument in his article: that we can still be steadfast to our commitments and beliefs while breaking bread with others and reaching out to reason. He knows it can be done because he had to do it, and doing it is the reason he is where is he today.

So my only conclusion and answer to these questions is that is the church’s lifelong journey is to figure out, using Jesus as an example, how to live between the lines while still maintaining our identity. And sadly, if we do not try, we may be so boxed in by lines and issues that we fail to reach the people and brokenness in the middle.

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