Monday, May 14, 2012

On Moderation, or Why I'm an Extreme Non-Extremist


Polarization and partisanship are the zeitgeist of our times. In the midst of this, a humble moderate perspective is routinely lost in the ensuing shouting match between two sides. Rather than be drawn to the extremes of either side or system, I typically find myself as the extreme non-extremist, living in the tension of the middle ground. It is akin to standing at the middle of a tug-o-war rope, pulling at both ends with either arm, trying to draw both sides towards a moderate conclusion. This occurs both politically and theologically; my conservative friends often consider me their liberal compatriot, while my liberal friends wonder about my conservative leanings.

Moderation may be perceived as being indecisive or ambivalent, but I rather view it as being discerning. Where the former descriptions apply to those without a foundation for values or ethics, to be discerning requires having both a solid set of values and the ability to use careful intuition in the moment. A further problem with being a moderate is finding oneself with no friends in partisan issues. Both sides wonder how the moderate can remain so inconsistent, viewing them as an apathetic version of their own view. In reality, they are standing in the third stream, between the two extremes; the view is not simply the middle of two extremes on a continuum, but a legitimate third way, branching off to create a trinity of views from the current dichotomy. Even the word moderate doesn't have much appeal; no one wants to watch a moderate action film, or eat a moderate-tasting meal. Moderate can quickly mean "mediocre" or "lukewarm" in people's minds, despite the fact that it is far more difficult and exceptional to consistently live in the tension of moderation than to embrace partisan systems.

It's not that I have no convictions or extreme leanings. I am extremely certain of the Gospel--that Jesus Christ came, died, rose from the dead, and established a kingdom that I can participate in, experiencing eternal life in Him alone. I am extremely confident that following Jesus is the best possible way to live. I am quite certain that I am to love my neighbor as myself, that I am to pursue justice for the poor and marginalized, that I am to affirm truth and beauty wherever I find it. I am absolutely certain that I must faithfully love my wife and children as a husband and father. These issues are all fairly concrete in my mind. I have simply learned that most issues--political, theological, cultural--are not as black-and-white as they might initially seem, particularly those that involve the complexity of human beings and the Divine.

I have a core set of personal values that (hopefully) motivate my decisions throughout the day. One of these values is embrace the tension:
Live with a posture of open hands, holding two seemingly-opposing ideas, circumstances, or feelings in each hand--the present and future, suffering and hope, the kingdom being now and not yet, grace and justice, etc. Live into the paradox and mystery of our reality; grey-tinted discernment over black-and-white thinking.
In black-and-white decisions, I always wonder if there's a third way. Gratefully, the third person of the Trinity (the Holy Spirit) is faithful to help and guide, offering wisdom and mindful discernment to navigate this polarized world.

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