Wrestling With the Discomfort of 'The Middle'

For the past few months, I have been working with a group of Georgetown University students on a theatre production about some of the national controversies that have taken place in our nation over the past few years. The overall purpose has been to not only re-enact real occurrences, but to highlight all of the varied perspectives surrounding them. From the beginning, I have tried to get my students to wrestle with what it means to live in the tension of "the middle." What does it truly mean to hear and understand multiple perspectives on some of the issues they feel so passionate about? Interestingly enough, as we find ourselves closer to opening weekend, we're beginning to see just how burdensome the task of residing in the middle can be. As we promote the show, people are having a hard time wrapping their minds around it. They want to know which side we're taking. Are we standing on the right or the left? If they come, will they be forcefully influenced to join a particular stream of thought? So now we find ourselves as a team having to do much more than sell a few tickets for entertainment purposes. We are promoting a very unpopular school of thought: The Mosaic Middle.

I've often wondered about the tension and the discomfort of living in the middle. By middle, I mean that space where one has to wrestle with beliefs that aren't their own. That space where I'm compelled to break bread with people who are different than me. That space where I am bound to have conversations with and listen to those whose experiences I have not shared. The middle isn't about being ambiguous or not taking a side, but rather it's about learning the discipline of living in community and discovering the challenging beauty of common ground.

We used to use the phrase "Mosaic Middle" as staff when I worked at Azusa Pacific University. This was a helpful visual of a pattern of varied entities living together in the middle in spite of our apparent difference. This is a visual that I've tried to continue to live out, in spite of the reality that I do have very particular leanings socially, politically etc. It's not an easy place to live. As human beings we naturally move towards spaces where people look like us, talk like us and think like us. We have a hard time hearing perspectives that are not our own. We have a hard time living with people who do not live life the way we do. As much as we do disagree, I don't believe that any of us like to disagree. We certainly don't want to live in community with those who disagree with us. Difference is difficult, but difference must be reconciled before any of us can truly live in community. If we don't learn what it means to live in community, how could we ever achieve the goals of harmony? I truly believe the only way to get there is for us to commit to residing in the tension of the middle.

When we can commit to residing with one another in the shared tension of the middle, only then we can truly discover what it means to live in community. Howard Thurman once said, "that meaningful and creative shared experience shared between people can be more compelling than all of the faiths, fears, concepts, ideologies, and prejudices that divide; and if these experiences can be multiplied and sustained over a sufficient duration of time, then any barrier that separates one person from another can be undermined and eliminated."

In scripture, we find at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, he chose a community of very distinctive individuals.

Jesus called together his twelve disciples. He gave them the power to force out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and sickness. 2 The first of the twelve apostles was Simon, better known as Peter. His brother Andrew was an apostle, and so were James and John, the two sons of Zebedee. 3 Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus were also apostles. 4 The others were Simon, known as the Eager One, and Judas Iscariot, who later betrayed Jesus. (Matthew 10)

The original disciples were different in personality, thought, upbringing, socio-economic status, skill and temperament. It was very clear throughout the scriptures that these twelve consistently argued and had a hard time understanding and living in community with one another. Wouldn't it have been easier for Jesus to choose likeminded people to be on his team? Since he didn't, what lessons can we draw from his choosing of them to teach us about how we are supposed to live within the tension of community? I wonder what the disciples learned about staying together in the uncomfortable middle with the common goal of spreading one gospel.

My hope is that we can fight through the temporary discomfort of difference and look to the longstanding peace and harmony that can be birthed from living in the tension of that mosaic middle. Maybe then we can have a practical pedagogy for the generation that will come behind us as to how to continue the mission of reconciliation.