One of the best sticky statements I’ve ever heard in a speech was from my colleague, Cory Demmel. He was sharing the sad news of a popular church leader who had fallen far short of his calling. Cory’s repeated line was about “Living Both/And in an Either/Or World.” He was making sure our church understood that this former leader accomplished both good things and made bad choices. If you think about it, having a both/and perspective, is difficult. Especially, when we live in a culture that leans toward Either/Or.
So much of the tension we are feeling in our nation right now is focused around either/or. We are pushed to take a side. Polarization and divisive language are up front and center. It is obvious in politics. Love and hate words abound. Right or left? Conservative or liberal? Republican or Democrat? CNN or Fox? We’ve also been hearing this polarity in relationship to the pandemic. Shut everything down or go on as normal? Require a mask or don’t tell me what to do? Masses are dying or it’s really no worse than the flu. It’s a conspiracy by a political party, a intentionally created virus by a foreign country designed to affect the upcoming presidential election, it’s the judgement of God on our world or it’s just a natural occurrence that happens about every century. We also witness this schism in the semantics used to describe a person’s view toward law enforcement: pro-police or anti-police. Opposite ends of a continuum. Media follows the pattern. Sound bites from the far ends of a spectrum. We live in a time when most want to put us in either this box, or that box. Black or white. Either or.
Let me remind us that we must learn to live both/and in an either/or world if we are going to resolve the frictions. All of us tend to have a natural or learned bias toward being more comfortable on one side of center. Both are a mindset. One is more rigid. One more flexible. One focuses easily on creating a new future and the other hangs on to protecting the past. Let me suggest that we can intentionally develop the skill of both/and living in an either/or world. It starts with a mindset.
People aren’t either good or bad. Most pastors and spiritual leaders exemplify integrity and walk the talk, but a few do not. Most cops are good and handle the pressures of every encounter with non-bias and appropriate use of force, but a few have not. Most of those trying to make an important statement through peaceful protests are passionately expressing their desire for the well-being of all people in our country, a few are violent and destructive. Most of the people I walk alongside of genuinely make an effort to treat everyone as made in the image of God, but some are prejudiced. Our country has made positive strides toward equality and opportunity for all people, yet we are not where we need to be. It is both and. Both political parties have ideologies that are good for all people in our nation. Some politicians haven’t represented the ideals of their party accurately. We have both and. To lessen our relational tensions, we must move our mindset away from categorizing everything as an either/or situation, viewpoint or position and become intentional about finding the both/and part of the incident, the opinion, or the way of looking at someone’s behavior.
Jesus was the epitome of both/and living. One of his friends, John, wrote this description: “And the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:14-17). Grace and truth were always a tension that Jesus managed in his relationships. He spoke truth and yet showed grace. The religious leaders always wanted to know which box he was in, grace OR truth? Grace OR law? He continually confounded, irritated and rattled them with both: grace AND truth. Not grace OR truth. I’m learning that the only way to be effective and faithful to the example of Jesus is to be both an image of grace and a voice of truth.
For decades now, I’ve been trying to learn and live the way of Jesus in all areas of my life. It shapes my view of everything. It creates my worldview. My political view. My relational view. My connection to Jesus helps me to live both/and in an either/or world. Every incident I witness or read about, leads me to be intentional about looking for the both/and instead of settling for the either/or. With Jesus as my mentor, I can usually see some truth on both sides of an issue and still offer grace to those on both extremes of the continuum. I don’t have to polarize grace on one end and truth on the other. I’m seeking to live at the intersection of grace and truth. I’ve come to believe that grace and truth can both be offered in the same breath, the same sentence, the same smile and the same action.
But friends, this is what I am learning. It’s hard work managing the tension of both/and. It’s much easier to drift toward either/or. Sharing opinionated posts on social media that represent your side of the continuum is easy-peasy. Thoroughly thinking through how sharing that same post might come across to those of a different family heritage, cultural upbringing, faith story, political leaning or career choice takes loads of effort. Spouting off statistics is easy. Careful listening to understand the pain in someone else’s story is hard work. Putting labels on groupings of people is easy. Getting to know someone well enough to understand their heart and intention takes time and energy. Both/and is complicated. Either/or is simple.
I’ve chosen to take the more difficult path. I’m trying to be intentional with speaking grace and truth. I’m using the phrase, “Help me to understand…” as a more integral part of my vocabulary when I experience relational tensions. I’m installing a speed bump between my brain and my mouth. I’m reading and rereading my posts, my comments, and my emails before I click on “Send.” I ask other wise people to read my responses to an explosive situation before sending them. And sometimes, that review and reflective process, causes me to actually hit the “delete” button. Will you join me on the journey of living both/and in an either/or world?
QUESTION: What is the one area that is easiest for you to choose both/and? Where do you find it the hardest? I’d love to hear your comments below.