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.

12 responses to Which Is It?

  1. Phil P on June 6, 2020 at 4:07 PM Reply

    Pushed to take a side.

    Dennis, first and foremost, thank you for continuing to be a role model. My interactions with you have literally changed my life for the better as since meeting you and Linda, I’ve felt more encouraged and challenged to pursue Christ genuinely and relentlessly; and with a horizontal focus on loving my wife and boys.

    I’ll also be the first to admit that the relentless chase for holiness is extremely difficult and tiring. Especially when one feels compelled to battle the mental and emotional streeses that are brought on by false pretenses, stereotypes, racial divides, and unfortunate happenstances. The older I get, the more I feel that people aren’t inherently good. I tend to sway on the side of the psalmist and believe that we are inherently bad.

    I could feel David’s emotional fatigue when reading Psalm 51… “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” I could imagine Paul’s cry when addressing the church of Ephesus in saying that all people who are not in Christ are “sons of disobedience” and that we are all “by nature children of wrath”.

    I’m not saying that people are bad. I’m saying that people inherently despise God. Similarly to the scientific riddle that is light and darkness… I see a perfect analogy for good and evil. One cannot produce darkness. It isn’t an element or chemical that you can concoct or summon. Darkness is merely the absence of light. Light is the real property in the equation. The same goes for evil. Evil is the absence of good (light). In other words, it is the absence of God. Where God isn’t is where evil is. For that reason, I would have to disagree that people aren’t good or bad. They are bad until God is in them.

    A controversial view on equality from a young black man

    We will continue to struggle as a community until we are pushed to take the right side. The right side is to choose God and opt in to usher in his kingdom. Otherwise, we may begin to think that this broken world isn’t so bad after all.

    In that same vein, here’s a question to think about… What if the equality that we’re all yearning for is Laodicea in disguise?

    Of course because of my genetic make up, whenever I utter the words “equality”, one thinks that I’m referring to social justice or government mistreatment. I am 100% for those things, but those things aren’t my biggest fear.

    My biggest fear in life is becomimg a rich young ruler. I fear becoming a resident of a Laodicea type of state. A place where we are so focused on becoming more wealthy, comfortable, and complacent with building our houses here that we forget about the kingdom of God (like in Haggai). I fear the idea that life is not only tolerable now, but it is so good that we no longer want the return of our true King.

    Laodicea wasn’t depicted as deliberately evil people. They were depicted as something worse (in my opinion)… they were depicted as lukewarm. Hold that thought as I pivot here…

    In simplest terms (leaving out crucial explanation due to limitations caused by using text)… Racism is real. Disadvantages are real. Privelege is real.

    But there is another privilege that every human being is faced with (especially in America where the gospel is widely available). We have the privelege to serve God or ourselves. Regardless of where you stand in the predestination debate, the privelege to accept or reject Christ is there. And as Americans living in a wealthy country, we must admit that our definition of relational impasse may be tainted by our definition of success. We must fear the rich young ruler example, shouldn’t we?

    The point is, equality is great and all, but my biggest fear remains becoming the rich young ruler. Now, despite everything I just said, I also find it my active duty to foster in solutions that will help people live a more communal and purposeful life. Faith plus ACTION <– That has to be our goal! We must find ways to heal the divides in country, but we must also be viligent in avoiding the worse four words that Jesus can say to us… "I never knew you".

    Help me to understand

    Wisdom is no longer based on age and experience. The technological revolution has created shortcuts to experience and therefore, new definitions for wisdom. People can become subject matter experts by watching a few hours of YouTube videos. And the age of information overload has made it possible to learn lessons without trial and error. As such and as a millennial myself, I think it's admirable and intelligent to welcome perspective. I love your approach to address relational tension by using the prefix "help me to understand". To that, I have no further comment and can only say yes and amen!

    • Dennis Gingerich on June 7, 2020 at 4:12 PM Reply

      Love your response Phil and I really do pretty much agree with everything you have said! Very same concerns overall. You have articulated better than I. Thanks so much! Tell Cheyenne hello from Linda and me.

  2. victor lawrence on June 5, 2020 at 3:29 PM Reply

    Thanks! This way of seeing things is the vaccine that inoculates us against the virus called racism. People can hold a flawed, baseless opinion on a subject without it being the defining feature of their nature, It allows us to forgive, educate when possible and grow. I caution myself that the future may prove some of my current and strongly held positions to have been wrong, too. So let us fight that which we see is unjust, without being judgmental, as best we can.

    • Dennis Gingerich on June 6, 2020 at 9:12 AM Reply

      Thank you so much Victor for that powerful response. Perfect. Exactly what I was trying to say and you said it even better than I did. That’s how I seek to live my life, with your attitude of always being flexible and adaptable, growing and learning with humility. Your statements are worth quoting if you give me your permission. And by the way, my wife Linda Augsburger says to say “hello.”

  3. Al Coutant on June 5, 2020 at 8:52 AM Reply

    To reach people in an either / or world with the good news of Jesus, I recalled what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor 9:22. “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Paul apparently learned to do this without compromising who he was, or what he believed. (what a contrast to his earlier life.) You asked what we find difficult. To me this is difficult and is and has been a life-long challenge. To love someone who has a very different world view than me thru my actions is usually more effective than my speech. And sometimes God has pushed me into a different direction than I would choose so I can be more understanding or acceptable to those He wants to reach. I have to remind myself to look at the big picture (“it’s not about me.” – as Chuck Warren said). Not easy.

    • Dennis Gingerich on June 5, 2020 at 9:47 AM Reply

      Great thoughts and reference to 1 Cor. 9:22. So true. Thanks Al.

  4. Gregge Johnson on June 5, 2020 at 8:45 AM Reply

    Love and Truth can Not stand together . Truth wins every time . We live by Grace , ===because Truth is Hurtful,ugly,biased,prejudice,unpopular,division,revieling,and outright miserable! Most pastors will not preach Truth or about Sin ,,,,,,, because they loose people, and loose money! Pastors do not preach Sin ,,,,,,,,, Because they ,,,,, like all the rest of us ==== need to be accepted. Gregge Johnson

  5. Joe Mazurkiewicz on June 5, 2020 at 7:41 AM Reply

    The easiest area to live both/and for me is parenting. We show our children both nurturing and discipline, both are necessary to be a good parent. The toughest area is in public policy debate as it seems in today’s world there is no center; you are either with me or against me, or so it seems. I believe people crave a well rounded fully thought out explanation of why and how we can fix things, or at least address them thoughtfully. The problem is in our instant gratification world full thought, well rounded conversations and possible solutions take more than 140 characters along with the use of two ears and only one mouth..

  6. Kathy Kasper on June 5, 2020 at 7:21 AM Reply

    Amen!
    Engage our hearts before our mouths!
    We all feel the change. It is time to regroup and be flexible.
    Have compassion for each other. We are all at different stages in our
    Lives and have to make different choices. Respect one another and
    Have understanding! Love each other.

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