Walking the line

by Kristin on November 18, 2008

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Jason Rogers

Walking a line is one of the hardest things in life to do. Johnny Cash wrote a song about it then proved just how difficult it was to actually accomplish (if the song is indeed about faithfulness to his first wife, as it seems).

There are a variety of lines we each try to walk at different moments. Like drinking just enough at the high school reunion to relax, but not so much that you make a fool of yourself. Or having lots of friends, but not so many that the friendships get diluted and cease to be meaningful. Then there’s the constant issue of staying up late enough to do all the things you want and need to do, but not so late that you are a completely useless wreck the next day.

It’s about balance. An ability to walk delicate lines might be one of the main badges of maturity (although this just occurred to me, and I haven’t really thought it through completely…).

Lines of ideology are even more difficult to walk than lifestyle lines. They’re more exciting and rewarding, though, too. The tension that comes from the push and pull, as we sway and veer and then regain our balance, is both exhilarating and excruciating.

I know, because I’m constantly trying to figure out how to do it with this blog. My old Halfway to Normal tagline was “Living a life in between.” I recently changed it to “Finding myself neither here nor there,” but the essence is still the same: I’m attempting to tread a fine line in the things I write about: between work and life, faith and culture, church and state, and big ideas and simple everyday musings.

It isn’t easy, but I hope that if I figure out how to do it well, I can also pull together a community of others who are neither here nor there—I know I must not be alone.

So…where’s the school for line-walkers?

Much of how we learn about such things, of course, is by trial and error. In my own experiments, I’m discovering that walking the line is much like crossing a log that’s fallen across a stream: sometimes it pays to be really careful and cautious about where you position each next step; other times you do better by just taking a deep breath and letting momentum and luck carry you across.

The best way to learn about walking the line, though, is to find examples of others who are successfully walking similar lines. When you’re lucky enough to find them, they will both instruct and inspire, like the best mentors and teachers.

Here are two examples I’ve recently learned from and been inspired by. To some extent they both involve walking that very narrow church-state line—one I’ve been very drawn to lately, it seems. (For examples, check out posts like Do the right thing, God, irony and rain, and Politics, religion and sex.)

I think my church’s ability to walk lines with integrity and humility is one of my favorite things about it. I’m a big fan of separating church and state, so I was glad our pastors weren’t directly addressing the presidential election or the candidates in the weeks leading up to November 4.

At the same time, though, my church is very clear about its stance on peace, mercy and justice, and everyone knows those things are tied to politics, whether we like it or not. So how do you acknowledge all of that, as a fellowship, without getting sucked into taking sides?

I was really moved, this past Sunday, when Seth, one of our pastors, shared this “official” statement and then prayed in response to the election. I asked if I could share it here.

1) We acknowledge that within our congregation we have people from all political walks of life and we WANT it to be that way. We never want to become partisan or political in tone…

2) However, as a church we DO embrace, historically and currently the Civil Rights Movement—eloquently defined by Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, and by his life. We are constantly battling the fallout of hundreds of years of oppression and slavery in this country and we still have much work left to do to make King’s dream a reality.

3) Whether or not you think Obama will be a good president, whether or not you voted for him, his election is nonetheless a victory that goes beyond a normal political victory. It is both a sign of significant healing that has taken place and hopefully also an agent of healing for the racial divisions that still exist here in America.

4) With that in mind we want to pray as a community for protection for the Obama family. There are still people in this country that are infected with the disease of racism. We do not hate such people, we embrace King’s model (more accurately, Jesus’ model) of reaching out to those who are full of hate and fear with love and grace and compassion. But we will pray against the forces of fear, prejudice and elitism. We will pray for peace, protection, and continued healing from the sins of the past, and that Barack Obama will govern wisely during his tenure as President.

There’s a line between Obama and abortion, too

Of course, it’s not surprising that a church like mine attracts plenty of people trying to find the right belief-life balance. Nic, a friend in my small group, recently shared this Huffington Post article with the rest of us: An Open Letter to President-Elect Obama About Abortion.

Before you run away, with your hands over your ears, keep in mind that this was published on the Huffington Post. The author, Frank Schaeffer (son of the theologian and founder of L’Abri, Francis Schaeffer), refers to himself as pro-Obama and pro-life, yet he believes abortion should remain legal. There are ways, he says, to ultimately reduce the number of abortions in this country through social programs for families and children, without picketing and pushing to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Here’s an excerpt (keep in mind it’s written as a letter to Obama):

It’s your “Nixon goes to China” moment. As a progressive Democrat you are in a position to defuse the situation and heal the culture wars in a way that no Republican president has been able to do. Surprise the pro-life movement with a sincere, sustained “bully pulpit” for life, and a substantive set of a programs to reduce abortions, while also defending Roe. You can do both!

None of this means that you, the Democratic Party or the progressives movement has to give up principles about reproductive rights. In fact, it means that those principles can better be defended in the long term because you will have claimed the moral high ground.

Can you see what’s going on with Schaeffer’s line walking? Not only is it possible, he says, to “do both.” Doing both actually creates the possibility of “healing of culture wars,” too. Bonus!

My intention isn’t to get into the issue of abortion, here. It’s to point out how powerful and beautiful line-walking can be. Although it’s not always possible (and I still have much to learn), in our best moments we can balance two seemingly opposing objectives, and create something even bigger—and perhaps more important—in the process.

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  • http://levite.wordpress.com jnswanson

    ah yes. Line-walking. A challenging activity. What is nice is when we find that it isn’t a line, that we are actually in a river, with banks, yes, and with a strong current, but with some room for movement and commonality.

    My guess is that Francis and Franky (father and son) would have had some interesting and tense conversations (or dialogues or both). They did, if I remember correctly, not always see eye to eye while Francis was alive. But Francis was intellectual and thoughtful and respectful and inviting of thinking.

    And you are looking for that, too.

  • http://dagsempire.blogspot.com/ Dagny

    I know that you said this is supposed to be about line walking and all but I just have to go there. For years, I have tried to explain to folks that when I say that I am pro-choice, it does not mean that I am pro-abortion. I just don’t think it’s my right tell other women what to do with their bodies. And choice, to me at least, means that there should be choices available to all women in reproductive matters including education and access to services.

    And I applaud you for writing about the difficult topics — religion, sex, politics. So often we avoid these topics because we don’t want to ruffle feathers but I think that we do need to start talking about these things more if we are to progress as a people.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Jon, I love your analogy of a river rather than a line. I think as more and more people are interested in line-walking, and willing to give it a try, the lines will become more like rivers–less rigid and more forgiving.

    Dagny, you can “go there” whenever you want to here at Halfway to Normal! I’m always very glad when you do.