Mind the gap! The difficult path to “both and”

Well, it’s the eve of the US mid-term elections and here in France…well…no one cares I think. No, it’s All Saint’s Day (Toussaint) here and they’re mostly at the local cemetery putting chrysanthemum’s on grave stones. Tomorrow is “All Souls Day” where one prays for the deceased in Purgatory. Add to that the US import of Halloween last night and the ever important VE Day celebrations on November 11th where the French gather in every town’s war memorial (they call them “monuments to the dead”) and there’s a whole lotta’ “death” being celebrated over here!

The recent strikes and riots and fuel shortages have not helped either. The sense of “division/divisiveness”, at least for me, has a consonant ring with the “spirit of death”. To surmise that this period of time on the calendar and this period of time with respect to political events in the US and in France, is fraught with activity in the spiritual realm would not take a genius. The stakes are high and the tempers are too…prime territory for enemy seed to be sown in hearts. Kind of scares me that we cast important votes in such a climate!

What seems to be trumpeted around so often in American politics and, I see in French politics too, is that you have two real choices…no more…no less. One must fall on one side or the other and responsible engagement in the political process (aside from the ubiquitous call from all fronts to simply “VOTE!”) requires fighting for one side or against the other. As I’ve mentioned in other posts this sort of default engagement by the Body of Christ does no one any favors as we abdicate our priestly role to steward the land in which God has put us.

How do we get out of these deep ruts? Well, as one for whom concepts are primordial to shape certain kinds of behavior, I think we need to better understand what it looks like when the Kingdom of God is advancing…i.e. when God is King. What it looks like typically flies in the face of “either or” dualistic views of the social and political landscapes. Jesus bridges the gap and takes a path that doesn’t necessarily align with either right or left-winged expectations (no matter how hard we try to put Him in such “one-sided boxes.”

Recently, Duke University Divinity School held their Convocation and Pastor’s School where they had 3 outstanding speakers: NT Wright, Andy Crouch and Rob Bell. Each of these speakers, in different but complementary ways, outlined both concepts and practical application of how we “mind the gap”; how we, as the Body of Christ can and must embrace the tension of the “both and” and reject the easy slipping into left or right-wing ruts. I don’t do their excellent talks justice at all in this short blurb of publicity, but I’m much better at pointing you toward excellent source materiel than I am at summarizing it! So, I highly encourage a listen to these speakers. If you have iTunes and want to use the iTunes U. service, you can simply use the links here. If you, as I do, rather despise iTunes, feel free to take advantage of my efforts to extract these free mp3 resources from Apple’s grip and download them/stream them directly from here:

NT Wright Part 1

NT Wright Part 2

Andy Crouch

Rob Bell

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Feminine and Masculine in Left and Right – the Church in the gap

Just recently Angela finished a book called Crisis in Masculinity by Leanne Payne . It’s not a particularly new book but it’s still very timely. I just finished reading it myself today. I’d heard a teaching on the masculine and feminine by Gus Hunter about 7 years ago. The whole perspective of “masculine” and “feminine” is so pervasive when it’s fresh in your mind but when it’s not so fresh, it’s easy to miss.

So, the other day, I watched this TED Talk by David McCandless called “The Beauty of Data Visualization.” Totally cool stuff that opened my eyes to this new world of “Data Mining + Graphic Design = New Perspectives.” Anyway, one of McCandless’s visualizations is not strictly based on a data set but his own observations of Left and Right in the political spectrum. Though he’s obviously British, it seems that his focus is more on American politics. Anyway, I printed out the full graphic that you can find at: http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/leftvright_world.html and was studying it when Angela walked up and said, “that’s the masculine and feminine.”

Bingo!

It’s as if a whole new perspective of what bugs me about American politics just descended from heaven to help me see better.

To understand why, you have back up a bit and understand a bit of what masculine and feminine is, and is not. For example, masculine is not male and feminine is not female. As C.S. Lewis states, “…Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless…” Male and female are labels given to concrete objects or lifeforms which manifest predominantly masculine and feminine traits or characteristics respectively. So, to say, masculine is male represents a misunderstanding of the two concepts, whereas to say male is masculine would be an accurate generality. One “distillation” of masculine and feminine that helps me is: the masculine initiates and the feminine responds. This is a HUGE over-simplification, but I think it holds true as a foundation of understanding this concept. Probably the other foundational truths that are necessary in understanding masculine and feminine are:

  • God is both masculine and feminine
  • We are created in God’s image
  • Human marriage, as conceived in the heart of God, is the earthly representation of masculine and feminine coming into living, transcendent unity

So, back to McCandless’s (amazing – really spot on) diagram and American politics. Being geographically outside of American politics has helped me see new dynamics that I had difficulty discerning while on American soil and swimming (drowning?) in American culture. My changes in perspective after 10 years abroad have, I think, made my family back home think I’ve “gone liberal” on them. What I’ve rejected from my background is not a right-wing political perspective. Rather, it’s a rejection of a dualistic, antagonistic and confrontational way of “doing politics.” This has led me to rail against the 2-party system as inherently screwed up because of the need to choose half-truths and then justify your choice. The fact that this political malaise is so deeply entrenched in the American Body of Christ (on both sides) makes it that much more disturbing to me.

When Angela labeled McCanndless’s diagram as a manifestation of masculine and feminine, I began to rethink this issue of the 2-party system and the spiritual state of America in general. This quote from Payne’s book then began to take on new significance for me (strikeouts and bolds mine):

Invariably when a soul nation needs healing there will be an imbalance within of the masculine and the feminine. He or she It is tipping the scales too far toward one extreme of the continuum. This imbalance of the power to initiate and the power to respond can always be healed when a person people forsakes his their vision and will in separation from God (what the Scripture calls dying to the old man), comes into the Presence, and there unites with the incredible realities outside himself itself.

What makes the separation of the masculine and feminine work in humanity is when it’s brought together in a complementary fashion. The highest earthly form of this is human marriage. When it works, it’s because one is turned toward the other in sacrificial love and appreciation of the other. The result is transcendent! This requires effort and grace based on love. God is the one who empowers it, enabling us to manifest on earth a glimpse of the Trinity. Without this grace and love, we don’t expend the effort…at least not with any perseverance. The result is, as Payne suggests, a move toward opposite ends of the masculine/feminine continuum. Remembering our ultra-concise definition of “initiate” and “respond”, we can see that initiation becomes domination and masculine is twisted into macho. On the other side, response becomes rebellion and feminine is twisted into feminist. The result is the American political system as you see it today with the Left at war with the Right. The result is also how America is seen around the world depending on which extreme of the continuum is currently “manifesting.”

Well, if Payne’s quote is right, healing is available, but I for one, have a hard time imagining American halls of power ringing with the songs of worship from a gathering of legislators, judges and executive branch members as they “come into the Presence.” Where does that leave us? Well, I think this brings us to the Body of Christ and 2 Corinthians 5:16-20. Just as God has already provided through Jesus complete reconciliation for every individual, and the Church is tasked to announce and minister that reconciliation to all creatures, it radiates out from individuals to marriages, families, communities and yes, even nations and political factions within nations.

My question is, if the Church is focused on political realities and is deeply allied with various political factions, how can it broker heavenly realities and in intercession stand in the gaps created by those political factions?! It can’t!

It is the job of mankind to steward God’s creation during our time on the earth and by our place on the earth (Genesis 1:28, Acts 17:26-27). This job is distributed amongst people groups and nations who have this stewardship responsibility over particular parts of God’s creation. To put it another way, God holds the United States responsible for what transpires on its soil and how it comports itself among the nations. Is He looking to elected officials to actually carry this out? In a measure, yes. Ultimately, however, He is looking to His Body on earth to broker heavenly realities on earth so that the reconciliation that He died for would be manifested on every level and in every sphere. Jesus gave the authority to His Church to disciple nations. So, to restate, God is holding the Church in the United States responsible for what transpires on its soil and how the United States comports itself among the nations. The ability of the Church to do this in fullness requires a reconciliation of the masculine and the feminine at levels that the Church doesn’t seem to be realizing right now and for which it doesn’t seem to have a grid.

So, can the 2-party system work? Yes it can work, if those two sides “marry” and become one (Genesis 2:24). I think there is a “prophetic possibility” that is tantalizing here to see the masculine and feminine really complementing each other in this context. Can this happen if the Church doesn’t understand its role and responsibility to “minister” reconciliation and facilitate this “marriage”? I don’t think so. If it did, it would be glorious, and the greatest miracle would be that the Church finally understood its calling!

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