Beauty in Gray

Albert Einstein is supposed to have said “everything should be as simple as possible, but never simpler.”  It seems to me humanity has a hard time holding any two points like these within their proper tension.  I think while we have a remarkable penchant for complicating situations when solutions are right under our noses, we often crave too much simplicity when things, we discover, are far more complex than they first appeared.

Specifically, I believe that when we face idealogical conflict with a person or a group of persons, we do this readily. “They’re the bad guys, we’re the good guys.”   It’s always very black and white when we think we’re right.  You ever notice how no one in our public discourse draws a line in the sand and says something like, “If you want to be on the incorrect side, come over here with us?”

When we encounter stories, this is especially obvious.  There are usually recognizable villains, and their characters are generally cartoonish, 2D and evil.  While reading the Bible, one can easily do this when navigating its difficult passages.  Chalk it up: Saul was simply a bad man. Judas was a wolf in sheep’s clothes and evil to the core.  The Pharisees were merely pious, controlling men.

And there are many reasons why this sort of thinking can be dangerous, but of the worst is that it effectively blinds you and I.  It gives us readily grasped explanations and a false consistency to our disjointed lives when they really aren’t so neatly packaged.  We like simplifying complexity, and don’t get me wrong, when I say “we,” I mean me too.  As I write these words, I think of the categories and labels with which I structure and compress the world, and its people, into manageable constraints. “Pro-Life,” “hipster,” “immigrant,” “Catholic,” “Pro-equality” can all be stereotypes with which we not only order life, but also attempt to find meaning.

This is especially problematic for Christians when we think the best way to represent the Kingdom is via the “issues” and our “stances.”

I sincerely believe it grieves the heart of God that the sentiment within the Church is something like, “Well,  we all worship a bit differently, some with choir and others with a rock band, but what unites us…let me tell you…the banner we all get under,  is our common disdain for those guys!” 

This just simplifies it all too easily for us, doesn’t it?  Someone utters loudly, “We’re at cultural war! Wear this badge proudly, it means you’re on the right side!”  And that war is usually more like an angry church dance-off, lining up on either side of an empty alley to see who’s got better breakdancers.  And so we take our “stances.”

But there is this powerful and beautiful moment in Scripture, that really highlights Jesus’ ability to see people over and above positions of right vs. wrong.  In John 8, the Bible records men who plot and trap a woman in the act of adultery.  They force her to stand before Jesus and cite Scripture saying: “In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Notice their stance.

“We’re accurately citing Scripture, Jesus. We’re on the good side!  Who could argue with us?  And of course the woman we bring here…such women.  She’s one of them.  It’s black and white before you.  Now, Jesus, on which side do you stand?”

And yet Jesus bends down.

Such a posture of disinterest, disengagement and boredom.

I believe this is the stance Jesus always takes when those kinds of lines are drawn.  The systems we draw up and ask God to fit into, He is unashamedly bored of it all.

I get it. There’s a part of me that also wants God manageable and formulaic.  “Because I know He fits in this box, see?  And notice, I’ve got that box in my hand?  That’s how I know I’m righteous.”  I’m just finding that the more bored I get with my manageable, predictable cardboard cut-out God, the more bored I get with throwing rocks.

When he stands back up, Jesus tells them to throw a stone at her if they can declare themselves sinless.  None of them have that audacity, and so one by one, convicted of their sin, they drop their stones and walk away.  Jesus tells the woman he does not condemn her and to go sin no more.

This is honestly how I picture Jesus when I think of the lines we draw as Christians, and the people we drag before him, demanding He choose our side.

In August of 2012, a firestorm breaks out after Truett Cathy gives an interview.  In the interview, he expresses his conviction that he doesn’t believe in same-sex-marriage, citing Biblical reasons.  The response to this is enormous and baffling as mayors of cities protest, threatening to make things more difficult for Chick-fil-a to even exist in their cities, and all sorts of other responses that should alarm us.

And Jesus bends down.

In the middle of this spectacle, however, Christians start organizing counter-protests!  “Oh yeah?  Well now I’m gonna eat MOR’ chikin.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner! Chicken, all day everyday, baby!”  We mobilize the church, flooding airwaves and twitter feeds.

And Jesus bends down.

So in cross-fire response, LGBT communities start threatening a counter-counter-protest during which they will kiss their partners and hold hands while standing in Chick-fil-a lines.

Meanwhile, more rocks fly.

Now, because we simply have NO dialogue whatsoever, we weaponize our Facebook profiles with symbols indicating the “bad” guys and “good” guys.  Where we fail with words, we launch images.  They united under this mathematical symbol, so it’s just appropriate that we should unite under this other mathematical symbol  #winning! #hashtagwar

Math has never been so boring to me, and I’m just convinced He is bored by the whole thing too.

“This is significant!” we trumpet.  “This is how we change the world!”

And we throw our rocks.

Meanwhile, Jesus draws in the sand, bored out of his ever-loving mind.

For the record, I am not unaware of the growing trend in our society toward a total removal of lines and boundaries, painting shades of gray to all things everywhere, ethical and moral.  No, I’m not naive of the general movement of embracing, in its full-grown post-modern way, the vague and the ambiguous.  Many people watch the effect of it like wildfire sprawl across their TV and computer screens, or hear it screaming everything is gray! in the music of their children.  It isn’t that I’m blind to it, because I do realize that it does, at times, smolder into nihilistic soot.  More often, I simply find that while there are people who are bent on burning the system down with that sort of wanton deconstruction, I am comfortable with them doing so if it means I’ll come face-to-face with a living God, more vivid and brillant than any system could hope to contain.

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3 thoughts on “Beauty in Gray

  1. Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of verbalizing (textualizing?) something I’ve long felt but haven’t quite known how to put into words. Though I’m not sure that the motivation behind this kind of black-and-white mentality is always pride; I think sometimes it can be fear, too: when we can put every person and every position we encounter into a clearly labeled category, it makes the world a lot less scary than one full of nuances we can’t quite define and don’t fully understand.

    And you don’t agree, you’re one of the bad guys! 😉

    • Absolutely true, Ian. Pride is only one of probably many motivators . Yes, I think systematizing our world and even God himself is attractive to us perhaps as a very powerful way to delude ourselves with ideas of control. Thanks for reading and for commenting!

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