Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is There Room in the Middle for Me?

A journey toward personal clarity

                I have spent much of my life in the middle. I am the middle child of three boys. Many of the pictures of us when we were kids have me standing in the middle. Growing up I found myself looking up at my older brother and looking back at my younger brother. In school I was an average student. I pastor a mid-sized church; not a mega church, not a small church.
                When I was in seminary I found myself in the middle of the theological spectrum. I was (and am) uncomfortable at either end of the theological continuum. Yet I felt constantly under pressure to choose. Since those days I have struggled with the question is there room in the middle for me?
                I once heard a speaker talk about the stages of maturity. When we are children we are eager to learn. We are excited about all of the new information that we can attain. As we enter adolescence and beyond we come to a place where we think we have it all figured out. In our mind we have all of the answers and can’t understand why others don’t. We have a word for this stage; it is sophomoric. It means conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature. It is interesting that we use the term sophomore for second year students in both High School and College. They know just enough to be dangerous. Some people, unfortunately, never progress beyond this stage. Most people will pass through to another stage called disillusionment. During this stage a person begins to question everything. They begin to have doubts about the extent of their knowledge and understanding. If a person stays in this stage too long they become cynical. The final stage of maturity is coming to the place where we understand that there are some things we know for sure and many things that we may never understand.
                As with so many aspects of life we rarely progress through these stages in a linear fashion. Instead, most of us experience each of these stages multiple times in our lives. Each time we enter into a new stage of life we find ourselves beginning a new phase of maturity. We may feel very confident in one area of our lives and feel totally clueless in another. But overall the truly mature person understands that although they may comprehend some things there will always be some things just outside of their grasp. This is exactly how I feel when it comes to theology.
                As I reflect upon my spiritual journey I can identify each of the above stages of maturity. I have felt exhilaration, confidence, despair and calm assurance. At times I have felt confident that I have settled a matter in my heart only to have some new personal discovery shake up my neat categories. There was a time when I felt I had all of the answers and times when I have felt I had none of the answers. I have forced myself to read and listen to others who see things differently to challenge me to keep exploring what I believe. I am often uncomfortable in these exchanges, and at times get defensive, but God always teaches me something significant. I tend to read and listen skeptically at first, but after I have had time to process I usually find some common ground to build upon.
                My intention is to invite you to take a spiritual journey of discovery with me. Before we take off I want to tell you about a different journey I took recently.
                Our oldest son has been working in Christian camping for the past several years. He spent two years working full time at Trout Lake Camps in Minnesota and then moved to Grace Adventures in Michigan. In the process he met a young lady and they became engaged. After they are married they will be living in Michigan. We had never visited the area where they will be living so we decided to take a trip. In preparation for this trip we did some homework. We went to AAA and got maps and guides to help us. We went on the internet and scouted out places to stay and things to see. As we planned our trip we focused on those areas we wanted to explore the most. We also looked for things to avoid and possible side trips that might enhance our experience. We tried to discover as much as we could before we left, knowing that there are always surprises along the way.
                The actual journey turned out to be different than we anticipated. To begin with we had miscalculated when we should arrive at Grace Adventures and so had to adjust the beginning of our trip. We had to find somewhere to spend the July 4th weekend. We knew this could be a problem. We were able to secure a room at a national chain motel in Muskegon. When we arrived the motel was in chaos. The cleaning staff had just walked out, there were 15 guests scheduled to arrive and they could not find our reservation, even though I had documentation. Eventually they were able to get us a room in another, less chaotic, motel for the weekend. Our journey was off and running.
                Throughout the rest of our trip we experienced a mix of excitement, discovery, disappointment and challenge. We had a great time with our son and his fiancé. We discovered the Michigan sand dunes, which are awesome. We drove many miles. Our van broke down and we had to drive home without a reverse gear. Overall the trip was great, but it wasn’t what we had planned.
                I tell you all of this because I am inviting you to join me on a far more significant journey. Along the way there will be some places where we want to spend significant time. There will also be some side trips and some places we will avoid. We will make some discoveries and encounter some surprises. We can anticipate there will be many challenges to face and obstacles to overcome. In the months ahead I will periodically share some of my thoughts about God's sovereignty, free will, responsibility, salvation and the like. I invite your thoughts, reactions and perspective. Let us take this journey together and see what God has in store for us. 

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