Thursday, May 24, 2012

People are Pendulums, and Truth is the Center of Gravity

'foucault pendulum' photo (c) 2009, jenly - license:
My head so often spins when I read the feed. I ask myself, “Scott, why do you put yourself through this?”

One tweet condemns what the next one commends. One post shuns a sinner that the other embraces, denying that they’re even sinning at all.

Both posts have the very best intentions, yet both bypass basic biblical truths to get there. Both have great points, but both have massive blind spots.

I willingly bring it on myself. I’ve chosen to follow writers with a broad diversity of theological perspectives. I’ve chosen to not insulate myself from people with whom I disagree.

I live and work in the real world, and the blogosphere is a great way for me to crawl inside the heads of people who can clearly articulate different world views than mine (which are also flawed). It helps me exercise grace and love when I actually meet people with those views. It helps me rehearse how I might dialogue with them in a spirit of love and gentleness. It also shows me where I need to change my views in view of Scripture—and I have.

But there’s one unfortunate observation I’ve made in reading so many of the perspectives out there:

People are pendulums.

We are trend-reversers. We are in-kinders. We are master over-correctors. We set our sights on the equal and opposite amplitude of whatever we despise, zooming right past the center of gravity.

Joy and I have talked a lot about this, both swingers in our own right. We both have a drive deep within us to grab that pendulum (whatever it is) with both hands and launch it in the opposite direction. Let’s combat authoritarianism with anarchy. Let’s combat legalism with lackadaisicalism. Let’s combat total refusal with total acceptance. Let’s combat ultra-this with ultra-that.

In all of this, we zoom past the middle. We don’t consider a third way.

Years ago, we had a pastor who structured many of his sermons in this way. In expounding a text, he would describe the opposite extremes to which people have applied it, with the best intentions of obeying it. Then he would call us toward what he called a “third way.” This third way considered the text against the backdrop of the whole Bible, and was careful not to over- or under-emphasize the passage, both in its narrower and broader contexts. I found this to be so refreshing, so counter-intuitive. So grounded in the center of gravity.

Will you join me in this self-examination? Is what I am passionately calling for an equal and opposite reaction to an injustice, error or extreme that has angered me? And could it be that I am committing the same error by pushing past the middle to an equal and opposite extreme that is also outside of what Scripture promises or permits?

Or, to put it simply, is there a third way here?


  1. Yes, I believe there is a third way to see things.

    Also, I would say that sometime its the very words we use that get in the way. We are saying the same thing but the words are not understood or heard in the way that is intended. The reason I say this is because my husband I both speak English....his is American and and mine is British English and sometime it's the words that get in the way! When we use entirely different words we find that we are saying the same thing, but have misunderstood the original verbiage.

    1. That is a great point, Beverley. This happens to my wife and I all the time, too! God bless both of you for talking it out to the degree that you discover that you're both really saying the same thing. :-)

  2. So true. I recently talked to some folks who are politically very different from me, and I was surprised at how poorly they understood my way of thinking...only understanding a charicature of my beliefs. Made me wonder how often I do that.

    1. Yes - great point, JT. We gravitate toward the caricatures on the other side who are easy targets, don't we? Every side has a level-headed element to it. It takes more time to find that, and genuinely seek to understand. But we'd rather not do that.

  3. Yes, we need to listen - really listen - to one another and make an honest search for middle ground, shared ideas. For me personally, it is tiring and discouraging to read too much of this discussion, so I'm trying to wean myself away from it. So - I agree wholeheartedly with you in theory. I just can't get anymore involved in the dialogue without losing my mind.

    1. I hear you, Diana. I certainly have days when I have to slowly back away from the computer. :-)

  4. Loved this. It made me think of the passage in The Screwtape Letters where Lewis discusses the "Law of Undulation." I wonder if our tendency toward oscillation in our inner lives affects (or is influenced by) the over-reactionism you describe. But yeah, I'm definitely much more attracted these days to more "properly proportioned" modes of thought, like what your pastor emphasized. Thanks for writing this!

  5. Very well said.. I know exactly what you mean. The blogosphere can be a very treacherous place to try and navigate the third way, though.


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