LIVING AS APPRENTICES
What do we need in order to live creatively and meaningfully on this earth as Apprentices of Jesus? Two of my favorite spiritual thinkers have spoken from very different perspectives on one important character trait we need: the ability to live from a both/and perspective.
Parker Palmer: “You need the chutzpah to know that you have a voice worth speaking, and things worth saying, and you need the humility to know that it’s vital to listen, because you may not have it right at all, or only a very partial grasp on the truth. So, I think it’s in holding these paradoxes that we start to sort things out. There’s so much of this life that we’re all trying to live that’s just not about either/or, even though we’ve been trained to think in binary code. Right? I mean that in the larger sense, the metaphorical sense of that term. It’s both/and. I breathe in and I breathe out. It would really be dangerous for me to say I think I’m basically a breathing out kind of guy.”
Richard Rohr: . . . . “Dialectic is the process of overcoming seeming opposites by uncovering a reconciling third. The third way is not simply a third opinion. It’s a third space, a holding tank, where you hold the truth in both positions without dismissing either one of them. It often becomes the ‘house that wisdom builds’” (Proverbs 9:1-6). [See my post A Reconciling Third (July 27, 2014) for more on this quote.]
Both men tell us that we must learn to live with paradoxes of “both/and.” Probably the most difficult paradox for a Christian is that Jesus was both human and divine. How can that be? We can’t hold those two thoughts in our minds at once. And yet to understand Jesus fully we have to believe this paradox. To accept the basic premises of Christianity we have to be willing to be “both/and” thinkers.
So how do I become comfortable in a world full of paradox? I give up my addiction to my own way of thinking. I acknowledge that relationships are more important than being right. I recognize that “either/or thinking” only creates turmoil and distrust. I agree to recognize a third possibility: acknowledging the truth in two opposing positions without dismissing either one of them. I store my black option and your white option in a “holding tank,” accepting the possibility of truth in both options. And I remain ready to pull both out of the holding tank and look at them again when necessary.
Some of us who have been brought up in a strict “right or wrong” environment may see the holding tank as “wishy-washy” or compromising or even sinful, depending on the truth we are defending. However, most disagreements can be drilled down to the recognition of a “both/and” position and finding a reconciling way to live with both – starting by depositing them in the “holding tank” and moving on as friends. Remember Palmer’s warning in the quote above: we can’t live as a “breathing out kind of guy.”