Thursday, April 16, 2009

Where's that Old Georgia Pine?

I was driving in the car the other day, listening to the radio as I usually do. I had the country station on (yes, I do enjoy listening to country music on occasion, I'll admit it!) and the song "Meet in the Middle" by Diamond Rio came on. (I must confess that I couldn't correctly identify the band as Diamond Rio. I had to find it on the internet.) It's quite a catchy tune and the chorus resonated in my mind much of the afternoon. It goes like this:

I'd start walking your way
You'd start walking mine
We'd meet in the middle
'neath that old Georgia pine
We'd gain a lot of ground
'Cause we'd both give a little
And there ain't no road to long
When you meet in the middle.

I think this song captures something that is  true more often than not in personal relationships. We create distant between ourselves and others because we refuse to yield. It requires humility on our part and a willingness to forgive unconditionally, neither of which are easy to do in our natural human condition. I've been learning a lot about this over the past couple years and could go on at length on this topic.

But what my mind focused on that afternoon and has continued to mull over occasionally since then, is that this song also captures what a lot of people are calling for in our society these days. I think most of us agree that the political scene has become rather polarized, with conservatives railing against liberals and liberals doing the same against conservatives. Each side is convinced that they are correct and that the other side is leading the country down the road to damnation (though not all would be willing to accept the concept of damnation in the first place!) There seems to be little space in the middle for rationale, meaningful dialog. In general I agree that this space is sorely lacking and that we could all stand to apply the lyrics to this song to our social interaction.

At the same time, I think that part of the tension in our society arises from the fact that everyone holds certain values quite strongly. Some of us still believe that there are certain absolute truths that are not open to debate or compromise. In fact, I think most people actually hold this belief at the core of their worldview, even the most tolerant-minded person who believes that we should all just accept one another. Such an individual fundamentally believes that there aren't any absolutes, which in itself is an absolute (and therefore a logical contradiction, but that's another discussion.) So what happens when values conflict? In some cases I think we can work to meet in the middle. This should happen more often than it does, because I think in many situations the disagreement isn't over what we want to achieve but how to go about achieving it. For example, I think most Americans would agree that reducing poverty is a good goal. We just disagree on the best way to go about doing that.

But there are times when the issue is much more fundamental, when it comes down to a question of worldview and truth claims. The differences here seem to be unbridgeable. There's no Georgia pine where we can all meet. To name one specific issue (which will probably get me a lot of feedback), the question of accepting homosexual marriage, or even homosexuality as an acceptable public lifestyle. For some people, myself included, this is not an issue that is open to discussion. Our worldview based on Scripture tells us that this is not something that we can embrace or approve. However, I also understand from Scripture that we are to love all people regardless of their condition, behavior or lifestyle. God loves us as we are. On our own none of us has a chance of being acceptable and pleasing to God. Homosexuality is only one of the practically infinite number of things that keeps us as humans from God's holy presence. Effectively it doesn't separate a person from God anymore than gossiping about a neighbor or anything else, although practically we often treat it as if it does. At the same time I certainly cannot simply affirm it as a valid lifestyle choice. So how can I respond on this particular issue? How do I demonstrate love without affirming the lifestyle? Is there any way to meet in the middle on an issue like this?

Is it still possible in today's society to find that Georgia pine? How do we as believers move to meet others where they are at without compromising the truths and values that define us? Is it even possible? I believe it is, but need wisdom and discernment to know how. What do you think?

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