Dynamic tension. Compromise. Beauty.
I found these three practices today in a book written by Brian McLaren. It’s called “A Generous Orthodoxy” and was published in 2004. In a chapter titled “Why I Am (Ana)baptist/Anglican,” he explores the reasons why he is attracted to both the Anabaptist and Anglican traditions within the broader Christian family.
The Anglican tradition offers these three practices, which McLaren summarizes in a few paragraphs. These practices speak clearly to what I want to be about as a Christian and to what I believe is important during this season of life in the Church of God and, more broadly, in Christianity (at least in America).
The practice of living in dynamic tension is the practice of choosing “both/and” rather than “either/or.” It’s about rejecting absolutes and leaning into ambiguity. It’s about respecting different perspectives and realizing that the truth is often (perhaps always) more complicated than we want it to be. Dynamic tension is what a spring demonstrates: its coiled metal holds two opposing forces in tension with each other. Each force is important, but neither is dominant. The spring’s job is to recognize both forces, to give a little bit when one force is stronger, to pull a little bit to make sure things stay balanced.
McLaren describes how this idea of dynamic tension appears in the Anglican tradition (and its descendant, Methodism, as well as in our own Church of God tradition) through how it relates to scripture. The Bible is important, of course, but “Scripture is always in dialogue with tradition, reason, and experience.” These four ideas form something we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. All four sides are important: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. It’s not the case that scripture is the ultimate authority – that job belongs to God! Instead, how we read scripture, what tradition we belong to, how we make sense of the world, and how we experience life – these are all ways that God can communicate with us and help us to grow. They should be held in dynamic tension with each other.
I see a need for dynamic tension in how we deal with polarizing issues and beliefs in today’s world. How I view things might not match how my neighbor views things, and that’s all right. My gut reaction to some event or situation might be very strong, but that isn’t the only possible (or correct) perspective to have. Dynamic tension means that we are connected to each other, no matter how different we are, and that there needs to be give-and-take, especially when the power structures we have created are out of balance.
How do we practice dynamic tension? By listening to someone else’s perspective. By recognizing that the truth is complicated. By resisting the urge to reduce the truth to “the Bible clearly says.” If we do this first practice well, we will have to get comfortable with the second one:
McLaren says that this is a “dirty word for many Christians” because it suggests lowering your standards. But compromise is really about “keeping a high (uncompromised!) standard of unity and a high level of respect for your brothers and sisters who disagree with you. It acknowledges that not everyone will reach the same conclusions at the same pace on every issue.”
Whew. That’s powerful. And that’s something I want to live toward.
Unity is central for people who follow Jesus. He made a big point of this in his prayer in John 17: we are to be one, even as he and God are one.
But we’re all so very different from each other!
If we are truly united, then we will practice the art of compromise. We will do this by “making room for one another when Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience don’t line up for everyone the same way.”
How do we practice compromise? We make room for each other. We don’t kick others out, and we don’t pack up and leave. We sit, perhaps uncomfortably, at the same table. And we recognize that everybody has a place at the table, because Jesus is the host.
Pick your favorite hot-button social issue. Can you make room for others who view that issue differently? Can we in the Church of God make room for different perspectives? I think we have to make room, if we really believe in unity.
If we can practice dynamic tension and compromise well, we will see something really beautiful take place: the ongoing life of a community of faith, driven by the Holy Spirit, united in following Jesus Christ.
McLaren talks about how this beauty appears in the Anglican worship tradition. Anglican (and Episcopalian) worship services are highly liturgical, which means they have a very structured, orderly plan for worship. Their services have the same rhythm and feel. They recite creeds together, sing songs together, and enter into the mystery of God’s presence together. “Even if they disagree on what the liturgy means or requires doctrinally, they are charmed by its mysterious beauty and beautiful mystery.”
Beauty is an attribute of God. Beauty belongs to God. We don’t only see it in our worship services; we see beauty when we live in dynamic tension with each other and when we compromise with each other.
An example: this past Sunday afternoon, the Midland Area Interfaith Friends group sponsored a presentation on present-day life as American Muslims. Around fifty people from the Midland community – including several from our local Islamic Center, and a few from Mt. Haley as well – gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church. For a couple of hours, we fellowshipped together, ate together, and listened to each other as we considered this important issue. Dynamic tension? You bet. Compromise? Yes, we made room for each other. Beauty? Absolutely.
It’s important to me to practice these things in interfaith spaces. It’s also important to me to practice these things in the Church of God, and in our local congregation.
What if we did?