"Living Intensionally" (not a typo)

As a youth pastor, I often get questions that start off with something like, “Well, where do you stand on…,” hoping to get a definitive response.  You have probably heard the oft-quoted saying, “If you don’t stand for something, then you’ll fall for anything.”  In a world of constant change, people are always searching for answers and continuously looking to others for guidance.  Many people get frustrated when the answer they are given isn’t as black-and-white as they would like.

The truth of the matter is that life isn’t always as black-and-white as we’d like it to be. 

Now, that might sound heretical at first glance, but think about it.  When something terrible happens in our life (e.g., the loss of a loved one, the loss and subsequent search for employment, financial stress, disappointments with spouses/siblings/children) our natural reaction is to ask, “Why?”  We want a nicely packaged answer, tied up with a bow, and we want it now.  Nice answers help us make sense of life.

What if, however, we gave life permission to not make sense at times? 

It would certainly be easier if every answer to life’s toughest questions were black-and-white and simple.  It would make politics a lot less exciting, that’s for sure!  Imagine if everyone knew the correct way to alleviate poverty on a national scale–and, if we could all agree that it was clearly, without question, the single best solution.

Jesus seemed to frustrate people with the answers he gave to their questions.  Remember in Luke 10 when the lawyer asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life.  In typical “Jesus-style,” he replies by asking a question: “What is written in the law?  How do you read it?”  After Jesus affirms the lawyer’s answer that one is to “love God” and “love your neighbor,” the lawyer asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”  Does Jesus answer him directly?  Of course not.  Instead, he follows up with the well-known story of the Good Samaritan–not exactly what the lawyer was looking for.

A good answer is not always a direct answer, and it is certainly not always as clear as we’d prefer.

One of things that I have come to love about Wesleyan theology is its affirmation of the “via media,” or the middle way.  That’s not to say that it’s wrong to ever take a stand on something, but it is definitely unwise to do so before diligently considering all possible options.  Once that process of discerning and study has taken place, those whose theology lives on the “via media” may hold a very strong opinion about something, but not without allowing the “other side” of the argument to speak freely. 

The “via media” is about living in tension between two poles.  While it’s perfectly fine to be convinced whole-heartedly about certain issues, there are some questions in life that require an approach of humility, one that allows multiple voices to inform the conversation.  Sometimes the answers to life’s hardest questions aren’t “either/or” but “both/and.”  This is often referred to as conjunctive-theology. 

Someone might ask, “Where do you stand on saving for retirement?”  Someone on one side may say, “Every penny you save is one less penny being actively used for God’s Kingdom.”  Someone on the other side might say, “Every penny you save helps to guarantee a comfortable life of retirement and an inheritance to pass on to your children.”  Theologically, there are pros and cons of both sides.  I could decide to take a hard stance on one side or the other, but I choose to lean in one direction, while living in the tension that exists between the two.

You can think of plenty other examples that could illustrate my point more clearly, but the bottom line is this: answers in life are not always black-and-white.  We do a disservice to ourselves and to others when we attempt to force-wrap “pretty” answers into nice little packages.  In reality, living in a messy world requires us to live intensionally (in-tension-ally) and learn to be comfortable on the “via media.”

Is this easy?  Not at all.  It can be very unsettling, actually.  But when we give life permission to not always make sense, and when we give our minds permission to not have every answer, we enter into the freedom of living intensionally in the midst of God’s grace… something I believe a man named Paul spoke a bit about in Romans 7 and 8.

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