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Both/And…Either/Or

August 31, 2007

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I saw a story recently that indicated Mother Teresa struggled with her faith.  Doubts are part of the human condition.  It seems that the longer I live (even as a follower of Jesus and a person who embraces the Christian faith), the more I am at peace with the idea that we don’t know everything about God.  Everything about life doesn’t fit nice and neatly into some classical system of thought–theology from above.  Mother Teresa embraced the faith (theology from above), yet wrestled with the doubts that come with living with eyes and heart wide open to the human condition (theology from below). 

I see the tension and difficulty that comes from trying to live in a space that is both/andEither/or thinking sees both/and as compromise.  Either/or is often an expression of the honorable desire to remain faithful to the Truth.  Either/or thinking is unable to envision a way of being in communion with the both/and.  The tension often results in broken fellowship…an unwielding, dogmatic stance that rejects or attacks the other.

Expressions of both/and can bring healing and transformation.  It seems that creation itself reveals a both/and (multiplicity) reality that God affirmed as good.  In what way?

Climates:  ice cap, tundra, subarctic, cool continental, warm humid, semiarid, arid, humid equatorial, tropical

Geographical regions:  ice, tundra, needleleaf forest, broadleaf forest, cultivated land, hot desert, cold desert, tropical grassland, tropical rainforest, mountain, submarine regions

These are just exhibits A and B in what could be an endless presentation of how the Creator revels in varied and divergent systems that co-exist within a greater whole.

Even this avant-guard architecture of the earth reveals the manifold wisdom of the Creator who sees beauty and goodness in diversity. 

We don’t know as God knows, we don’t see as God sees.  And with this uncertainty, we can either retreat from faith, or love our neighbor as ourselves.  Mother Teresa chose the latter.

Might the Truth best be expressed through a both/and polarity? 

How might this approach impact geo-politics? 

The Spanish Inquisition represents the extreme damage that can be done as a result of either/or thinking?  The Nazi ideology with its either/or thinking produced the holocaust.

In the context of apartheid South Africa, both/and thinking produced revolutionary changes–both whites and blacks are human beings who should be granted equal rights.

What about church systems?

How can the traditional paradigm and emerging paradigms co-exist?  Not just tolerate one another, but see the value and kerygmatic truth that is incarnated in both expressions.  How can we avoid the “if you don’t see things my way…you have know part with me” kind of stance?

How was Jesus a model of both/and–either/or?

Matthew 16:24-28

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.  I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Either/Or

Matthew 13:24-29

Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

 “The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

 “‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

   “‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.

 “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.  Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

Both/And

Life in this world is both wheat and weeds.  It does not mean that we don’t cultivate that which grows in this life, but there is a sense that the final judgement on things will take place in the eschaton.  So we should be humble enough to live with a sense of ambiguity–that sin passes through our own hearts, not just the other.  So what will happen if we pray for God to judge sin? 

1 Corinthians 11:24-26

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Both/And

Bread or Body of Jesus?  Either/Or…Both/And?

Does the Eucharistic celebration represent an exclusive gathering or a table to which all are invited?  Is the Eucharist a meal that is broken bread and lifted cup around an altar or around a common table?  Or is it both?

Is the Gospel of Jesus primarily about spiritual, physical, or social conditions?  Is the Gospel of the Kingdom about the here and now or the future?  Is Christianity a cosmic truth or an existential movement?  Is the way of Jesus spiritual or material?  Is it personal or communal?

Am I a citizen of the United States or a citizen of the Kingdom of God?

Is my cultural framework that of Lancaster county, Oklahoma, Texas, or northwest Mexico?

Am I Mennonite, Vineyard, catholic, orthodox, empowered-evangelical, or postmodern-emergent?

Is the worship of my church community sacramental or ordinary?  What makes it either one of these?

Am I poet, priest, pastor or public school teacher?

Was Mother Teresa a person of great faith or great doubts?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 31, 2007 2:46 pm

    Excellent post! The both/and concept of God, theology and the Church, has been a source of freedom for me and my family. It’s great to know there are other like-minded Christians out there! Keep up the good work, and may God bless you!
    Tim

  2. September 1, 2007 12:15 pm

    Thank you for letting me know about this wonderful post! Brilliant!

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