I’ve been sitting with an image these last few days where I’m standing on the middle of some kind of platform with people on my left and right. It feels good, like we all have enough in common to be near. But then both sides start moving further away from the middle, so far I can barely see them anymore. And as they move further away, the middle where I stand begins to rumble, tremor, and split like ice breaking off in Antartica. I’m desperately holding onto both sides, my muscles aching, afraid of falling through and losing myself into a widening chasm of separation where families and friends have lost sight of what really matters. 

I try to shake off this image, this horrifying vision, but it won’t leave me alone.

In my conservative Christian high school government/economics class, like, a hundred years ago, we all took a quiz to find out if we leaned more Democrat or Republican. As we “graded” our own quizzes with our teacher’s instructions, I was deeply dismayed and disturbed with each answer that leaned more left than right. Agitation spread through me as I realized that I might agree with Democrats on some moral and ethical ideals! I began to question my loyalties to Christianity and Jesus, wondering if I belonged anywhere anymore. Hoping no one would see my shame, I quickly tucked the quiz into my binder where it would stay hidden—I could stay hidden—desperate that no one would find out.

For years since that moment, I registered Republican and blindly voted with the “Christian” party, rarely delving into the policy or personhood of each vote. But the more I began to grasp my own convictions and the more I began to pay attention to those outside of me and mine, the more I recognized the messy middle was where I felt most at home. I belong in the middle, finding myself pulled left and right at different times and in different ways. I’ve found space to stretch and expand in the middle, never quite landing on one side fully but often having to navigate the complicated, unstructured messiness the middle offers. Instead of a wasteland of lonely wandering, I’ve found a people there in the middle with friends and family on each side—some further to the left or right, but others closer to the middle with me. 

Lately, though, this disturbing image where the Left and Right walk further away from each other—so far they can’t seem to see the other any longer—seems to be a reality. Each side points fingers at the other saying it’s their fault. Instead of seeking the middle, the Left has rooted itself in prideful arrogance where belonging is found in how “woke” they are in what they say, regardless of what they do. And the Right has traveled so far down a rabbit trail called Q, they’re not sure if they ever want to come back, if they could even find their way. Not all are arrogant bastards or conspiracy quacks, friends. But certainly enough on both sides that the middle tremors and my muscles ache. Enough that my family and friends look differently than they did a year ago. 

Enough that I’m concerned.

When I look at the messy middle example of Jesus and his disciples, his closest friends had political leanings that were extremely opposite and violently contradictory. Their ideals for government structure and their personal moral compasses didn’t align perfectly. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke of God’s kindom so often? Maybe Jesus knew that the first words he spoke out when starting his ministry needed to be the most important and often repeated because human beings are forgetful people who need countless reminders. “Turn your attention away from the systems and structures of this world because God’s kindom, God’s intention of harmony is here.” 

I was reminded by my friend on Sunday that Shalom/Harmony isn’t something we can do on our own. We need each other to harmonize. We need to meet in the middle and join our voices together, in the midst of our severe disagreements and deep differences, to lay down our defenses and all the ways we’re right and they’re wrong. Maybe if we decided to humbly press through the discomfort, like the disciples chose to do, we could begin to make music together and find enough healing and grace for today and tomorrow.

The middle might be messy, but it’s where I belong. I hope you can scoot a little closer. 

With (love), Bethany

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Bethany Cseh is a pastor at Arcata United Methodist Church and Catalyst Church. She blogs frequently on her website, With Bethany