Discovering the Third Way in the New Decade

The older I get, the more I am awakening to the reality just how many of my life experiences and learnings continue to shape my life. I sense a growing awakening … a growing wisdom … that, as I have suspected for many years, finally comes down to letting go of my need for control and seeing just where my life’s mentors and instructors … whether they be people, nature, or instructional moments … can lead, if I will only let them.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the theologian, Walter Wink, who in his book, The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium, describes Jesus’s Third Way. In this section, Wink shares three key teachings of Jesus … to turn the other cheek when struck on the right cheek thereby forcing the one doing the striking to see them as equals … for the debtor who, because of unjust usury, is being stripped of the outer garment to give the undergarment and stand naked at the hands of the unjust creditor thereby bringing shame on the creditor … and for the person forced to carry the soldiers pack beyond the first mile to the second, thereby bringing a harsh discipline to the soldier.

[For a full reading of this Walter Wink’s work on this, click HERE]

As Wink walks us through these teachings, he is introducing us to a new way of speaking truth to power without resorting to violence either in our rhetoric or in our actions. This is the basis of non-violent resistance as lived out by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bishop Desmond Tutu. It is the practice of a resistance like Jesus practiced. And in beginning to see Jesus through deeper teachings in the gospels, we see Jesus, neither as a warrior king nor as a submissive, passive peasant. Jesus invites us to live in a third way.

BrenĂ© Brown, in her work, teaches that the narrative we are most likely to utilize during stressful times is a simple (often wrong) dualistic response. She rightly demonstrates how such narratives are formed more from our brain stem whose job it is to keep us safe … from a perspective derived from ego-based fears. That part of the brain, she says, only accepts answers that are “good or bad, safe or unsafe, friend or foe.” It is that part of the brain that works in a binary way, and it is incapable of incorporating the nuanced variables in any given scenario. Fear creates its own narrative in the lower brain and drives us to a choice between two (often polar) opposites.

As I have gone much deeper in Richard Rohr’s thought in the last several months, I am struck with something I read in The Divine Dance. In this excellent work on the essential nature of the Trinity and our essential need to live into this reality, he invites us away from dualistic thinking. When we live with fear of scarcity, we resort only to that part of the brain (in keeping with Brown’s teaching), and we become reactive and incapable of considering a third perspective.

In our digital world of 1’s and 0’s (think binary code), I have come to think of this as binary thinking. We live in a world where we only see things are true or false, wrong or right, on or off, good or bad … and, in some very real way, we lose our minds and our souls when we get stuck with only two options.

Rohr invites us back into the the holy relationship in the Trinity. It is a place where we discover the power of Three. I shared on Christmas Eve how powerful this image is for me. Every atom in the universe contains three particles: proton, electron, and neutron. Robert Oppenheimer’s work demonstrated the devastating consequences of forcing these particles apart with the development of the atomic bomb. But these three particles, working together over days and years and millennia and eons in the evolution of the universe, become the building blocks of life itself … certainly life as we know it.

God is most fully known through the power of three … and it is my thinking that the way of Christian spirituality is a third way of being.

Father Rohr relies heavily on Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity, and with it, invites us to consider what it means to be the fourth person at the table … the fourth part of God in the circle dance. We are invited to witness the divine DNA that is within us, if indeed, we can come to see that we are part of the creation that God called “good” … and then “very good.”

So what does that mean for me in this new decade. As a United Methodist pastor, I found myself reacting at a visceral level to the decisions of the called 2019 General Conference that brought … not healing … but more harm into our shared denominational life. As we have discovered throughout Christian history, when we side with power and give into dualistic thinking and fear (necessary for those holding power to stay in power), we either actively or passively propagate a culture of harm. It continues to be true in the church today.

As I sense the rising tendency within me to move to the polar opposite (reactivity) of this harmful legislation that now overshadows everything that I love about the United Methodist Church, I am resolved this year to live “the way of the third.”

To live the way of the third is to stand firm in my faith in a God whose essence is love … it is to live in the shadow of this radically inclusive God. It is to speak truth to power and still see the DNA of the Christ embodied in everyone … in both those with whom I stand and those with whom I vehemently disagree.  To live the way of the third is to live with this Trinitarian notion that God is way more than a sacred “being” … God is sacred “relationship” … always inviting us into relationships that defy our dualistic notions of only loving those who think like us … believe like us … look like us. It is to tear down the walls that create “us versus them” ways of thinking.

So as we move into the next decade, I invite you to discover with me the Third Way. It is to stand firm against injustice and harm with an attitude of love and grace. It is to live the ways of grace that help us see the essential nature of Christ woven throughout all of creation. It is to live with a hope that is greater than our fear … a peace that is greater than our conflicts … a love that is greater than our hate.

May we then rediscover life in this Trinitarian God of ours!

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