Is there a third way to do relationships?
– By Ron Simkins
In Homer’s myth, Odysseus had to choose which deadly sea monster he and his fellow sailors would confront—Scylla or Charybdis. A more recent saying that captures the same dilemma is “between a rock and a hard place.” We’ve all been there, even if not with sea monsters.
Few things in life seem to better illustrate the human propensity for getting “caught between” as our tendency to vacillate between romanticizing our relationships/community and feeling cynical about them. Our new friends are the most exciting people we have ever known. Soon they have failed us in some very important ways. Perhaps our parents were our models and idols, then we became teenagers and their weaknesses suddenly became all too clear. The princess and the knight in shining armor find one another. A year later, the marriage will blow up with the glaring realities of selfishness and weakness that once seemed to be hidden from our eyes lighting the fuse—unless, that is, they find a third way.
The same torn reality haunts most of our experience with church life. I have a library shelf of books written by people who have rejected God, Jesus, and faith due to their horrendous experiences with Christians. Or, we could just run a search on pastors and priests and builders of mega-churches and mega-para-churches who have abused kids, embezzled and misappropriated funds, and generally lived out many of the sins they degrade on Sunday. And, of course, we could throw in a long historical list of the failures of church fellowships from Constantine through the Crusades to Lutheran and Catholic Nazi Germany to the Russian Orthodox cooperation with the KGB murders of faithful church leaders. And, that would only scratch the surface.
None of us are merely outside observers of this problem. The churches that I grew up in made horrendous mistakes. I have made terrible mistakes as a believer and as a pastor. New Covenant Fellowship has experienced many brokennesses and failures in its 30+ year history. I have felt betrayed by good friends and good friends have felt betrayed by me—often over the same event.
Thankfully, neither the prophets of Israel nor the writers of the New Testament attempt to hide the fact that a romanticized view of either Israel or the church will crash and be devoured by that monster. By Acts 6:1ff, the early church was dealing with its failures and self-centeredness in the midst of many courageous acts of faith. Barnabus recovers Paul from apparently a 10 year exile due to the distrust of the church in Jerusalem; yet a few years later Paul and Barnabus decide they cannot work together any longer because of a disagreement over the participation of Barnabus’ nephew Mark (who is later reconciled with Paul, but perhaps after Barnabus is no longer even alive).
In the Gospels as well, Jesus often is deeply hurt and disappointed by his best friends, and they are quite often hurt and disappointed by Jesus. “If only you had been here (when we asked you to come).”
Nevertheless, the prophets and the writers of the New Testament—and certainly Jesus—never choose to embrace the dragon of cynicism and hopeless despair about the community of God’s people. God is at work right now. The spirit of Jesus the Messiah is available to empower our relationships and our community—not in a romanticized mythical way, but to empower Real Relationship in the lives of Real People in the Real World.
And, these experiences of a third way are only tastes and down payments on God’s future for the community of God, where the best of all cultures and all faithfulness are brought together in the reign of Jesus in the new heavens and new earth. In all of our relationships, including in our relationship with the community of God worldwide and locally, and in New Covenant Fellowship, let’s ask for empowering to avoid both the rock and the hard place, to steer a third way that will not be devoured by either the dragon of romanticizing nor the dragon of cynicism. Jesus is not only willing to help; he is also a great model.