Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Integrity of Ambivalence

Ridha Ridha “Normal Ambivalence”
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15, NRSV)

Honesty is telling the truth—in other words, conforming our words to reality. Integrity is conforming reality to our words... This requires an integrated character, a oneness, primarily with self but also with life. (Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, pp. 195–196).

A beloved preacher used to say, "We are living in the In-Between-Times." He was speaking of our place in the unfolding Biblical narrative: between Gospel and Revelation; creation and reconciliation; light and shadow.We live in an age of ambivalence.

The past week's news is packed with affirmation of his message. A mass murderer receives mercy from the families of his victims. A nation of equals is forced to confront the racism brewing just beneath the surface of even our best intentions. A law designed to protect the weakest among us barely survives a relentless assault by the strongest. And finally, a day of great celebration and great grief over the affirmation of a love that so many people find to be hateful.

Frank Gorshen as Bele of Cheron
(Star Trek, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield")

As it is with our world, so it has been in my life this week. Almost daily, I have found that my actions are not consistent with my principles. At times, my principles have not even seemed consistent with each other. I want to serve, but grasp at praise and approval. I shed tears of compassion for suffering  neighbors, then cut them to the heart with sharp words.

There is something comic in Paul's struggle to articulate the conflict. "I do not do what I want to do... I do do what I do not want to do..." Doo-bee-doo-bee-doo. Comic? Yes, but like all true comedy, there is pain behind the laughter. Who among us has not experienced the gap between the person we are, and the person we want to be? The shame of actions that fall short of principles?  haven't we all whispered in spirit, Paul's prayer, "[Wretch] that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Rom 7: 24)

I'd like to offer an easy answer. I wish I knew the magic words to comfort a devoted mother who lashes out at her demanding child, or a shame-filled son who obediently pees in a bottle so his father can pass a drug test. What peace there would be in whispering away my own conflicted feelings of love and anger; desire and apprehension.

Disintegration of Earth, (Sebikus)
How do such deeply flawed people walk in integrity through a disintegrated world?

For Paul, the comfort comes from God's Grace and the promise of Glory yet to come. And that would be a perfect answer if we were  standing in the perpetual light of Heaven. But we live in the cracks of the In-Between-Time. What are we supposed to do until our story ends happily ever after? What's the secret?

Maybe by undertaking the difficult task of forgiveness: offered, sought, and accepted. And by showing kindness and mercy to ourselves: the most difficult task of all. Believing that our failure is not final. Ambivalence is not the end of hope. 

There is something seductive about a Heaven of black and white. Heaven knows, plenty of people have grown rich and powerful peddling such a place. And maybe one day we will live there. But until then, we can only do our best to be our best in the world we have: a world of light and shadow where all the boundaries are gray. This is not a time for indignant, easy answers. This is a time for compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. This is the In-Between-Time.

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