Seventy-eight years ago today, Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the misnamed invasion of Europe. I call it misnamed because the Allies had already been fighting in Italy for some time. But Normandy was the big one, and June 6, 1944, was the day it began.
I’ve walked on Omaha Beach, read Stephen Ambrose’s World War II books, read and watched The Longest Day (with my family–so much so that when we went into Sainte-Mere L’eglise and saw the statue of John Steele hanging from the church bell tower my twelve-year-old son said, “There’s Red Buttons,”), watched Saving Private Ryan and every episode of Band of Brothers and much more. There’s nothing quite like the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer to make you feel the incredible weight of sacrifice so many young men made on D-Day, or standing on Omaha Beach looking up to the hills where German troops would have been stationed and trying to imagine what it would have felt like to run the gauntlet of the long expanse of sand from the sea to the hills lugging an 80-pound pack hoping not to die. These are profound experiences every American should have to help us all appreciate what happened there.
Yet I wonder if it is possible to respect and honor those who participated in D-Day and World War II – arguably the last “moral” war—and at the same believe the United States exited that war compromised after dropping atomic bombs on Japan? Yes, I know all the arguments about the lives saved by those bombings. I am generally sympathetic to those arguments. But think about this: while the estimate of the number of deaths in Nagasaki runs between 60,000 and 80,000, it is also estimated that only150 Japanese soldiers were killed. Is that moral? Couldn’t the US have convinced Japan that the bomb was inescapable without killing so many non-combatants?
Is it possible to think that D-Day was right and Nagasaki was wrong?
I’m not trying to start an argument about the use of the atomic bomb in World War II. Save your comments. I’m simply wondering if it is possible to hold seemingly conflicting ideas in your head simultaneously. I’m talking about appreciating and holding onto paradox. Another way to say this is to live with tension, to not push everything to resolution. Jesus even told a parable about this in Luke 13. My Bible calls it the parable of the barren fig tree. I think it’s the parable of the impatient owner.
Living with tension is one of the keys to holding moderate positions. It is the key to seeking a middle path between two poles.
Our world is making that less and less possible.
I’ve seen this played out on the pages of the Reformed Journal the past few weeks and I applaud the efforts of our writers who attempt to hold the middle in a zero sum game world. People ask, “Are you for or against abortion?” Is it possible to be neither? Wes Granberg-Michaelson staked his claim to middle ground on abortion, carefully arguing that the “right” answer about when life begins is somewhere between conception and birth. His arguments were thoughtful and nuanced. But the loudest voices are on the far ends of the left and right, and I highly doubt a view like Wes’s will be widely understood.
In the days after the horrific events in Uvalde, Texas, Tim Van Deelen wrote a piece pleading for something to be done to regulate guns but also admitted that as someone who works in wildlife conservation, he’s a gun owner and hunter. I thought Tim’s admission was brave. Is it possible to be a gun owner for gun control? That doesn’t seem too much to ask, but both the right and left approach gun control as a zero sum game. Are you for or against guns? Is it possible to be neither? Is it possible to be for hunting rifles and against AR-15s? That requires nuance.
As the 2022 CRC Synod approaches, Scott Hoezee asked if there might be “middle wisdom” to be found as Synod deals with a contention Human Sexuality Report. A few days later, another of our regular CRC bloggers, Laura de Jong, doubted that was possible, and sought to lessen the coming schism by changing the way we define unity. It’s hard to feel optimistic after reading either of their blogs.
These ideas have been swirling in my head for some time. I put it this way in a sermon I preached last week: “The difficulty with talking from the pulpit about any of the events of the day—whether it be gun control, or abortion, or climate change, or the pandemic, or racial justice, is that somehow these have all become partisan issues, with well-known talking points fed to us, depending on your inclination, from Fox News or MSNBC, and instead of being able to take on an issue and talk about it in isolation—which we used to do in debate when I was in school—these issues are now all interconnected into binary red or blue identities, and there’s no space for nuance or conversation or, it seems, common sense. Everything is a zero sum game and truth and trust belong on the endangered species list. As with every issue, the choices are painted in black and white terms . . . data shows the great majority of American Christians are politically moderate, but those on the far ends of the left and right make the most noise, leaving those in the middle feeling lost, left out, and homeless.”
Homeless is not a metaphor. We are on the precipice of both the CRC Synod and RCA General Synod. Many congregations have left the RCA since the last Synod. Splits seem likely in the CRC. As these denominations crumble over the inability to find middle ground and live with tension, many people wonder where their home is. People on the outside looking in wonder why it matters. People on the inside feel loss. I hear Jesus saying, “It shall not be so among you” and feel like we’ve horribly missed the mark. I’m having a hard time seeing how we are anything but a mirror of the larger culture, which has killed nuance with sound bites and has lost the ability to compromise. I feel anxious about both these Synods because I am certain that in this climate, to borrow four words from Mr. Yeats, the center cannot hold.