“You might want to be nicer to him, you might need his help someday.”
“Who made you the parent?”
These are three phrases that were the bookends to many of my conversations with my parents from grades 7-12. It wasn’t my fault that I was born first, had superior knowledge, strength and fort building skills. I had cooler friends, more freedom, and my home runs that went twice as far as his. I’m sure during those years my brother was a great kid. He just spent too much time asking my stuff time and ideas. Who’d he think I was anyway, a resource, role model, or (God forbid) a friend? For all that I had to “put up” with it was my parents would continue to ask if I was using the influence, position and power I had over my brother for his benefit or my own. How lame.
Growing up as an oldest child in the middle class, church-going suburbs of a Seattle was fantastic. There were some “rich” families who lived in the delegated “rich” part of town; the country club. There were the “poor” families who lived in the delegated “poor” part of town; section 8 apartments behind Safeway. My family lived in between these two groups of people along with the vast majority of my friends and church family. This was the comfortable middle. I had a good sense of where the lines in life were drawn, who was in, who was out and how to appease people on both sides. Life in the middle was very balanced, contained and easy to understand.
The trouble all started when I began to read my Bible in a new social construct during my four years living in Chicago. One thing they don’t tell you on Sunday morning is that reading your Bible will ruin your “comfortable life” if you read it honestly. I began to realize that my life and my faith have bigger implications on the people around me than just living tidily between the social lines of wealth and poverty. As I got to travel the more of the city, country and world around me with my Bible in hand I realized that Christ doesn’t leave much room for those in the middle to stay comfortably there. Since college I’ve lived in many different contexts doing so many different types of ministry and continue to find myself living in what I call the “Uncomfortable Middle”. The place where we find ourselves living between the push to be ever more secure, successful and safe while our hearts and pulled into the risk, sacrifice and the reward of seeing God’s kingdom come. In this place new versions of my parents’ childhood cautions play back in constant repetition:
“Careful how you treat the poor because they who will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.”
“Be careful how much distance you put between those different than you – they will help you grow in perspective, respect and love.“
“Who has made you the keeper of all things just, good and true?”
I have a feeling that I’m not alone in the exciting (often frustrating) adventure of living out God’s calling in the suburbs while working out the tangible relevance and transformation doing and living as Christ. I’m writing to share with you what I learn, seek help in what I’m learning, and give you permission to help me discover how much I have yet to know. Because even in “Uncomfortable Middle” there is still hope, action and love in Christ’s calling over us.