Why the middle?

This blog was mainly inspired by this post over at Rachel Held Evan’s blog. In it she writes about being “caught-in-between” Liberal and Conservative forms of Christianity, and this is something I identified with quite strongly despite living in the less polarised British, rather than American, faith context. She writes:

the reason I struggle to go to church on Sunday mornings is because I generally feel like I have to choose between two non-negotiable “packages.” There are things I really love about evangelicalism and there are things I really love about progressive Protestantism, but because these two groups tend to forge their identities in reaction to one another— by the degree to which they are not like those “other Christians”—Sunday morning can feel an awful lot like an exercise in picking sides.

I must confess I am almost always “caught in-between” in matters of faith (not least because I identify both as  queer and as Christian) and am never sure how to vocalise this without alienating someone. I tend to basically not say certain things to certain people. It distresses me at church if someone majorly rants about “conservative” Christians as if they are all the same (ditto “evangelicals”) but I don’t feel like I can say something without then being accused of “defending” the church that hurt somebody (although, I must add, it is the conservative Evangelical church that hurt me too!) But then I wonder, is it actually in this liminal space of questioning and compromise that the Holy Spirit makes a dwelling? The in-betweeness can be painful but it might stop me from being complacent or closing my mind either to the “liberal” or to the “conservative” ways of living the Faith. It might help me better to serve the worship planning team I am part of at my church, MCC Newcastle.This isn’t a compromise, it is a painful working out of salvation with “fear and trembling…”
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill God’s good purpose. Phillipians 2:12-13
Thinking about all of this made me wonder if this “middle ground” – not in terms of compromise but in terms of willingly standing in a difficult, in-between place – might be something that has characterised my life up to this point. I certainly have strong feelings on some issues, but do not fit easily into any of the polarised denominational groups of Christianity. However much I have loved worshipping in certain ways with certain people, I have struggled to identify completely with any one group. This sense of displacement is present in other areas of my life as well, and it is perhaps fitting that I study not only the “Middle” Ages, but also that I study hybrid characters in medieval texts , characters which are in-between,which do not “fit,” which confuse categories and reveal the constructed nature of categorisation itself, monsters of half-humanity, of gender confusion.

Manuscript: BNF 18623 Image © Bibliothèque Nationale de France

“Queer” is the best word I’ve found to describe these creatures, and perhaps the best word to describe how it feels to be in the middle.  So, here, hopefully, is a blog about the queer and about the middle.  I don’t want to split my life up into seperate compartments, into seperate blogs. So this will be about faith, sexuality, art, family, psychology and occasionally about the PhD as it grinds steadily onwards. But mainly I want it to be about making sense of standing, of living, “in the middle.”

3 thoughts on “Why the middle?

  1. Sarah says:

    Interesting blog Charlotte. It’s made me reflect on a conversation I was having with Helen about Lord of the Rings (as this is the film her sermon is going to be based on next month). I said that I probably wouldn’t watch the second (middle) film again. The reason being that I felt unsatisfied by the fact that it was neither the beginning nor the end. A strange philosophy when I think about it because the actual journey of life could certainly be classified as the middle, if we think of birth as the starting location and death as the final destination. Now, I’m thinking about the riddle of the Sphinx: What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening? This probably wasn’t the type of comment you were anticipating but it’s my tuppence worth all the same!

  2. Thanks Sarah! I wonder if you were reminded of LOTR by the phrase “Middle Ground” sounding a bit like “Middle Earth”? I think we humans are possibly wired to see things in black and white and the shades of grey can be quite unsatisfying, or even frightening. The middle isn’t as exciting as the beginning (Gandalf’s arrival, the first child, the first steps on a journey, the first year of marriage or new faith or a PhD!), nor does it offer the satisfaction of the end (Sauron is defeated! Gollum is gone! Aragorn gets with Galadriel!) In the middle, we are not so certain about where things are going perhaps?

  3. Sarah says:

    Yes, I think that “Middle Ground” must have triggered off something! I certainly think that people, in general, don’t like ambiguity. There’s a need to categorise everthing in life. What does a prototypical bird look like? A blackbird? A robin? Ok, so penguins don’t fly – and they’re still birds? It’s the type of thing that we’re taught as children and spend our childhood questioning, so perhaps it comes as no surprise that people continue to do so as adults. As for LOTR, it’s true that the middle isn’t as satisfying but it is a necessary bridge between the beginning and the end. Here’s a nice one to end on — paying tribute to the middle: “Zen dog: He knows not where he’s going for the ocean will decide – It’s not the destination…It’s the glory of the ride” (Edward Monkton)

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