Balance: Stay on the horse

There is a famous quotation of Martin Luther in which he compares humanity to a drunken man who has fallen off of a horse on the left-hand side, and then proceeds to get back on the horse and fall off on the right-hand side.

I don’t have the attribution for that quote, but it’s such a wise observation. I’ve noticed this scary human tendency often in movements within the church. For instance, if we think the church is emphasizing social justice at the expense of saving souls, we react to create a church that cares only for saving souls at the expense of social justice. If we think that church has gotten too traditional, formal and stuffy, we leap over the horse and create a church environment totally divorced from church history and where reverence often takes a back seat to relevance.

Arguments tend to be phrased as “either/or” when they really are “both/and”. And I don’t know why we’re this way (note: I’m this way too).

I’ve begun to post a series of my thoughts on “balance”. Now balance is a word that portrays, to some, a sense of the safe, of the non-committal, of the middle-road. I would counter that balance is, in actuality, exciting, dangerous and very hard work. Balance is not a bad thing: there are many times when balance is necessary and desired: when walking or running, for instance. Or when walking a tightrope. Or when riding a horse. Unfortunately, our natural tendencies have us dumping off to one side or the other.

A subject I’ve read a lot about has been the American space program, and especially the Apollo program. The Apollo command module was equipped with a stable element, called the “eight-ball”, which had a set of gimbals that allowed it to maintain a stable, unmoving attitude relative to the stars, and thus gave the spacecraft a point of reference upon which to navigate. There was only one instance in which the ship’s stable element would cease functioning. This situation was called “gimbal lock“, and it occurred when the ship yawed too far to the right or to the left; the gimbals would line up, lock into position, and you could kiss any knowledge of which way you were pointed sayonara. We as humans tend to do that, don’t we? We yaw too far to one extreme, our internal “gimbals” lock, and the next thing you know, we’re passing Pluto and wondering how on earth we got there.

Balance is important, and it is something we learn. Scripture is described in Hebrews chapter 4 as being “sharper than any double-edged sword”. I don’t want to strain a metaphor too much, but the image that has always popped in my mind upon hearing that is of a sword that cuts both ways. Scripture balances against other scripture and drives us to the truth.

Unfortunately, balance doesn’t sell books or get people to read a blog post; if you really want to swing for the fences to make your point, straw-men riding hyperbolic steeds of rhetoric are needed (and, oh my goodness, is this sentence a mess! I think I’ll keep it 🙂 I think the idea is that by over-emphasizing one’s point at the expense of the contra, perhaps one can pull people into the middle-ground. And that does work, but the things sacrificed in that approach often include clarity, charity, and peace. It’s a lot harder to elucidate a position precisely in a way that makes people want to listen, and that’s why so often pendulum-swinging over-exaggeration is utilized instead.

I long for balance. And if the horse we’re riding is the Gospel, let’s maintain our balance, ride it well and not fall off, even if everyone around us is flinging themselves off into the ditches.

(previous post on the topic of balance: Balance: Heavenly minded, earthly good)

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