Monday, September 1, 2014

"The Middle Way" vs. "My Way"

I believe strongly in the concept of "a way" - and it is encapsulated beautifully for me in Jesus' statement that He was the way, the truth and the light.  Thus, I have no problem with people talking about "the way" when it comes to religion.  However, I also believe strongly, based on decades of personal experience talking with thousands of people and on my own faith journey over the course of my life, that all of us see many things in slightly or even radically different way - that there are numerous "faith orientations", if you will.  Since I believe in the principle that allows every person alive to worship God according to the dictates of her own conscience, I believe that there are many unique "ways" to worship God legitimately - ways that are acceptable to Him, because they are sincere and the best each person can do.

There is a movement of sorts among some members that has been happening online for quite some time to self-identify as "middle way Mormons".  Having said what I did in the paragraph above, I don't believe in "the middle way" as it is used by this group of people. I believe in individual ways - each person finding what works for himself or herself. I actually dislike the term "the middle way" used in this context - simply because it implies there is one way ("THE middle way") that works or ought to work for those for whom a more traditional, orthodox way doesn't work.

I've known enough members over the course of my life to believe strongly that there is no collective, all-encompassing way that works or ought to work for every member of the Church. For example, there is absolutely no way whatsoever to believe and follow everything that has been taught (or is taught currently) within Mormonism and the LDS Church. It's impossible, and anyone who disagrees hasn't studied what church leaders have said over the years in detail. Even the apostles and prophets and Presidents haven't agreed on many things over the years - so even they have had to construct their own understanding, their own "way", in a very real sense.

On the other hand, I really love the Confucian use of "the middle way", even if, in the context of our own time and within the context of our own church, "the middle way" has come to mean something very different than Confucius' meaning. Confucius focused on an individual path, as I described above - what I choose to term "finding my way"; "the middle way" as used collectively now is becoming more and more a group path that is radically different than what Confucius taught.

To make my point a little differently:

Most members I know, even most members who would be classified as traditionally orthodox, actually do strive for balance in their lives. Of course, there are members who are extremists (on each side of any question), but they are nowhere near the majority, in my experience. Even within the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that is true. For example, President Packer is a lightning rod due to his stance on moral issues, especially homosexuality, but he also has made many statements over the years that sound like they are straight from Confucius' middle way philosophy. I mean that seriously. I think most members who struggle with his stances on moral issues would be shocked at how dominant his "balance" statements are numerically. The message of balance is taught repeatedly - but the messages that jar the most for some people shock their systems so much that they dominate their memories and distort the other messages that aren't extremist.

"There must needs be opposition in all things." 

Therefore, by definition, every way is "a" middle way - a way between opposites.

When we talk in extreme terms, migrating to an extreme (any extreme), we lose sight, recognition and understanding of the other extreme which must needs be. We become incomplete due simply to being pulled to an extreme. We move from a balanced "way in the middle" from which we can see, evaluate and internalize things from all directions and incorporate anything that rings true for us to a more restricted, unbalanced way from which many things vanish from sight.

Ironically, things look clearer as we become unbalanced, but it's because we are able to see and contemplate LESS than we could in the middle.

I talk of "the muddle in the middle" for two reasons:

1) There is more through which to sift, making the glass through which we see mistier / darker / less clear;

2) Slowing down in order to muddle through everything keeps us from jumping to conclusions about the meaning of what we see - which, ironically, in the end, makes our ultimate decisions more fully ours. True growth and progress, in my opinion and experience, occur from the need to sort through much and make informed decisions - not from seeing only one option and pursuing it unwaveringly.

That, by the way, is a decent, alternate definition of faith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I believe that there are many unique "ways" to worship God legitimately - ways that are acceptable to Him, because they are sincere and the best each person can do.

This brought me a lot of comfort.