Shifting from Either/Or to Both/And
I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church where I was taught early on that you are either ‘with us’ or ‘against us.’ A sheep or a goat, saved or damned to hell for eternity. It wasn’t a far leap from being either a conservative or a liberal, male or female, straight or gay. Each side was labeled good or bad, right or wrong. I thought things were perfectly clear until I came out as a gay man and still considered myself to be a faithful Christian. How can I be a bad person earning a one-way ticket to hell?
When I discovered process theology, I literally had a conversion moment. I was introduced to the idea that by viewing the world with a both/and lens instead of the either/or mentality I was brought up with, I can expand my view of God and the universe and hold opposite concepts in tension with one another. Over time, I shifted my dualistic, black or white, binary thinking into a rainbow of possibilities. It’s become more complicated ever since and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Many of our congregations can sometimes get stuck in polarized, either/or thinking. Are you an atheist or a theist? Are you racist or woke? Indeed, this mirrors the polarized society and political landscape we find ourselves in these days, producing gridlock in our decision-making processes, entrenched camps of who’s in or who’s out, and can create a wedge that turns into enmity and ostracization.
The deeper spiritual truth is such divisions are an illusion. Even someone as ‘saintly’ as Mother Teresa was once quoted as saying, “I have a piece of Hitler in me.” All of us are saints and sinners. Yet our Universalist tradition says none of us fall outside the circle of love. Since no one is going to this place called hell for all of eternity anyway, might as well figure out how to get along in this life now. Can we use our congregations as a laboratory to draw the circle wide? Not an easy thing to do in a polarized world.
Both/and thinking requires polarity management: the notion that as interdependent beings, opposing truths need not divide us but can actually get us closer to a deeper truth. Taoists have recognized this in the form of yin and yang, the dynamic exchange between two opposite poles. How might we solve conflicts using both/and thinking? How might we see complexity as a gift to help us heighten our consciousness and awareness rather than trying to reduce everything to simple black and white answers that may not exist?
Below are some resources to help us unleash the power of our Universalist heritage and save our hurting world by drawing the circle wide with our ability to live in a both/and manner:
- Voices from the Margins: An Anthology of Meditations, eds., Jacqui James & Mark D. Morrison-Reed “One Love” Hope Johnson
- Becoming, ed. Kayla Parker, Marginal Wisdom by Leslie Takahashi
- Singing the Living Tradition 311 “Let It Be a Dance”
- Singing the Journey 1022 “Open the Window”
- Draw the Circle Wide by Middle Collegiate Church Choir
- Deepening Our Practice of Both/And Thinking by Laureen Golden
- Managing Polarities in Congregations: Eight Keys for Thriving Faith Communities by Roy M. Oswald and Barry Johnson
- Living with Contradictions by Bruce A. Bode
- Circle exercise by Roger Schwarz and Associates