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Receptivity and offering: And-ness

Lynne Baab • Wednesday May 11 2022

Receptivity and offering: And-ness

 “The world we inhabit is full of splendor and misery, our fellow humans are brilliant and inspiring and selfish and vicious, and we ourselves are hopelessly motley, full of mixed motives and mixed feelings.”
—Kathryn Schulz, a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of the memoir “Lost & Found.”

Schulz describes the big and small losses she experienced in the pandemic and concludes:

“All these are examples of what I think of as the fundamental and-ness of life, the way it requires us to experience so many contradictory or unrelated things all at once. There’s no getting away from this and-nessbecause it is built into the basic facts of our existence.”

I love Schulz’s word “and-ness.” She is pointing at the fact that all of us experience such a mix of good and bad in every aspect of life, as well as within ourselves. Here’s another powerful quotation about the and-ness in every person:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the dividing line between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy his own heart?”
—Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), The Gulag Archipelago.

We offer to God the and-ness we experience within ourselves. Yes, we can express gratitude for our strengths and moments of love AND we can confess our sin for the ways we turn away from the good over and over. We can also offer our willingness to see other people as complex beings, not black and white.

The words above from Kathryn Schulz and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn emphasize and-ness as the reality of living in a world filled with both good and evil. As Christians, we also live with and-ness related to holding onto two good things – that often seem contradictory in some way – at the same time.

I remember the day in my early twenties when John 1:14 somehow lit up for me, the idea that Jesus is full of grace AND truth. In that moment, I was truly in awe of the profound reality that in Jesus we see and experience both deep acceptance AND uncompromising truth. The and-ness of grace and truth from John 1:14 helped me grab hold of so many stories from Jesus’ ministry. To the woman caught in adultery he says “neither do I condemn you” AND “from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11). He accepts her AND calls her to be her best self, living in truth, honesty, and obedience. In his encounters with Thomas and Peter after the resurrection, Jesus conveys his acceptance of their unique needs AND his call to them to recognize exactly who he is (John 20:24-29, John 21:1-19). So many additional gospel stories were illuminated for me when I saw them through the lens of grace AND truth.

John 1:14 also helped me understand a verse from Psalm 85 that I had found amusing as a child:

   “Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
   righteousness and peace will kiss each other” (verse 10).

As a child I smiled to think of two abstract ideas kissing each other. As an adult, I am profoundly grateful for this picture. In Christ, grace AND truth – steadfast love AND faithfulness, peace AND righteousness – embrace each other and intertwine together because they are beautiful components of God’s character. Psalm 85:10 is no longer amusing, but instead a high call to live with the and-ness deep in the character of our loving God. I love seeing grace and truth in Jesus. I have to express to God my need for help in living it out in daily life, because in everyday life I find it extremely challenging in many situations to know how to show love and affirm truth.

Christians also experience and-ness in our call to love God with our whole beings, as Jesus says, “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). Heart AND soul AND mind AND strength. Another place where we see and-ness is our invitation into a personal relationship with God that is lived out in community. We are Christians as individuals AND we are called into the Christian community. In addition, we see and-ness in our perspective on time. We look for signs of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives in our past AND present, AND we look to our future with hope, trust and expectation. We have been redeemed AND we are being redeemed AND we will be redeemed, as many theologians have written  

Human beings love dichotomies. If one thing is true, our brains tell us the opposite cannot be. If someone does terrible things, our brains tell us, they must be terrible through and through. When we are ashamed of something inside ourselves, we judge our whole selves. Jesus, the One full of grace and truth, invites us to offer to God our willingness to live with and-ness. This and-ness involves seeing people including ourselves as complex individuals with good and bad inside us, and this and-ness involves embracing paradoxes that are at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus invites us to rely on the Holy Spirit for help in navigating and-ness as we try to live and love and work and serve.

(Next week: moments. Illustration by Dave Baab: Moeraki, New Zealand. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

My book Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life is another description of the and-ness Christians affirm (now available in paperback, kindle, and audiobook). Here are some past blog posts that affirm and-ness:

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