Avoiding the Ditch

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We who live in the mountains often complain about how slowly tourists from the prairies drive when the road is curvy and about the way they speed up when they come to passing lanes in straight stretches. Unkind words may have been spoken about recreational vehicles that get between locals and their work sites.

The problem is that we have “ditches.” Deep ditches. Deep, deep, deep ditches. Understandably, the thought of speeding down the road a few feet away from the precipice of a gorge you can’t see the bottom of is intimidating to people not accustomed to it.

Okay, it’s intimidating to a lot of us who live here too. Driving over the Kootenay Pass still freaks me out, especially in winter. I wish they would put up barriers on the edge of the cliff, but it probably has to do with the need to shove snow from avalanches over the side.

There are not-as-high high places that used to frighten me when we first vacationed here when I was a child. I don’t even notice the height (or more accurately, the depth) now. I remember being in awe the first time I looked down on a rainbow, still white knuckling my way up a steep incline. I guess driving in these conditions does teach one to be aware of the ditches and the need to avoid going too far in either direction.

I watched one of those road accident close call videos the other day. What struck me is that many incidents of loss of control were the result of over-correction. In order to avoid going into one ditch the driver over-reacted, swerved sharply, and ended up in the other.

I’m fascinated by history and the way a reaction to one extreme ends up becoming another. When people are carried along by the momentum created by unresolved anger even a small correction can set them on a trajectory that lands them in as much trouble as the first problem.

I see this pattern repeated throughout church history. An angry group of people break away in protest to excesses in one area and within a couple of generations find themselves trying to crawl out of the opposite ditch. For example, one group, who rejected the ostentatious benefactor-backed wealth of the monasteries at the time, angrily walked out in protest and went to live in communal poverty on less arable land in remote places. Within a hundred years their work ethic and creative solutions to farming swampland and steep hillsides turned them into wealthy landowners who didn’t handle riches any more generously than the group they rejected.

I see this pattern in parenting. One generation says they will never be as rigid as their parents and the next says it will never be as laissez-faire as their parents were. Flip and repeat.

I see this pattern in the arts. One movement admires painstaking detailed rule-following workmanship and the next reacts by rejecting “derivative work” and going for free-wheeling uninhibited expression. They have labels for each other. Most of them end in “ist.”

I see this pattern in politics. But I’m not going there today. Why? Because when you are in the middle of a drastic course change motivated by angry rhetoric, shots fired from both ditches can be doubly dangerous to moderates. Cross-fire and friendly fire and collateral damage and all that. It can even start wars.

This is what I have learned observing the long view of history: Nothing that is established by reaction and rebellion lasts.

A newly formed splinter group that leaves an old group on bad terms without pursuing forgiveness and resolution to the conflict first is guaranteed to find themselves being similarly divided in time. I think it’s the reap-what-you-sow principle. Worse than that, reactors need “enemies” to continue to justify their stance. Mutual enemies become a common cause and provide a type of fuel. It is easy to create an enemy where there once was merely a friend or neighbour with a different opinion and keep them locked in that position. Hatred can be passed down like clause six in a will. Many wars have at their root unforgiveness over a dispute between neighbours who have been dead for centuries.

Sometimes righteous anger can be a good motivator for change. Often people are not willing to make corrections until the situation becomes uncomfortable enough that they have to get up and move. Anger is a secondary emotion. It is like the warning light on the dashboard that lets us know that something is not working.

The problem occurs when correction is applied in high emotion and movement is catapulted too far by angry reactive rhetoric and blame. Anger congeals into bitterness and hard-heartedness. This has the effect of pushing people further apart and entrenching them in defensive positions that are more extreme than they intended them to be. It also makes life miserable for other travellers on the road who come under pressure to choose sides.

Did you know that moderation (self-control) is a fruit of the Spirit and therefore a weapon that can fight a spiritual foe who desires to divide and conquer? The political spirit behind a lot of conflict is bent on using deceit, seduction, loyalties, alliances, mocking, manipulation, fear -oh, especially fear- to divide, conquer and gain control. It shows up in churches, businesses, charity organizations, and governments and school yards. It operates through bandits and people who mean well. Jesus called it the “the leaven of Herod.” He said to be beware of it, because, like yeast, it can permeate everything.

I remember being told over and over in a dream that it is the nature of God to be creative and not reactive. He created us to create and rather than react. That’s why we are told to return good for evil and as much as is possible with us to be at peace with all men. That’s why we look for creative solutions first (although I personally believe that protecting the innocent against outright evil might require us to sometimes physically stand in the gap.)

Moderation is not about compromising with sin or enabling evil; it is about being transparent and honest about problems without casting blame, loving whilst avoiding taking up other peoples’ offenses, protecting the weak without enabling helplessness, encouraging honourable behaviour toward everyone without forming unholy alliances, and avoiding careening across the road into opposite ditches because of angry reactions.

Because some ditches are very deep.

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8 thoughts on “Avoiding the Ditch

    1. I’ve had to do some contemplating myself. I’ve gone back and hit the delete button a lot today after asking myself, “Was that necessary? Did it add to the conversation and build people up? Or will it just let off steam and widen the distance?”

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  1. Cathy

    Soooooo many good points…..I’m ever amazed how you so creatively yet clearly tie it all together. …as always,.. hits the nail on the head in a profound but gentle way. ..☺

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  2. You’ve said it well. It’s sad (and you feel many other emotions), when you’ve been on a bus that swerved to avoid a ditch and instead went off the precipice. You were able to escape at the last minute, but there were loved ones on that bus that you never saw again. And now you find yourself, trying to warn those around you of the dangers and of the precipice ahead…but no one hears your words. They think you don’t know what you’re talking about and they answer with the phrase, “Oh, that would never happen here.”

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