Phlebotomic is a blog experiment that seeks to gather multiple perspectives around a common prompt, which is provided weekly.

Last week's prompt was "Beauty"...

This week's prompt is "Path"...

05 January 2009

Tension: delight in the paradoxes, go for the 3 points

I despise relational tension - that fog-like awkwardness that consumes a room when two or more people have unresolved stuff. It's like walking into a room of people and seeing an ex-whatever and suddenly the entire social scene becomes a funky dance of avoidance. Workplaces can become the set for novella-quality soap operas when this is permitted to advance unmitigated.

Religious, philosophical, theological, personal and truth (epistemological) tension, however, is fantastic. I get stoked when I see someone tied up looking at 2, 3 or 16 things that don't seem to fit together the way they had expected. Tension! Yay! Why? Not because i have some social variety of latent maniacal tendencies, but because I believe God designed the world and reveals Himself in a series of intentional paradoxes. The God of the universe seems to delight in mystery plays and enigmatic truths that are so simple that they confound the most intellectual of people.

The hazard of tension (and subsequent reason why so many people loathe unresolved tension) is the outcome possibilities and probabilities. In tension, a number of outcome categories exist:

(1) Breakage. The rubber band snaps, ricocheting fragments around the room and creating shrapnel injury to bystanders. Bang! Ouch! This can mean torn families, warring nations, split church communities, schisms resulting in adversarial denominations and a host of other ills.

(2) Stretching. Sustained tension often times reveals the elastic potential of an object. As the poles suspending an object refuse to surrender, the object begins to elongate and discover new frontiers of being formerly thought impossible. Realizing that 2 passages of Scripture are unavoidably clear and yet creating friction with my world view can require me to go back to the drawing board of what I've assumed to be true about something if I'm not willing to discard Scripture.

(3) Stalemate Neutrality. If an object is not elastic but also unrelenting under the pressure, an object just remains in a stalemate of tension. It's awkward, embarrassing and can seem pointless - but it's honest. There are these 2 points, I can't let go of either but can seem to stretch any further so I'm stuck. It's one of the most honest places to be.

I love tension because it forces an impasse of response. You can let go of whatever is creating opposing tension (this is how you get well-intentioned but myopic theology, platforms and mobs). You can let the tension of the poles paralyze you. Or, you can go for the 3 point field goal and seek after how to balance the paradox and exist in unifying harmony.

Then tension advances further and you begin thinking about triangulation. It's like a principle GPS schematic - if Truth A, Truth B, and Truth C are all Truths, then where does that place me without violating one of them? It's reverse-engineering your location or the necessary "resolution" of tension points.

A great sadness i have is the life missed and harmed by a mass avoidance of tension. Rather than address a lifestyle (overspending, lethargic non-contribution, anger, x-aholic tirades, etc.) contradiction to professed worldview, we move fast enough to try and not face the tension crying out. We "don't like to think about those things because it makes my mind hurt" and so claim simplicity when really allowing our sailboat to be cast about by the winds of haphazardly formed theology, worldviews and sentiment in our sails. We realize it might be sketchy to really face the goalposts and kick between those 2 points so we punt and hope to land on our feet next quarter.

God is love and yet unapologetically holy, just, righteous and prone to wrath against the rebellion of man. We are brilliant, imageo dei, have dominion over Creation...yet fragile, selfish, ruthless and despicable. We profess love of God and people but are outdone by pagans, desire to know more about God but live in a 20:1 ratio of media:holiness pursuits. Our life is a paradox, Creation is a Paradox...Tension is the sandbox of discovery. If, of course, we are really ready to discover the answers. Sometimes the light is more piercing than the darkness and we quietly retreat back into the shadows and hit the snooze button a few more times.


  1. My first thought is the internal turmoil that I feel about most things in this world. Society, culture, or prevailing opinion says one thing, yet God's Eternal Truth says another. My soul cries out about the injustice I see, the hunger, the pestilence, the corruption, and I wonder how others can sit idly by. Today, a commercial came on asking for people to sponsor children for $25 a month. That is one dinner for two at Chipotle or Freebirds or some other restaurant, and not even an expensive one at that. A couple can skip one of those a month, JUST ONE, and give a child who would otherwise die a chance. It continued and said 27,000 children will die from hunger or preventable diseases TODAY. I almost cried. The following commercial was a call for people to buy something (Best Buy, the store with Kyle's favorite slogan You. Happier) The interior tension I felt was visceral and palpable. God's Word says in Psalms 12:5 that " 'because of the oppression of the weak, and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise.' says the Lord. 'I will protect them from those who malign them." Shouldn't the people of God arise for the the things that God arises for? Our society, to put it bluntly, maligns the needy, both here and abroad. Most people will remember the after Christmas sale at BestBuy, and not the starving children. This is the tension that I see and feel. So, the question is, what to do? Do I scream at people? Maybe. Not usually effective, but sometimes makes me feel better. Do I silently fester? No. Silence in this sense equals apathy. Do I just talk and blog about it, basically preaching to the choir? Yes, because the "choir" feels like I do, and it helps to know that others feel a "holy discontent" for the same things that I do. Plus, I feed off the actions and words of others, I get ideas and inspiration. Or do I react as Christ would react, and get up and do what I can with the strength given me, and use my sphere of influence to make others aware? I pray daily that I can.

  2. F. Scott Fitzgerald said "the test of a first-rate mind is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time while still retaining the ability to function."