The Middle Ground Ones


I often first learn about my deepest longings by overhearing what comes out of my own mouth.

(Yes, I’m the picture of self-awareness that way.)

Insert me on a recent phone call with my friend Kary Oberbrunner and his Deeper Path coaching group. The beautiful people on his call are asking me questions about writing and leadership and I am shooting off the cuff or from the hip, whichever is more aimless. Which is when I hear myself say:

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 12.09.44 PM

And Kary hears it too. And he tweets it.

I sit for a minute looking at my Twitter feed, absorbing how much of me–this stage of me at least–is captured by this one sentence.

I am learning to hold bravery in one hand and humility in the other.

I often feel like I am among those my poetic friend, John Blase, calls the “rest of us” who “walk the wide middle ground of unknowing” between Christian camps on the left and right.

Here I am, the Sleeved-With-Heart Sarah of the Middle Ground Ones …

Unwilling to entrench myself on one side,
To soldier up around the poles,
To engage warfare as if every issue has two clean and neat sides with no space in between.
Unwilling to pledge my allegiance to any party’s allegedly inerrant views about God, rather than trying to cast my allegiance farther, into the mysterious abyss beyond that where I might catch a glimpse of the inerrant God himself stirring in the waters.

The wind blows where it wills, you know, and we hear the sound of it, but we do not know whence it comes or whither it goes.

Here I am, resistant to looking for God through the narrow scope of religious artifacts–old or new, through cylinders carved by defenders of religion looking through a glass, darkly.
Here I am, trying and failing to order my interior world in a way that allows me to notice God in the faces of many; to sense his breath in their spirits; to recognize the rhythm of my muse which might also be in them.

Here I am, trying so desperately to wide-eye the panorama of God in search of everything he is willing to reveal himself to be.

Here I am, trying to hold my tongue when I’m tempted to tell God where or in whom he can show up.


I reach for more bravery with one hand…because…

My journey is valid.
I have lived in the spiritual shadowlands and been unwell.
But by the sort of deep and enduring grace that inspires sweet, old hymns to page, I am not there now.
I have been lured into rays of glittered dust particles at the place where light meets darkness.

I am on my way to whole.

And while my path may not belong to everyone,
It is fair and right to sprinkle breadcrumbs in my wake,
To invite any who are seeking, who are able, or willing to trek after my broken footprints,
To forage some of my same trails for the well-being I have found.

The redemptive threads of my life deserve to be spoken.
Not to raise some sort of imperial fist against those who struggle,
But to offer them an open hand to join their struggling journey to my own.

I reach for bravery with one hand…because…

The world is too marked by evil,
Too fragmented by shame and suffering,
Too overrun with oppression and abuse,
To stand by. Silently.

It must be a sin to spin and spiral one’s white flag through the air while casualties fall at your feet.

I reach for more bravery with one hand…because…we cannot afford to look at the deficits of our surroundings and be neutral.


I reach for more bravery with one hand…because…

Some beliefs, like those staked in the surprising and delighting Jesus,
who Sermon-on-the-Mounted his way to cultural upturnings,


Some beliefs, like those that honor the sacred worth–the deep-seated value of all the religiously-and-politically-and-otherwise-“othered” people,
Who clench their eyes shut while clinging to the coattails of the blind,
Who frantically polish the outside of institutional cups,
Who refuse to dance when the soft, breathy tones of the flute are playing,

Yes, some beliefs, these beliefs,
Are worthy of the spending–yes, even the laying down–of life.

They are worthy of being misunderstood and misperceived.
Being judged or discarded.
Worthy of walking directly into opposition,
And looking boldly into a critic’s eyes,

They are worth the unclenching of my pride.
Worth growing the way I communicate.
Worth dying to my need-to-be-right-ness.
Worth taking up cross in all the ways that first demand change of me without ever requiring wood or nails.

Perhaps, for some of us, these beliefs are worth nomad-ing between peoples, tenting in the middle ground, and having no permanent place to lay one’s head.

Of anchoring our boats to those on both poles.
And refusing to pull up the chains that loose us from either side.

I hear the drum-beating call to bravery in the words of Jesus and in the voice of my friends and it echoes deep within my heart.

And so I again reach for bravery with one hand…

But I reach for humility with the other,
Because the bravery I once knew well was often as reckless as it was right.

And it was not sistered to humility–to the virtues that magnetically draw and retract courage in service to compassion.

(More on this humility I reach for later this week.)

Photo Credit



  • comment-avatar
    Rebekah Richardson December 4, 2013 (12:39 pm)

    Sarah, this was really beautiful. From the eloquent writing to the graceful honesty, I was so caught up in your words and the truth they held.

  • comment-avatar
    Sarah Cunningham December 4, 2013 (11:46 pm)

    Thanks for relating, Rebekah. More than right standing with any group, I want the condition of my heart to be pure before God. It’s tricky to try to get my fingers to type things that get at a little bit of what stirs inside me. I appreciate your following along.

  • comment-avatar
    Joanna December 5, 2013 (9:40 am)

    And this, my friend, is why the first time we met we stayed up far too late talking into the night. Our souls travel down such similar pathways. The Middle Ones we remain! Sometimes bravely, sometimes humbly, always seeking, choosing love. Hip Hip Hooray!

    • comment-avatar
      Sarah December 5, 2013 (12:03 pm)

      I saw your post on Facebook first. You are right. It is. :) We should see each other more.

  • comment-avatar
    Ron Hunter December 12, 2013 (3:51 pm)

    Im am trying to understand the “Middle Ground ones” because when I attempted to be neutral, I found myself repelled by the one and drawn to the other. I am wondering how one finds themselves in the middle without indifference to the strong convictions of the either. Embracing the passionate positives dismissive of the elusive evils as either defines, does not seem merely ironic but almost screwtapeishly demonic.
    Consideration of all others as well as oneself is the underlaying motive of each of the polar opposites, considering the hellbent hellbound harmful to the whole as well as themselves. How can one stand in the middle? It appears to be a numb faith. How am I missunderstanding this?

    • comment-avatar
      Sarah December 17, 2013 (1:13 pm)

      That is definitely the most common pushback I receive, Ron. And I try to sift my heart before God..constantly. I recognize, through wisdom like this, that I can’t be neutral in standing in the middle. I am just taking my own firm convictions (as arrived at via the Bible, the Holy Spirit, community, tradition etc.) and choosing relationally to stand in the middle. As it stands, my own convictions don’t fit 100% in the right or the left anyways, so it drives me to try to be humble enough to recognize that there is sin and imperfection as well as likely good and God-presentness in both poles.

      • comment-avatar
        Mary January 4, 2014 (6:05 pm)

        Wow! As I was reading your ‘Middle Ground’ post I was given a ‘momentary vision’ or glimpse of how I believe God views such a place. The left, the right and then there’s the middle. Matt 7:14 speaks of it as the narrow road … It’s a hard road …And it leads to life … And you are one of the few who have found it.
        I walk this road and know how scary it can be, especially in Christian circles,
        those tugging on the left and the right can leave me feeling unsure, dangerously (as in eternally) unbalanced.
        Yet when I look ahead, neither to the left nor the right I can hear Jesus saying …
        Feed the hungry
        Touch the untouchable
        Free the oppressed
        Give hope to the hopeless
        Heal the broken hearted
        Love the unloved