Life in the Middle Ground: What Alsace-Lorraine Has to Do with Faith

–Daniel S. Ferguson

Alsace-Lorraine is a region in Western Europe that straddles the border between France and Germany. Its lush, resource-rich countryside has made it the envy of both nations for over two centuries. When Napoleon marched from France eastward, he captured and retained this land for the French. When the Germans won a brief war in 1871, they annexed Alsace-Lorraine as part of German reunification. When the Allies won World War I, France reclaimed Alsace-Lorraine for itself, and when the Nazis conquered the French in World War II, ownership transferred yet again.

Today, Alsace-Lorraine is still somewhat stuck in the middle between the two countries. Most of it is technically French, but the locals speak both French and German, and several dialects of each. If you ask a local whether they are French or German, you might receive any of the following answers: French, German, both, or neither. Even members of the same family might consider themselves of different nationalities. They live a life in the middle ground.

And that’s exactly where I and many others live spiritually, in the middle ground. Among Christians, we are the most non-Christian, not fully feeling like we belong in the worship services or alongside the evangelism. Among non-Christians, we are the most Christian, since faith is still a part of our reckoning and since we still (largely) cling to the church. We speak fluent Christianese, but we also understand how weird that sounds to outsiders. We completely understand when people complain about the church, but we also know the enormous good the church is capable of and is in fact doing. We know and believe most of the arguments the church has to defend faith, but we also know that they sound like complete poppycock to those outside. And we understand, even feel, the doubts of agnostics and atheists when it comes to faith, but we still have faith.

For us, there’s a gravity to both sides, and we are pulled constantly toward either end. The internet is not helpful in this regard. As part of forging this blog, I’ve included myself into more than a few online groups to share my posts. Do you know how many middle-ground groups I’ve found? It’s about 50 to 1 polarized groups to middle-ground groups.

Online groups seem to be either for people who have completely rejected the church (though some haven’t rejected faith), or for people who are completely bought in and have rejected the non-Christian way of thinking.

But in my journey, I have discovered hundreds of people, perhaps thousands, who also live in Alsace-Lorraine. We’re stuck in the middle. We’re not really French, but we’re not really German. We’re both, but we’re neither. We’ve been fought over and disputed and often forced to pick a side.

But we don’t want to pick a side. We just want to live at peace. We just want to be allowed to be both and to be neither. We want for Christians to see our doubts and pains about God as genuine and part of our search for the divine, and we want non-Christians to accept that our clinging to faith and hope in Jesus is not a delusion, but rather the best faith we can possibly have.

Perhaps it makes both sides uncomfortable, and we get that. The question seems binary. Are you Christian or aren’t you? Are you French, or are you German? That question seems to have only two answers, and here we are saying that there’s a third one, maybe even a fourth. You’re asking us to pick A or B, and we’re claiming there’s a spectrum. We know that’s discomforting for you, and we’re sorry.

But it’s our reality. We both fully believe and fully doubt. We fully worship and fully hold back. We fully love and fully hesitate. We are both in and out. We are both French and German. We are both Christian and non-Christian. We are both church people and not church people. We force Christians to doubt their faith and non-Christians to doubt their doubt. That’s our reality; we’re stuck in the middle. We’re sorry that makes both sides uncomfortable, but trust us when we say that it makes us even more uncomfortable. We have, after all, been warred over for as long as we can remember, both internally and externally.

The French and the Germans never lived at peace until they settled their dispute over Alsace-Lorraine. Like I said, most of it is technically French today. However, the people living there exist under a special set of laws that allows them to retain their mixed culture and heritage, even when that conflicts with normal French law. That was the negotiation worked out that allows the middle ground to keep existing as a middle ground, and that’s what’s kept the peace for the better part of 70 years.

The same thing is possible when it comes to the disputes between Christianity and non-Christianity. Peace can happen, but it won’t happen until the dispute over the middle ground is settled. Stop fighting to win us to just one side. We’re never going to be fully one or the other, not on this earth. Instead, allow us to be both.

Christians, that means not antagonizing us into picking your side. When we call you out on something, it’s not because we’re against you. It’s because we can see things from the other point of view. We can help you evangelize better because we know what you sound like to other people. Trust our hearts. We love you.

Non-Christians, that also means not antagonizing us into picking your side. We’re not going to give up on our faith, so stop trying. We know you see the pain the church and faith have caused us, and we know that you want us spared it. But please know that we still believe that the solution to our pain is Jesus. We’re not going to let that hope go. And we can help you, too. We know exactly what it’s like to live in pain, and we know how to trudge through it no matter what. Trust our hearts. We love you.

We love you both because, after all, we are you both.

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