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Pick a Side!

What side would you like with that? A side of rice? A side of fries? A side salad? The question crops up with great regularity as we order our meals in restaurants. But we also pick lots of other sides. Which side of the table will we sit on? Whose side of an argument will we join? What side of the road will we walk down? Which side of an issue will we favor? There are always at least two sides, aren't there?

At least two. And sometimes they are perfectly clear. Go up or down. Right or left. Turn on the light or stay in the dark. Give or take. Win or lose. At times, however, we pick from a plethora of options. How many kinds of mushrooms are there really? How many brands of blue jeans? How many employment opportunities in one town? (As the "We're Hiring!" signs planted along the side of the road seem to multiply weekly it must be steady work to be in the sign-making business!). Every day brings boo coos of options, and we get to flex our freedom to choose!

For people of faith picking sides can be a prickly predicament. In John's gospel, Jesus talks a lot about darkness and light as if life always shows up in such tidy categories. In several of his letters Paul speaks of seemingly opposite ways to bop along through life - being controlled by the flesh or by the Spirit - as if one can decisively surrender the reins in a single moment and be done with the struggle for all the moments that follow. Of course, he's been tagged as a bit of a spoil sport who would summon believers to a life as exciting as stale bread and tepid water. But in Sarah Ruden's brilliant analysis of the letter to the Galatians, she claims that Paul wasn't interested in "shutting down the Maypole dances;" he was writing with the urgency of "a shout to people standing hesitant on a thirtieth-story ledge." In her book, Paul Among the People, she summarizes his impassioned argument in this way, "People can either pull one another apart or pull together... Paul's point is not that the body or nature is bad and the mind or spirit good. It is about two ways of using the body, one for a life that is worth living forever, the other for a life that is as good as death in the short time before it vanishes. Community is life. The failure of community is death." Go ahead, pick a side.

Another thing that's clear: Jesus is not what Burger King once professed to be - a choice to "have it your way." Luke tells us that once he set out for Jerusalem with a sense of urgency about his mission, he wasn't in the mood for rude responses to his amazingly gracious invitation to join him. For this Lord with kingdom seeds to spread it was full steam ahead. No excuses. No turning back. So, go ahead now, pick a side.

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