E STRODE ALONG THE MUDDY MILE, PICKING OUR WAY AROUND THE potholes, waiting to see if conversation would emerge. It wasn’t an easy journey, for we had recently been in friction over firmly held positions neither of us were willing to forsake. From the pines beside the road, the blue jays screamed the news of our approach, but silence reigned between the human travelers.
Somewhere between the first and second mile, my walking partner cleared his throat and gazed intently off to nowhere in particular. “Bill,” he said with steadied quiet, “I value our relationship, and I want so much to work this out.”
What followed in the miles ahead was what so often happens when we walk with those who differ or disagree. We found the words that spoke of what we valued most—the years of friendship, the mutual respect, the goal we shared of moving past this difficult moment. The issues over which we disagreed—urgent, hot, impassioned views—approached a human temperature again as the Spirit’s cooling breeze absorbed the excess heat of pride and self-promotion. The boulders that had blocked our common path to Christ receded to the size of pebbles in the road—still there, but nothing we would stumble over. Ideas found their proper scale when first we walked and then we talked.
Long ago in these columns, I offered a reverent inversion of Amos’ famous rhetorical question, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3, KJV). Now nine years and so many “discussions” later, I ask it once again: “Can two agree, except they walk together?”
Though walking together has never been named as an important Christian spiritual practice or discipline, it shares with prayer, fasting, meditation on the life of Christ, and Bible study a solid foundation in the Word of God. Two of John’s disciples followed Jesus one day on the riverbank, and in a very real way, never stopped walking with Him. Elijah and Elisha, prophet and disciple, walked together until one of them was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot that the other never again lost sight of. Two travelers on the road to Emmaus were joined by Another who used the miles to open eyes and set their sad hearts on fire. Some wit has even suggested that the real reason Jesus moved about the countryside so frequently may have been to keep His contentious disciples in the unsettled situation of always needing to walk with those with whom they disagreed.
We are not a people used to the slower pace required by walking with those who disagree with us. Consumed with a passion to be right, we speed past those who don’t quickly concede the superiority of our ideas and objectives.
And no faction or wing of today’s church is naturally good at what I am describing. The genuine pluralists among us, whose heterodoxy might suggest an openness to civil conversation, often show the same unwillingness to walk and talk with their philosophical opponents as those intensely conservative folks who won’t harbor a new idea or go to dairyed potlucks. But it is an insecure and unworthy belief that won’t let itself be tested by an afternoon walk. If the convictions on which I stake my life can’t bear the weight of walking with someone who remains to be persuaded, those ideas will never win the world, be they ever so correct.
So here’s a call to spend an hour walking with someone who loves the Lord but may not love your ways of following Him. Log some miles together in the name of the One who promises that our personal journeys need never be alone.
And should you need a traveling song, I can testify that this one works well:
“Children, keep in the middle of the road;
Children, keep in the middle of the road;
Don’t you look to the right;
Don’t you look to the left;
Just keep in the middle of the road.”
Bill Knott is the editor of the Adventist Review. (Published October 8, 2009)