Are you tired of the conflict all around you?
It happens over and over again. A political argument with a friend, a fight about racial issues on the internet, a disagreement with a coworker―at the first sign of conflict, we flee to a bunker with people who think like us and attack everyone else. We feel safe there, but it’s killing us: killing families, friendships, civility, and discourse.
Our fractured world desperately needs a different way: people who will speak gently, value truth, and think clearly. Dancing in No Man’s Land is a rallying cry, a life-giving and practical journey into the way of Jesus that will revolutionize how you view conflict. You can choose to speak both truth and peace in the midst of war. You can step out of our bunkers and into no-man’s land, where only brave souls tread. It may look like you’re dodging cultural landmines. But you might just be learning how to dance.
What you just read is a description of my friend Brian Jennings’ new book Dancing in No Man’s Land: Moving with Peace and Truth in a Hostile World. Please see my interview with him below!
Why did you write this book?
Three things happened all in the span of one week, five and a half years ago (I know, I’m a slow writer).
First, I was reading about World War I. As the French and Germans battled each other, both sides dug into the earth. This was the beginning of widespread trench/bunker warfare. Neither side could advance without heavy casualties. The war was stalemated because of this tactic. The bunkers and trenches were full of rats, disease, mud, and sometimes dead bodies. Occupants dared not exit, because to do so would mean likely death. The land between the bunkers was called no man’s land.
Secondly, heated arguments erupted about the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Some clambered to a bunker that accused, “If you support this bill, you hate our country.” Others shot back from an opposing bunker, “If you do not support this bill, you hate the poor.” People said these things in many different ways, but the message was clear: “You are either with me or against me.” I left many conversations thinking about bunkers. I didn’t want to hate anyone, which meant I needed to choose no man’s land – which meant I might get shot by both sides!
Thirdly, God taught me something from the book of Daniel. Daniel had been enslaved by King Nebuchadnezzar. He served the wicked king faithfully but, along with all the other wise men, was unfairly sentenced to death. Most of us would’ve plotted some form of revenge, defense, or attack. But Daniel 2:14 lept off the page to me: “Daniel responded with wisdom and tack.” Who does that? Throughout his life, Daniel never sacrificed a commitment to God’s truth or a desire to be at peace with people – even his oppressors. He lived in no man’s land.
The more I studied Scripture, I saw how Jesus also lived in no man’s land. I wanted to learn how to do the same, and I wanted to help the church learn how to pursue truth without assaulting those who disagree with us.
Why does the Church particularly need this message now?
Our culture is polarized, and the church has sometimes added to the mess. It’s possible for the church to, in its defense of truth, mistreat others. This only pushes them further into their bunkers, where they’ll attack back at us. It’s a never-ending cycle.
It’s also possible for the church to, in its desire for peace, to disregard truth – God’s truth. But every time mankind abandons God’s truth, they destroy themselves. God is loving and his ways are always best for our relationships, jobs, lives, and eternities. If the best the church can do is “be tolerant,” that’s a miserable existence. I hope you can more than tolerate me. I hope you will love me. I hope I can love you. Tolerance is cheap, but love costs a lot. If we separate God’s truth from our lives, we’re left with a powerless religion and a bunch of aimless lives.
When a woman caught in adultery was brought before Jesus (John 8), he said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” He showed unmatched grace to this woman. He offered her a path to peace with God. But before she left, he said, “Go and sin no more.” Truth still mattered to Jesus. This book is a call for the church to pursue truth and peace – at the same time. If we don’t, we’ll wound people, close doors, and wreck lives.
How have people reacted to the book so far? Was there a personal cost in being so direct?
Last week I spoke to 150 Middle and High School students about the book. Two days later, I spoke to about 150 seasoned Christians who work for a large Christian organization. It struck me that both groups equally resonated with the topic. Numerous people, at both events, told me afterward that this topic hit them square between the eyes. They told stories about family fights, social media fiascoes, and how they were so troubled at our divisions. I can’t find anyone who doesn’t feel the repercussions of our world’s bunker-living.
Living in no man’s land does come with a price, but the rewards are far greater. People won’t be happy when you refuse to join their bunker. We all like people to be on “our side.” What’s been most startling to me is when I’ve been accused of being something that I’m not. I’ve been lumped with far-right-wingers and far-left-wingers. That stings, but the reward is that I have doors open with many people. I haven’t forfeited relationships for the sake of winning an argument. In fact, we’re able to have productive discussions about serious topics without beating each other up.
I joked earlier about what a slow writer I am, but the truth is that God has impeccable timing. I believe he’s working in many ways to help the church pursue both truth and peace, and I’m humbled that he chose to let me be a small part of it.
What do you hope readers will do with what you’ve written?
My prayer has been that this book will help people find their way to no man’s land. The bunker metaphor has helped me a lot. When a heated news story breaks, I now see people running for their bunker and firing at those not with them. Then I pray about where Jesus would be. He’d hold onto truth (regardless of what others thought of him), but he’d make every effort to also show love, peace, gentleness, and kindness to people. If we can do this, we can actually help people have their hearts changed by Christ, and we can develop both compassion and wisdom too. For a while, it may feel like we’re dodging lots of bullets, but if enough of us commit to the way of Jesus, it will begin to feel more like a dance.
Brian has graciously agreed to give away one free book! The first person to comment on this blog post will get a free book! After you comment, send an e-mail to me at firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can get your mailing address.
Brian lives in Tulsa with his wife, Beth, and their four children. Brian preaches at Highland Park Christian Church and serves on the boards of Blackbox International (help for trafficked boys) and Ozark Christian College. He has written for Lookout Magazine, Christian Standard, and What’s In The Bible. You can learn about his books, Lead Your Family and Dancing in No Man’s Land: Moving With Peace And Truth In A Hostile World (May, 2018) at brianjenningsblog.com.