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 coworkerat 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.
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About the Author
Brian Jennings is the lead minister of Highland Park Christian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and holds a bachelor of theology. He has written for What's in the Bible, Christian Standard, and theLookout, as well as his own blog - brianjenningsblog.com. Brian serves on the board of trustees for Ozark Christian College and for Blackbox International, which provides aftercare for boys who are victims of sex trafficking.
Read an Excerpt
Why We Step into Bunkers
Bunker mentality: An attitude of extreme defensiveness and self-justification based on an often exaggerated sense of being under persistent attack from others.
FEW THINGS MAKE ME HAPPIER than a cup of coffee and free parking on a cold day in downtown Chicago. That's why I am so familiar with Division Street, where you can find a shopping center that has both. (I'd tell you where, but I can't have you taking my secret spot.)
For the past eleven years I've led a Chicago trip for high-school students, where they learn from and work alongside two of my favorite ministries in the world: First Christian Church and By The Hand Club for Kids. I've also traveled to Chicago to play, see friends, and attend meetings. There's a lot to love about the city — a lot of beauty. But there is a lot that should concern us too.
When Chicago announced mass school closings in 2013, Manierre Elementary families worried. The plan called for Manierre students to attend Jenner Elementary. It's only a short walk, but the change required them to cross Division Street. Manierre kids aren't supposed to cross Division. That's the rule on the street, and gangs enforce it.
One of our partner ministries buses or walks children home, taking the appropriate routes to ensure their safety. The gang members seldom care if a kid is involved in a rival gang or not. They just know someone's walking across the street from a neighborhood that plays host to rival gangs. Animosity runs deep, spanning generations. Sadly, this is reality for many children.
What lies at the root of the bunkers we dig into? While we may not face the stark division between gangs, we all face division in our everyday lives. At work, when we're asked to side with a coworker or a boss. In politics, when our choice of candidate supposedly defines so much about who we are. In relationships, when longstanding wounds flare up and people decide who they most believe.
Bunkers emerge in many ways, but there are three common roots: fear, pride, and the cycle of anger.
Fear pushes us deeper into our bunkers and keeps us there, telling us that no good will come of not holding our ground. On Division Street, fear isolates neighbors who only live a block apart. Isolation feeds their paranoia. Any outsider is an imminent threat.
Fear's close cousin is pride — the belief that we know more and better and therefore have the right to our bunker. Pride keeps us in our bunker because we can't imagine a good reason to leave. Division Street won't see peace until people are willing to swallow their pride. Humility can feel as if we're betraying the people in our bunker and the people we once were (or currently are).
As pride and fear work together, we become more entrenched, and our feuds escalate into an unending cycle. Some people are your enemies just because that's how it's always been. You could find some rivals on Division Street who'd say the same thing you'd hear from a family member: "I don't even know what we were arguing about." It's important that we understand the roots of the bunker mentality before we do anything else, because only by yanking out the roots will we be able to move forward in healthy and productive ways.
On Division Street, gang members have drawn lines. They've tied their loyalty to those in their gang. They aren't interested in open-minded dialogue but are instead obsessed with power and protection. They personify bunker dwellers.
But if we let fear, pride, and anger control us, so do we.
Fear can paralyze.
I discovered this years ago, when I went with a group of friends to play paintball. The owner of the place was a skinny, scraggly-haired guy who looked like Shaggy from the old Scooby-Doo cartoons. "Shaggy" explained the game to us, delighting in telling us all the ways we could be injured. Then he let us shoot some practice rounds.
The speed of the small paint-filled balls both excited and terrified us. We realized this game was going to hurt a lot worse than a simple game of tag. One of my friends, who wore a mesh tank top that day, decided to stop teasing me for wearing so many layers.
The owner divided us into teams, sent us to opposite sides, and told us our objective: to shoot everyone on the other team. When he yelled "Go!" all cocky banter subsided. Each team wanted to win, but we also wanted to avoid pain.
When I found myself pinned down by enemy fire, paintballs whizzing by my head, I was afraid to move from my little ditch behind a tree. But surrendering seemed too unmanly. I finally worked up the nerve to leap out for a brave assault.
Agony quickly replaced my bravado. I was left with multiple welts as reminders of my foolishness.
Even in a silly game like paintball, we can be overpowered by fear. And in life, we find ourselves facing many things a lot more painful — and a lot more fear-inducing — than paintballs.
Fear can paralyze, keeping us from moving forward. A friend of mine told me she could never give her heart away. She wanted a happy marriage, but past pain crippled her willingness to be vulnerable. She spent her childhood trying to fix her bleeding heart. Memories of abandonment, neglect, and abuse haunted her. Eventually, instead of trying to fix her heart, she attempted to protect it by never giving it away.
When we're overcome with fear, bunkers feel safe. We're afraid engaging will make things worse. We can't handle feeling so vulnerable. Fear pushes us to dig in deeper, to hide away, to avoid the scary space outside our bunker.
To be fair, our fear is not without merit. Have you ever felt defeated after trying to bring peace to a warring marriage? Have you ever noticed what a rarity it is for someone to change their political views? Opinions abound, but why does the shouting leave minds unchanged? Fear exhausts us, drains our motivation, and pins us down. Only once we recognize how fear is controlling us can we have any hope of moving out of our bunker.
In the case of my hurting friend, fear drove out love. Our hearts only have room for one or the other. If it's true that "there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18), we can also assume that fear can cast out love. Are your roots growing in fear or love?
In many ways, pride addresses what fear causes. Fear makes us feel out of control and powerless. Pride tricks us into believing we have control and all the power. Pride keeps us in our bunker just as much as fear does, keeping us right where we are out of the belief that no one else is as right as we are.
When the great King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam was handed the crown. The people begged him to lighten the oppressive, crushing workload forced upon them by his father.
King Rehoboam told them he would consider their request and give them an answer in three days. A group of wise, experienced advisers said, "If you will be kind to these people and please them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants" (2 Chronicles 10:7). But his group of foolish buddies advised, "Now tell them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions'" (2 Chronicles 10:10-11).
Rehoboam's pride clouded his judgment. He listened to his foolish friends, choosing to rule as a tyrant bully. He was the king, thinking he deserved to do whatever he wanted.
The Israelites felt completely abandoned. The country was no longer their country. As for Rehoboam, his life was soon in peril. He escaped the self-inflicted rebellion, but his Chief of Forced Labor was not so lucky. (You know you're a bad leader when you have a Chief of Forced Labor.) The people stoned that man to death. He was simply the ugly face of the king's pride — pride that led to his demise and, in some ways, the demise of the nation.
Romans 12:16 says, "Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight" (esv). Hebrews 7:26 uses a variation of the word translated "haughty" to describe Jesus' exaltation above the heavens. The word aptly describes him but ought never to describe us. A haughty person acts as if they deserve the exaltation. They assume they are high above the rest.
Haughty people love their bunkers so much that they can't possibly imagine ever being wrong. The progression may go like this:
1. I think I am right.
2. I know I am right.
3. Because I am right, they are wrong.
4. Because I must stand for what's right, I must attack those who are wrong.
5. Because I am right, I'm better than them.
You may get to step 1 (thinking you are right) quickly, and there's nothing wrong with that. You can even have a civil and productive discussion at step 3 (believing you are right and the other is wrong). But step 4 (attacking the person with whom you disagree) drops you straight into a bunker. It's why you need great discernment about ever moving past step 1.
Sometimes you'll need to drop all opinions and just learn. Other times, you should hold a loose opinion or strong conviction. It depends on the subject. You can do all of those things well in the first three steps. But once you move to step 4 or 5, you harm the relationship. It's rare for a person to work their way out of their bunker and back up the progression. Once you are right and better than me, and once I'm wounded from your attacks, our relationship plummets into deep trouble. Pride will hamper any honest attempts toward truth or peace.
DEFENSE TO OFFENSE
Fear and pride work in a destructive cycle, making us defensive of our position, closed to considering any ideas from opposing bunkers. And in our defensiveness, we end up navigating serious life issues as if we were rooting for college football teams.
When I moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1998, I quickly learned that Tulsa is made up of three types of people: Oklahoma Sooner fans, Oklahoma State Cowboy fans, and people who are sick of hearing about both of them. (Few fall into this third category.)
People here are crazy about college sports, especially college football. And while there's some good-natured ribbing, there's some genuine hatred, too. Both colleges have had their fair share of scandals, dishonest coaches, and law-breaking players. Every time a distasteful story hits the news, some fans of the other school act as though Santa has landed on the roof. They laugh and mock. They grow giddy with excitement. But the truth is, they don't need scandals and other failures to propel the hostility forward. The simple division of sports loyalties can create an unhealthy anger and foster dehumanization of the other side.
Unfortunately, we can increasingly see this scenario playing out in a host of other contexts. I once officiated a wedding in which I was warned about how much the two families disliked each other. The ushers were told to be careful to seat people on their designated sides of the chapel. I asked the groom why the two families had such animosity. He couldn't remember. It wasn't anything big. A small disagreement had spiraled out of control.
Proverbs 18:19 says, "A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city; disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel." From Jack speaks/Walls get higher; bunkers get deeper; acts harshly or carelessly boardrooms to living rooms, this verse is played out right in front of us every day. As we recoil from fear and cling to our pride, our words become reactionary and careless. One harsh word can spiral us into a never-ending feud:
When feuds escalate, the roots of our bunker mentality grow into a poisonous tree, and everyone loses. Wounded people tend to wound people. Hurt people hurt people. The offended become the offenders. And when a war breaks out, people choose sides.
We're all too familiar with this in our culture. It's been happening for a while, but I found myself first really bowled over by it in 2012.
President Obama's signature piece of legislation during his first term in office was the Affordable Care Act (often called Obamacare). Debates about the government's role in health-care issues quickly escalated across the country. Heated arguments erupted everywhere: the halls of Congress, TV and radio talk shows, Internet blogs, and many personal conversations.
People clambered to their bunkers.
The health-care issue became dominated by two extreme camps. 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."
Do you see how this language forced people into separate camps? There was no tolerance for those unwilling to declare an enemy, to pick sides. Pride and fear mingled, putting people into bunkers — pride in one's own position being absolutely right and fear of the implications of the other position — and the cycle of anger around health care continues even as I write this book years later. Sigh.
I'm not advocating we think unclearly or uncritically about important issues. Just the opposite. Health care and our government's role in such things deserve robust discussion and debate. I'm just suggesting we learn to do so without lobbing a grenade that will blast destruction in every direction. Extreme statements don't help anyone think clearly about an issue. They only divide people and cloud clarity.
If you find yourself in a bunker, mad and ready to attack, you need to ask God to examine your roots. You probably won't spot the problems on your own — few of us can. Each of us should turn our ears to wise people and the quiet whispers of God. Fear, pride, and violent cycles poison roots. The leaves on the plant may look green for a while, but not for long. The toxins in the roots will soon spread, and the whole plant will wither.
Tim Keller taught me to look for the "sin beneath the sin." It's easy to notice when someone is arrested for abusing his wife, but we'll have to look closer to find what's really wrong. Beneath the eye-catching sin is a "sin beneath the sin" (like unresolved anger). It's this "sin beneath the sin" that poisons roots, and it's not something we can fix. Only God heals hearts. Only God heals roots. Only he has the power to dig deep enough to repair our spiritual brokenness. It's his specialty.
1. Is fear driving out love in your life? From where does this fear come?
2. How are you tempted to be prideful? What helps you overcome that pride?
3. What cycles of hate or violence do you see in your world?
4. Is there a "sin beneath the sin" in your life that needs to be addressed?
5. Whom can you ask to help you grow healthier roots?
Excerpted from "Dancing in No Man's Land"
Copyright © 2018 Brian Jennings.
Excerpted by permission of NavPress.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I Bunkerology
1 Roots 3
2 Spiritual Threat 11
3 Collateral Damage 21
4 Friend or Foe 31
5 Are You in a Bunker? 41
Part II No Man's Land
6 Daunting and Inviting 51
7 Grace and Truth 57
8 Wisdom and Tact 69
9 Gentleness and Strength 85
10 Conviction and Discernment 95
11 Shrewdness and Innocence 107
12 Humility and Courage 117
Part III Paths to Freedom
13 The Way Through 131
14 Divided Diversity 135
15 Political Mayhem 153
16 Class Warfare 165
17 Generational Discord 179
18 Faith Fights 187
Epilogue: A Hill on Which to Die 199
Also Brian Jennings 207
What People are Saying About This
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to be “peacemakers,” not “peacekeepers.” There’s an important and profound difference between those two. Peacekeepers hunker down in the bunker, prepared to deal with any conflict that may stumble upon them, but peacemakers get out of the bunker, venture into no man’s land, and do the hard work of “making” peace. In this well-written, engaging, and practical book, Brian Jennings doesn’t just provide the motivation to get out of our bunkers and point toward a safe path through no man’s landhe also reveals the steps necessary to ultimately dance in the midst of our journey toward a more peaceful world.
Bunkers feel safe and comfortable. In a complex world, living in a bunker seems reasonable. Brian Jennings, however, reveals to us how our bunkers, silos, and self-segregation away from those who think and live differently from us are actually a form of war rather than peacemaking. When we think we’re being protective, we are actually being aggressive in ways that distract from the gospel of Jesus. But more than that, Brian shows us paths to peace and freedom.
I have a friend with great courage. Rather than choosing to battle and scheme from the protection of a fortified bunker, Brian Jennings has elected to venture out and offer peace. Do you long to offer hope to those outside your hunkered-down beliefs? Well, Dancing in No Man’s Land will equip and enable you to leave your bunker and engage with others in peaceful dialogue. There is a land between the bunkers that only a few find. Brian Jennings will show you the way.
Brian writes with clarity, passion, and simplicity about issues that are critical to anyone who longs to find a faithful way to engage in a divisive culture. His engagement with Scripture as well as culturally significant moments makes this a helpful and challenging read. His pastoral passion is clear and compelling throughout the worka strong, constructive read!
I’ve given my life to building bridges in the name of Jesus. Dancing in No Man’s Land will become a valuable tool for those laboring with me. If you care about reconciliation, truth, and peace, this book is for you. Brian Jennings digs underneath the layers of hostility in our world and shows us how to emerge in the light. Our families, communities, and country will be radically changed when we begin living the principles from this book. I pray the change will begin with you.
In these times, when it seems like we’re surrounded by conversations waiting to go wrong, I’m grateful for Brian’s call back to the way of Jesus. Let’s step forward into our relationships with thoughtfulness and wisdom, understanding that truth and grace work best when offered together.
For anyone wanting discipleship toward truth and peace, Jennings offers a desperately needed guide to recognize the idols of “bunker living” and learn to leave them behind. Of course, entering no man’s land won’t be easy or painless. But, beloved church, please listen to this trustworthy guide. Let’s navigate the complications of this age with Jesus’ own prayer in sight: unity.