My father was not an especially cautious — or consistent — man. But he could be a very wise man. And something he said has stayed with me. He said, "The middle way is a waste of time."

He didn't mean the "middle way" that Buddhists describe — the one where people find wholeness by avoiding divisions. He was talking as a Christian. And he meant the middle way between "good and evil" "the world and the kingdom of God." He was saying "When the choices are black and white, life's too short to choose gray."

And yet we all do it to a degree.

The young couple that tries to keep their vows of chastity while looking for ways to express their attraction for each other.

The wealthy soul who pastes a "God is my co-pilot" bumper sticker on his Rolls-Royce.

We think we're smart enough to figure out a "third way" of doing things. Not the world's way, not God's way, but another path that will lead us where we want to go.

Years ago in Albuquerque I stopped by a group home to visit with some Franciscan monks. They were living pretty well. I asked them how they kept their focus.

"None of this stuff belongs to us," one of them said. "It belongs to the order. We own nothing. We've taken a vow of poverty."

Still, it wasn't hard to notice that the order owned some pretty nifty cars, Italian shoes and Rolex watches.

The middle way takes you nowhere.

It's a cul-de-sac without an exit.

Pick a side and commit.

I remember when a Utah high school drama department decided it wanted to mount the musical "Chorus Line?" They wanted all the verve and Broadway buzz that went with the show — all the hip references and attitudes — but didn't want the earthy language. So they went through and changed all the words they found offensive.

They were looking for the middle way — the best of both worlds. They got neither world right.

They ended up bogged down in the mire.

Everyone from New York to California was upset with them.

In short, they were looking to strike a balance. But by having one foot on one side of the fence and a second foot on the other, they didn't find balance. They got themselves high-centered.

They got stuck.

And so it goes with the rest of us.

When we take principles such as honesty, cleanliness, trust and obedience and try to find a "third way" of applying them — a way of balancing between the two sides of the same coin like those hapless kids in "Chorus Line," we end up with nowhere to go.

Life is too short for an "occasional fix."

It's too short for an "occasional fling," "occasional cruelty" or "occasional embezzlement" or an "occasional betrayal."

My father, for all his personal struggles, got that one right.

The "middle way" is no way at all. It leads to no-man's-land.

And in my case, it takes a great deal of effort — not to mention support and repentance — just to recognize that middle path to nowhere and stay off of it.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com