last wednesday at our house of refuge we had an interesting and challenging conversation that was all over the place related to theology. i thought it was so beautiful because in most of my christian experience if someone had been saying a few of the things that were being said they would have most definitely been slammed with the “i need to tell you what the Bible says” schtick and immediately shut it down. as a pastor in this community i had this odd and crazy moment where i consciously thought “this is why groups become homogeneous around doctrine; it is way easier that way.” we also joked that some of our “evangelometers” were going off (my friend tami created this word). any guess on what an evangelometer is? we like to joke that it’s the little red dial that says “warning, warning, warning, this is a direct violation of what i have been taught as a good evangelical christian.” my evangelometer has been trained to recognize violations of “biblical-truth-the-way-i-was-trained-to-interpret-it ” and to “look out for certain words that might imply inclusivity or wisdom-from-anywhere-else-than-the-Bible.” living in the tension of a wide range of people who are at all different places on the journey–some as dedicated to Jesus as they were from their initial conversion experience to those who are in the process of questioning the whole kit and kaboodle to everything in between–is definitely an art and not a science.
i also think it is a way to practice love.
to learn to listen.
to learn to stick with our own experience, strength, and hope and respect that others have their own, too.
to learn that we don’t have the market cornered on God.
to consider what the beatitudes might mean in real life.
to trust that God is at work in these moments, and maybe it’s not so much about the theological nuts and bolts of the conversation, but actually what’s happening underneath relationally–in our hearts and in our words and in our actions. i think these moments are a great opportunity to love God, love our neighbors, love ourselves well.
what happens is people get to interact with others who see things differently than them but learn to respect their journey even if it’s very different from our own beliefs. that’s loving people where they are instead of only loving them when they believe what we believe.
what happens is people learn to listen and ponder instead of feeling the need to interject and change someone’s mind. that’s also loving people well by honoring their story.
what happens is we learn to let go of feeling the desperate need to control someone’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and trust God is big enough to handle it. that’s loving God well because it implies our trust instead of our fear.
what happens is we have a space to share from our own experience, beliefs, and journey, too, even if it is radically different from the other persons. that is loving ourselves well and honoring our own story in freedom. and loving others well, too, because we are bringing our real selves into the relationship instead of hiding in fear that maybe we’re too conservative or too liberal or too something-or-other for others to love.
one of the reasons i am so passionate about diversity in groups is that without it, we can’t really learn so many important things. it’s why i’m not a huge fan of “coffee shop church” because if we’re honest, we usually only go to coffee with people that we like. learning to live in the presence of others who are very different from us (in ways far beyond theology) is such a powerful teacher. Jesus modeled this over and over in the gospels and we all know how tricky it was for the pharisees to be around “those people.” for the most part, this us and them thing often continues because we all like to take the path of least resistance; it’s a natural phenomenon for groups and churches to be homogeneous around doctrine, life-stages, socioeconomics, etc. no doubt, that is safer. easier. a lot more fun sometimes, ha ha.
but one of the best things that has ever happened to me was getting out of the typical christian married-with-kids-in-soccer-and-living-in-the-suburbs-with-a-bunch-of-people-just-like-us ghetto and going down to the wrong side of town. or the wrong side of christian faith where doubt and questions live. down to where lots of average people live and are wrestling with how to stay alive and find hope in the midst. down to where no one gives a rip about predestination or theories of atonement. down to where evangelometers don’t matter but love and presence does.
yeah, i’m not saying evangelometers are bad. i’m saying we need to find ways to stay in the conversations even when they start screaming “warning, warning, warning.” we need to practice kindness and respect. we need to not be afraid that just because someone else is questioning their faith that means we have to give up ours. we need to rest in the beautiful confidence that God is always teaching us if we will listen. we need to let go of our need to convince others and just live our own life well. we need to bravely stay in conversations that make us feel uncomfortable and keep asking ourselves “why is it so hard to let others believe something differently than us?”
oh, so much can be learned through true authentic diverse community if we will let it. if we will put our evangelometers on silent and keep asking ourselves “how would i like to be treated in this moment? how can i love well? how can i listen well? what can i learn about myself, my faith, my life through these conversations? what am i afraid of?
i love what danielle shroyer recently wrote about conversation as a spiritual discipline. i think so much spiritual transformation is possible through diverse, kind, respectful, interesting, loving dialogue with people in different places on their journies of life and faith. she writes:
“Friendship is a full-contact sport because when you have respect and trust between two people, robust conversation is not scary but life-giving. It’s a game you can play without fear of losing your friendship. You can play your hardest on the field, and go out for drinks afterward. In an increasingly diverse world, I believe this deeply held commitment to respectful conversation is one of the most potentially transformational gifts we can offer the world. One of my biggest hopes is for the Church to embody and practice the spiritual discipline of true conversation.”
my hope is that we can have these conversations not just with those outside our own faith communities, but within them as well. it’s definitely an opportunity to learn the ways of love.