My faith is a deeply important aspect of my life. It permeates everything I do and every decision I make. It has shaped who I am and is a core part of my identity. Yet oddly, I rarely talk about it with others, at least not with people who don’t share my views. Why? Because I am afraid. Afraid of offending. Afraid of being viewed as judgmental, close-minded or just plain naïve. Afraid of rejection, of pushing people away because my views are different from theirs. In our culture, being religious (of any faith) is becoming less and less the norm (there was a great article in the NY Times about this but I have no idea how to search the archives without the title!). Now, values like tolerance, open-mindedness and relativism are the new ‘religion’ of the day. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I have found that living in a city with highly diverse cultural and social norms has helped me to really own what I believe rather than just following along with the crowd (coming from someone who was raised in the Bible belt but didn’t really know Jesus until college).
What I’m saying is this: I wish there was more of an open dialogue between people of different faiths and value systems(including agnostics and atheists). I think we could learn a lot from each other. There are so many questions I’ve been dying to ask my friends who have different views from mine, but I am afraid of making it awkward. Think back to Greco-Roman times, when, as I understand it, dialogue of any kind was highly valued. There was a lot of discussion, healthy debate, curiosity and questions. People were constantly asking: What is the purpose of life? Is there a god? Are we born with an innate moral code? What happens when we die? And there was a chance for everyone to talk, to share their perspective and to even be challenged by others who saw things differently. (Note: I think I’m idealizing their culture just a tad. As you see in the picture above, it looks like a bunch of rich white guys sitting around doing all the philosophizing, when I’m wondering: Where are the women, children and slaves? Probably working their butts off to keep the city running while these guys have the luxury of pondering the deep questions of life). But my point is this:
I wish we could talk about our religious beliefs with freedom rather than fear.
And when I say ‘talk,’ I’m not referring to that bash-you-over-the-head with a Bible kind of talk, nor the obnoxious protesting with posters of unborn fetuses. Side note: after seeing a bunch of Christian protestors do just that on my university campus and saw how it deeply offended my friends and turned them off to Christianity, I attended a pro-choice rally just to spite them. So there.).
No, the kind of dialogue I am talking about consists of lots of questions, lots of listening, and a genuine curiosity to understand. I want to ask things like: How does your faith play out in your daily life? How do your views affect how you parent? How you view money? Sex? Marriage? Friendship? Right and wrong? I would love to know these things but I am afraid to ask. I don’t want them to think I’m trying to convert them or initiate a debate. And perhaps that is where some of the fear has come from: We Christians think that it’s our job to convince people to accept our views. When, in reality, who wants to talk to somebody who obviously has an agenda? It’s no different from a telemarketer or solicitor who is trying to sell you his product. When we Christians start aggressively marketing Jesus, that’s when we get into trouble.
Note: in my previous life, I taught ESL to international students who came from countries all over the world to learn English. I found it quite easy to engage with them about their belief systems. I have fond memories of being invited into my Muslim students’ homes and watching in awe as the girls ‘let their hair down’ (literally) in front me, no longer hidden beneath their colorful hijabs. I remember talking about all kinds of girly things with them, like our favorite shows and recipes and home decorating tips and I remember thinking: they are not that different from me! So maybe that awkwardness I feel is more of an American thing?! Or maybe I am just really insecure and slightly neurotic, even border-line crazy as I wrote in my previous post: Am I Going Crazy?
But I should also say this: even within Christian circles, we have our differences. I confess, I used to be an aggressive Jesus marketer (well, as aggressive as a people pleaser can be. I thought of myself as ‘charming’ and ‘strategic.’ But don’t get me wrong, I was being winsome to win some, literally). But as I have matured in my faith, I don’t feel the pressure I once did to ‘convert’ people. It helps that my theology has shifted to believe that God is fully in control, down to the detailed matters of individual faith. What that’s allowed me to do is acknowledge that it is God who does the work, I’m just the lucky bystander. And boy, does that take a lot of pressure off. Now, my hope is to be faithful to the people and situations He puts in my path. Sometimes that means not shying away from talking about my faith, as I tend to be quite fearful of offending someone who may not believe the way I do or value the things I value. But other times, that means shutting my mouth and asking lots of questions, seeking to understand rather than be understood. As with most things, there is a healthy balance. I pray daily that God will show me what that looks like because I am not the most discerning person. I am more of the live-in-the-moment-and-experience-the-consequences-of-my-actions-later type.
It’s a tricky dance, living out our faith. Many of us are trying to please God and people. And that doesn’t usually work out so well. But I pray that we would all engage in the dance, that we would get out on that floor, no matter how awkward we might feel and how stupid we think we look, and just go with it, move with the music. Let the dancer within us come out, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it may feel. And like dancing, it probably gets easier the more you do it. I might just try it.
Lord, help me not to be so afraid to talk about what I care most deeply about: YOU. Show me how to live out my faith in a loving, yet honest way. Show me how to genuinely love people, as they are, no matter how different they may be from me. I pray for our culture, that we would be willing to engage in healthy discussion and questions about our beliefs with grace and respect and a curiosity to learn from one another. I pray especially for protection from fear, shame, and judgment as I struggle daily with what it looks like to live out my faith in a truly God-honoring, people-loving way. Thank You for Your amazing love that never runs out, that is always constant, that endures forever. I love you. Amen.