You know how so many people think that topics you should avoid in conversation include religion, politics and sports? And this is not confined to the US. When I lived in Mexico long ago during a semester of college, I had a Mexican friend that I hung out with quite a bit remind me of this social norm (there, you especially avoid arguing about your favorite soccer team). He was surprised that I didn’t follow the norm very well. Well, I am not well-versed on sports teams (I think I am more like the Lego Movie citizens who just say “gooooo sports team” because it is what you are supposed to say). I have to admit that I don’t care enough about professional sports to work on that deficiency (sorry sports fans). As for politics, I’m not going to go there…but I do care about what people think and why.
But I really do enjoy conversations about faith. I love to hear different perspectives; I love to hear why people believe what they do, and what their questions are—whether related to their own faith or different faiths. I love to learn about how culture can affect religion and religion affect culture. I also love to share why my faith is so important to me, and how it causes me to value people and want to be a learner for life. I love to talk about Jesus – an amazing person and a polarizing figure throughout history. Real talk. Spiritual conversations don’t have to lead to tension and taking offense—it can just be sharing life. And sharing life is a huge step towards feeling known, connected, and cared for.
This summer, on our Portlandia summer mission, we had the joy of taking public transportation around Portland to a variety of college campuses to talk with students about their spiritual backgrounds and perspectives. We also had the opportunity to engage with the houseless of Portland and a wide range of other Portlanders by serving with different nonprofits—coming alongside them to learn how they care for and serve the poor in a big city. In addition, the staff ran training times covering topics ranging from how to study the Bible, how to use certain evangelism tools, being a learner in cross-cultural contexts, and even learning about the racism in Portland’s history. I did a training on the importance of both Grace AND Truth in relationships – something I care a ton about. In addition, we had some great connection time in smaller discipleship groups with just a few students, and some one-on-one mentorship times. Jeremiah and I traded off and on watching the kids, so we could both participate in the summer mission as much as possible.
I really enjoyed some of the spiritual conversations I had around Portland. So many of the people I talked to—albeit from incredibly wide-ranging experiences and backgrounds—were not phased at all by the topic of religion. In fact, they seemed to enjoy sharing their perspectives. I’ve decided that, overall, people like talking about what they think. They are thankful to have someone take an interest in them and their thoughts (in a deeper way than a facebook “like” or a rant), and to have a respectful conversation, even if it involves a difference of opinion.
There were, however, many days that I just stayed with the kids because Jeremiah was on campus and helping to lead trainings. We sometimes went to parks or checked out Buttes to hike around, or walked to Safeway for groceries. Or we did crafts, played games and read books at the house we were staying at. In that way, it wasn’t that different than a summer at home. Whether at home or in Portland, I also like to talk to my kids about life and faith. It is just part of our family’s mode—we talk to our kids about deep life issues, and think about how our faith affects how we view the world. It just feels normal—processing life with them, asking questions, considering why things are the way they are and what the Bible and Jesus have to do with our day to day lives. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But conversations don’t have to have beginnings and endings all the time… I take seriously the concept in Deuteronomy 11:19, where God says to his people that they should speak of Him and His teachings in the midst of life (“Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”).
It is fun and right to make spiritual conversation normal and applicable to our lives, not confined to a certain “Bible study time” or church on Sunday. When it is in the midst of life, it means it is also in the context of my mess-ups as well as theirs, and we are able to truly talk about why I believe Christianity holds such a hope-filled message that is for imperfect people NOT trying to posture their way into religious superiority, but accepting God’s amazing grace.
In the same way, why should it be weird to talk about spiritual things with friends? I want to know more about how my friends process life. I don’t want to stick to conversations about weather, career, and kids’ activities. I want to feel real connection. So lets choose respect and seek to listen and understand one another; lets avoid ambivalence and judgmentalism.