Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
The five of us have been sitting around the same antique table on a semi-monthly for more than four years. We rarely see each outside of these monthly get-togethers, yet I consider these women to be among some of my dearest friends. We come from different backgrounds, different demographics, and different parts of the metro Chicago area, yet we always have one thing in common – our mutual interest in facilitating each other’s spiritual accountability by engaging in respectful faith sharing.
We began meeting as part of a small group through the Unitarian Universalist church that we were attending at the time. Since then, our group’s members have changed slightly – some members leaving and a new member joining – but the purpose of the group has always been the same.
We eat. We drink. We talk. We share.
We talk about food and wine and sex and God. We talk about our jobs and our kids and our spouses and our spirituality.
We share our dreams, our insecurities, our doubts, and our faith. We share our joys and concerns. We share our thoughts and ideas about what it means to live a life of compassion, generosity, justice, and spirituality. We share our life stories and our faith stories.
And in doing so, we share the deepest parts of ourselves. We share our faith and we share our relationship with God. We share our most vulnerable and sensitive beliefs, laying ourselves raw and fully open to the possibility of knowing each other on a deeper level.
In talking about our beliefs and sharing our faith with each other, we have granted one another a rare glimpse into the deepest recesses of our souls – a place that many of us don’t even let our closest friends and family members see.
You see, we live in a society that shuns faith sharing. We are scared of it. We are afraid of being judged and we are afraid of judging. We are afraid that if we talk about sensitive and personal issues such as faith and spirituality that we might be forced to acknowledge that there are differences between us.
But when we do this, we forget that differences do not need to divide us; rather, acknowledging differences can be a means of expanding our options and opening our minds. When we talk about beliefs – not necessarily what we believe but why we believe – we grant ourselves the opportunity to know someone on a deeper level and open our minds to alternative perspectives. When we share our faith – not just how we practice our faith but how our faith shapes our life – we give someone else the gift of knowing us more intimately.
So ask me what I believe; I will tell you. And I will, in turn, ask you what you believe in the hopes that we can embark on an educational conversation, in which we both learn something about each other and our respective faiths.
If you shy away from religious or spiritual conversations, ask yourself two questions: Am I uncomfortable with this conversation because I am afraid that I will be judged? Or am I uncomfortable with this conversation because I am unsure of what I believe?
If it is the former, and there is a genuine fear of judgment, feel empowered to say so. Let the listener know that you fear that you will be judged. If the other person tends to judge, they deserve to be called out on it. On the other hand, your fear of judgment may be unwarranted and you owe the other person the benefit of the doubt.
I suspect, however, that fear of judgment is not the only thing that keeps us from talking about our faith. Many of us shy away from conversations about our faith simply because we are unsure of what we believe. We have doubts. We have questions. We see inconsistencies and, regardless of how strong our faith is, there are times when we just don’t know what we believe. But if you look into your heart – I mean really look into your heart – you just might come to some conclusions about your faith and spiritual beliefs. There is no shame in admitting your doubts. In fact, acknowledging doubts is a critical part of an authentic faith.
Evangelism is not a dirty word. Evangelism (not to be confused with evangelical) is about faith sharing – listening to the beliefs and faiths of someone else without the expectation of conversion. Evangelism is not the act of proselytizing, which is a dictatorial one-sided persuasive commentary; rather, evangelism is the participation in a responsible and respectful conversation that involves a full and fair informational exchange.
For many of us, our faith – or lack of faith – is a large part of who we are and how we live our lives. By refraining from talking about our faith, we are preventing ourselves from really getting to know others, including those people who are closest to us. And when we fail to know and understand others and ourselves, we are ultimately preventing ourselves from fully knowing the power of a graceful and compassionate God.