Recently I went before my presbytery to move forward in my ordination process and had to face a variety of questions about myself and my calling asked by church pastors and elders. I stood before that fine group of people with my soul bare and naked and I attempted to answer their questions as best I could. I managed to give an answer to every question, but there is one question I’m still wrestling with: “Tell us about the last time you interacted with – had a conversation with – a non-believer.”
I looked down at the ground, shuffled my feet, and tried to figure out when that last time was… when did I last interact with a non-believer? Outside of the cashiers and other service-people I had given my money to, I couldn’t think of an honest and real interaction I’ve had recently.
My realization in that moment wasn’t a shock to me because I live in an insular community: I live with, eat with, study with, and recreate with my seminary classmates. I haven’t ventured out to make friends outside this place because I’ve never before experienced a place where I can so freely ask questions about faith, about God, about church, and not have to worry about my questions. While I haven’t recently had a conversation with a non-believer, I’ve realized that it’s been a very healthy few years of solely-Christian based conversations.
Seminary has been a place for me to wonder, to grow, to mull…a place where I have been able to get a better understanding of my beliefs, my faith, and my church. Seminary has been a place where I have been able to discern, discuss, and debate…all while feeling free of judgement, ridicule, and persecution. I have been able to hone my thoughts, understand who I am, and who I am in relation to God.
But realizing that it’s been nearly three years since I’ve last had a “real world” conversation, I know that I need to step out beyond these grounds and get back into those spaces. Not because the world needs me, but because I need it. I need those discussions, those push-backs, those disagreements. I need opposition to help me grow.
May we find time to sit and talk with people who don’t share our same beliefs. May we make room in our lives for different ideas…opinions…and thoughts.
May we welcome disagreements and respond in compassion and love.
much love. sheth.