“So I read that little book you gave me,” he says, and further comments that, “it’s religious”.
“Kinda,” I say, as he rings up my groceries. He asks me what religion I am, and I mention Christian and then he asks which denomination. And I want to tell him denominations are stupid but instead I say protestant. He replies, “What do you like about it?” And I’m still at a loss for how quickly we’ve begun talking about religion because I don’t really talk to people outside of church about my faith. I find myself just saying, “Jesus,” to which he moves another item and says, “Well yeah the J-man is cool.” Instead he shifts and asks how long I’ve been doing it, I reply since summer, “something you found your way back to?” he asks. “It’s a long story,” I say, “but a well written one,” he replies. And I feel hopeful.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about denial and how the first time I read about Jesus’ prediction about how Peter will deny him I felt stunned. After the first time I read it, I re-read it and prayed to never deny Jesus. Yet there are moments where I feel like I minimize my faith. How do you find the balance between steadfast love and tolerance?
You see for years there were moments before I accepted Jesus, moments of people swooping in and trying to evangelize me. I don’t want to be the kind of Christians I have met; the ones who invest in the journey of another person’s salvation for themselves. I feel bad that religion scares some people but at the same time, I totally understand it. Religion is scary. Anything different can be scary.
I attended a conference this weekend. Glocal. Keynote speakers to present ideas and important narratives on missions. I walked in on Friday evening and sat in a pew. They presented a slide with a simple illustrative diagram of the words you me and God. There was a line drawn diagonally and on one side me and God on the other side of the line the word you. I realized I had spent a lot of my life feeling like the you. Especially in my time being around Christians during the height of my struggle to accept Jesus, it was always them and God, it was always what I had never had. I felt like such an outsider, like the other. I’m figuring out how to avoid making others feel that way.
We are invited to turn to someone near us and answer the question of what we think about when we hear the word mission. I immediately think of colonialism, of the last resort, of us and them, of things falling apart, of power, and the wind blowing the grass across the land, of the evangelical pastor talking about global Christianity, of how I walked out of the sermon, of the born again trying to talk his way into a seat on the bus to go to mexico, of the man in the writing group who visited Africa and passed out salvation flyers that read, “there is an answer.” As these memories crept in, I knew I was in the right place. I turned to Paul, the worship leader who read psalm 46: 4-6 three years ago as I listened and cried and felt the possibility of being cracked open.
I spoke with Paul about colonialism and my aversion to mission trips, my lack of understanding, the poor examples I’ve seen. He says he identifies with my struggle and I feel surprised.
The wheels in my brain continue to move as I return the next day and learn about culture and what influences it and how culture can limit our ability to connect to the other. Rev. Sunitha Mortha walks us through a moving presentation on narratives and culture and what influences our interpretation of the other. I shake my head in awe at the dialogues I’ve never heard in a faith based setting but college lectures. I feel impressed. Understood. At peace. I also feel an obligation to use these ideas to further understand my quiet story of faith and how to go about sharing it.