A wise mentor once told me that to truly understand another’s beliefs is to be tempted by them. This requires a certain love for the truth that extends beyond a certainty that you’ve already found it. Such a genuine love of truth, and the ruthless pursuit of it, is ultimately a search for God. Most every faith tradition teaches this, though few of us are brave enough to trust it. Instead, we embed ourselves deep within our tribes, or so privatize our beliefs to the point of aloofness toward other’s, that we miss the deeper possibilities of understanding. Such understanding could make for a kind of friendship with others that that few of us ever experience.
This applies to religion, and it applies to politics too. I’ll admit to being one of those undecided voters. As I’ve listened to speeches from the two conventions, I like some of what I hear from each. But in the zero-sum state of our political culture, I’m not allowed to think that way. I have to choose one way the other with no expectation that the feuding sides will ever govern together for the sake of the country they both serve. Winning is the most important thing.
Growing up in the Bible belt and weaned on the urgency of evangelism, I was taught how to turn every conversation to spiritual matters for heaven’s sake. I spent a summer on an “evangelism project” where a tote board scored the number of spiritual conversations you had over the course of any given day. It worked as a way to get us college students to open up about our faith. But I don’t remember remembering any of the names of the people I spoke with. When evangelism was regularly discussed in the churches I led (albeit with decreasing frequency), I often asked whether people would still care about the those with whom they shared their faith if that faith was rejected. The question went to the importance of motivation. Love has to be the fuel.
There was one guy I met in college named Mitch. He listened to me talk about my faith, but wasn’t interested in it. I listened to him talk about his life, and we stayed friends for the rest of the time we were in college. We’d talk without keeping score the way that guys do. We even discussed on occasion our fears and hopes and questions about life, the way that guys never do.
Some years later Mitch somehow found my phone number in Boston and called to tell me he’d become a Christian. He said that his new-found faith wasn’t specifically connected to our conversations back in college (a lot had happened since), but he’d remembered our talking and how meaningful the friendship had been to him, and because he heard I’d become a minister he thought I’d like to know. And he wanted to make sure I got a few points for the win.