Managing Director’s Note: beginning in the Spring of 2013, all Contributing Scholars will answer the following question as their first post: Why are you committed to building relationships with those from different religious or ethical traditions?
“Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?” the stranger asked me in the Reynolds Club café. Students from across the Chicago theological consortium gather at the Reynolds Club to build relationships with those from different religious and ethical traditions. Having just left the Church of the Nazarene due to my sexual orientation, I was looking for acceptance anywhere I could find it. I had just purchased my books from the Seminary Co-Op and was anxious for my program to begin. The stranger awaited my answer with either compassion or lunacy in his eyes; I didn’t know him well enough to differentiate. I was prepared to answer ‘yes’ to his question, but I was curious to see where this conversation would lead. So, like a good contrarian, I said, “But I’m gay.” “Jesus can help you with that,” he responded. As coffee-drinking seminarians affixed their eyes on the stranger and me. Perhaps they were anticipating a Jerry Springer moment in the hallowed halls of the University of Chicago. But, as I looked around the café through my eyes of hurt and rejection, I sensed the lookers-on were telling me to be strong and of good courage. I heard through their intentional eye contact wishes for peace and comfort and hope. And so, even though I had not yet begun my program of study, I felt surrounded by colleagues and dialogue partners who were anxious to demonstrate to me a God of love, despite this stranger’s personal agenda that I conform to his narrow ideal of the Christian life.
In everything I submit here, I hope to communicate the same feelings of peace and comfort and hope to the readers and contributors of State of Formation. Many of us come to seminary with our personal agendas and preconceptions, but as our readings and discussions strip away our naïveté, may we approach one another as supporters. Let us not anticipate Jerry Springer moments of self-righteousness, but rather, let us approach one another with humility, curiosity, and graciousness.
I could have responded to the stranger with defensiveness and hostility. Who says, “Jesus can help you with that,” anyway? Well, he did. As a minister in training, I decided to muster all the integrity I could and approach the stranger as I hope Jesus would approach me:
“And who is Jesus to you?” I asked the stranger.
“Ah, Jesus is life. Let me tell you about what he means to me.”
That is all it took. Curiosity rather than condemnation. May we all be curious about one another as we prepare to be faithful to our congregations and nonprofit organizations. And may God, however we understand God, bless us on our respective journeys.