San Francisco has a unique way of breeding relationships that go beyond the surface. It’s aura of parks, coffee shops, and common living spaces facilities connection and community that are life-giving to me. This reflect God’s beauty, and reflects heaven to me, even with all the brokeness in the City.
And especially meaningful to me have been the conversations about life, world view, and more that I have shared with dozens of people from all walks of life. Since some of San Francisco’s coffee shops are designed to facilitate connection between people, it’s quite common for others to join into a conversation I’m in.
I’ve shared about these kinds of conversations I have in coffee shops with a wide number of Christians. And I’m often asked how I am able to engage on this world-view level with those outside the church and not get into an argument. To me, such inquiries are a commentary on how much of a bubble Christians live in (at least here in the Western world). I’ve also been often asked how hard it is to live as a Christian here in San Francisco. The common assumption here is that living and interacting in such a liberal place can be hard on the faith. Certainly, this context can be hard for many, but it can also be a hotbed for spiritual growth. It’s no wonder that missionaries often say that Christianity is so much more beautiful in lands where faith is persecuted and one’s world view is put to the test.
I’ve personally been so blessed through many of my conversations with people who hold different world views than me. If you’ve ever heard the common metaphor that likens our faith to a muscle that needs to be exercised, then you’d understand how these conversations can stretch your faith. Though I’ve received apologetics training from world-class philosophers, I’m often in conversation with people who are much more philosophically trained than I’ll ever be. I’m not out to proselytize people, but as much as I allow my own views to be tested, I’ll put other’s views to the test. And sometimes, the other party will humbly tell me how their view of Christianity has been radically changed by our conversations. The secret sauce is quite simple. The other person is more important than any view we might be talking about. Trust often opens up conduits for conversation to go deeper. This is much tougher to do on-line or through some kind of less personal venue.
The best example of such life-giving conversations for me happened this past year with a fellow dad himself. He and I immediately found common ground at a local coffee shop because we both transport our kids to school on our “family bicycles.” Additionally, we both have quirks that would be weird to most people, like the fact that we both prefer Reverse Polish Notation. We both lived and worked overseas; we both “optimize” our enginnering bent for application in many aspects of life. But as we talked, very quickly, we both found ourselves engaged in deep world view conversations. He’s an atheist; I’m a theist. His reality stops with the 5 senses; my reality extends beyond the senses, and we both engaged around how our respective views inform the most important aspects of our lives, our families and relationshiips.
After a couple handfuls of coffee times talking deeply about such subjects (and often, others will join us), we both realized we had gone deeper than anything we’ve ever read in our respective books on philosophy. The difference was that we had a relationship, and we set up our conversations to protect that. For example, we made a pact to never bring in “outside sources” into our conversations. No books, websites, etc. It was a way to keep the conversation real and intimate. I say intimate, but in reality, we’d commonly have others listen in, and be intriqued, and sometimes engage with us. So then we thought, “let’s write a blog post about this.” So he invited me to write on his blog.
My friend’s blog, “Treasures of an Atheist, Theist Dialogue” can be found here.
Being that we both have family, we used psedynyms in this post to protect ourselves. He is “EtD” and I am “K.R.” which of course stands for Kingdom Rice. Here is an excerpt from the post written by me.
“EtD and I are friends in many typical and quirky ways. People sometimes find us enjoying coffee at the local cafe, and we’re known to even attract people into our conversation because they note the unusual quality and care of our conversations, plus perhaps we can get a little loud sometimes in our respective passions… But it’s where we are different that has really added color, healthy tension, and tremendous depth to our conversations. And might I say, it’s drawn us closer as friends. Might I say we’re different in one of the most fundamental levels too. EtD is a staunch atheist, a pragmatist, and possibly a nihilist even. And I’m a theist, a Christian, and my pragmatism is submitted to relationship. In EtD’s view, nothing exists outside of what can be tested with our 5 senses. My “reality” is open to historical narratives and even interventions into natural law aka “miracles.” We got into these conversations because we somehow got talking about the relevance of the afterlife in the present. EtD’s view is that the afterlife has zero relevance. I believe the afterlife has everything to do with the present.
A few months into this kind of dialogue, we both realized we’ve got something utterly unique and special. We both have never found this kind of depth among any theist/atheist “debate” out there on blogs, social media, and we’ve even not experienced the level of our conversations within those who share our respective world views. For me, I’ve rarely found this quality among my theist friends, even seminary-trained friends. After a few months into this, we looked at each other and realized, “This is something special.”
EtD moved to another country with his family. So we’ve not been able to continue our dialogue face to face. But recently, he came into town. And I felt honored that of all the people who would have wanted some of his time, he chose to meet with me. So we met, and it was just like “old times.” EtD, if you’re reading this, thank you for that gift!
My charge to you the reader? Don’t talk about religion; at least here in San Francisco, religion has bad connotations. We need to get to the stuff that matters to people’s hearts, the things that are daily relevant to everyone. I’ve rarely had a conversation about religion that was sincere. I can’t think of one the past few years. The only people I’ve talked to religion about have been the JWs who come to my doorstep. Those conversations end pretty quickly after they make their Greek claims, to which I take out my Greek Bible to disprove their claims. But in those contexts, they’re rarely interested in relationship. Contrast that to conversations about world view: it opens up topics relating to love, relationships, the afterlife, politics and more. It gets to the soul of where people are coming from; it gets me thinking, feeling, and they are often a blessing to my soul.