If you read Part One you may be asking the same questions I often get about our spiritual discussion group. I'll answer them here:
How did you start such a group?
I wanted to meet at a location without any perceived religious or political agenda. There was a gay-owned café in town; I knew of no better place where people could let their guard down and feel “safe” in being their true selves (The sad truth is, church is often not such a place; many are aiming to change that without compromising the gospel message). So I walked in to the café, told the owner my idea, and asked if we could use his shop as a meeting place. He replied, “When do you want to start? I'll help you advertise!” Bingo.
How did you advertise/describe the group?
In presenting the idea to the café owner, and in advertising the group, I simply described it as a “nonreligious spiritual discussion group”—a safe place to discuss and explore spiritual topics outside the context of religion, while at the same time offering an opportunity to share individual religious beliefs in a nonjudgmental setting.
How do you do it?
This is the question I get most often. In other words, how to I carry on relationships with people of such differing worldviews? Don't I get upset at their thinking? Don't they get upset at mine?
No. Not at all, and herein lies the secret to the group's success (By “success” I mean the fact that we have continued to meet for over a year, and don’t see any sign of stopping. We don’t measure success in numbers):
It's all in how you view the individual. We can quote scriptures about love and tell ourselves we ought to love one another, but as long as we Christians continue to see people as either saints or sinners, we will potentially come across as their wanna-be savior, when they don't wanna be anything at all except loved as-is.
Of course, Christianity teaches that each person is in a place of either accepting or rejecting God in the person of Jesus Christ, and thus choosing his or her own eternal destiny (and boy is that another post!). But here's the thing: How you view someone dictates how you relate to him/her. The reason Christians fail at interfaith relationships is that we don't rightly see people as fellow human beings created in the image of God. That levels the playing field and makes us all the same flesh, in the same condition of needing a Savior, whether we realize it here or hereafter.
I need Jesus. And if I judge someone for not knowing that he or she also needs Him, then I need Him more than anyone.
So away with the religious wall of partition, the “we-versus-them” Phariseeism. It reeks to high Heaven and makes God sick. We are all in this together, this thing of needing a love-me-no-matter-what relationship with Someone who understands and knows us intimately. If I can show a person what that looks like by wrapping my arms around his gay-liberal-pagan self, I've shown him more of God than if I preach at him.
Furthermore, I believe if we don’t feel we have as much to learn from nonchristians as they do from us, we need a dramatic shift in our thinking before we engage in ongoing relationships with them. (This is explored in more detail in the chapter on friendship in my upcoming book). I have learned so much from the people in this group. It is an invaluable experience to hear and see what the church is like from an “outsider’s” perspective. Christians in our group have literally looked in the eyes of formerly “churched” individuals and said, “I am so sorry you were treated that way.”
How much do you share the gospel in the group?
In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller says before you can love something, sometimes you have to watch someone else who is in love with it. The group members know how I feel and what I believe about Jesus. It flows out of me through conversation as naturally as “goddess” flows out of them. We are each simply sharing our true selves with each other. As long as that sharing is encased in mutual respect, we want to keep hearing what each other has to say.
I have been honest with the group about “The Great Commission” (Jesus’ command to spread the gospel to all nations). We have openly discussed the most sobering video on the topic that I have ever seen.
Outside the group?
Friends from the group have attended church with me and hung out in my living room for hours on end. Anything goes in conversation there. We've shed tears and prayed together. Not to judge, but I’ve often wondered how much time Christian critics of the group spend reaching out to others in this way. I myself have only just begun and have so far yet to go.
What do you talk about in the group?
God ~ god and goddess ~ Jesus ~ Islam ~ Zen ~ the origin of life ~ good and evil ~ ghosts ~ wicca ~ Paganism ~ Christianity ~ humanism ~ cultures ~ Heaven ~ death ~ love ~ lifestyles ~ the supernatural ~ the paranormal ~ food ~ what is sacred ~ relationships ~ the meaning of life ~ science ~ philosophies ~ movies ~ books ~ church ~ social issues ~ tolerance... the list is too long!
When we started out a year ago, we stayed “near the surface” in our discussion topics. One member left, saying the group was “boring.” That was a wake-up call for me. We changed course and dove deep. Now our meetings consistently go for five hours or more, often lasting past midnight. We break up and go home when we’re too tired to talk anymore.
Well that’s about it. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them here and I’ll give it my best shot. Here’s one for you: Could you see yourself feeling comfortable in such a group? Why or why not?