Today I had the privilege of taking part, leading the prayers at a funeral thanksgiving service for friend who died recently. A remarkably gifted man whose knowledge and awareness of so many things was quite remarkable and whose company I found very stimulating. From philosophy to plant life, the Balkans to cholera in 18thC London. He loved Bonhoeffer and economics, was passionate and committed working for justice. He matched his profound intellect and academic prowess with humility, a genuine desire to listen and learn mixed in with a liberal dousing of great humour.
If you were aware of his Oxford and Harvard credentials you might feel intimidated but his humility, love of people and commitment to lifelong learning came from gaining insights and understanding from so many quarters.
We quite often had robust debate. We didn’t agree on quite a number of issues. He wouldn’t hold back from challenging, questioning or putting forward his views on any particular subject and what made discussions and conversations with him so enriching was that he expected you to do the same. As a result? Did we fall out? Not at all! Did we remain entrenched in our views, polarising and defending when questioned and under scrutiny? Not at all. Conversation and debate was an enriching experience, sharpening our thinking, deepening our understanding and seeing things from others perspectives in the spirit of mutual respect.
That’s what I really appreciate in the friendship that I share with Kate and Craig, one of the primary reasons why I invited them to be part of the team, associates working alone and together but with a mutual respect for one another and a commitment to listen well, think deeply and live authentically.
It’s so easy to confine friendships with people who confirm our own outlook and biases. People who will agree with us and bolster our opinion that we are right in our views and opinions. But if we are to grow and develop as human beings and work for the common good for society it requires building relationships and engaging with people and ideas that are different from our own.
Coming from an unchurched background, having my life changed by an encounter with the living Christ, I have always appreciated the richness and enlivening of life and faith issues found in relationships that express diversity.
I have appreciated listening to others and reading books that challenge my own assumptions. I find myself that often talking with people whose theology, politics and outlooks on life are different from my own. At times I have felt uncomfortable and occasionally threatened by their views. In those early years of coming to faith I suspect I was afraid of losing my view and understanding of the God I had known, the one who I can find inside the box of my own beliefs. But as I’ve grown in my faith and allowed myself, as Brian Maclaren describes as stages of faith; from simplicity, complexity, perplexity to harmony, I have come to welcome those outside voices. They’ve unable me to ask questions, own up to my own doubts and fears, to be more real by casting aside superficiality and to go deeper with God. To listen well, to think deeply and to live authentically.