The question may be why you are having the conversation in the first place. Are you having the conversation to convince the other person of your own belief? Are you having the conversation in order to determine if someone is within your same circle of belief? Or are you having the conversation to personally grow and to encourage the other person to grow in their own personal direction as well?
In an article by David Schmelzer, he notes a concept taught within the Vineyard Church. There it is taught that there are two ways to approach faith (and, I would conclude, other deeply held beliefs). You could call one the “bounded set” and the other the “centered set.” A “bounded” faith is like a circle…a line is drawn around what you believe and you are either inside the circle or outside the circle. The only real reason to talk about what one believes would be to decide if they were “in” or “outside” that circle. You might try to convince them in, but if they say “no” then the conversation ends. Those that approach faith in this way are like the Pharisees who cared about believing in a certain way and following ritual in a legalistic way! Jesus spent little time with these and frequently condemned the manner in which they approached faith.
A ”centered” faith, on the other hand, is held together with what is at the Center. For us who are Christians, it would be Jesus. We are Jesus followers…followers of the Way of Christ…and we aim to point all in our life toward that Way. But all around us are other people, each also trying to center their lives. It is in the centering process that we can discuss our faith so that we might grow, not just on our own, but with each other. It is all about whether we are moving closer to our center or moving away from our center. We determine that through our conversations with each other and deepen our walk in the process. Jesus welcomed these conversations, whether with the Samaritan woman at the well, the lawyer who asked who his neighbor was, or the man who lay by the pool waiting to be healed. He never drew people in or out of the circle but widened the hospitality of God and invited them into the Presence of God in their conversations.
This is an important concept to keep in mind whether you invite someone to worship or to join our dialogue on Racism this fall or to offer witness to the love of God in someone’s life. We say in the United Church of Christ, “No matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” It is the journey we are welcoming them to join, not an end point. Dare to journey with us! Dare to invite someone to join us! Dare to live a “centered” faith where all of our life(s) point to the Way of Jesus Christ! Dare to talk about what that looks like! Dare to invite others to be on the journey with us!
Pastor, Dover United Church of Christ