What do you get when you combine amazing stickily delicious pecan caramel rolls and yummy hot chocolate with a thoughtful interfaith discussion about how spirituality affects all kinds of relationships?
Spokane Faith & Values Coffee Talk, that's what.
SpokaneFAVS Coffee Talk, hosted at Morning Sun Bakery. Panelists Amy Rice, Eric Blauer, Eli Sowry, and Rev. Jim CastroLang each presented their thoughts regarding spirituality and relationships and then the floor was opened for comments and questions from those who attended. Over the course of an hour and a half, a wide range of relationships was covered; some discussion focused on the marriage relationship, some on celibacy or on friendships, some on how to deal with damaged relationships, or the relationship with self.
As I didn't start taking notes until halfway through and even then I got so caught up in listening that I neglected noting who said what, my report here will be less than complete. Please forgive the lack of attribution, as I muse on some of the thoughts that were shared.
One panelist - or was it an audience member? - noted that the Right/Wrong dichotomy is destructive to relationships, particularly when "I'm right" means "You must be wrong." While this is the case in pretty much any relationship, it's especially evident in many interfaith interactions that go bad. If we focus on who's "right" and insist that that title can only go to one person, it's easy for a friendly conversation to turn into a defensive argument and to alienate others. Of course, this doesn't require us to back down from our position or to acquiesce to those with whom we disagree, but it does require a degree of humility to accept that our view may not be the only "right" one. And it requires a willingness to listen for the sole purpose of understanding the other person. As a panelist said, "don't hide who you are, but don't be a jerk about it."
At another point, talking about authenticity in relationships, a panelist mentioned the shallow and ill-mannered phenomenon of befriending someone solely in the hopes of converting them. Rather than getting to know you as an individual of value and worth regardless of your belief system, they try to "friendship you into the Kingdom." I'm afraid that Mormons, as members of a missionary faith, are sometimes very susceptible to this temptation, though of course not uniquely so and perhaps not even intentionally. I've witnessed several occasions - and heard of more - when people have been befriended by LDS neighbors or co-workers just long enough for said neighbors or co-workers to discover that these new faces are happy with their own faith and uninterested in getting "dunked" and joining the Church. It becomes obvious shortly thereafter that there was an agenda attached to the acquaintance and without the possibility of a notch in the baptism belt, the relationship holds no more interest for the conversion-minded. This is absolutely heart-breaking to me and so counter to how I understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. True, authentic, real friendships don't come with agendas or strings attached or conversion conditions.
The bottom line for me in the whole discussion was this gem offered by a panelist toward the end of our time together: "Relationships mean becoming vulnerable. When we're vulnerable to others, we become vulnerable to God, too." As I've noted before, vulnerability is scary. It opens up not only the possibility of making connections, but the possibility of being hurt as well. But that's what I think we should all be reaching for. Namaste, a common greeting among both Hindus and Buddhists in India, can be translated to mean "The God in me greets the God in you." As we open ourselves to other children of God, to listen and learn from them, we make ourselves more open to God as well.