Enjoying Faith Conversations - Kyle Hanawalt
Fourth in series: Leave Bad Faith. Find Good Faith.
Each week as we open we say that talking about faith and God is hard - it tends to be divisive in our culture, it’s a subject that get everyone running to their corner and ready to defend.
I think this in large part, at least in my experience, because talking about God so often an ugly experience - For a long time, the majority of conversations I had about faith and God felt manipulative and arrogant. Like someone already had all the answers, and the purpose of the conversation is for them to benevolently help the other see the truth of their answers.
Those conversations feel ikky to me.
Maybe I feel so ikky about these kinds of conversations because I spent so much of my own youth trying to have them
I grew up going to church, but the majority of my week was spent going to public school and being friends with mostly not religious people
But, by the time I got to youth group, my pastors made it pretty clear that they wanted me to, and that God wanted me to win over my friends to Christianity. And I say win because that is what it felt like, I had to win, convince, get people to my side And so I tried my best to please God and please my pastors by winning people over In fact I went back and counted that during my middle and highschool years, I convinced 47 people to come to church with me. 47 - I was very practiced at talking about faith. However, this did not particularly pan out well Because of the way I was trying to constantly win people over, I was the one who had all the answers and had it all figured, I can even remember one occasion where I had gotten into an argument with someone on my football team and they kind posed a question back to me, “well if you are so certain about how good God is, how do you explain the existence of suffering?” A farily common question that I think pretty much everyone wrestles with at some point. And I really didn’t have a good answer, but, I couldn’t let him know that - so I told him that I could explain it, but I didn’t have time to explain it to now and honestly probably wouldn’t be able to understand it even if I tried. Yeah, I was that kind of ikky arrogant. The result was that I lost a whole bunch of friends in trying to bring them to church Yes, I got 47 to come with at some point, but only 2 of them are people of faith today And out of the other 45, almost all my friendships with them fell apart after they decided they were out on church. And I don’t want to paint a picture that I was unbothered by this or that I didn’t question it. The truth is that each time I left a conversation that left me feeling sleazy of how I had a hidden agenda And after each time a friend that I had brought to church, stopped going and stopped wanting to hang out with me because of they felt manipulated by me Each time this happened, I would decide I was out, I wasn’t going to do this who Evangelism thing anymore. But, sooner or later I would be at church or youth group and the pastor would make it clear how much they and God wanted me to win people over to faith, and I would feel so guilty that I had stopped and then that guilt would push me to do it again. It was a not fun cycle. And ultimately, it was part of what lead me to feeling out on church altogether for several years. And honestly, I think this is what many of us have in mind when we reference talking about God and faith. Something arrogant and unteachable.
And just to say I think it it 100% Ok to feel hesitant about this - this is ugly We shouldn’t want to do that. This kind of thing should make us resistant to talking about faith and God
Growing up this way, in many ways I am perfectly set up today to hate faith conversations
But the crazy thing is , what I’ve found over the last decade or so is that I have actually come to love talking about my faith and what it does for me -- I just had to discover a different version of faith conversation -- a good version
A version of faith conversation that has helped me into more and better relationships with people who have different beliefs than me than ever before,
Maybe it seems strange that those would go together, but I’ve learned faith conversations don’t have to be divisive… don’t have to be one side vs another, or talking past each other, or poorly-veiled bait-and-switch conversion tactics… they can leave both parties feeling respected and honored
Now, this is not that I am now particularly skilled or articulate.
In fact it is in part because I came to terms with not being special or smart that I now get so much out of these conversations. I have just come to terms with the fact that I have a lot to learn, much more than I have to teach, and being in touch with that just helps me be more teachable and inquisitive - less arrogant
And this good version of faith conversation just offers me so much. First off, I learn more, I learn more about who god is, the world, myself. I have found that talking to people about God & faith. Particularly talking with people who come from different cultural and religious backgrounds, offers me so much in terms of what I can learn. Talking to friends who come from cultural backgrounds that are marked with oppression and marginalization I have learned that it is powerful and meaningful to consider that God is a Just Judge - because in a world where entire people groups are treated unjustly - Judgment is a message of hope. Talking with friends who come from a not particularly religious background has helped me begin to see what pieces of my faith that feel true and consistent to who Jesus is and what pieces are just indicative of the American Christian subculture. Talking with friends who come from a Muslim background has helped me understand the important of discipline. That his commitment to pray 5 times a day, helps him have great self-control in the way he spends his money, his diet, the time he spends in front of his phone. There is a lot to learn in that. Entering into faith conversations looking to learn has been incredibly life giving for me. Because, guess what - I have a lot to learn, God, the world, all of it is just a lot bigger than me.
The second reason I have come to love having conversations about faith is that My life is more integrated - I talk about my experience of faith and god with everyone in my life - It’s not like I talk about God with people at church and I then I talk sports with my friends who don’t go to church. No, I talk about God and sports with all of my friends. Regardless if they go to church or believe what I believe. And regardless of whether they like sports or not The result of this is pretty simple, but pretty awesome. When I have a party - I can invite all of my friends. I don’t have church friends that I play scrabble with and non church friends that I go to bars with. I get to be the same person all the time and just invite my friends to come to the party with me.
The last reason why I love having faith conversations today is because
My relationship with god will feels more alive for talking about it.
If you were with us in January - you will remember that Dr. Karl Lehman talked about neuroscience and relationships work together.
He talked about how when we recall out loud memories we have from a relationship. That talking aloud - pulls the memory, from the memory part of the brain, and as it moves to the speaking part of the brain it pulls it through the part of our brain that does relationship.
He gave the example that if you were to sit down with a spouse or a friend and start your interaction by recalling positive memories your relationship. Then your relational circuits come to life in your brain, and you will more easily be able to connect with that person in that moment.
And it is the same thing in talking about our memories of faith or God. Telling these stories out loud, speaking about my experiences, not ideas, but my experiences of faith make my relationship with God feel more alive. Like recently I was talking to a friend who does not believe the same things I believe about God, but I was telling them about how I initially felt propelled, like internally to talk with Vince about doing this Church as co-pastors. It felt an idea and a feeling that just stuck there, something that felt bigger than just my own thought. And so, I brought the idea to Vince and now 6 years later, it was so clearly the best possible decision.
Now I got to share that story with my friend, we’re closer for it. But, I also got to tell this story out loud about how I felt like God lead me towards something and it totally went well. And by saying that out loud, I can feel my sense of connection with God my experience of relationship with him come alive. I could almost feel the relational part of my mind come alive This is no small thing, and I think that there will be in some ways a ceiling on our experience of faith if you don’t talk about it, if your faith stays just an internal thing that you alone experience Because we won’t be getting that special part of our brain going.
And let me say, I think there are very valid reasons some of us may have reservations in talking about faith.
The ugly and arrogant ways faith is so often talked about is worthy of reservations. I want nothing to do with that. However, I want to challenge us that, for some, our reservations may have more to do with being vulnerable, that it actually easier to stay on the surface and not go deeper with the people in our life. Let me be clear: I am not up here to challenge you to “be bold and stand up for your faith” or anything like that you may have heard in religious setting before, BUT I DO want to challenge you to live a life where you invite and receive real intimacy and connection. To have deep and meaningful relationships. And if faith matters to you, I think that kind of life can only happen if we learn how to talk with other people about what matters to us
(Pause) You know, contrary to all the bible usage from my youth where talking about faith was build on obligation, winning arguments, seeing my peers as targets for conversion.
There is actually a picture in the Bible of talking about faith that looks a lot more like this positive thing I have experienced as an adult,
It’s all over the whole Bible, but, I especially love the way the emotion comes out in the palms.
Let me read some, and while I do pay attention the emotion in what is said, pay attention to how the palms writers are talking about faith, and ask yourself what would lead someone to talk like this?
ESV Psalm 96 2 Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. Psalm 105 1 Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 2 Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 3 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. 4 Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. 5 Remember the wonders he has done,
Psalm 71 15 My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. (inarticulate) 16 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. 17 Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Psalm 34 1 I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. 2 I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. 3 Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together. 4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. 6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. 8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
These are not the words of people who are saying something because they think they ought to, but don’t really want to. Why are they saying this? It’s a matter of the emotion overflowing because of how free, safe & cared for they feel. No one is convincing themselves they ought to share their faith, it’s just pouring out of them.
And it gets at what made all the difference for me, they are talking out of personal experience. They are not making an argument for god, they are just saying - God did this for me and now it’s just flowing out of me
So, if you want to try having more good faith conversations in your life. I have some suggestions for you
You know there is a bit of a spectrum when it comes this. Some of us here are on one end where we know what we believe or don’t believe, we might be a little too confident that we have all the right answers. My suggestion to you is that you don’t - there is still so much for you to learn, and it is only by being open to learning that you will get any of that. So I’ve already touched on it, but I want to challenge you (really I think it is helpful for all of us) but, particularly those who fall on the confident side of the spectrum Talk from personal experience Conversations that begin with “this is what I believe...” don’t always go very well. But conversations that begin with “here is something that happened to me that has led me to believe what I believe…” -- those are invitations to learn about your personal experience, and they invite others to share theirs Try saying things like In my experience, from my perspective Here is what I think, or have found. If you are someone who feels like God interacts with you Try saying things like - I felt God said to me, not God told me Also, make sure you are actually listening, and not just trying to win someone over. Try phrases like - Tell me more Lastly, when you talk about faith - talk like a human being, Avoid language that you would only use at church A good rule of thumb is - if I wouldn’t use this language in any other part of my life, then I probably should try to avoid using it talking about faith.
And then on the other side of the spectrum - there are some of us that don’t have enough confidence in what experience. Or we are prone to down play the more spiritual experiences in our life And I want to encourage you to embrace the reality that you do have spiritual experience everyday If you are a parent who has a moment where you are filled by joy by your Kids That I think is a spiritual and God filled experience If you go outside and are awed by the beauty of Nature That I think is a spiritual and God filled experience If you find yourself feeling cared for, loved and seen by a person in your life I think God uses our relationships more than anything to communicate his care for us. Those moments of laughter and care, That I think is a spiritual and God filled experience Consider unexpected feelings of peace, healing, hope or Ideas or thoughts that stick in your mind. Consider that those might be the God of the universe subtly trying to connect and care and speak with you. If you can talk about why those matter to you, then you can talk about why God matters to you.
If we as a community of people learn to enjoy faith conversations, even for all of the ways they might push us beyond our surface-level comfort zone… then it will allow BLV to become an almost unprecedented place in our Culture Somewhere that is safe for people to belong, grow, heal, find support, find challenge even if we don’t all believe the same thing. And I want that so deeply, because I am not done learning yet, I am not done having my mind blow by how big and awesome God is, and the only way that I get to find that is if you, who thinks differently than me, is here for me to learn from.