During my first week of seminary, we were divided into small groups and we were asked to share our answers to the following question: "If you were going to be traveling cross country in a car with no radio, who are the other 3 people you want riding in the car with you?" I have been trying to remember the three people I picked, but I can only remember 2: Mark Twain and Robin Williams. I do remember the thought process behind my answer. I decided I wanted people who would tell good stories and keep my laughing.
When I think back on it, what we seminary students were really being asked was this: what conversations would you really like to be a part of? This question has come to roost in my soul again in recent weeks. It started when I was traveling with the Baptist Student Union on their Spring Break mission trip to Charleston, SC. We were traveling by van and everybody had brought their own books, iPods, and pillows to pass the time with. However, both in the journey to Charleston and the journey home, several of us ended up engaging in conversations that touched on such topics as the meaning and purpose of education, the best (and worst) books and novels we had ever read, and the theology and practice of sabbath. I think all of us who took part in the conversation found ourselves better off for having been a part of it. I know I have already pulled "A Tale of Two Cities" off my book shelf to start reading based on the comments of several folks from that conversation.
I wonder if we ever stop to consider the true power and impact of our communal conversation that digs below "small talk" and tackles real wrestlings and dialogue. While attending Elon University's convocation service, I learned that Phi Beta Kappa was started by 5 students at the College of William and Mary who met at a pub off campus to discuss the higher issues of learning. In his book C.S. Lewis: Life at the Center, Perry Bramlett tells the story of the Inklings. This was a group of authors and thinkers who met twice a week at an Oxford pub and in Lewis' college office to discuss politics, books and religion. The unofficial membership of the Inklings included C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and J.R.R. Tolkien as well as other notable authors and theologians. The discussions of the Inklings would often work their way into the writings of these men, thus carrying their influence beyond the pub and the university to millions of others.
Throughout the history of mankind and Christianity, revelation and inspiration have come when people have joined together to talk and listen to one another, to think through and discuss and debate the deeper issues of life and faith. In these days of Twitter and tea parties, of talk shows and time-cramped schedules, I wonder if we are ignoring the possibilities of talking to one another to focus on talking at one another.
As I write these words, my thoughts are beginning to turn to a panel discussion I have been invited to participate in this coming Sunday night. Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church has invited me and several other ministers to come and be a part of an ecumenical discussion among senior high youth in our area about the different Christian denominations. The youth will ask the questions, and we ministers will respond and dialogue with the youth about the various issues that arise. I am excited and grateful to have been invited to this conversation. Perhaps, in our dialogue, a better picture of the "body of Christ" will emerge for all of us to consider.
What conversations do you want to be a part of?