There is a difference between our opinion about something and our experience with something. One needs defending; the other invites sharing. One leads to opposing opinions; the other leads to humble community. And few other topics generate one or the other than religion. In my case, it’s Jesus.
Multiple opinions clash with each other – books, commentaries, articles with regard to various doctrines. “Here is who Jesus is, and here’s why I believe it.” And I don’t have any problem with the fact that there are many and diverse opinions, not that I agree with them all. But that’s the point. I am less and less in need of opinions I can agree with and more and more yearning for experiences we can share in community together.
I participate in a weekly meeting based on the 12 Step program. One of the guidelines is this: Let there be no crosstalk. In an environment in which there is to be no “crosstalk”, the experiences people share contain all the various hues of crucifixion and resurrection. You have to love irony. The “Higher Power” is completely undefined, with each one encouraged to experience it as it manifests itself for them personally. Pain, suffering, forgiveness, repentance, change – these are the acknowledged “elephants in the room” which we all are bumping up against, learning from. “No crosstalk” means no disagreeing, no asking for clarification, no passing of judgment on what has been shared. Set free from our own opinions, we are liberated to share our experiences.
This is what conversations inspired by Scripture can offer us – an opportunity for us all to look at where our lives intersect with the Gospel message. The teachings of Jesus, like the 12 steps, offer us a script that invites us to consider at any given time in our life: What role am I playing now? What are the edges of my life the gospel is smoothing out? If Jesus is a person to be in relationship with I can share the depth of my pain and joy, my certainty and my doubts, my victories and my defeats.
I don’t mean to imply that we can forever escape the question: Who do you say I am? I do mean to say that the freedom that comes with being able to say: He told me everything I’ve ever done! Or I was blind, but now I see! Those are the experiences that invite curiosity and build community. Could he be the “Messiah”? Perhaps. Does he have to be the “Messiah” in order for me to have a relationship with him? Maybe not. But when people dig down deep into their own soul there will be Cross talk. We are invited to listen, to empathize, to show compassion, to become a community. The struggles and joys of our shared experience are more important, more relevant than the facts. Together we find ourselves at the foot of the Cross.