There's a certain sense in which conversing with atheists can be very refreshing and grounding. There's another sense in which it can be quite taxing, but right now I'm thinking about the first sense in connection with visiting Allen's friends at the wedding we recently attended in New York. Allen is one of the few Christians that many of his programmer friends like and respect. In a way that was daunting because we knew up front we were going to surrounded by people who really didn't give a fig about God. And yet in the end I found it curiously easy to talk with them. I think part of it is that from the first day I was prepared to meet and like people with whom I knew I would have very little in common. It wasn't as though we weren't able to find any common interests because we managed to find a few, but they also just happened to be trendy young voter interests such as community supported agriculture and an end to the present war -it's no more than you expect to find in an assemblage of 20-30 somethings. These are things I also have in common with other Christians in my church. I think the real key to the situation is that I knew I was way in over my head. There wasn't one way in hell that I would have been able to fake a real interest (much less competence) in their specific brand of geekdom. I don't know C++ from HTML. Don't ask me about Python 'cause I'll probably start telling you about a snake I used to work with in high school. Plus, I stink at Rock Band. And the Wii. As much as I may like geeks I can't speak their language. So that's one area I couldn't fake. The other one is Christianity. You might say that Christianity is the one thing I could fake. Wrong. Some of these people were high atheists who could quote Deuteronomy with the devil. They can tear down wishy washy Christianity faster than wet paper and have just about much respect for the paper as the Christian. Yet, as I knew from Allen's relationship with them, they could respect a principled, consistent Christianity. From that I knew I had to be prepared to meet and like people just as I am with very little pretense knowing that no matter what I did or said there were some very fundamental rifts between us that would only be healed by the grace of God. On the whole I think I did pretty well in the encounter. I found people that, in spite of all our differences, I liked and whose opinions on some matters I could respect. More importantly, I don't think I damaged the respect Allen already had garnered among them as an honorable Christian. In saying all this I don't want to get the impression that Allen and I merely kept our mouths shut and hid our Christianity because we didn't. We didn't drag Jesus around like a cardboard cutout either.
Thinking about my adventures among the atheists I wonder why we Christians can't approach each other with something of the same spirit in which I approached Allen's friends? That is to say, I wonder why I have such a hard time doing it. With others I always want to be cooler, more competent, less incomplete, more normal, and less marginalized. Perhaps it's because I care more about the opinions of my Christian friends. We're supposed to be on the same team -shouldn't we like each other and get along? What does it mean if we don't? My atheist friends much as I love and pray for them aren't part of my communion. We are not bound by blood and water. In a sense I suppose that's part of what makes me try harder to be liked and accepted by my Christian friends -their opinion matters in a way that other's can't. And yet, I would still like to be able to approach Christians with that same desperate abandonment to authenticity which appeals not to common interests but to a common humanity and (in this case) a common Lord. I want to approach the people in my church seeking to like that person for who they are where they are until the Lord makes us both something better and something closer. I want to cultivate the same kind of witness in my walk among Christians that I pray for in my walk among the heathen - to walk with grace and speak in love knowing that in this God is glorified.