Friday, May 22, 2009

Making Spiritual Small Talk

All religions offer a way to redeem and rebuild humanity. I had lunch last week with a Muslim woman in Malibu who has found that the practices of Islam offer her a place to "fit", a spiritual home to feather. When I asked her about particular questions, the kind that keep philosopher types up late at night, she dismissed my questions. She didn't want to talk about the problem of pain, instead she said, "I just try to remember God in every moment of my day."

Her words surprised me as something few Christians find themselves trying to do. I'm reading a wonderful simple devotional called Letters by a Modern Mystic by the missionary to the Moros (a Filipino Muslim people group) Frank C. Laubach and his modernization of the ancient practicing of the presence of God (a la Brother Lawrence) has led me to want to do the same thing. I do, by the way, HIGHLY recommend Laubach's short book. It's a jewel, perfect for slipping into your purse and whipping out during long lines at the grocery store. He has helped me want to bring Jesus into every moment of my day. Laubach puts it like this,

What right have I or any other person to change the name of these people from Muslim to Christian, unless I lead them to a life fuller of God than they have now? My job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion. And, my loved one, that is the best gift you can give to your own town (p 13).

I shared my new practice of inviting Jesus into every moment with my Muslim friend and she didn't bat an eyelash. According to her, we are all inviting God (by whatever name) into our spiritual lives. This is, in her mind, the measure of a spiritual person, their relationship with God.

So I ask you to weigh in on how you would define a spiritual person. I find that in defining "spirituality" I want to include things like the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus over this broken, ugly world. Everyone can talk about God in their lives, but how many have the power to break old habits, experience shalom-like peace, know the long path of long-suffering? I cannot find these in my own life apart from Jesus.

How would you define spirituality? How do you think others define spirituality?

As Dale and I work on our first book together, Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk, we've been thinking about different ways to talk about the God we love and how he became flesh and dwelt among us. We realize that most people enjoy talking about their spiritual journey, if you can ask the conversational questions and if you do most of the listening.

Last week I was making a necklace with a young woman in a local jewelry shop. We began a conversation that started when she asked if I knew about an old TV show and when I said I didn't I explained,

"I was raised in a very conservative Christian home, no TV," I said.

"Wait, you didn't even have a TV? Did you have a telephone?" she asked.

"Of course!"

"We didn't even have a telephone, we were out in the sticks. I got left out of so many things." We commiserated, but also shared about how much we valued the push to be more imaginative with our playtime. We talked about her family, why her mom pushed the family to go to church right after her little sister was born.

"Why then?" I asked.

"Now I realized it was because their marriage was hurting, I think she wanted us to have, you know, a moral foundation." She said. I took mental notes of how this is what most people believe God and the church offer--lots of moralistic rules.

"Were you glad for that?" I asked.

"Yeah, I mean it kept me from being as bad as I could of been." We started talking more deeply about what she did and what she could have done, the conversation becoming more personal, details that are part of her personal story. As I kept asking questions, she openly told me about how once the pastor's son was forbidden from dating her because she wasn't good enough for him.

I raised my eyebrows.

"I couldn't believe it!" She said,"I sat listening to this guy every week in church and I thought, what a creep. Such a hypocrite! So since then I've pretty much kissed the church goodbye."

"I know what you mean," I said, "Don't get me wrong, I love God and I just can't get enough of Jesus, he's wonderful, but I'm very angry with how people use God to abuse other people. There's a name for that," I told her. "It's called spiritual abuse. My husband has endured more spiritual abuse at the hands of people claiming to speak for God than anyone I know. But, he still loves Jesus. It's really amazing to me."

She was listening closely. She shared more about the little darts thrown at her by religions people. I said, "That kind of stuff leaves a mark, doesn't it?!"

Our conversation moved to her sister, her current life, our necklace projects. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask her how she has reconnected with God, but I would have had to force an awkward moment to make it happen. I look forward to asking her, next time I visit.

If you've had any spiritual conversations in the last few months, I'd love to hear about new ways you've shared how Jesus is good news. I maintain that he offers the world the most powerful solution to every evil dart from the enemy of our souls. But how we communicate that is as varied as we are.

Let's hear some conversational tips!


Warren Baldwin said...

Very thought-provoking post. I appreciate your concern for the Muslim population, and your desire to introduce them to Christ. It bothers me how some Christians just dismiss them out of hand ... Christ came for them, too. I want to check out a couple of the books you mentioned. Very good post, thanks. WB

dmaher said...

I, too, have read 'Letters by a Modern Mystic' and was challenged to pray (multiple times a day) "Lord, what do you want me to say? What do you want me to do?" as I move through the day and interact with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers.

You asked for some conversational tips...mine isn't about conversation, but rather about becoming a better listener. As I read about your encounter at the jewelry shop, I noted that you asked really good questions.

I think that's the basis of good conversation: listening well and asking good questions. Many times the answer to my prayer, "Lord, what should I say?" the answer is simply, "Listen." Interesting.

Tito Tinajero said...

I remember a poem by Denise Levertov, which she quoted a Christian mystic, saying everything becomes a prayer once you realize that God is always with us. My wife and I have just had our first and it a boy. I wrote a poem. I good practice for me has been to look for Christ in everyone I meet.

Bette Nordberg said...

Thanks for your great writing Jonalyn. I caught your article (from a friend) in a magazine recently, and that prompted me to visit you here.

As a fellow writer, I salute your gift. While you craft your words carefully, you live deeply. That gives what you say great depth and wisdom; your skill makes it delightful to enjoy - like full fat ice cream on an August afternoon.

Keep thinking, reflecting, asking God into your thoughts and reflections. What pleasure it gives him.

Jonalyn Fincher said...


Great to have you chime in!


Loved your reminder about listening well. What a gift that is. I love receiving it, too. :)


While I don't believe Christ (Messiah) is in everyone I meet, I do think everyone reflects the image of God... I think this is what you're getting at? If so, I thoroughly agree. We each share something unique about God in this world. As my husband often says, following Jesus means we become more ourselves, more richly unique.

Enjoyed your poem and the Don Quixote theme. Thanks for sharing!


Thank you for taking time to write out your appreciation. It meant the world to me.

Found out you're a knitter... me, too. Finishing up a pair of thigh-high stockings this month. What are you working on?


Dianne said...

I keep losing the link to your blog; I should subscribe in a reader I guess. I so appreciate the humility and grace with which you write and respond to your readership, as well as the courage you have to tackle some tough stuff.

I struggle with engaging in spiritual conversations for some reason. Part of it may be b/c I was in a confrontational evangelical environment for many years and you did not look for openings; you knocked on the door and said your peace (i.e. 1-2-3, repeat after me.) Some years ago, even after leaving that environment, I realized I still had a little chip on my shoulder, as if I were better than unbelievers because of what I did not do (i.e. drink, etc.) I think I'm sensitive to the need of others for Jesus but never good at making it conversational. maybe I need to read that book or something. Thanks for a thought-provoking poast.