When the conversation goes right, it opens to a vision. We catch a glimpse of a world at peace, a world that knows to celebrate human kindness and generosity in any form. It is the world we long for.
I crave that world. I look for opportunities to speak to people about what our world needs from all of us, regardless of faith or affiliation, regardless of ethnicity or language.
You never know who your conversation partners might be. You cannot know what they will teach you or what you might gift to them. But find one, and it can shift what you know about this world. Truly, it may change your life.
I was on a plane back to the Piedmont. It was just after Charlotte-Douglas International Airport opened again after the first snow-and-ice storm of the new year. I sat down with my book on "Lamentations," a short collection of poetry from the Hebrew Bible.
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I wore my "kippah," a traditional Jewish head covering.
A man sat next to me in the aisle. I am not sure if it was the book or the kippah , and I honestly don't remember his first question. But it was a first question that led to one of the deepest conversations I have ever had about matters of faith.
We spoke about our backgrounds. We compared and contrasted his Christian sense of being born in sin with my Jewish sense of a broken humanity contending with a broken world. The outcome of either belief was not dissimilar from the other: Both of us longed to reach out for grace and healing. We knew it was our obligation to try, again and again, to act in a way that could invite goodness.
"Be a 'mentsch'," I said. "A good person."
"Love Christ," he said.
I mentioned the way atheist friends of mine aspired to exactly the same goals. We could recognize the basic humanity of all who strove for goodness.
All the time we spoke, I felt that the man beside me was on some kind of search, questing after some kind of truth. I was impressed at how articulate he was in explaining his own beliefs. I was even more impressed that he never once spoke as if he had to convince me that his faith was superior to mine.
He didn't try to change me. He listened.
I didn't try to change him. I listened.
Finally, he pulled out his Bible and told me which passage he'd been studying.
We looked at the passage together. We explained what we both saw in the passage.
And then, as we landed and taxied on the tarmac, this man told me he had been thinking of becoming a minister.
He had been struggling for a long time with the idea. He has a good job, and his children are young. Life was stable as it was.
I asked him whether he could simply go inside and ask himself: What did he long for? What did he feel God longed for?
He said he could hear the phone ringing.
"I haven't picked up the phone," he said.
"Well," I said, "if you decide to pick up, remember it's a local call."
It is now weeks after this conversation, and I admit I am hoping and praying that whatever he decides, this young man listens to his heart and feeds his soul.
That is what he did for me. I won't forget it.