I am treading lightly, leading a book study on heaven and hell, and yet, I feel that in any moment, the wheels are going to go flying off the bus. I realized, as book club gathered, that I was in way over my head. From the newly found Christian to the John Eldridge reading Lutheran, the very confrontational Muslim/Hindu/Catholic to the agnostic soon-to-be social worker, the Catholic turned some version of Pagan that I am still endeavoring to understand to the Emerging Emergent Christian who is planning a revival of sorts for our camp, and a few more personalities sprinkled in there representing the middle, our thursday discussions of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, could not be more, potentially, disastrous.
Did I mention that more than half of these folks are trained interrogators? They also all carry semi-automatic weapons. What was I thinking? It would almost be easier to facilitate discussion on salvation-- who is in and who is out-- with a room full of pastors... well, almost.
I have no problem talking about heaven and hell with them one on one. In fact, it is one of my greatest pleasures to share meals with soldiers in this highly pluralistic environment. I wear my cross around every day, but I never want my Jesus to get in the way of my reaching out, even when I know nothing at all about “Open circles,” a gathering loosely but not really connected to the Wiccan tradition or the right ways to kneel and pray during Friday prayer, even when it is painful to hear deep seated anger at the church or even at God. Dealing with religious diversity, one person at a time, is doable. Sometimes, even, it is pleasurable. No doubt, I have learned more about God from people who understand differently than me, even when I have not shared or agreed with particular beliefs.
But, a whole room full of diversity, it is enough energy, rawness and demand to hush me into silence. The problem is, whenever the decibel level rises or someone says something controversial, they all turn toward me. As I am looking toward the exits, wondering how I might escape without being noticed, all eyes seem to descend. Where is the adult in the room, the authority figure on this topic? After all this time of being taught, I don’t know if I am ready to be the teacher. As much as I view teaching as a mutual process between the leader and the pupils, I know that I have been called to this place take up my staff and do my best at shepherding.
Of course, I am reminded every day of my age. A few days ago, I started using Estee Lauder’s first line age defense lotion that my mother sent me for Christmas. I have found at least three gray hairs since I have been here, though if I part my hair in one direction, they stay hidden. Working with a young man who graduated from high school in 2010 also forces me to accept that I am officially a “grown up.” It’s not that I haven’t had many other "coming of age" moments, dealing with death and loss or even walking alongside of friends as they have married and now, even had babies of their own. I can no longer pretend to be in that “between space” of adolescence and adulthood. This I know.
It strikes me though, as I do my best to hold my arms wide enough to gather every voice, to make sure that no one, however traditional or obscure, is pushed aside, that this past Thursday was a remarkable moment. That such divergent individuals would agree to come and sit and spend an hour talking about God, and then leave the group, shaking each others hands, still laughing together at the “this world is a big Thunder Dome where we are duking it out, in preparation for the next world” comment, is a testament to God’s grace which resides with us always, no matter where we are or what topic we wrangle over. Who knows who will come next week to book club? The topic is “Hell,” so I imagine that it will be no less heated than in previous weeks. I know I will be there, so I think I will start praying now.