In stories I shared the story of my encounter with a border guard who asked me the question, “Are Christians supposed to love those who are Buddhists?”
I often find though that when someone asks you a question it is because you might need to learn something. I answered the question right. However, the question has stirred something in me today. To be completely honest, in that moment I didn’t see past what the encounter was. I thought it was amazing, lively and heavenly. I thought it was a confirmation to an earlier conversation. I took it for what it was in that moment, and that is ok. Today though, I feel the question he asked me holds more weight; it intrigues me. Interesting how a question asked so many years earlier is still alive and holds so much movement.
I am really intrigued by another question that has been floating around my world for the last year or so, “Who is sitting at your table?” I have heard a few people bring that question up and it has made me wonder. At that time in my life, when I met the border guard, I only sat at the table with Christians, those of like faith and belief system (we may have varied in theological opinions). I didn’t really do life with those who had a different faith than I. It wasn’t on purpose AT ALL; it was just the way my life fell into place. My work place was a Christian workplace, my friends were Christians (most of them were my co-workers) and my family were (are) Christians. They were who sat at my “table”. They were whom I did life with.
After 7 years of working with this Christian Organization, I decided to move on. I started working for a rehabilitation clinic. All my co-workers, who later became good friends, were of different faiths, different opinions, values and beliefs. I still had my table where I sat with my friends, who were Christians, but now I was pulling up a chair to a new, different table and I felt out of place. I felt unrelatable, the odd one out, maybe even as far as to say a minority (due to what I believed). To keep a long story short, the beautiful thing about this new table was that I grew to love it and celebrate it. I loved the new people at the table, I discovered who they were, what they loved and craved in life, why they believed what they believed. My new table was so vibrant with differences. At my table were Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, those of no faith, those who knew of God but didn’t want to know Him anymore, New Agers, and even those who had different lifestyles that didn’t have to do with faith. I slowly became comfortable at this new table. I wasn’t ashamed of why I believed what I believed; I remained true to my beliefs. I found my voice. I grew in understanding. I asked questions and I engaged in conversation. I loved my new table. I loved the people because I got to know them. My attention was no longer focused on the differences between us; it was now focused on them as people and their value.
I will tie this all into the original question, “Are Christians to love those that are Buddhists?” Every Christian will answer, “yes”. (if they don’t, then don’t even get me started on that!) The border guard said I answered it correctly. Great! But when I look back at that time when the question was asked, I was not loving those of different faiths because I wasn’t engaging with those of different faiths. Of course, I “loved” them. I think that man was challenging me and I didn’t even see it until now. Maybe he knew the revelation of that question wouldn’t happen until years later, but no matter the time, it still holds power and movement to it.
Love has so many meanings. Love is a deep feeling towards something. What does loving “Buddhists”, those of different faiths, look like? How can you love someone if you don’t know who they are? How can you understand someone if you don’t ask them questions or hear their story? How can you not get offended by someone when you don’t know their scars that make them react the way they do? Love is so loosely thrown around that we forget what love actually is. My question is, do we back up the word love? How can we love someone if we don’t know them? How could I love a Buddhist if I didn’t know one? Seems like a simple question that I clearly missed years ago! (not beating myself up as there is a time and place for everything).
When I was reading through the gospels as of late, as I am trying to get to know the nature of Jesus more and watching how He interacted with people, this story kept on being highlighted and it probably stood out because God had laid the question on my heart, “Who sits at your table?”
I kept on reading about when Jesus went to Matthew’s house. Matthew was a tax collector and everyone hated tax collectors in that day. Jesus, even entering Matthew’s house was a big deal, but what intrigued me or even just caught my attention, was the phrasing, “as Jesus sat at the table, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him” / “gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with Him.” I have read that story countless times, but this time when I read it my heart caught it and I just fell more in love with Jesus. He is our example. He sat at a table full of people who were deemed unlovable, hated, misunderstood, didn’t believe what He believed or valued the same things as He. They had different faiths. People judged Him for it, but He saw the value and the worth of people and therefore took the time to sit with those who didn’t believe what He believed. It was never about what they believed or their differences, it was always about the person. He asked them questions. He saw the worth (gold) in them and actually put love into action. I wonder at those dinner parties if He tried to convert them, or did He just engage in conversation and get to know them as people. Jesus was never afraid of conflict. Jesus was inclusive.
Jesus had a few tables that He sat at. He also sat with His disciples, people of like faith. They asked questions, had issues, different theology, different values, different class levels etc. I love that Jesus had a few tables to sit at. It was effective.
I valued both tables I sat at. I valued them in the same degree. What was fun though was that I later mixed my tables. I invited them all to sit at one table (sometimes that looked like inviting everyone to my birthday). It was a beautiful sight to see. It was no longer “us” and “them”, it was each person had value and worth and they were worthy of love.
As I write this I am sad to say that my tables have changed a bit. I now work for a church and my table is full of those of the same faith. I miss the table I sat at that was full of different faiths. I do still sit at it; it’s just a bit smaller. I know there is a time and place for everything; there are seasons we find ourselves in for a reason. Sitting at a table full of those that believe what you believe is good; it still holds its challenges. Looking at Jesus sitting at His table with His disciples had Him building them up, encouraging them, challenging them, correcting them, loving them, and asking tough questions. The thing I know true about Christians is that we are not perfect and we have a hard time being vulnerable, as we have been raised with the understanding that we are to be “perfect” and “everything is good”. So sitting at this table will call me to be vulnerable, to open up, to challenge and encourage those around me to do the same. It will call me to love.
However I do find myself sitting at a new table. It is a table full of youth. It’s a lively table! I have much to learn as I pull up my chair. I thought I was here to help them through life, but I think it’s the other way around!
What table do you find yourself at? Are you sitting there because it’s comfortable and your “name tag” is there? Are you supposed to pull your chair up to a new table that has people sitting around it that you wouldn’t even know how to say “hello” to? Maybe your new table will challenge you to grow in love and share your love to the one who believes something different than you? Maybe your new table will be full of people that will love you and cheer you on in life!
“The greatest of these is…love.”
Let us learn to love everyone, no matter who they are or what they believe. It all starts with pulling up your chair to a table and saying, “Hello”.