An Eavesdropper’s Wishes

My kids don’t make it easy to eavesdrop on the conversation happening at the next table over, and last night I wanted to hear more. Normally, I don’t consider myself a nosy person; in fact, when I can clearly hear the conversational thread at adjoining tables, I usually would rather not. Last night, though, here’s the snippet I overheard:

“I don’t really respect Christianity.”

Blossom and Einstein chatted away about their first day back at school. Honey, with his back to the table in question, tossed out funny, silly responses, causing giggles all around. Ladybug, barely awake, quietly munched her food in hopes of winning permission for dessert. I strained to hear.

I couldn’t catch any more.

At that table sat three men in their early 20’s, and a fourth joined them soon after I overheard the Christianity comment. Their group was racially diverse, almost ad-agency perfect: one African-American, one Hispanic, one Asian-American, and the man who joined them was Arab-American. But they were clearly buddies, not study-group partners or colleagues working on a project, and I longed to hear what had caused the anti-Christian sentiment.

Honey could tell I was distracted. “What are you looking at?” he asked, turning around and looking beyond (and above) the young men to paintings on the wall. I mumbled, “Nothing,” and tried to refocus on our own conversation.

Sitting there, I couldn’t think of a single way to approach the young men and open up a conversation without making them feel defensive or attacked. To them, all I would appear to be was a middle-aged white mom. Feeling no anger or defensiveness myself, I still couldn’t think of a single way to broach the divide and bring about an actual fruitful discussion.

I longed to ask some questions, though. “Tell me more about that,” I wanted to say. “What has lost your respect?”

“Do you take issue with tenets of Christianity itself, or with the way Christians live them out? Or both?”

“What is your personal experience with the church? Were you raised in a church-going family? Did an encounter with hypocrisy, legalism, or lack of love cause this feeling?”

“Do you follow another religion now, or have you always? Have your parents and siblings encountered the same kinds of experiences?”

I could have stayed all night, listening to them flesh this out for me.

We weren’t even close to finishing our dinners when they stood to leave. I smiled at one of the men as he passed by. I wanted to show them bold love, as Bob Roberts, Jr. writes about in his book of the same name. I wanted to engage in multi-cultural, maybe multi-faith, dialogue.

Last night, though, with sleepy children and half-eaten dinners surrounding me, I simply smiled. Even after we left, too, I couldn’t decide whether I should have done differently.

Share with me, friends – have you found yourself in a similar position? Have you ever wanted to talk to the strangers at the next table – or have you followed through and done so? I’d love to hear from you.

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