Why was a Baptist speaking at a Bible conference for Christian Scientists? After all, wouldn’t ‘her’ theology be at odds with ‘ours’?
That’s often the first reaction to any denominational group hearing from someone from another communion-– an automatic 'we/they' viewpoint. But one of the benefits of entering into more ecumenical dialogue is you at least noticewhen your thought starts wandering that way!
So there’s an immediate gift of humility as we begin truly listening. What initially struck me about Jaime Clark-Soles, a professor of New Testament at Southern Methodist University, was her deep and respectful love of the Scriptures – something we shared. That she was a young mother and wife, active in her faith community, yet choosing to spend as much of her life as possible pouring over the same texts of John that I too love, gave me pause. What a witness of Christian commitment.
In retrospect, I realized that such genuine respect opened my heart to really hear her. First, we were treated to a film clip of a movie (of which this is the trailer), The Gospel of John. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the three minutes chosen was the post-resurrection morning meal that Christian Scientists so value. Think of how young people would appreciate this medium, having grown up on digital expressions of story-telling.
As thoughtful as Jamie’s presentation was, the more telling points were the rapid fire questions from the audience. Whenever she gave the slightest opening, people asked about her practices of piety: ‘How did she celebrate Lent?’ ‘What is Lent’? ‘What is the music like in your church?' 'Are there separate services for young people?’ ‘What is a worship service like?’ ‘What is a lectionary and who creates it?’ The questions revealed a hunger to understand others' Christian practices, which another audience member also recognized and shared that she found it helpful to occasionally visit other churches. A healthy outcome of our morning together.
Also significant was when Jamie shared the hard questions of self-examination she asks herself regularly, such as ‘where is God calling me to grow?’ That's when one realizes how much our spiritual journeys have in common -- turning to God with our most heartfelt questions.
Finally, I was struck by her underlying conviction, stated repeatedly, that the intimate encounters Christ Jesus had with the many individuals who crossed his path, were always worked out in community-- that there was no ‘Lone Ranger’ type of experience in the Gospel of John.
Now there’s a path for future study.