ACTUALLY, it was a social work classroom. She had a shaved head and I had some sort of pixie cut, and we slowly began sitting together, working together, answering questions in class, passionate about the people and stories we studied.
After a few years of being in the social work program together, we knew that we were called to the same spaces, in the same ways, to care for those that have been broken and abused, to take up the cause of the weary.
We sat through lectures on LGBTQ rights, even in my naivety of knowing nothing about sexual orientation; we worked on projects together, talked about family and communities and how to make them better. She was patient with me as I fell out of my conservative bubble, and as I learned, we learned together.
She was a friend who celebrated my first pregnancy with me, expectantly waited for my first little boy to enter into our world.
We were a part of each other’s realms in so many ways, and yet, we were different.
She calls herself an atheist, and I call myself a Christ-follower. She may say I’m kind, and I might say I see Jesus in the passionate things she says & does.
These days, our dividing lines keep us from understanding that there is a thread of humanity that holds us– it’s a sacred thread, and because we belong to each other, we belong to the great conversation, based on care and compassion and justice.
When I was pregnant with my second son a few years later, we’d swapped places. I had a buzzed head and she had the full locks. Somehow, we’d meshed into each other, and learned in the midst of it that there are spaces in humanity, in friendships, that hold us steadily in line with each other.
Pelagius said it like this:
There are some who call themselves Christian, and who attend worship regularly, yet perform no Christian actions in their daily lives. There are others who do not call themselves Christian, and who never attend worship, yet perform many Christian actions in their daily lives. Which of these two groups are the better disciples of Christ? Some would say that believing in Christ and worshipping him is what matters for salvation. But this is not what Jesus himself said. His teaching was almost entirely concerned with action, and with the motives that inspire action. He affirmed goodness of behavior in whoever he found, whether the person was a Jew or Roman, male or female. And he condemned those who kept all the religious requirements, yet were greedy and cruel. Jesus does not invite people to become his disciples for his own benefit, but to teach and guide them in the ways of goodness. And if a person can walk along that way without ever knowing the earthly Jesus, then we may say that he [she] is following the spirit of Christ in his [her] heart.
It is a dangerous space we inhabit in today’s America. We are polarized and splintered, and it is more unbearable than I’d ever imagined.
But this story, it is not just about the Christian and the atheist. It’s not about the bar or social work classroom where they sit down next to each other and talk.
It’s about the people who know these two together, the onlookers and the bystanders. It’s about recognizing the organic relationship between people that leads to a life centered around care and justice for anyone who is marginalized.
Do you know why my relationship with my dear friend is so important to me?
Because it happens outside the walls of the church. We meet at a coffee shop on a warm afternoon, and we look at each other and cry with each other and know that on either side of salvation, we are working ourselves to the bone to love and care for whoever is around us.
And Jesus is in those spaces for me.
And humanity is in those spaces for us.
We remember again that we are not alone.
So what the world needs now is for dividing lines to be seen but stepped over, to be recognized but not given power, so that on either side of everything, we understand who we are to be–
people to other people;
friends to enemies;
lovers in the midst of hate;
warriors of peace;
creators of resistance;
prophets who speak truth;
creatures longing to be whole.
An atheist and a Christian walk into a bar–
or a social work classroom–
or a community event–
or a synagogue–
or a protest rally–
or a home–
and what they create together makes this reality sure:
that the world is never the same again.