Pay Attention, Pray, Ask Questions, and See Where It Takes You

My campus used to publish a newsletter primarily oriented toward faculty and staff to build a professional community on campus. Each issue would usually contain a Campus Profile, which was a written Q&A of the faculty member being profiled, as a way to help others get to know the person behind the name.

One of these particularly caught my eye. It was for an associate professor of history I had never heard of before. One of the questions asked in the interview was, ‘What is a favorite book, movie, or TV show?” The professor’s answer was so stunning, I need to quote it:

“Although I am an atheist, I have had a life-long interest in the Bible, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. They are really not books so much as libraries: full of history, poetry, mythology and philosophy. Oddly enough, I find the more religious people are, the less likely they are to actually pay attention to what is written in the biblical text.”

How could it be that an atheist historian would consider the Bible to be a favorite book?

I began to pray for Jonathan and also to pray for an opportunity to talk with him about his ‘favorite’ book. It took several years, but through his interest in military history and my attendance at a speaking event he organized, I gradually entered into enough back-and-forth email exchanges that I felt I had enough context to ask if he’d like to get together for lunch.

When we met, I brought the Campus Profile article with me, so I’d have his exact words in case he needed a reminder. It was an enjoyable conversation. I asked him specifically about how it was that being an atheist, the Bible was his favorite book. I also remember in the course of our conversation that I was able to share about my faith in Christ and about our Faculty/Staff Christian Fellowship on campus as these topics came up. The conversation didn’t produce any earth-shaking results, but I’m convinced that it did open the door for continued connection.

Last year, our Fellowship invited Jonathan to attend one of our meetings and share about Jewish organizations and anti-Semitism on campus. Some months after that he let us know about a talk he was co-sponsoring by an Israeli scholar on the Turkish genocide against Christian minorities in Turkey between 1894-1924. It was a fascinating lecture, and a sizable contingent from our Fellowship attended. I was blessed by his email inviting us to the talk in that it evidenced a growing relationship built from some baby steps of reaching out and reciprocal response.

Reflecting on what has come from simply reaching out to get to know Jonathan, I’m encouraged all the more to reach out to those I don’t know, but probably doing so more proactively, because time is short. I think there is less to fear about such encounters than one might imagine.

May the Lord help us pay attention to those around us, ask questions, and share freely about the fullness of life that comes through Jesus.

Buff Furman
Mechanical Engineering
San Jose State University