As we engage with people of different ethnic background experiences and even religious perspectives, know that we all want the same thing: to raise our children to be happy and good people. How we do that is the big question. ◊
As some of the family is finally taking a little road trip break this summer, I’m reminded of a particular event that occurred several years ago during a little family getaway time. Even then, as it definitely is today, having a heightened sensitivity to others who are different in their backgrounds and perspectives on important matters of life, is always a better play.
We sat down for a sunset dinner at a beautiful southern California restaurant nestled in a sprawling beach-side resort. Present were my wife and I, as well as our son, daughter-in-law, and their then 2-year-old daughter. Our waiter was attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly, particularly catering to our little granddaughter.
“Do you have any children of your own?” my wife asked.
“Yes, I do. My Nyla is 2-years-old as well!” he replied. He proceeded to proudly show us pictures of his adorable young child. When we inquired as to her heritage, he shared that he himself is part-Jewish and part-Indian (Muslim), and his wife is Hispanic (Catholic). He offered up that his desire is to raise his daughter to know the best of these three religions and “to be a good human.”
Like Paul at Mars Hill
I couldn’t just let a statement like that go by without a response. I immediately thought of the apostle Paul at Mars Hill in Greece and how he delicately addressed people that believed things differently from him:
So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)
I engaged our waiter friend in similar fashion, complimenting his religious pedigree while drawing him into a deeper discussion. I asked him how he reconciled such variant religions and their associated worldviews.
He acknowledged a belief in a “Higher Power” and a “spiritual element to our life” but admitted that, to him, God is out of reach and the best man can do is to be a good person – “be kind, share with others, don’t steal, etc.” He had determined that this was how he was going to raise his daughter.
While he served our table in addition to surrounding tables on a slow business night, our waiter continued the conversation with us in small doses over the course of our wonderful dinner. With other plans for dessert – we were going to roast marshmallows over a fire pit – I left him with a question – “Do you believe in absolute truth?” – and a challenge to “sidestep the trappings” of Hebrew, Islamic, and Catholic religions and consider conducting his own independent study of Jesus.
Intrigued, he invited my wife and I to return after the marshmallow roasting and he would treat us to coffee and real dessert to talk further.
Love, Not Arguments
After time with family and marshmallows, we returned to the restaurant and further discussion with our new friend over coffee and dessert ‘on the house’ (honey roasted strawberries and olive oil cake!). As the restaurant was closing down for the evening, we had time for a focused chat.
After gathering more background information from him, I took the following tact in guiding our discussion:
- Unconditional Love – I honed in on his young daughter and the clear love he had for her. In fact, I learned that his devotion to his family had cost him a career setback as he had to adjust working hours so that he and his wife could share the child-rearing roles. We discussed unconditional love that parents have for children, and then again for grandchildren, the next generation. I reminded him that God loved Man, His creation, unconditionally, and that was why Jesus came and died a sacrificial death to atone for Man’s sin and separation. I shared that such love is the overarching theme of the entire Bible.
- A Father’s Responsibility – I spoke of a father’s responsibility in the raising up and teaching his children the ways of the Lord. He believed this but was not aware that it was his own Jewish religion in which this principle was stated: You shall teach them [God’s precepts] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:7) I affirmed that he take this responsibility seriously and equip himself so he could help his daughter discern truth from lies all through the time she lives in his home under his authority.
- Seeking God – I suggested he go on a quest to investigate and/or discover Jesus, as presented in the Bible. Not through the eyes of Judaism, or Islam or even Catholicism, but a fresh study of Jesus, the Christ/Messiah, the Man from Galilee, through reading and studying of the Bible Gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and then backtracking through the Old Testament starting in Genesis to understand the origins of Judaism and the context for Islam, and the intriguing, long build up to the birth of Christ. I encouraged an end to his negativity that “all religions are hogwash” and to not ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater.’ That, in fact, Jesus is the consistent thread throughout most religions which vary significantly in who they say He is. I predicted that his honest quest will lead to his own determination that Jesus is Lord God. That knowledge will transform his life and the life of his family.
He was content and thankful and passed on his contact information for continued encouragement and direction. My friend, the waiter with the Islamic, Jewish, Catholic daughter, will get that indeed as well as a continued dose of supportive prayer.
Do you engage with an unbelieving world around you with gentleness and respect?
But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. – 1 Peter 3:15
NOTE: This story originally appeared in Biblical Viewpoint, dated May 29, 2015: The Islamic, Jewish, Catholic Daughter.