The space between desk rows is narrow. Too narrow. I squeeze me and my black bag and my brown coat into the 2x2 space. It's the eight o'clock Intro to Religion class: "They signed you up for an eight o'clock class?" Andrew -- or was it Hailey? -- would tell me later, in English 101, before Dante and chalk smudges. Two girls in the front row turn around, smile, shake hands, tell me names I forget, hope we get to watch a movie.
"We do actually do hard stuff," one tells me, grinning, "but we still like movies."
It's Friday, close to Thanksgiving break. Home-longing and weekend jumpiness have charged the entire campus.
They talk together, talk with the girl visiting from the other side of the room, talk about Twilight and the new movie coming out and how the movies were terribly done compared to the books. I remember what my friend said about the misplaced modifier in the first sentence of the first book. I smile, too sleepy to judge.
"Today we have Bailey with us," he tells to the rest of the class who have staggered themselves through the room. Then he launches into a review of Eastern Orthodoxy. His diction flows; he's easy to listen to, and he unwittingly draws word pictures, which I doodle down in my polka dot spiral: the "two-headed monster" of Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, the "waves" of crusaders marching to take back Jerusalem. Papers flutter as the notes make their way through the room, but I can't put order to them. I stick with my doodling.
We move on to Islam. I pick up scraps of linguistic knowledge (no written consonants in Arabic), history (the reason behind the Shi'ites and the Sunnis' blood libel) and religion (the many different strands of Islam all based, loosely or not, on the five pillars). Professor W tells us how Islam is theocratic, how it isn't just a religion but a culture, a civilization, and as such, every Muslim is a Muslim before a national citizen.
"But it gives us something to think about," he says. "Shouldn't Christians identify with the church before America?"
I talk about nothing else as we drive home through Chicago, rehashing the hour to my parents and baby sister. I think about what Professor W said, and I remember it when I'm reading Marx's Communist Manifesto a few weeks later. I'd told my college interviewer what I loved about the liberal arts -- the ability to explore and engage beyond one's own paradigm, politics and degree plan -- to think thoughts after the great thinkers (or the not-so-great) and then think through them again against the thoughts of God.
I'm reading Communist Manifesto and blowing my nose and pencilling questions into the margins. I want to know, to understand, to really seek out truth. I used to wonder if "open-mindedness" were a good or bad thing. I pictured it as a sieve, the bottom open, everything falling through in an ecumenical void where truth meant just as much as falsehood: nothing. It was a cover for not having to think hard -- a nice little cover from which to shoot off snarky remarks against people who presumed to make a definite lifestyle choice in response to the knowledge, the truth, they'd gained. Surely I didn't want that.
But as I read, and think of that hour in class, and remember the different opinions sprawling across the college newspaper and magazines -- I think I can agree to open-mindedness. It's an open-mindedness at the top, a willingness to engage whatever comes one's way, to consider all sides of the life story, to be pursuers of truth instead of label sticklers. And at the bottom is not a moral or intellectual void but a carefully crafted sorting system, based on truth, that deals with incoming ideas not only theoretically but also practically.
I learn much from others who have nothing in common with me. Sometimes, being outsiders, they see things I do not or cannot or will not due to my comfortable bubble enclosures. Sometimes truth is so starkly absent that I see it more clearly now that it's slap up against lies.
In any case, I know I can never be afraid of "my side" being wrong or "their side" being right, as if any side but right and wrong, truth and lies, light and dark matters. My Savior is Truth, my God is Wisdom, my Counselor is Understanding. Wherever I find truth -- be it in the trenches of Communism, the mud of politics or any other ism with the understanding or lack of truth -- I know I have found Christ Jesus Himself.
Disclaimer: I do not support the ecumenical tendencies of modern evangelicalism or the absurd initiatives of different religions trying to work together for a common goal. All roads do not lead to heaven, and I am not saying that we pick and choose what we like from different religions while ignoring the obvious differences. What I am saying is that our God created truth -- He is truth -- and that truth is a universal thing, not something that magically always appears under the label "Christian." What I am encouraging is a desire for truth -- even if it's spoken by somebody who does not embrace Christ. In sum, if you understand what I'm saying, you'll get my point, and if you do not, you will probably be greatly offended at my gross inorthodoxy (if you're Christian) or greatly elated at my lax orthodoxy (if you're not).