I spiraled down two flights of stairs to the basement of the Bizzell Memorial Library on the University of Oklahoma campus, running a few minutes behind to make the 10am rendezvous. I was on campus for the day, meeting with old friends and professors. The schedule was tight, which explains why I found myself late for one of these meetings.
When I reached the Bookmark, the cleverly ironic name for the coffee shop in the library basement, I was relieved to see that despite my tardiness, I had beaten Dr. Boyd, one of my favorite professors who also served on my thesis committee. I picked out an empty table and pulled out my phone in an effort to look busy.
Moments after my arrival, Dr. Boyd walked in. He looks exactly like a tenured professor should look like. I’m going to assume that he’s in his 70’s or 80’s. What’s left of his hair around his head is as white as his eyes are blitzing blue. He moves slowly but with an unusual purpose and energy. His wrinkled khaki pants with a carelessly tucked dress shirt suggested that he had already been at his desk for hours. If Dumbledore taught philosophy at OU, this was him.
After ordering coffee, we sat down at my already claimed table. He spoke to me like he hadn’t seen me in ages.
“I only think it’s been, like, two years” I said defensively.
“Yes” he retorted, “but in the academy, when you have a brand new student body every four years, two years is a lifetime.”
He always calls college “the academy.” Not like the Air Force Academy but like Plato or someone like that. I don’t get it. I also don’t understand how someone in their 70’s or 80’s can say two years is a lifetime. I didn’t press either of these subjects however, figuring that there were more important issues to address.
Dr. Boyd drank the hot contents of his cup slowly as I filled him in on what I’d done over the last two years, my work at CIY dominated most of the report. I listed the highlights. I discussed our purpose as an organization and what we are calling students to. I brought up the upcoming persecuted church documentary project, which seemed to direct the rest of our conversation.
He mentioned a recent gathering of various religious thinkers and leaders he was invited to. Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and Christians circled the table. I’m personally always fascinated by settings like this. How do you even have a conversation when there are so many conflicting ideals around the table? Big stuff. Important stuff.
Looking back on our conversation, especially in light of the controversy caused by an idiotic preacher in Florida that dominated the new last week, I truly see how important those pluralistic situations actually are. I’m not trying to water down truth. I’m not saying that everyone is right. But I will advocate for open dialog and mutual respect.
Dr. Boyd leaned across the table and actually grabbed my hands when he said, “In conversations like this, it’s always ‘us versus them.’ And I believe that there really is a ‘them.’ Our job as Christians is to turn 'them' into ‘us’. Does that make sense?”
I thought about my reply for only a moment but was cut off before I could voice it.
“Look at the words of Christ on the cross.” He continued, “When Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them… hear that? He said ‘them’… These are inclusive words. This is the model we are to follow.”
“But when we feel threatened” he continued, getting a little worked up at this point, “we become ‘us’ really quickly.” The news headlines last week make this point clear.
Our hour long conversation flew by quickly. A few minutes before eleven, we stood up, tossed our coffee cups, shook hands, and made our way up the stairs. As we parted ways he encouraged me to stay in touch. I promised I would. He also encouraged me to continue to allow my faith to be lived out in action. I admitted that there was no other way.
“If we aren’t known for action” he said, “they won’t want to become us.”