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PC(USA) podcast offers up a how-to on how to hold conversations when not everyone is on the same faith journey

‘Around the Table’ podcast hosts invite one friend each to sort out what can be a prickly topic

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Spencer Davis via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — For the fifth of six installments of their “Around the Table” podcast, which can be heard here, hosts the Rev. Michelle Thomas-Bush and the Rev. Cliff Haddox each invited a friend to talk about conversations around the table where not everyone is a person of faith.

“There’s a lot of circumstances we don’t know,” Haddox said, explaining the format for the 30-minute conversation. He introduced his friend, the Rev. Brenda Lovick, an ordained Lutheran pastor and marriage and family therapist who has school-age children and is married to an agnostic “who’s very science-minded and analytical,” as Lovick put it.

Thomas-Bush introduced her friend Sarah Good, a youth advisor at the church Thomas-Bush serves, Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Of her husband, Good says, “I say he’s a humanist because I want to. He would tell you he’s an atheist.”

Lovick said she’s always been open to “having conversations about different faith traditions and different worldviews.” She and her husband “get along. We come from different backgrounds, but we have the same values.”

“I’m still on my journey, big time,” said Good, whose family is a blended one. “Like you, Brenda, we have similar values. I find him to be a man of integrity and huge moral fiber. He’s strongly convicted morally about being honest and open. At the end of the day, he is my friend, and we have the same values.”

Good told the story of one of her children who heard a lecture on creationism during her first year of high school. “We hadn’t raised her to be anything, and she was ready to jump into this,” Good said. “We told her, ‘We are going to go explore all kinds of different religions. Once you’ve educated yourself, you may choose to be whatever you want. … I took her to the different places, but [her husband] was part of the dialogue.”

“Why not pick one of the most complicated issues and try to sort it out? Creation v. evolution,” Haddox said with a laugh. “Let’s go big from the start.”

Haddox said at his house, conversation can occur not only around a shared meal, but through shared online content.

“I do the TikTok thing. When I’m viewing, I have a whole category of saved [content] called ‘For the Kids,’” he said. “Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s thoughtful. Around the table when there’s a lull, the kids will say, ‘Hey dad, got any ticky-tockies for us?’ I’ll pull up a cute one of a dog skidding around a house or one of a kid talking about their struggles with bullying or stuff like that. That will spark more conversation.”

“We don’t always have to view content or a device as the enemy if we’re actively engaged in it at the dinner table,” Haddox said. “I still think conversation as it happens should be a top goal, and we shouldn’t all be zoning out [around the dinner table]. But if a good conversation can come from something — anything — how is that different from our question cubes or topic starters? If it sparks a real conversation, that can be a healthy thing.”

“What is spirituality? We say we have all these parts of us — mind, body, soul and spirit. But what is spirit?” Lovick asked. “That’s something to explore beyond religion” because “emotional wellness and spiritual wellness are so integrated. I think spirituality is about belonging. It’s about connecting with whatever environment you’re in and being part of something bigger than just you.”

One child binged-watched episodes of “Young Sheldon” and then announced to her mother, “‘Young Sheldon’ has helped me think about stuff. I think I’m going to be an atheist when I grow up.”

“I told her, ‘You’re still going to go through confirmation class,’” Lovick said, “‘but that might be a thing, and that’s OK. I will love you no matter what your identity is in the future.’”

“I love that both of you came to this with respect, with love and with values at the heart of who you are,” Thomas-Bush told the guests.

Haddox said he’d recently been listening to the Smartless podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett. An early guest was the astrophysicist and writer Neal deGrasse Tyson, who told the hosts, “You should have your mind blown at least once a week.”

Haddox said he’s been asking family members ever since, “What’s been blowing your mind?”

For Lovick, an effective conversation starter can be, “Who did you connect with today?” or “How did you connect with somebody today?”

“Especially with the middle schooler,” she said. “Friendships are shifting and moving, and she’s trying to figure out where she fits in the world.”

“Around the Table” is an initiative of the Office of Christian Formation. Listen to previous editions here.

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