I once lived with a Muslim family for two years. It was extremely challenging, but not in the ways I expected it would be.
I lived with the Muslim family in their house near the center square of the capital city of Albania. There were nine of us in a relatively small space. Added to the cramped conditions was the fact that running water flowed only a few hours a day, electricity was intermittent, and food variety was limited. But I found none of this too difficult, even though Albania (Muslim, Balkan, post-Communist, poor, Mediterranean) could not have been more jarring to my affluent, American, "white," Baptist upbringing.
What I found most challenging was this: They loved me. They loved me not only in a pat-you-on-the-back landlord sort of way. My Muslim family loved me like a son, which included caring for me as their spiritual responsibility.
This took particular force in the person of my hunched and humming Albanian grandmother. She was the first face I saw each morning, and at night she would lovingly touch my shoulder and say "sweet sleep." She also pastored me. She encouraged me when I was low, blessed me as I went about my work (which, by the way, was Christian missionary work) and she told me about God's love for me. She challenged my Christian training and my American pragmatism. She was a dawdling, superstitious Muslim. How could I allow her to be God's voice in my life?
What am I to do? Seriously.
How do I understand all the folks who cross my path and don't fit my theological categories? As a devout Christian, what am I supposed to do with the non-Christians I have known who are kinder than most Christians, purer than most Christians, and seemingly more connected to God than most Christians? Even more troubling, what am I to do with religious outsiders who are spiritually wise and speak that wisdom into my life? Am I allowed to accept their wisdom or am I required to sit in perpetual suspicion?
I recently had a conversation with Bob. Bob is a very learned and highly regarded scholar and advocate for Christianity. I was telling him about my Albanian grandmother, as well as several other folks in whom I've encountered love and wisdom that don't belong to my faith. Bob was troubled by my words. He asked me repeatedly, "How can you claim that God can speak through anyone and still hold to our Christian dogma?" (I am not exaggerating his word usage; he really did say "dogma." I didn't think anybody even said "dogma" anymore.)
Regardless of his word choice, Bob was asking an important question. It is a question that has followed me for most of my adult life. Bob feared that my stories (full of Muslims, Atheists, and drunkards) was dangerous and the product of weak faith.
So, what am I to do? What am I to do with my Albanian grandmother? What am I to believe regarding my wise and spiritually insightful (even faith-filled) agnostic neighbor or my lovely Buddhist housemate or the tipsy advisor sitting next to me at the local pub?
With any question truly worth asking (and I believe these questions are of the highest significance), there are a few foundational things I feel I need to ask myself.
What do I believe about God?
For this, I may need to go back to a Sunday school question: Just how "omni" is God anyway? From my earliest days, I was taught that God is omniscient (all-powerful) and omnipresent (in all places) but is God also "omni-creative?" Is God limited (finite) in God's capacity to creatively communicate?
When we think about the Transcendent, we need to decide just how transcendent that being is. Whether we view the transcendent as a person (the way that theists do) or if we think of the Transcendent as a "force" like most of my neighbors in Portland do, we need to process whether or not that Being is limited in its creative capacity.