How to Talk to Strangers

Last Thursday, I accidentally started conversations with two strangers.

In the afternoon instead of tapping and swiping on my screen, I pulled out needles and yarn and started to knit. I used to do this in order to hijack some attention. Today was purely practical.

In our house my laptop gets very cold to the touch when it’s not in use, which I’m sure isn’t good for it. Instead of buying a laptop case I used what I had and started to knit a sample to test my gauge* and how many stitches I would need to cast on for the real thing.

The train started to fill up when one man recalled his mother teaching him how to knit as a boy. Delighted by the gap in the screen-induced silence, I told him how knitting began as a “male” art form. He loved hearing that!

We chatted away happily about Aran jumpers and how they shrank and how they took forever to dry until I reached my station and had to get off. I was sorry to have to end the conversation.

The second conversation started just as the last of the students at one of my Bible studies finished praying and we all opened our eyes. The man at the table beside us opened the conversation with, “I couldn’t help but overhear you were talking about religious things…”

I had felt sorry for him the moment he sat down, stuck between us and a feminist meet-up. He overheard the whole Gospel (we were doing a study on the parable of the Prodigal Son) and because of where he was sitting, it would have been awkward to get up and leave.

I have to admit my own prejudice here: when he started talking to us, I was expecting a fight.

A stone’s through from Trinity College, conversations that begin with religion tend to devolve quickly into oneupmanship and jeers. Andrew was different. He was intrigued by a group of people who loved their God and their faith at a time when it is not the “done thing”.

He showed me a book he had been reading about linguistics. The author wrote from a Christian worldview, he said.** We talked about linguistics, literature, what books we were reading, and about how the monopolistic regime of the Catholic Church seems to have been replaced by a liberal regime in which voices of varying opinions are shouted down instead of engaged.

I shared how the LGBT and Christian Union societies of another Dublin university had recently decided not to hold a public debate (as they both already knew what they disagreed on).

They met up for coffee instead.

They sat down and met the people behind the “position”, learned each others’ names, saw each others’ faces, and listened to one anothers’ stories. Andrew and I agreed that there is hope indeed for the human race.

In our global church family we don’t share the Gospel by demanding the right to go first. We use the SALT principle to have good conversations.

Start a conversation
Ask questions (to hear the person’s heart and hear where they’re coming from)
Listen (really listen. Not to respond but to understand. Don’t just act interested in a person, be interested in them. They have been created in the image of almighty God and as such they are worthy of dignity, respect, and love. It is always a privilege to hear someone’s thoughts and their story)
Tell the story (this is an earned privilege- don’t force it, wait to be asked. Tell the story of how you met Jesus, tell the story of the Gospel, show how human history weaves in and out of His story)

Always thank them for their time. I often offer to pray for them too. One lady I recently had a conversation with (about veganism and what God thinks about the LGBT movement) didn’t know what to say when I offered to pray so she asked me to pray for her dog who wasn’t feeling well.

I have to admit that I’m not always great with conversations. I am fine when the other person is a good conversationalist (the key to that seems to be a genuine interest in the other person and excitement to learn about things that are important to them). When the other person is equally not-so-great, I struggle.

But as I meet people from various cultures and ages who never learned it in the first place, I think that the art of conversation is one worth fighting for.

*The gauge is measured by how many stitches and rows fit in a 4″x4″ square. Gauge is affected by yarn weight, needle size, and the knitter’s own hands and how they tension the yarn. My gauge may have changed now. The project uses only the “knit/garter” stitch and not anything more complicated so I’ve taken the opportunity to switch from English style (which requires you to move the whole wrist and first finger on the “working” hand) and teach myself to use Continental style (which requires much less movement of the working hand and is therefore easier to do for longer). It’s not easier in the sense that I’ve been using English style for 20+ years but it’s been interesting to see how quickly my hands get used to it!

**After some hunting, I managed to find a copy online for £0.49 and I look forward to reading it.

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