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Monday, July 28, 2008

RevGalBookPals Discussion: The Faith Club

Many months ago, RevGalBlogPals received an e-mail from Priscilla Warner, one of the authors of The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew--Three Women Search for Understanding, suggesting we might be interested in the book and adding that we had a sort of Faith Club going ourselves!

Born out of a desire for mutual understanding in the wake of 9/11, The Faith Club describes the growing relationship between the three authors: Warner, Ranya Idilby and Suzanne Oliver. Along the way in their journey together they faced challenges and misunderstandings, but they came back together, over and over, to discuss what they believed and felt, even when they weren't completely sure of the details of their own religions.

This may be a difficult book for clergy or well-educated laypeople to read, to get past wanting to explain Christianity, in particular, from one's own context. I have very little direct or academic experience with Islam, so I was able to accept Ranya's point of view without wondering why the heck she thought such-and-such, and although I am more knowledgeable about Judaism, Priscilla's point-of-view had much in common with both what I learned in a seminary class and my many years of friendship with an observant Conservative Jewish family.

I know one of our ring members, Teri, raised questions in a post on her blog about the materials at the back of the book, particularly those about Christianity, and wondered if this also meant she needed to question the explanations of Islam and Judaism?

On the whole, I was impressed that the conversation continued even when things got touchy. I'm not sure we're good at this in our churches, even when we are based in one belief system! The thing that kept The Faith Club together seemed to be the care for each other the three women developed, not in spite of their differences, but inclusive of them.

I hope those of you who read the book will chime in with your thoughts.


  1. Many months ago, RevGalBlogPals received an e-mail from Priscilla Warner,

    erm what did it say? Didn't quite get this ....

    The book looks interesting but I haven't yet got a copy. I did recently read (and enjoy) The Christian and the Pharisee:Two outspoken religous leaders debate the road to Heaven. (RT Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen)and found their search for understanding really really thought provoking. Highly recommended.

  2. Sorry for the lack of clarity, I was having trouble with the link and left off part of my thought. I have added it.

  3. I bought the book in May before I even knew about the discussion plan, so I saved it to read more recently. I was interested in Teri's comments, having a large TBR pile I didn't read the back matter -- must go back and do that. I think though, the point should be that, just as I may experience Christianity differently from many of my fellow RGBP's, and we may have some strong disagreements, I don't say they aren't Christians. Similarly, Ranya's Islam is not the Islam of my daughter's community college classmates; and I know that Priscilla's Judaism is but one of many strains that are practiced in America today. That doesn't make them less valid (a problem Ranya seemed to be having with other, more orthodox Muslims).
    I was surprised, pleasantly, that the discussions did not center on externals (like, kosher food, ritual washing for Muslims, or whatever non-Christians think is odd or different in Christian culture) but, after getting past the political concerns about Israel and Palestine, on matters of deep faith. It was interesting to me that the Christian participant was the most "religious" of all of the three - not my stereotype!
    On starting one's own Faith Club -- one thing that made the one in the book "easy" was that the women were a lot alike in many other ways -- affluent, middle-class, well-educated mothers -- stay-at-home moms as far as I could tell. Not only did that give them time and energy to spend, but they spoke each other's language both literally and figuratively. None of them was a fundamentalist either. I don't know how easy it would be for all of us to come up with a similar group -- depending on where we live.

  4. I read this book several months ago and enjoyed it.

    I do agree that the Christian member of the team is from a particular denomination with very specific practices and parameters ... which incidentally are somewhat similar to mine, so at first I didn't have any dis-ease about it.

    It was only because of being a member of RGBP that it occurred to me that the description of Christianity was pretty specific.

    "Christianity is like an elephant..." our practices vary so much and it is easy to get caught in thinking that everyone pretty much does the same things we do.

    Here's to our own Faith Club...may we continue to disagree and misunderstand in such a spirit of loving concern and respect.

  5. Auntie Knickers, what a good point.
    MB, I liked the conversations Suzanne had with her priest, very "via media," I thought...but of course that's my non-Episcopal idea of what that might mean!

  6. I just read the book SUNDAYS IN AMERICA by Suzanne Strempek Shea. A nearly life-long Catholic, (fallen away because of the priestly sex abuse scandals), she spent a year visiting a different Protestant church each week. (She included Unitarians, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, in addition to mainline denominations, less mainline denominations, and non-denominational churches.) It was surprising to me how little she initially knew about Protestant doctrines, worship, etc. A very positive book in general, and worth reading.Given a small amount of basic knowledge, it would be a good book for non-Protestants to read to get a sense of the variety of Protestantism (oh, she also visited a Greek Orthodox church, which I don't think would appreciate being called Protestant!) I wish there would be a similar book of Jewish synagogues and temples, of mosques, and even the variety that exists among Roman Catholic churches.
    America (and I think I'd include Canada here) seems to work a change on the religions we or our ancestors brought to it. This is pretty obvious for Protestants, but I think it's agreed that it's happened in Roman Catholicism and Judaism as well, and in the Orthodox church as people of different ethnic backgrounds come together. The Faith Club's Ranya Idliby seems to have found an imam and a group to meet with who are forming a Muslim community in the US that may demonstrate a similar process.

  7. I read this book January 2007 and gave it to my mom to read who gave it to my sister to read and I literally got it back last week. I found this book a great conversation starter and also a good look at how to talk about faith.

  8. Just a comment with respect to Auntie Knickers' comment that I hope is taken in the spirit in which it is intended:

    I think we should be sensitive to the adjectives we use in describing others' practices. I had a Muslim patient in CPE this summer who was borderline frantic about not being able to pray because she couldn't figure out how to get the water she needed to wash first.(I told her the nurses could bring her water and we could make sure they knew she needed it 5x a day.) And certainly the families of my Orthodox Jewish students in my former life view keeping kosher as a deeply spiritual matter that affects all kinds of daily life choices. Things that look like externals -- often not so much; in reality, they are matters of connection with God and with one's faith community.

  9. I started reading this book and did not finish it - for no other reason that I tried to renew it and someone had it on hold. When that happens, I feel like I must return it immediately.

    However, I had not thought of what Auntie Knickers mentioned. What if these women had not been middle class women from a diverse community? What if they had come from a different socio economic class? I think it's a luxury they could do this being in their position.

    The book Sundays in America sounds intriguing? Perhaps a future read?

  10. Auntie Knickers ... could you unpack this a bit "America (and I think I'd include Canada here) seems to work a change on the religions we or our ancestors brought to it." because I didn't quite understand it

    (I have a bad cold right now - leftover from influenza of last week so it might be that I'm not understanding anything right now ... do forgive me one and all!)

    I love these book discussions. I just wish I (more often) had read the book BEFORE we discuss them

    that book about Sundays in America (the US?) sounds really interesting - but it's so new that it's only in hardback which makes it out of my price range for now ...

  11. I'm currently reading Sundays in America. It's fascinating and I recommend it.

    The author puts things into perspective of having been raised Roman Catholic and taught that if she entered a Protestant church (or, one supposes, a non-Christian place of worship!) the ceiling would fall in on her. I agree it would be a good read for this group.

  12. I would just point out that today's book has been listed in the sidebar for several months, to allow plenty of time to be aware of it, and that we are careful to choose books available in paperback. September's book, for instance, has been out in hardcover for some time, but we waited to give people a chance to order it in paperback, since it was becoming available this summer.
    Please check the sidebar if you are interested in seeing what's coming up for August, September and October. They're a good variety, and each of the discussions will be led by someone who has not done it before, so I hope you will all consider participating.

  13. Replying to comments on my previous posts...
    GannetGirl, I think you are interpreting "external" to mean "extraneous" which isn't what I meant. To put it in a Christian context, I would say (what didn't occur to me till after I'd posted) that baptism and the Eucharist are externals. Yes, they are "outward and visible signs" and to probably a majority of Christians, as important as keeping kosher to an Orthodox Jew or wadu (washing before prayers) to an orthodox Muslim (which the Muslim author in Faith Club was not). Yet, can one be a Christian without baptism or the Eucharist? I think my Quaker cousin, one of the best Christians I know, would say yes.
    I'll do my best, since my thoughts were not completely thought through or researched -- but for example, although Reform Judaism may have gotten its start in Germany, I think it really "took off" here in North America. Reconstructionist Judaism, too, I think. North American Catholicism is different from European or Latin American Catholicism even though all still recognize Papal authority. I think the Anglican Communion churches in the US and Canada (as a whole, with many exceptions of course) might be called more -- can I say progressive? -- not only than some of the African ones, but also even the CofE. In the US, people from other traditions are joining the Orthodox church -- making it less ethnocentric -- I don't know if this happens elsewhere. The size of our two countries, our historic openness to immigration (whatever may be the case now), and in some ways our "rootlessness", I think have changed a lot about us, religion and religious practice included. A real American Studies person might be able to explain this better. Diana Eck's book, A New Religious America, touches on this a bit as she discusses the new diversity of religions in "Christian" America; there's also Mary Farrell Bednarowski, who's written several books on American religious history. I hope that helps a little bit.

  14. Following onto Auntie Knickers' last, the American Episcopal Church is actually quite different to its UK, African, and other cousins, because the founders of the church were some of the Founding Fathers of our country (ie William White). They were writing the formative church docs at the same time as the Continental Congress was meeting. Laity in TEC have a voice in items such as electing bishops...not true in all branches of the Anglican Communion.

  15. thanks Auntie K

    also to your point Rev songbird that you do wait until the book is avl in paperback. I really do appreciate it :) but mostly - whether I've been able to buy/read the book or not - I've really really appreciated the discussion here. Thought provoking. This is my favourite Rev Gal feature :)

  16. just adding my two cents... sometimes even if it is out in paperback, it's just not in my budget to get the book (purchase.) However, that being said, I do know that I could get more organized and ahead and get the books at the library. I appreciate the consideration of waiting until the books are out in paperback.

    When I don't get the book read, I do consider it nobody's fault but my own!


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