Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Faith Club

The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian, a Jew -- Three Women Search for Understanding
© 2006 Ranya Indliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
396 pages, including discussion guide and resources for starting similar groups.

The book begins on September 11. When Ranya Indilby -- a Palestinian-American who remains sensitive about her minority position -- hears of the attacks, she prays and asks that it not be Muslims who are behind them. In the post-9/11 world, she grows increasingly sensitive about her identidy, but finds solace in a story about Muhammed that seems to identify Islam as a religion that embraces other traditions. Inspired by this and prompted by her children's questions about their culture, she decides to write a children's book on the similarities between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. A Christian friend of hers -- Suzanne Oliver -- quickly jumps on board, and the two call a local Jewish children's author (Priscella) to ask if she's interested in the project.

They join together and begin to discussion their traditions' common beginning with Abraham and begin the work of selecting stories from their texts to compile together, but quickly run into trouble when Suzanne and Priscella disagree on the meaning of Jesus' execution. Suzanne sees it as crucial to understanding Jesus' resurrection -- which she sees as a vitally important part of her worldview. Tensions begin to rise, and the three women realize that a different approach is needed -- so they begin talking about what their faiths mean to them. They work through a number of issues (Israel, stereotypes, prayer, and so on) through a number of years. The book is a (self-described) memoir written by three people in the voice of the first person. While their meetings are initially structured around writing the children's book, it becomes more of a retreat for the three women, and the book itself becomes less about the relationship between three religions and more about the developing friendship between the three women -- and the relationships they have with their respective senses of spirituality. Each of their faiths undergoes a transformation in the three or so years that the memoir covers.

I had expected to grow weary of what I expected to be the book's limited focus (the Abrahamic religions), but the book quickly became more about their personal quests to find meaning -- actively reinterpreting their beliefs and making them fit to their lives. The book ends with the chapter "Awakening", in which the three describe coming to peace with their paths. After the last bits of the memoir, there is added material: an interview with the authors and information helpful to starting a "faith club", including a list of things to keep in mind -- that everyone will bring stereotypes, that secrets corrupt, that everyone can be a peacemaker, that sort of thing. It ends with information about the three Abrahamic religions. Helpfully, all of this information -- from the interview to the religious information -- is rendered in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Turning the page to see Hebrew and then Arabic script was surprising, but interesting.

The book was surprisingly...enjoyable. It reminded me a bit of Spong's Here I Stand, and the theme -- humans standing up to amd owning religion rather than being dominated by them -- is one I like.

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