Discussing religion with someone of another faith, even a close friend, is never easy, which may be why we so rarely venture beyond the superficial when we attempt it. The great value of The Faith Club is that its authors refuse to minimize the challenges of engaging in personal interfaith discussions and that, ultimately, they succeed in showing us why the effort is worthwhile.
It's natural to retreat when we find ourselves talking about faith with those who have different beliefs. Fearful of offending each other, we often don't talk about the real issues that divide us. The conversations become overly polite and careful, and end up being nothing more than finger food at a banquet. They make people feel good about themselves and imagine they are reaching out, but do little to solve the problems that exist among those of different faith traditions.
Chipping away at those problems is one of the aims of On Faith, so it seemed appropriate to launch our weekly reviews of religious and spiritual books with a review of The Faith Club.
The book was an accident -- the story of three women, Ranya Idliby, a Muslim, Suzanne Oliver, a Christian, and Priscilla Warner, a Jew, who got together to write a childrens book about their three religions. They ended up spending several years together exploring each other's faith. It was not always easy. There were arguments, hurt feelings, tensions, and difficult moments during which misunderstandings and resentments almost won. But they stuck it out and eventually decided to write a book about their own experiences together, rather than the children’s book.
It was the right decision. The result is an easy introduction to what Muslims, Jews and Christians believe, how those beliefs influence the ethics, morals, and values of individual. So many people who try to study religion, and I am one, delve into the heaviest books, seeking intellectual explanations for religion and spirituality. What really works about this book is that it allows us to hear how faith plays out for three real people thrust into a situation where they have to explain themselves to each other.
Idliby, Oliver and Warner come across as intelligent, articulate and caring people, ut they also speak to each other in ways that most of us would never dare. What they have done is truly courageous, confronting each other with the greatest respect about the things that each holds dearest. How much more intimate with a person can you get than to explore that persons religious beliefs?
The book is a terrific read. You can’t help but get wrapped up in their personal stories and by the end you feel as if you have been through the experience with them. It is also a wonderful guide for those who genuinely want to try to understand faith traditions other than their own and still have friends they cherish at the end.