Tuesday, December 21, 2010

2010.12.22 Peace by Faithful Talk

I dedicate this review to the one Christians call the Prince of Peace born on Christmas day

I offer this review with prayers for peace worldwide in all religions and all cultures.

I remember a time when I had trouble understanding what felt to me like quite a severe rigidity in a good Jewish woman friend about Jesus. I didn’t expect her to believe in him but thought maybe he was prophet. “We don’t even consider him a prophet,” she firmly said. To my own astonishment I burst into tears.

We talked about it, even cried together. We shared our feelings. We are still friends—as women of faith. Our friendship transcended our religious differences. Why? We talked. That’s what women do.

The Faith Club, authored by three women, Ranya Idliby a Muslim, Suaznne Oliver a Christian, and Priscilla Warner a Jew, in the wake of 9/11, is a peace document as well as an engaging and accessible memoir, an effective blend of personal spiritual experience and objective information about each religion.

Imagine three women writing one memoir. That is feat enough.

But these three are all: accomplished women, academically and professionally, writers, and mothers, two centered in New York City and one in a nearby suburb.

Seeking to enlighten their children about connections among their three religions, they collided with their own differences. Before they could talk about points of connection they had to get honest about their own disagreements, assumptions, and fears.

Their process illustrates, it seems to me, one way women learn, a way they come to resolution and peace through conflict and without abandonment around an issue that has a high personal and spiritual value for each participant and is also an issue that takes nations to war.

Jean Baker Miller in her 1976 book Toward A New Psychology of Women opened a wide door to the understanding of how women grow emotionally and spiritually toward wholeness. Miller’s research revealed that women derived their selfhood not from developing an autonomous self but from developing a relational self. Women derive their selfhood and well being from relationships, from being in connections that were mutually growth-fostering.

Of course we all need autonomy but we survive and thrive best in mutual relationships, including intimacy with self, other and God. In relationships we do our most effective work to cooperate with divine grace to a world full of love, justice and peace come about.

It seems to me that this model of development toward emotional health is not exclusive to women, but may also be God’s preferred mode of operations.

Good relationships for peace are very hard work. Sacrifices of opinions, precious values, and even your pet idol must be made. Prayer undergirds the process. Abundant forgiveness, not in the moral sense of debt but in the spiritual sense of acceptance for the sake of love, flows. Mutuality is about respect and needs, not equality. You are mutual with a small child when you listen.

The Faith Club authors make no direct claim that their works provides a model for peace through understanding. They just act it out.

This book reveals the process of building relationships that grow into friendships. It also serves as the vehicle for a professional project with political potential beyond the personal. Readers learn a way of dialogue that cuts through tension for those willing to invest the time. The model could be useful in any group where conflict threatens.

I would suggest it as a book for religious groups to read, especially religious politicians. Who are they? Start with Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, all lovers of people but not naive about how hard politics for peace are.

Like "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson, The Faith Club offers a way toward peaceful relations— one through action involving all kinds of politics, the other through the active practice of intimacy, deep listening and sharing. One begins with the kindness of strangers who save one life; the other with an act or terrorism that threatens a beloved city and a whole country.

The structure is what keeps "The Faith Club" together and coherent. It is organized with short chapters each dealing with a topic about which each and all have concern and passions. Each topic has universal emotional implications.

Shared rituals, food, and prayers help connect. Each woman grows in her own faith. Each one realizes that she may dislike or not care about the ways of another’s religion, but that she now has a friend who does care, a flesh and blood fact that blunts opposition, indifference—and fear.

Catchy chapter titles like “In the Beginning,” “Stop Stereotyping Me!” “Could You Convert?” “Awakenings,” and “Faltering Faith,” highlight the process by which the women deepen their relationships and also write a book that may help others to understand rather than fight, flee, or freeze.

Chapters are not long. Most have a snippet of actual dialogue that highlights the tension in the subject. Then each author writes her own thoughts on the matter. Along the way each woman does some research and consults her Imam, Priest, and Rabbi.

Peace is accomplished through knowledge combined with understanding. Knowledge is helpful but does not require the compassion that understanding does. It takes both to make true peace. This book has both.