I’ve been a fan of every single Barbara Brown Taylor book I’ve ever study, so it is not surprising that I loved the newest, out Tuesday (March 12): Holy Envy: Getting God in the Faith of Other folks. Like her other books, it blends memoir with theological reflection on a timely subject — in this case, planet religions.
In 1998, she started teaching planet religions at Piedmont College, which she anticipated would assistance her discover the topic matter (is there any superior way to discover anything than to teach it?). What she did not count on, although, was that the classes and students would challenge and deepen her personal Christian faith. — JKR
You say in the book that when you have been increasing up you had an “empty file cabinet” exactly where religion was concerned — your parents didn’t pray at the dinner table or teach you the Bible — and that this was an benefit when it came to teaching religion.
Students taught me that. The ones who came in with complete file cabinets currently had so numerous suggestions and have been complete of so substantially “right” details that it was really hard for them to incorporate something new, even if they have been quite interested in it. They have been complete in some amazing techniques — I had students who have been biblically literate, who could discover two Timothy in the Bible. But it was when a young man who had under no circumstances study a web page of the Bible came to class that it was so substantially exciting. He was constantly asking the most inventive queries, and taking the discussion in techniques it under no circumstances would have gone.
In your profession you pivoted from the priesthood to the classroom. Why?
I left complete-time parish ministry in a period of deep disappointment about my capacity to lead a little rural church, and spent about 3 months questioning what to do with the rest of my life, mainly because I wanted to hold living exactly where I lived. So when Piedmont College known as me and asked me if I wanted to teach in their new philosophy and religion big, I mentioned yes.
I did not have a Ph.D., but I believed that if they have been foolish adequate to ask me, I was going to do it! Students taught me how to do the job, in the identical way that congregations had to teach me how to be a pastor.
In 20 years of teaching planet religions, how did the expertise transform more than time?
I had been teaching about 3 years when 9/11 occurred, and teaching Islam was under no circumstances the identical right after that. The reigning stereotype just before 9/11 was of Arabs in flowing robes with camels and sand. But right after 9/11 that image was replaced with suicide vests and explosions. Neither one particular was valuable.
I ended up adding sessions to the unit on Islam mainly because I had to do so substantially deconstruction just before we could do any building. I asked students to go up to the board at the starting of the course and list the 5 big traditions, along with what they knew about them. With Islam, one particular of the very first 3 words would constantly be “terrorism.” And that didn’t take place with the other traditions. The central characteristics of them went up, although Hinduism was the blankest. Students came to Hinduism with fewer stereotypes. But with Islam, they had gotten so substantially unfavorable details, and even extra than that, unfavorable pictures. I had to add some days to the unit so we could speak about the connection in between economics, worldwide politics and religion. We could possibly be capable to speak about the 4 Noble Truths of Buddhism devoid of finding into these issues, but we couldn’t speak about Islam devoid of speaking about them.
If you feel about it, a lot of the students now would have been born about 9/11. That suggests that the U.S. has been involved in some sort of war with Islam their complete lives.
You say in the book, “However numerous other religious languages I discover, I dream in Christian. On the other hand substantially I discover from other spiritual teachers, it is Jesus I come residence to at evening.” Can you clarify that?
In numerous techniques, this book is a porthole into a transform in my pondering that ended up altering my life and my view of my personal tradition. I did discover other religious languages, and flirted with becoming pan-religious or post-religious or interreligious. I ultimately hit the impossibility of that for me, mainly because we do not discover to speak language, we discover to speak a language. It is quite distinct. The stories of Christianity have been so substantially a aspect of what had shaped my character, my views, my practices, that it would have been foolhardy for me to leave it when I was so embedded in it.
I decided to stick with the language that I knew and loved. It was a matter of recognizing that aspect of my DNA, which was currently so Christian in my formation. It seemed superior to reform it rather than shed it or shrink it.
You talk about how the words we use to speak about religion can be unintentionally hurtful. Christians could possibly use “pharisaic” (which I have carried out!) or speak about the “burden of the law” devoid of realizing how insulting that wording is to Jews.
Now that you mention it, that is aspect of dreaming in Christian that I had to hold an eye on. Also embedded in Christianity is the anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John, for instance, or the Gospel of Matthew. The text became a aspect of me just before I ever discovered to query it, in particular the components Jesus mentioned. It under no circumstances occurred to me to query. That language of contempt is so familiar and subversive and subconscious that it rolls off the tongues of some of the most nicely-which means, ecumenical clergy I know, mainly because it is embedded in the sacred text.
I loved how you applied the biblical story of Melchizedek all through the book, in which a stranger from outdoors your personal religion winds up teaching you anything. You say about an imam right after 9/11, for instance, that he was your Melchizedek.
I have loved coming awake to the concept of the righteous gentile, a Jewish phrase that most individuals are familiar with mainly because of “Schindler’s List.” What I started to comprehend was that although Christianity didn’t have that category, I could discover these individuals in Christianity’s sacred texts. The 3 magi came from Persia and returned to Persia, and as far as I know they didn’t convert. The Syrophoenician lady was one particular of Jesus’ teachers from the outdoors when she challenged his notion of who he had come to assistance, although she did it via her personal humiliation.
When I woke up to the category, I could see Melchizedek figures all through the Bible. There’s even a Melchizedek archetype in the final couple of chapters of Matthew, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, exactly where the Son of Man is dividing individuals primarily based not on how they believed, but how they treated the stranger. And there are post-resurrection experiences exactly where individuals mistook Jesus as somebody else. He shows up as an unknown particular person who requires awhile to recognize.
What was the writing course of action like for this book?
This book took so extended to create. I wanted to commence writing it most likely 10 years ago, but began writing it probably 5 years ago. Then there was illness in my family members, and the book slowed down. And as constantly my great editor slowed me down once again. He wanted it to have extra revelation about myself as the teacher. I wanted it to be all about the class and the students. He mentioned I necessary to be extra in the book — to say extra about the techniques that teaching had changed me.
What’s your subsequent project?
I do not know that there will be a further project. The writing life has changed so substantially with social media and the want to be on-line so substantially. I’ve under no circumstances wanted to commit that substantially time in front of a laptop. But if your written perform does not have a sturdy on-line leg these days, it is doubtful that any individual will discover their way to you.