Editor’s note. Lightly edited copy of a blast email I sent out to participants in an online adult faith formation/book study discussion group that Debi and I co-facilitate for members and friends of our Lutheran parish. Our sessions have taken an interfaith turn this year. We started with “Reclaiming the E-Word [evangelism]” and “Reclaiming the L-Word: Renewing the Church From its Lutheran Core” by Kelly Fryer and moved on to “Christianity’s Family Tree: What Other Christians Believe and Why” by United Methodist minister Adam Hamilton. After the holidays, we will take up “Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others” by best-selling author and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor. I archive selected emails to the group, called Sundays@6, when they touch on topics of interest.
Our next Sundays@6 meeting will be Sunday, Nov. 6, at 6 p.m. We’ll be discussing the final chapter of “Christianity’s Family Tree” by Adam Hamilton, on the United Methodists — “people of the extreme center,” as Hamilton calls them. (Hmm. Does this remind you of any other middle-of-the-road mainline denominations?) A Participant Handout is attached, and here’s the Zoom link from our announcement in News You Can Use [the online parish newsletter]:
(If this one doesn’t work, you can go to Friday’s NYCU and click on the one there; and our phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx if there are glitches.)
In addition to reviewing Methodist history (including the inspiration John Wesley drew from German Pietists and Martin Luther’s introduction to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans), Hamilton compares Christianity to a tree:
Gazing at the tree, we are reminded that all the branches have the same roots and trunk. Our roots are Judaism. Our trunk is Jesus Christ. Permeating the entire tree is the Holy Spirit, which feeds the leaves and allows the tree to grow. When we look at the tree in this way, I am moved to say, “How beautiful is the body of Christ! How grateful I am for all its branches!”
And in his final wrapup, Hamilton repeats something he said in the beginning — and returns to throughout: “My aim in writing this book has been to help you gain an appreciation for the richness of the various Christian traditions, to understand a bit of church history, and to look for ways in which your own Christian experience might be enriched by exploring the faith and practices of others in the Christian family.” One of the best things about “Christianity’s Family Tree” is the way he finds something of value to enrich each reader’s own faith by studying the Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian (Calvinist), Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal and Methodist traditions.
We’ll look for the same things in our next book, “Holy Envy” by Barbara Brown Tayor, about the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and other houses of worship she and her college religious studies students visited in the Atlanta area. Her title comes from Krister Stendahl, dean of Harvard Divinity School (also a Swedish Lutheran bishop, by the way), who once formulated three rules for religious understanding:
- When trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
- Don’t compare your best to their worst.
- Leave room for “holy envy.”
Taylor doesn’t out-and-out define “holy envy” (nor did Stendahl), but she says (as paraphrased by Publisher’s Weekly), “discovering and embracing things from other religions is not a betrayal, but a way to discover the deepest truths in one’s own beliefs.” The PW blurb, which has a very good summary, is available online at:
After Sunday’s session, we’ll pause our Zoom sessions for Advent and Christmas. But it’s a perfect time to let other members and friends know about Sundays@6 and Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Holy Envy.” So be watching your inboxes and NYCU from time to time, for information about the book and our plans for 2023.
Looking forward to seeing you Sunday, (natch), at 6 p.m.
— Debi and Pete
[Uplinked Nov. 3, 2022]