Lightly edited copy of a blast email Debi and I sent out to prospective members of an online book discussion group we facilitate for our parish, Peace Lutheran Church of Springfield, Ill. (It meets Sundays at 6 p.m. — hence the name.) As we begin “Holy Envy” by Barbara Brown Taylor, it explores where her title comes from and Swedish bishop Krister Stendahl’s “three rules for religious understanding” — the third involves what he called holy envy, being open to other faith traditions. Stendahl is best known in the US as dean of Harvard Divinity School in the 1970s. He was a staunch advocate of interfaith dialog and women’s rights (the first generation of feminists studying at Harvard Divinity called him “Sister Krister”).  

***

Thanks to a Thrivent action team grant, we now have 10 copies available of Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Holy Envy” and they can now be picked up at church. There are several earmarked copies, for people who let us know ahead of time they wanted one. The others are available on a first-come first serve basis. 

Our first session will be Sunday, Jan. 22, at 6 p.m. We will be discussing the Introduction and Chapter 1 of “Holy Envy.” […] here’s a Zoom link:

[REDACTED]

(If this one doesn’t work, you can go to Friday’s News YouCan Use [the parish newsletter] and click on the one there; our phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx if there are glitches.)

As those who have attended our previous Sundays@6 group know, we like to open the Zoom session 15 minutes early each week so we can chat if we want to, or at least make sure our technology is working for us. So, if you want to chat or make sure your sound is working, etc., you can connect with us beginning at 5:45 each week. 

For those who haven’t been able to pick up a book yet (and for those who have one but would still like a good, thought-provoking overview), Taylor was interviewed in 2017 by Terry Gross of National Public Radio, who asked her about the college world religion classes she taught in North Georgia that led her to write the book, as well as what the experience taught her about her own Christian faith. The transcript of an excerpt is available online at 

https://www.npr.org/2019/03/11/702175258/for-priest-turned-professor-holy-envy-is-key-to-appreciating-world-religions

It includes this summary: 

As part of the course, Taylor invited members of different faiths into the classroom to share their beliefs. She also brought her students, who were mostly Christian, to mosques, synagogues and Buddhist and Hindu temples in an effort to help them better understand how various groups worship.

“I hoped it would be a way to convince [the students] that they could find things they liked about other traditions, and it would not make them disloyal to their own,” Taylor says. “And it worked most of the time.”

Taylor writes about how teaching the different religions changed her students’ understanding of faith — as well as her own — in her new memoir, Holy Envy. She says the name of the book comes from her own experiences with different faiths.

“I would walk in and immediately find something to fall in love with,” she says. “The beauty of the space, the tenor of the discourse, the teacher for the evening, the hospitality we were offered. I ended up being just bowled over by the beauty and kindness that I encountered every place I went.”

There’s a lot of other good stuff in the interview, including Taylor’s explanation of what it was like to teach a college religion class after serving as a parish priest in the Episcopal Church; and what she and her students gained by going to worship services in different faith traditions (“teaching religion from a textbook was like teaching people to cook from a cookbook”). Also why she is still a practicing Christian. 

Debi and I have enjoyed facilitating Sundays@6, we’ve missed our discussions when we were on hiatus; and we look forward to facilitating the next book study on “Holy Envy.” We hope you can join us!

More on ‘Holy Envy’ (from NYCU)

We have been running the following promotional blurb in Peace Lutheran’s weekly online newsletter since the last book discussion ended in November and we went on hiatus for the busy Advent and Christmas season. It contains more information about Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, and the origin of its title. The term “holy envy” was coined by Krister Stendahl, at various times the dean of Harvard Divinity School and bishop of Stockholm in the Lutheran state Church of Sweden.

“Holy Envy” is a New York Times bestseller by author and college comparative religion professor Taylor. According to the publisher’s blurb (HarperCollins), she “weaves together stories from the classroom with reflections on how her own spiritual journey has been complicated and renewed by connecting with people of other traditions—even those whose truths are quite different from hers. The one constant in her odyssey is the sense that God is the one calling her to disown her [previous] version of God—a change that ultimately enriches her faith in other human beings and in God.” Her title comes from Krister Stendahl, dean of Harvard Divinity School and (Lutheran bishop) famous for his “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.”

[Published Jan. 19, 2023]

4 thoughts on “Sundays@6: ‘Holy Envy’ and Krister Stendahl’s rules for interfaith dialog for a parish book study group

  1. Pete, I would like to attend the zoom meeting session of Sundays@6 sometimes, perhaps not always due to other commitments. I would certainly try this coming Sunday. I am nor sure if this email goes to you, but I hope you will receive it.

    Hope to see you this Sunday at 5:45+.

    Shrikant Awasthi

    >

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Pete,
        I am so sorry to have missed the discussion on Holy Envy. I will probably buy the book or read it in a nearby library.

        Regards,
        Shrikant Awasthi

        Liked by 1 person

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