This morning I reviewed the book A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue by Badru D. Kateregga and David W. Shenk on Amazon. (Click the link and scroll down to read the review.) The authors are friends, academic colleagues and team-teachers of a comparative religions course at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. I posted my thoughts on Amazon. My review was approved and went live. I started to post a link to a Muslim friend I had thought of frequently as I read. Suddenly some of the things I had said felt harsh. I hadn’t said them in the way I would have said them face-to-face with my friend.
Afterwards I found myself thinking about what a difference it makes to know someone in the other group and not just see people as amalgamated communities of “Them”. Recently a Minnesota lawmaker tweeted a derogatory comment about the NBA, not stopping to think that with 80% blacks in the league, his comment could be taken as racist. He was quick to apologize. I don’t think he is evil. I think, like me, he didn’t have the image of a black friend in his mind when he said what he did.
The authors of A Muslim and a Christian in Dialogue take an extremely respectful attitude. Each lets the other speak for his religion. Each points out the beliefs and values of his own religion and not the weaknesses of the other. They acknowledge both similarities and the irreconcilable differences. It is a very insightful book, both for grasping the essentials of my own faith and for beginning to understand my friend’s. That does not mean that all books must take that perspective or that readers (like me) are not free to discuss where they disagree with a particular position or why they believe their own religion is superior. A discussion guide at the end of the book encourages small groups to discuss and weigh the values of the conflicting views.
My husband and I attended an African American congregation in Indianapolis, IN, for several years. As we got to know individuals (who were not at all like the Africans we had known in our life overseas), we gained a different perspective on African Americans in general. Our relationships put a face on the local news. They were no longer a culture group different from my own, but Sandra and Angie and Curtis and Troy, each with their own story of God’s grace.
How often do I say something, glibly assuming the whole world sees it as I and my culture group see it? Words roll off my tongue without a thought to the individuals who may feel lumped together and depersonalized by my comment. I can’t help my cultural perspective—it is, after all, my culture—but I can open my mind to the fact that others have different points of view, and although truth is absolute, how we view that truth depends on where we are standing.
“The tongue is a small part of the body,” James says in the Bible, “but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark (James 3:5).” If James were writing today, he would no doubt have a lot to say about tweets, status posts, blogs and book reviews. I thank the Lord that this morning he brought a friend’s face to mind so I could soften my words before someone he loved got hurt. Ah, that I would think of these things BEFORE I click "publish", or better yet, think of my friend's perspective front he beginning.