Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Celebrating ten years of WISDOM, with over 20 new examples of how Friendship and Faith can “change the world—one relationship at a time”

People tell me they’ve never heard anywhere else a lot of what I write and talk about, and they can’t imagine how they would find such information and news if someone hadn’t personally presented it to them. For example, a few months ago I showed the book Friendship & Faith to a Buddhist friend, and she replied that she hadn’t even known books like that exist.

Friendship & Faith, which I first read in December 2011, is more than a collection of women’s interfaith friendship stories from the organization WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in MetroDetroit). The stories are grounded in recent major events in southeastern Michigan or in larger intercultural narratives, such as historic barriers between ethnic and religious minorities whose co-existence in the same communities has been characterized more by ambivalence than by cooperation. Some of the women describe how they even went beyond transcending their differences with individuals to becoming involved with (or founding) initiatives that create organized, systematic approaches to weakening the fallacy that some people are just too different from us to ever become our friends.

Earlier this year, I was informed by WISDOM co-founder Trish Harris that Read the Spirit Books was going produce an expanded second edition of the book in commemoration of WISDOM’s tenth anniversary as an organization of women dedicated to promoting unity in diversity in MetroDetroit.

The second edition of Friendship & Faith includes over twenty new stories, bringing the total from 28 to 51. I was honored to be invited by Trish and by Read the Spirit co-founder David Crumm to not only contribute my own story, but to assist with content-editing for some of the other new contributors. I had the honor of assisting Jeanne Salerno, one of WISDOM’s newest board members who shared her magnificent story about her spiritual bridge-building efforts as a Catholic Christian in Muslim Egypt while working for an international economic development organization, and Victoria Freile, a Baha’i friend whom I’ve been acquainted with for many years and was delighted to finally get to know better through helping her and her husband Pablo share her story. 

I was fascinated to hear that Victoria’s story had some similarities to the one I wrote for the book. Hers focuses on overcoming her family’s initial discomfort when she (and a few other family members) transitioned from being Catholic to Baha’i. My story focuses on my relationships with my Baha’i friends—many of whom have been like family to me for over ten years—when I began spreading the word among them that I had become Nichiren Buddhist.

The main narrative in my story is an extended version of what I shared last year in three posts (here, here, and here) about my experience losing the father-figure of my “fr’amily” (friend-family), John Suggs.

There are many things which make Friendship and Faith stand out from other books about building relationships across cultural and religious lines, including that many of them are candid and raw instead of sentimental. The writers “don’t sugar-coat anything,” as I said in my post about the first edition. “In a book about finding unity in diversity, one might expect to find cookie-cutter platitudes that romanticize humanity’s underlying homogeneity as a species. It’s true that human beings are all more alike than we are different, but this sentiment can be taken too far, to the extreme of neglecting the value of the uniqueness of individuals and cultures. . . . Most of the authors talk unsentimentally about how they’ve overcome religious bigotry or racism, and in some cases about how they’ve overcome their own initial prejudices and mistrust of particular types of people.”

With the book’s second edition, I also re-affirm that “I strongly recommend this book for anyone who would like to gain a better understanding of Metro Detroit’s history and what its contemporary interreligious, intercultural landscape is truly like,” and that this book is “a valuable resource for high school and college classrooms as recommended reading for comparative religion or social studies courses.”

I of course also highly recommend it for individuals who not only want to be inspired by heartwarming true stories but want ideas for how to get directly involved, particularly in the metro Detroit area—because it’s where I got a lot of my involvement ideas.

Image: Left panel of “The Inner World of the Heart” by Karla Joy Huber, 2016; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, Sharpie pen, metallic gold gel pen

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