Barbara Brown Taylor writes about her deepening appreciation for unique faith expressions through this memoir-like journey of 20 years of teaching world religions in a Theology 101 course, of participating in worship practices with her students and engaging their religious leaders. She calls it a “holy envy” for what they have and what Christianity is missing.
Taylor draws from biblical scholar Krister Stendahl’s rules for understanding other religions: that we learn from the adherents of other religions, that we not compare our best with their worst and that we leave room for “holy envy.” Taylor invites her students and readers to embrace ‘holy envy’ with her.
As much as Holy Envy is an invitation to consider what is truly beautiful and worth celebrating in the world’s great religions, it is also a lament for what is missing, if not in the tenants of faith, then in the practice of Christianity. Taylor poetically says, “Our rose has lost its fragrance.” The rose reference is to Gandhi’s question about western missionaries, “Do they spread the perfume of their lives?” The mostly young students in her Piedmont College world religion classes in many cases take a rather dim and jaded view of western Christianity and not least its evangelism practices.
This book will stir controversy. There will be those who take great issue with Taylor, particularly as she writes with generosity and openness to world religions. Taylor writes “there are many other ways that teaching Christianity has changed my practice of Christianity, but the one that has taken me farthest from my tribe is the conviction that Christians do not have sole custody of the only way to God.”
The slim volume is, however, also a celebration of seeing some things anew, coming to some new understanding of what it means when Jesus says, “I am the way,” including Taylor’s refreshing insights into the story of the nighttime visitation of Nicodemus to Jesus. Ever the artful writer, Taylor is an honest and forthright follower of the Way, even as it once again pulls her away from the more well-marked path. (HarperOne)