MORE QUESTIONS FOR SUZANNE
Suzanne, you are initially presented in the book as the most solid in both your faith and your religion. However, you are also the only member of the group who was practicing a different faith (Episcopal) from the one in which you were raised (Catholicism). How did your conversion influence your experience in the Faith Club? Do you think it made you more open to different viewpoints than you would have been otherwise?
My "conversion" was not a dramatic one. In fact, I am reluctant to call it a conversion. I stayed within the religion of Christianity but switched to a denomination whose liberal theology reflected my own. My departure from the Catholic Church was difficult because it disappointed my parents, but it didn't reflect a change in my personal beliefs.
So how did this denominational change affect my Faith Club experience? It probably made me a little impatient with Ranya's complaints about not having a mosque in which she felt comfortable. My husband and I tried five different church communities before we found St. James'. I didn't understand why Ranya was not similarly shopping for a mosque. It took a while for me to appreciate how very limited her options were. There simply is not an equivalent of St. James' in Manhattan's Muslim community.
Did my "conversion" make me more open to different viewpoints than I would have been otherwise? I think that by nature I am interested in others' thoughtful views on faith, and that is one of the reasons I felt more comfortable in the Episcopal Church. It doesn't present itself as being the "only one Church of Christ that is fully in possession of the truth of the Gospel" as the Catholic Church states in a Vatican II document. Catholicism considers all faiths, other than the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, as capable of reflecting a ray of truth, but still deficient in one way or another. It even considers other Christian churches as not "churches in the proper sense". Within the confines of that theology, I don't think I could have been as open to Judaism and Islam as I was in my Faith Club experience. But other Catholics may not have the same problem I did. The Catholic Church does say that salvation is accessible to those who are not members of the "Church," and it encourages interreligious dialogue. There is a bias, however, in that Catholics should enter the conversation cognizant of the equality of the dignity of the individuals taking part, but not the equality of their different beliefs and practices. As a member of the Episcopal Church, I didn't feel any guilt about my growing appreciation for Islam and Judaism as true religions, equally beloved by God.
As the discussions deepened, you began to struggle with a fundamental tenet-- arguably the fundamental tenet--of Christianity: Christ's divinity. Have you resolved this question for yourself? Is it important to have moments of doubt about your beliefs?
Thanks to the doubt that was the result of my Faith Club discussions, I have come to understand Jesus' divinity in a powerful new way. I see Jesus as the form in which God's will--that we love God and our neighbors--and our human destiny--one of suffering and redemption--is revealed. I recognize that the Gospels don't portray Jesus as interpreting God's law or wishes, but as the manifestation of them. I see Jesus' resurrection as distinguishing him from the prophets and supporting the idea that he is one with God.
When the phrase "Son of God" began to make me uncomfortable in my Faith Club experience, I replaced it with the phrase "of the same essence." I am comfortable with that phraseology. In fact, I recently read that the prayers in the Latin Catholic mass used the phrase "con-substantiated with God" when describing Jesus. This means "united in one common substance, nature, or essence." For me it is a more mature definition than the colloquial phrase "Son of God."
I think it is natural to have periods of doubt in one's faith. The surprise for me was that I came out the other end with a more defined faith than I had before. I am no longer frightened so much by the specter of doubt. I see that, as I struggle with my faith, my faith can become stronger. And in those periods of doubt, I am always comforted by Rev. Craig Townsend's advice to me, "The opposite of faith is not doubt. It's certainty."