For the most part I am able to control myself. But every now and then I read something that I cannot stop myself from annoying those around me with.
So, you are welcome that though I wanted to write to you every seven minutes as I read Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus by Rachel Pieh Jones, I didn’t.
People, you need to get this book stat. Okay, it doesn’t come out until April 6th, but you need to preorder it now and clear your calendar on April 6th.
Pillars is organized around the five pillars of Islam in this part memoir, part religious reflection, part cultural context book. Rachel introduces each pillar, explains how it plays out in the horn of Africa, and explores how that pillar both invited and challenged her in her own Christian faith.
As a brief reminder, the five pillars are:
Shahadah: There is no god but God
I loved this book for 3 reasons:
1. Rachel is an engaging story teller. I planned to read just a little bit every night before going to bed, but that plan was ruined in a good way.
2. As a cross-cultural worker, I love to read stories that are like mine, but different. Through Rachel’s experiences, I could revisit my own. Those early days of language learning, those times when I was hurt by being left out, the situations I thought I understood . . . but didn’t fully. Hearing Rachel’s experiences invited me to reflect on my own.
3. More than anything I have read, this book has me reflecting on how the context where I lived and served influenced and formed me spiritually. Rachel’s experiences are so very different from mine. As I read about her Muslim friends and how Islam is similar but different to Christianity, I thought about my own context. I lived in a place that was not very overtly religious. Instead religion was relegated to the uneducated poor or to the foreigners. The religious practice was more superstitious—visiting a temple before an exam, for instance—“just in case” than woven into daily life. Reflecting back on how being in this environment formed me, I can see that, just as it did with Rachel, it strengthen my faith. But differently than Rachel, my faith practices and Jesus himself were not held in contrast to another structure (in her case Islam) but to something more ethereal. Of course, my local friends had beliefs about the world, what it meant to be a good person, and where large concepts like “meaning” come from. But their instead of finding the answers within religion, often the answers were outside of religion. Where I lived, people placed hope in education, jobs, being able to live in “better cities,” and knowing enough people to have connections when they were needed.
I thought about all this and more as I read. I thought about what formed me before going to the field, what formed me on the field. I thought about what I “got right” about the local culture and friends and what I “got wrong” but grew toward greater understanding as the years unfolded. I wondered what it would be like to live and serve and hope and dream amongst a people with such overt religious beliefs that were similar but different than mine. I wondered how convictions I have now might have been challenged or strengthened even more in a different context. And I wondered how we can respect people’s beliefs while also inviting them to learn about and grow in faith in the Triune God.
This is why I wanted to write to you every seven minutes. My head was exploding with “Me too!” and “Wow, that’s really different than my experience.” and “I didn’t have to navigate that situation, but I did have to navigate this situation.” This book was a mirror that helped me see myself more clearly.
I loved this book so much I wanted to make you a gift. So, I created a downloadable discussion guide designed specifically for cross-cultural workers like you:
1. What from stood out to you Rachel’s personal experiences? How were her experiences similar and different to yours?
2. How is the context you live and serve in different than you thought it would be before you came? What has helped you grow beyond what you used to know?
3. How do the five pillars play out in your cultural context?
- What does there is no god but God look like?
- What does Prayer look like?
- What does Almsgiving look like?
- What does Fasting look like?
- What does Pilgrimage look like?
4. How did Rachel interact with each pillar? How have you interacted in your host culture with each pillar?
5. What would be the pillars of belief in your context?
6. How has God used those pillars to lead you closer to Jesus?
7. What challenges or confusion to your faith have you experienced as a Christian in your context?
8. Where did you respect and admire how Rachel handled a situation? Were there times when you would have handled a situation differently? What do you think you might have done?
9. The subtitle of the book is “How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus.” If you substituted your own context, what is your answer to “How _______ Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus?” Share a few examples of where you are closer to Jesus because of them.
10. As you consider your own context, how has it informed you spiritually? How has it been used to form your beliefs and your interactions with the Triune God? What do you feel less sure about than you did before?
You can download it in Letter or A4.
Truth be told, I still want to discuss this book with you so much I think that one of the Town Halls (open forum talks) this summer at Global Trellis will be a chance for us to discuss this book. I look forward to discussing this book with you!
Thank you Rachel Pieh Jones for writing a book that provokes such a beautiful reaction and reflection in your readers. Happy reading all . . . you can get Pillars here!