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Opening Up to Faith Conversations

July 17, 2021

Another Way for week of July 9, 2021

Opening Up to Faith Conversations

Roommates Barbra Graber, left, and Sara Wenger Shenk, right, in an off-campus apartment, 1974-75.

One of my college roommates, Sara Wenger Shenk, has written a new book called Tongue Tied: Learning the Lost Art of Talking About Faith (Herald Press, 2021). Sara is a prolific and elegant writer. In this book she explores how in the last 30 years so many of us have lost the ability to be open about our faith in God—indeed if we have faith at all. We shy away from talking about religion perhaps because we’re afraid of offending others, or it doesn’t come as naturally as talking about the weather or health.

I found the most meaningful parts of her book included personal stories—either her own or from others. The stories help us connect with her premise, that “We need a language of faith that is authentic, candid, and robust.” Here’s one sad but powerful story from Sara:

“When I was particularly distraught by a double tragedy affecting people in our community—my dear friend’s husband and her daughter’s husband, both killed within ten days of each other in separate horrific accidents—I sat at the piano, tears streaming down my face, wondering what in the world there was to sing that might assuage the confusion, anger, and grief. I happened onto the song “Halle, Halle, Hallelujah!” (a traditional Caribbean song arranged by John Bell). As I began singing, my rational brain kept vetoing the song. Wrong song! Wrong song! Who sings hallelujahs when experiencing such loss? Where’s the mad, sad, angry song I should really be singing? Yet as I pounded the keys, the song began to possess me. I played and sang on and on and on, louder and louder, with no desire to stop. In the process I found that I was transported to another place. A place where God is God, no matter what. The change happened inexplicably. Without expectation. And it was real.” (p. 146)

Sara Wenger Shenk

Singing our way into a better framework has happened to me also—in my car. Sara is a scholar and served as president of a seminary for almost a decade. I appreciate this book because it makes us think about how faith conversations can be reinstituted into our lives without taking offense at what others believe or share. Even writing about faith here in a daily newspaper should be as non-controversial as saying your like such and such baseball or football team.

In her book Sara talks about how religious arguments and even some of the old hymns we may still enjoy singing, come up short in terms of communicating a faith that is vibrant but open to listening to the experiences and viewpoints of others.

Beautifully, Sara reminds us: “Listening well, leaning into mystery, talking about what we love, and holding our convictions in gentle tension with others’ convictions, while standing on storied, holy ground, will restore a greater sense of our shared humanity and desire to know and be known by God. Our children and grandchildren will be blessed—as will the watching world” (p. 117).

Back to the double tragedy of the opening story above, told by Sara. I also knew and mourned the families and the horrible sadness it produced. Sara’s recollection brings me to the terrible condo collapse down in Miami in June with so many innocent victims. In such situations, we may be tempted (or think it is helpful) to tell families the oft-repeated truisms: “He or she is in a better place.” “God knows best.” “God wanted another angel.” (I find that last one particularly sad and not helpful for those in mourning to hear.) Instead, perhaps it is more reassuring to communicate that God grieves too, and longs to comfort us. A woman who lost her father when a gun accidentally went off, put it this way: “I never blamed God. I ever said God took my father away from me. I’ve always believed that God has been as grieved as me and put arms me and comforted me.” May it be so. And may we more naturally share the experiences of our own faith without putting down others.

***

You can find Sara’s newest book here.

Do you engage in faith conversations or are “religious” conversations not for you?

For more questions you can access the study guide I was asked to write for this book here.

Send other comments or stories to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834. For more info on Sara’s book see https://heraldpress.com/books/tongue-tied/

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.  

3 Comments
  1. Thanks for sharing that college photo, Melanie. What interesting roommates you had. I too admire Sara’s passionate, penetrating, voice. She has written another important book, and her life and her words rhyme.

  2. It was an absolutely fascinating year–the year Sara and Gerald started dating. Barbra and Sara were sweet to invite me to live with them, just a bit below the top of your former street in Park View (can’t think of that name) rented by Mrs. Sarco. (Can’t think of her first name either, Mike had died.) Hope you get a chance to read the book! I like your final statement above. 🙂

  3. Comment by Nick:

    “…may we more naturally share the experiences of our own faith without putting others down.” I like that sentiment in your recent column.

    Many will fall short of that behavior because of the complex nature of personal reality. In the bell curve distribution of life there always will be religious bigots and saints. The extremes define the center and give life depth. The poor will always be with us, as will the rich. One is meaningless without the other. Reality would collapse otherwise.

    Conceive, create, experience. That is what humans do every instant of their lives. Of the seemingly infinite number of choices that can be made, why do we choose what we do? Fate or free will? It’s one of the mysteries of life.

    Quantum physicists speculate on the existence of multiple universes and multiple selves where all the paths we didn’t choose in this life play out. Nothing is beyond God’s ability to create, but the concept of a God of that size is difficult to fit in a human brain. Maybe scientists will discover a more definitive answer some day. They already have learned enough secrets of the universe to create unbelievably complicated smartphones. Many, many more discoveries are on the way.

    Nick Russian

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