Allison's Book Bag

Current Read #47: The Tent of Abraham by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Sister Joan Chittister, and Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti

Posted on: October 25, 2017

In The Tent of Abraham, three leaders from different faiths find a common ground in the Biblical story of Abraham. By listening to one another’s interpretation of a shared tradition, they model how to create unity amid diversity. In addition, they offer a way to use stories to remind us of God’s call for peace and reconciliation.

The Tent of Abraham is divided into three parts. The first part presents the classic version of Abraham’s journey as presented in the Torah which became foundation for the story in Judaism and Christianity, and the story as presented in the Quran which is the central religious text of Islam. The second part offers three sections of essays that interpret the story from the perspective of those in three different faiths: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The last section includes resources created by a small group of scholars from these three faiths who met to pray, study, and together.

One thing I appreciate about The Tent of Abraham is the opportunity to hear how those of other faiths recount the Biblical story of Abraham. We share some common ground. All three leaders recognize that Abraham lies about his relationship with his wife Sarah to keep an Egyptian pharaoh from taking her. They all recognize that Sarah becomes jealous after her handmaiden, Hagar, bears a son to Abraham. And each tells of God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son. There are also ways in which the leaders varied greatly in their interpretations. But none of them attempted to condemn or even convert. They simply shared their viewpoints, as people might tell stories around a campfire. And so, I discover new ways to see old stories: I learned how essential wells were, how important safety was to travelers, and how often struggle, anger, withdrawal, and reconciliation happen within families in Biblical stories. There are numerous situations today where people are at odds with each other, not just over religion, and choose to react with hate. What if instead we took time to listen and learn? We still might agree to disagree. But we might also better understand each other’s viewpoints, and thereby become a more compassionate people.

Another thing I appreciate about The Tent of Abraham is the opportunity to learn how the Israli-Palestinian conflict is viewed by those who live it. Is the struggle about the blending of opposites or about uniting Abraham’s offspring, which includes Isaac and Ishmael? And if it’s about uniting two factions, how can this even happen when each thinks the other is in the wrong? Is the loss of children on both side worth the conflict? Each leader varied in the stories they shared. But each also shared the desire for peace and reconciliation. For without these, violence would continue, and bloodshed and destruction would remain the norm. There are no easy answers to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor are there any easy answers to America’s strife. Can we find unity in the fact we’re all part of humanity? Can we listen to the cries of people who say that we are victimizing them when we feel that they are victimizing us? Can we find a way past our differences to build a bridge of love?

It’s not often that I step out of my comfort zone to read books that I know upfront will not mesh with my own beliefs. And I’m not encouraging anyone to read this book with the idea that it might change their faith. The Tent of Abraham reminded me of the importance of listening, talking, and sharing. Three things that we all should do more of, to make the world a better place.

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