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The renowned and beloved New York Times bestselling author of An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark recounts her moving discoveries of finding the sacred in unexpected places while teaching the world’s religions to undergraduates in rural Georgia, revealing how God delights in confounding our expectations.
Barbara Brown Taylor continues her spiritual journey begun in Leaving Church of finding out what the world looks like after taking off her clergy collar. In Holy Envy, she contemplates the myriad ways other people and traditions encounter the Transcendent, both by digging deeper into those traditions herself and by seeing them through her students’ eyes as she sets off with them on field trips to monasteries, temples, and mosques.
Troubled and inspired by what she learns, Taylor returns to her own tradition for guidance, finding new meaning in old teachings that have too often been used to exclude religious strangers instead of embracing the divine challenges they present. Re-imagining some central stories from the religion she knows best, she takes heart in how often God chooses outsiders to teach insiders how out-of-bounds God really is.
Throughout Holy Envy, Taylor weaves together stories from the classroom with reflections on how her own spiritual journey has been complicated and renewed by connecting with people of other traditions—even those whose truths are quite different from hers.
The one constant in her odyssey is the sense that God is the one calling her to disown her version of God—a change that ultimately enriches her faith in other human beings and in God.
“What do they know of England who only England know?”
The book in your hands is a small window on a large subject.
Set at a private liberal arts college… it is the story of a
Christian minister who lost her way in the church and found
a new home in the class-room where she taught religions
of the world.
As soon a she recovered from the shock of reading God in so
many new hats, she fell for every religion she taught… It was
only when she taught Christianity that the fire sputtered,
because her religion looked so different when she saw it
lined up with the others.
She always promised her students that studying other
faiths would not make them lose their own. Then she lost
hers, or at least the one she started out with.
This is the story about how that happened, and what
Many of our young people are growing up with a lot more
religious diversity than their parents or grandparents did.
Many of us are still trying to decide if this is a good or a
bad thing… Will the faith they know best survive, or is it
dying of old age?
My credentials for teaching in college were a masters
degree in divinity, deep emersion in one Christian
denomination, and a lifelong curiosity about religion.
Both my parents had such a low opinion of religion that
they raised their children to believe in higher education
instead of a higher power. We went to the library every
week, not church. We read Shakespeare, not the Bible…
I rebelled by trying out many Christian denominations
and going to a seminary where my favourite prof was
a high Anglican who taught New Testament.
I became a confirmed Episcopalian, and then applied to
take on holy orders… There, as a priest and an alchemist
of God’s grace, I was allowed into the most private rooms
of people’s lives which gave me a more spacious heart.
But the spiritual well I drank from, good as it was, did not
sustain me after quite a few years in ministry. I was invited
to teach world religions at a nearby college, and soon
became part of the process of helping students become
better citizens of a pluralistic world…
My mistake was to think I could add my new discoveries
about these new faith traditions without upsetting
consequences to the old Christian ones I was still trying
Contrary to popular opinion, all religions are not alike.
Their followers see the world in very distinct ways.
I found things to envy in all the religions I taught. I began
to ask myself – can my faith be improved by the faith of
others? Clearly, my answer to this question was “yes”
else you would not be holding this book in your hands.
I had originally wanted to write a book about teaching
students world religions.
What this book is about is the teacher of the class, and
what she learned about seeing the divine mystery through
other people’s eyes. As my title suggests, it is a book about
how my envy of other traditions turned into holy envy,
offering me a chance to be born again within my own
This book is about my experience of teaching religion in
a classroom situated in rural Georgia – 75 miles from a
large city.But modern travel and communications has
helped me to grow from living in both the “smaller” and
the “larger” worlds that most people inhabit today.
I hope that I have written that kind of book for you.
– a summary of the “Introduction – The Smaller Picture”
Barbara Brown Taylor is the author of thirteen books, including the New York Times bestseller An Altar in the World and Leaving Church, which received an Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Taylor is the Butman Professor of Religion at Piedmont College, where she has taught since 1998. She lives on a working farm in rural northeast Georgia with her husband.
Wikipedia Bio: (which includes a list of her books)
Christians may have many ministries over the period of a
lifetime, but essentially, they have only one vocation – –
that of serving God. Henri Nouwen taught me this, and I
thought of him while getting into Barbara Brown Taylor’s
latest book “Holy Envy”.
Taylor spent quite a few years as a priest of the Episcopal
Church USA, but the time came for her to leave that work
and she became a college professor of comparative studies
She may have changed ministries, but not her vocation. She
continues to serve God even as she has evolved from a
priest to a professor. I can appreciate that personally.
A second important understanding I take from this book is
that it is important to learn all we can from other faiths,
but that will only serve our ultimate spiritual growth if we
find ways to allow our formative faith to be enhanced.
The idea of cafeteria religion (pick some of this and some of
that) is very popular today. But what is the grounding core
of all that assimilation? For many, it is the original faith into
which they were born. Of course, the challenge is that many
today have no formative faith. Yet, for many, there is at
least one great faith available to base their “spiritual
envy” of others. The Judeo-Christian tradition is a
grounding one. We can only enhance that tradition by being
open to other great faiths, but replacing the old with the
new is not likely to be very productive.
Barbara Brown Taylor is a beautiful writer, and any of her
books are worth reading. This book is for people who may
be tempted to throw out their Christian inheritance because,
for example, they have discovered some meaningful Buddhist
In “The Book of Joy” which many of us have recently read,
Christian Desmond Tutu and Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, would
caution against “conversion to the other.” Allow the faith
you “envy” about the other to enhance your own.
This was an ecumenical principle we began learning half
a century ago. We now need to apply it to the world of
Taylor has given us an enticing introduction to just that.
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