Thursday, June 4, 2009

Book Review: Acts of Faith

Amazon link
It's uncommon to review a book when one is only half finished with it, but I have been so impressed with the insights I've gained in the first 60% of the book, that I must share some thoughts with you.

The subtitle of Eboo Patel's book is: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. I came across this book completely by accident on Amazon. I was looking for other things, and just followed a link of a link, thinking it was something else entirely. However, when I read the review and a couple of quotes, I thought, "Sounds interesting. Maybe it will help me understand the young Muslims who commit the violent acts, including murder and suicide."

It is, indeed, giving me some insights into that young Muslim mind-set. In his introduction, he compares two different people, one a man who committed murder in the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, and the other a group of school children in Tennessee. He speculates that if the murderer had been influenced by the same type of person the Tennessee children were, then he might not have become a murderer. He points out, "Change happens internally before it takes place in the world."

As I read the book, I find places where I agree and cheer him on, places where he makes me thoughtful, and places where I want to shout a warning, "Don't go there!" He's an excellent story teller, and he has a lot of stories to tell. Stories of being in high school, wanting to be white. Stories of being an angry college radical. Stories of finding people who work for those who need help, but do it without anger, and with intent to accomplish something real in the world. Stories about old girlfriends, from LDS to Jewish, and what he learned from them, as well. It's fascinating to see all the influences which led him to his conclusions and who he is.

He talks about Brother Wayne Teasdale, a Catholic monk, who influenced his life profoundly. It reminded me of what he said about the influences in our lives which make us who we are. Brother Wayne, as he calls him often, had studied in India among Buddhists, has a PhD in philosophy, and an interest in interfaith youth movements. He said things like, "The tradition you were born into is home, but as Gandhi once wrote, it should be a home with the windows open so that the winds of other traditions can blow through and bring their unique oxygen." He also said, "it's good to have wings, but you should have roots, too."

These things made a difference in Patel's life, and gave me cause for thought, as well. He talks of visiting the Dalai Lama, and of the way his feelings about India and his roots changed on his trip there to visit His Holiness. The Dalai Lama told him, "Religions must dialogue, but even more, they must come together to serve others. Service is the most important . . . ."

I thought about that concept of possibilities. What if, instead of fighting and arguing with each other, religions worked together, set aside differences to find commonalities and work toward common goals?

Patel talks of the students he taught and tutored at El Cuarto Ano, where his job was to help them bring up skills so that they could ". . . have what my suburban education gave me: the tools to make up my own mind about the world around me." He relates stories about the things he learned from those students, some of the stories so poignant, they bring tears to the eyes. For instance, ". . . since I was six years old, everybody around me be asking 'What gang you ride? What gang you ride?' Nobody ever asked, "What poetry you read? What level of math you at?' One day, you decide you might as well ride something, or else you nobody to no one. So you choose one. Then you hated by half and loved by half. But at least you somebody."

He relates how and why he founded Stone Soup, a collective group of young people of all religious backgrounds, working together to change things. We've heard a lot about Acorn lately, and not much of it good, but it's original objective was to improve the lives of those who have little or nothing. That was the goal of Stone Soup, as well. It began as an interfaith youth project. He mentions that he had belonged to organizations which were radical, or angry, or both, organizations which had diversity, and organizations which had faith, but he realized what was missing was a radical organization that was diverse and whose members had faith.

I'm learning a lot about not only how this one Muslim youth was formed, but also about those who didn't follow the kind of path he did, and the needs that their violent acts fulfill, as well as the designs of the people who use them to further their own ends. I don't know at the end of the book if I will like Eboo Patel, or who he turns out to be, but it is a worthwhile journey following him to see how he got there.

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