By Pamela Jay Gottfried
BLOGGING A DEEPER DIALOGUE
I began with a modest goal: to put forth positive words about religion into cyberspace.
It was September 2010, just before Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), when I noticed that both print and electronic media were clogged with articles, editorials, and photos of supposedly faithful people hurling hatred and invective at members of other religious groups. Preparing my sermons for the High Holidays, I was especially distracted by the so-called “Mosque at Ground Zero” controversy. Scheduled to speak at a small synagogue in eastern Alabama, I did not intend to address the topic of the 9/11 anniversary. But I found myself increasingly perplexed by how an individual of faith could effect positive change in the world, specifically on the World Wide Web.
I had studied World Religions and participated in numerous interfaith forums — enough to know that there was something wrong with the way people were wielding sacred t exts as weapons in an arms race to prove their own religion’s moral superiority. As a teacher and writer, I imagined that a blog dedicated to the explanation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts might help dispel misunderstanding, as well as demonstrate that Jews, Christians and Muslims could have a productive conversation about our beliefs and learn from one another. I also wanted to model a way of studying sacred texts, through writing personal reflections that might be embraced by other people of faith.
My college and graduate studies had focused on Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, so I had a strong foundation in the Hebrew and Christian bibles. But I had only read the Quran once cover-to-cover, and I recognized that my understanding was limited by a lack of knowledge of classical Arabic. I needed representatives of Christianity and Islam to write explanations of their texts and I wanted them to be women, who would add female voices to the already established, largely male-dominated interfaith conversation in my city. I hoped to find two friends who would be adventurous enough to undertake this project with me.
First, New Relationships
At an interfaith gathering in the spring, I shared my plan to launch an interfaith blog devoted to the study of sacred texts and asked for volunteers. That’s when I met Grace. She told me that she worked as an interfaith chaplain but had once taught English literature and loved to write. We exchanged email addresses and began corresponding while we searched for a Muslim woman to join us. I contacted the Islamic Speakers Bureau (ISB) in Atlanta and asked everyone I knew in the interfaith community for suggestions. Yasmina’s husband mentioned the project to her, and in June — the instant Grace and I met Yasmina — we knew that our trio was complete.
Because we were all heading out of town for summer vacations and would not be able to meet in person until late August, we decided to begin our study of sacred texts via email. Each of us would choose a verse from our own bible, write a brief reflection, and then send it to the other two women for comment. Over the course of the summer, we prepared our first ten blog posts. Doing so cemented our friendship in words traveling across oceans of cyberspace.
She Answers Abraham went live just prior to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with a post titled “The Beginning.” It featured Genesis 1:26 and our individual reflections on the creation of human beings.
… And God said: 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.'
We chose to start with a relatively easy text and progress to more challenging assignments, as we were determined to grapple with our differences and to demonstrate our respectful disagreements about religious concepts.
Our attempts to meet a weekly deadline quickly led us to email each other on a daily basis, to meet for lunch regularly and to celebrate birthdays and holidays together. I am not sure we ever imagined how personal our conversations would become and how deeply our commitment to one another would develop.
Last spring, when I was invited to write about She Answers Abraham as a guest blogger for State of Formation, we were still figuring out whether to share biographical information about ourselves on the blog. Originally, we had chosen pen names to protect our privacy and to shield ourselves from cyber-hate speech and other potential harassment. We had also agreed to moderate comments on the blog, and to remain mindful of our responsibility not to add negative speech to cyberspace. At that time, Grace dubbed me the “founding mother” of She Answers Abraham, and since then I have identified myself as such in various contexts, and now in TIO.
We continue, however, to preserve our pseudonyms when writing and to include only minimal biographical information on the blog, because we believe this allows readers to focus on our words rather than our identities. We make every effort to keep the conversation about ideas and beliefs — as women of faith we pray that our work will help others reach toward God.
More than a Blog
At this writing, we have posted more than 40 reflections which have been viewed nearly 7,000 times by readers on six continents. While our readers first came from our immediate circle of friends and family, we now have followers on Facebook and Networked Blogs whom none of us have met in person. We have also expanded our circle of three to include writers in other cities; one reader formed her own group of friends that is now blogging quarterly for She Answers Abraham.
We hope this report will encourage readers to share their own personal reflections in the form of comments and posts, and will inspire other groups to form. We especially seek circles of writers from non-Abrahamic faiths; though we named the blog to reflect our identity and endeavor accurately, we would welcome the addition of Bahai , Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Mormon, Sikh and male voices to the blog.
Our initial goal, to put forth positive words about religion into cyberspace, is still our primary goal. The bonus has been the discovery of others like us, who seek a deeper understanding of our sacred texts and who desire meaningful interaction with people of other faiths. This encourages us to continue writing and sharing our thoughts at She Answers Abraham.