Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Q&A with Patricia Raybon

Patricia Raybon is the co-author, with her daughter Alana Raybon, of the new book Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace. Patricia Raybon also has written I Told the Mountain to Move and My First White Friend, and her writing has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times Magazine and Newsweek. She lives in Colorado.

Q: How did you and your daughter decide to write this book together, and did you pass chapters back and forth as you were writing? 

A: As mother and daughter, we wrote this book to heal an impasse. Things were so bad in our relationship we couldn't talk about faith without arguing. Bitterly. Eventually we stopped talking--about faith anyway. It was the elephant in the room. Awkward and inauthentic.

So I approached Alana to invite her to join me in writing about our interfaith struggle. As a writer by training, I use writing to help me think, discover, analyze, learn and grow. It’s also my way of prayer.

To be honest, writing is also safe for me. I’m a journalist by training and I’ve written published books. Alana is a beautiful writer in her own right. For these and other reasons, a book was the only way I could imagine us tackling our division. Gratefully, Alana agreed and joined me on the journey.

As for the writing itself, we wrote journal style, alternating twice in each chapter. So, yes, we passed our writing back and forth. Waiting for the next section from each other was an exercise in great patience! But as we moved through the process, the need to be patient and open-minded hopefully paid off and worked.  

Q: In the book, you ask the question, "How did we come to this moment in time and, by faith, become divided?" What did you conclude when you examined how religion divided the two of you? 

A: What I learned relates to the generational difference between my daughter and me. I grew up in the Jim Crow era of the 1950s and 1960s. For my African American family, not many places felt safe and welcoming--except the church.

So I grew to love "church" and the Christ of the church. The church was my sanctuary literally--and the Bible stories that nurtured me as a child became a lifeline, while Jesus became my Savior and friend.

Alana grew up in the 1980s with a completely different attitude about the church and its role in her life. In the end, she chose to follow a non-Christian belief system. I was shocked. How could she not choose Christ? Answering that question was a key part of this book's journey. 

Q: In one of her sections, your daughter writes, "I want us to become the model for a successful, happy interfaith family." Do you think you've been able to achieve that, and how did writing the book affect your relationship? 

A: For sure, we're not the poster children for a "successful, happy, interfaith family." Instead, we represent a mother and daughter who committed to working through their differences to remain connected.

We disagree on many things, especially related to faith. But we learned to respect one another. If that's success, then I'm happy to say such success is possible.

As for the impact of writing a book on our relationship, the process allowed us to both step back from the tension of our division--to start talking to one another. But also asking questions and listening.

In fact, the work of asking questions--what do you think, how do you feel, why do you believe--was absolutely life-changing, especially for me. As a mother, I'd framed my relationship with Alana as her teacher--as in, let me tell you what to do, think, wear, behave, etc.

Now as an adult woman, Alana was asking me to graduate from that role and respect her as a grown person who has her own points of view--and also has the right to have them.

That's asking a lot of a mother, but when your children are adults, it's time to move on to a healthy grown-up dynamic. Writing this book helped me take that next step, and both Alana and I are grateful I did! 

Q: Do you think your struggles are at least somewhat representative of what many interfaith families go through? 

A: Absolutely. Parents want desperately to pass down their values and beliefs to their children. Doing so says you succeeded as a parent. When a grown child rejects those beliefs, the pain of rejection is devastating.

Alana now admits she didn't realize how hurt I was by her conversion to a different faith. Once she realized the depth of my hurt and worked to show she cared I was hurting--and I, in turn, let her know how grateful I was for her concern--we finally turned the corner.

Many families, sadly, are still stuck on hurt. My prayer is they learn what I discovered with Alana--that peace is a choice. It's a path and a journey which we walk day by day. But peace is also a choice. I choose to live in peace with you.

Choosing kindness over hurt. Consideration over indifference. Friendship over animosity. Love over hate. Intentional peace. When I fail at this, as a Christian, I go back to Christ to spend more time with Him. As the Bible says, "He himself is our peace." (Ephesians 2:14) Drawing closer to him renews me to rejoin Alana on our journey.  

Q: Will the two of you collaborate on more books? 

A: Time will tell! Please stay tuned. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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