Publishers Weekly, 13 July 2009
It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian Samir Selmanovic. Jossey-Bass, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-470-43326-3
New York City pastor Selmanovic synthesizes his upbringing in a Muslim-atheist household and his own conversion to Christianity as a young adult to create this concise and entertaining interfaith memoir. The author vividly describes his childhood in Yugoslavia, where his Muslim father and Christian mother reveled in multicultural cooking and entertaining. Essentially raised to be an atheist, Selmanovic shattered his parents’ world when he converted to Christianity at age 18 during his required army service. Searching for his own Christian identity, he eventually came to the United States in 1990, only to become frustrated that American organized religion confirmed some of his father’s criticisms. Selmanovic’s story goes much deeper while still being respectful of, and fair to, all faiths and beliefs. An active member of the interfaith movement, Selmanovic actually moves beyond just creating harmony between faiths toward achieving a détente between people of faith and atheists. He challenges clergy to reclaim a space outside institutional walls and Christians to tone down conversion rhetoric. Sprinkled throughout are Selmanovic’s entertaining and illustrative anecdotes, including the quite memorable “Theology of Hemorrhoids.” (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly, 7 July 2009
“In Profile: Samir Selmanovic”
Teaching About God Through Discomfort
Samir Selmanovic never gave God or religion much thought as a young man. Raised by culturally Muslim and loving parents who were essentially atheists, like many of their friends and neighbors in the Yugoslav city of Zagreb (now the capital of Croatia), Selmanovic didn’t know what he was missing until his mandatory army service. Then he met an ascetic, homeless Christian, whose spirituality so enchanted him that he converted. In his new book, It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian (Jossey-Bass, Sept.), Selmanovic tells his story of struggles for spiritual definition.
His stunned parents nearly disowned him; later, he was disappointed by American Christianity, which he found to be overly individualistic. In times of spiritual crisis, Selmanovic began to not only draw upon his Muslim background but also turned to Judaism for inspiration (hence the inclusive subtitle to his book). Selmanovic credits his steadfast Christianity to other traditions: “I don’t know if I would be a Christian today without other faiths.”
An ordained pastor and founder of the New York City interfaith organization Faith House, Selmanovic refuses to call his work “interfaith.” He says, “I am not so much interested in cooperation between faiths as in-depth [practice] and relevance of one’s own faith in our interdependent world.” To illustrate his point, Selmanovic reflects on the future marriage of his daughter, who recently graduated from the eighth grade: “I’m sure my daughter will marry someone different than I expect. How am I going to live my faith and explain it to that other? Will my faith have an identity in isolation and be ineffective in a world that depends on diversity?”
He laughs as he describes how hard-liners of different faiths act as if they control divinity and spirituality, when, in reality, they cannot control their personal lives or even their bodily functions. This conclusion came to him when he tried to deliver a sermon while suffering a serious but socially unmentionable disorder that prevented him from standing comfortably for more than a few minutes. He takes a serious tone to describe his theory: “The Theology of Hemorrhoids is basically that our inability to handle the lowest level of our existence should tell us that we cannot be in charge of the Divine.”
With the passion and warmth of a spiritually secure individual, Selmanovic encourages people of faith to confront both skeptics and hard-liners: “I think that our passion toward God and toward humanity can overcome the fundamentalists. We can’t tell the fundamentalists to cool down. We can tell them, actually, that, ‘We are hotter [than you].’ ”
Jesse Schroeder, 16 February 2010
Throughout the book, Selmanovic has the gift of putting into words the back-of-the-mind and deep-in-the-heart intuitions that many believers share, but have a hard time expressing (for one reason or another).
—Jesse A. Schroeder, jaschroeder.blogspot.com
Jon Paulien Ph.D., 23 January 2010
… reading this book is a life-changing experience. Having worked with the author over more than one draft, I still found the most recent reading a fresh, moving experience.
—Jon Paulien, revelation-armageddon.com
Spirituality & Practice, September 2009
One of the Best Spiritual Books of 2009
Every once and a while a book comes along that has us uttering exclamation marks of agreement out loud as we read. It’s Really All About God is one of those treasures!
— Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, spiritualityandpractice.com
Bill Dahl, 12 October 2009
In this phenomenal work of the heart, Samir Selmanovic exhales and breathes life into words, capturing the essence of what millions have been silently hoping, holding their breath, unable to speak. … This book made me glow with hope—a fresh, new hope: A hope worth living. One of my Top 3 books for 2009. Buy it. Bask in it.
—Bill Dahl, billdahl.net
Claudia Rozas Gomez, 30 September 2009
Although it would be cringingly cliché to say that this is a book about faith, hope and love. It is. Strikingly, it’s a bold faith that openly embraces the reality of ‘difference’ in a 21st century context and unequivocally affirms the presence of God. Not so much a ‘how to’ but a ‘why we need to’ book, Selmanovic uses autobiographical sketches to construct ontological and epistemological arguments about what it might mean to be human, what we can know about God and the nature of Divine knowledge.
—Claudia Rozas Gomez, faithhousemanhattan.org
Lauren Bishop-Weidner, June 2009
Selmanovic’s call for community among God’s peoples—all of them—is compelling, lyrical at times, thoughtful. And funny. … At once poignant and funny, deeply spiritual and utterly human, personal and universal, the anecdotes and stories show unequivocally that God does indeed inhabit our world. Our whole world, not just the places we’ve designated.
—Lauren Bishop-Weidner, laurenbishopweidner.com
There will be those who do not know how to take this book, what to do with a writer like Selmanovic, who can bridge worlds as he does.
—the Rev. Susan Baller-Shephard, Patheos.com
Earl Barnett, 10 September 2009
Many authors have attempted to facilitate inter-religious dialog, but few have done it with the pastoral care and artisanship of Selmanovic. This book is a window into his life, his family, his struggles, and ultimately his trans-religious experiences of God. Many may fault Samir for this transparency and for publicly confessing how God has spoken through religions besides his own. I, however, have been deeply moved by this book and find myself both challenged and transformed.
—Earl Barnett, earlbarnett.com
Ecclesial Dreamer, 1 August 2009
If you have God all figured out this book is not for you. But if you are tired of hearing people of faith proclaim “gospel” messages that are just reflections of their own narrow, homogeneous way of thinking and want to hear something new give this a try.
—James Mills, ecclesialdreamer.com
A touching and personal point of entry into cross-denominational thinking. Recommended.
Zoecarnate.wordpress.com, 11 November 2009
… this title by Christian pastor Samir Selmanovic has been saving my sanity in these tumultuous times. Do yourself a favor and read it.
—Mike Morrell, Zoecarnate.wordpress.com
I think Samir Selmanovic’s newest book, “It’s Really All About God,” has a message in it that the world is longing to hear. He writes simply that we need each other. Muslims, Atheists, Jews and Christians are all essential to one another.
—Tracy Simmons, Creedible
I found this a beautiful, often exhilarating, and thought-provoking book, and I would recommend it highly – to Chrisitan, Muslim, Jew or atheist, and maybe even to Hindu, Buddhist or Wiccan (who all get passing mentions in the book, even if they didn’t make the title page). If this book doesn’t challenge some of your preconceptions about God, faith, and how to reach out to “the other” (or better yet, allow the other to reach out to you) … then I’ll be very surprised. It’s well worth your time, and will linger with you long after you finish reading it.
—Trudy Morgan-Cole, Compulsive Overreader
Through this gentle, winsome call out of a religious expression which sets up rigid walls between human beings, we may paradoxically find and therefore express more of Him.
—Ellen Haroutunian, ellenharoutunian.com
Samir is tapping into an emerging theology for the church today that I think helps bring us one step closer to working on our developing and deepening relationships with others and other religious in our pluralistic world today.
—Adam Walker Cleaveland, Pomomusings.com
This is a very thought provoking book. I think that it is a must read for all of us who want to deepen our faith in a way that moves us towards peace and understanding in our complex world.
—Christine Sine, Godspace
Englewood Review of Books
While It’s Really About God is a spiritual memoir, it is more – it is a resounding call for people of many faiths – and even no faith — to recognize that our conversation about matters of life and faith must begin with an affirmation of our common humanity.
—Rev. Bob Cornwall, Englewood Review of Books