Neighbor’s and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places is the spiritual memoir of Tony Kriz, also known as the Beat Poet from the book Blue Like Jazz. Tony’s book outlines his experiences as a young new Christian, a missionary in Albania, a struggling theology graduate student, a volunteer clergyman at Reed College, and a community member in one of the most secular cities in the country Portland, OR.
The emphasis of his book is that God as an all powerful communicator, is able to speak to us through people and means that are unexpected and often are outside our Christian sphere. The Biblical examples he uses are the parable of the good Samaritan, who after all, wasn’t a Christian or a Jew, yet he listened to God’s prompting in his life and was obedient in his care for the wounded man in the road. He also discusses the Wise Men who came to adore and present gifts to baby Jesus. They were completely outside the scope of Jewish influence, and Christians didn’t even exist yet. But God alerted them to the coming Messiah, and used them to communicate His love to the new Holy Family. Tony’s argument is that God continues such work today.
To illustrate his point, Tony uses experiences, relationships, and conversations in his own life that guided him towards Christ. As a youth group kid, he was taught that there were essentially two teams in life: the God team, and everyone else. Gradually over time, Tony has come to the conclusion that it’s less simplistic than that. After nearly abandoning his faith, he learned that even people in the most secular or opposite “team” can speak God’s truth into his life. That the hairy guy in the bar can teach him persistence, and encourage him not to abandon his theological studies. That Islamic clerics can teach him that God is bigger than he thinks. That his neighbor across the street can teach him that gardening can be a spiritual practice. And that his home church group can teach him how to be a servant leader, and that forgiveness is the key to Christ-likeness.
I didn’t agree with everything in this book, but Tony writes in such a way that you don’t need to agree with him to enjoy him. He’s communicating his own testimony and experiences, so who can argue with that? I do believe that his way of approaching ministry in the 20th century is on the cutting edge. In this new era, we need churches that point people to Christ, even if that means pointing them away from Christians or a traditional church. People need more freedom to disagree, and forge their own path to Christ, wresting as they go. Less conformity, more “real life”. I think Tony’s book is a terrific example of why we need more people like him who are able to connect to the outsider, with respect and an attitude of learning rather than superiority.
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