a humble attempt at authentic living. relying on community and conversation for holistic answers to fractured questions. trying to catch a glimpse of the kingdom coming. seeking the one who said "follow me"...
Friendship at the Margins is part of the Resources for Reconciliation Book Series, a partnership between IVP and the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School. The series asks what it means to pursue hope in the midst of the many manifestations of brokenness in our world. Each book is co-authored by a practitioner and someone from the academy. I have been looking forward to reading Friendship, written as it is by two people I have respected for a long time: Chris Heuertz, international director of Word Made Flesh, and Christine Pohl, professor of social ethics at Asbury Seminary, who was my advisor during my time there.
Two decades ago I volunteered regularly at a free lunch program offered by a downtown church in Lubbock, Texas. From one to two hundred people came, mostly from the neighborhood. We ‘got them through the line, fed and cleaned up’ in an hour. For a reason I no longer remember, one day I decided to stand in line, get a plate and sit down at a table and get into a conversation with a couple of people. That was an important milestone in my journey into the heart of what the authors discuss in this book.
Although a relatively short book, it took me a while to read Friendship. The authors ask questions I thought I had satisfactorily answered a long time ago, and yet through their graceful interweaving of stories with the insight that comes from praxis, I found myself being challenged at the same time I was nodding in agreement with them. I took stock of some of the friendships I have, and confess I came out wanting. Having lived in Lexington for 9 months now, I became somewhat uncomfortable as I reflected on whether blossoming friendships here are truly mutual or if I’m still tempted to see certain people as “projects”, “potential donors” or “representatives of causes.” One of the strengths of the book is the honesty and humility evident throughout, which gently drew forth the same from me.
The book takes an unflinching yet generous look at donor-recipient issues in service and mission; at the unavoidable ambiguities and tensions that arise when we become friends with those outside our own social circles; and at the necessity of long-term commitment to place and people. The last chapter, which asks what kinds of spiritual practices help sustain friendships at the margins, seems particularly important. What will help us sustain long term commitment to each other – where does our hope come from, and how will we nurture it in the midst of our shared brokenness? (To that end I’m also looking forward to reading Pilgrimage of a Soul by Chris’ wife and partner in mission, Phileena, released next month.)
Friendship at the Margins – highly recommended.
"What keeps our faith cheerful is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music, and books, raising kids p; all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through. Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people."
-- Garrison Keillor
|The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in An Age of Self Obsession|
Mark had my undivided attention with his Acknowledgements section. He gives thanks to his regional library for “saving me a small fortune in books and for a lifetime of learning.” So, from the beginning of my reading I considered Mark a kindred spirit.
Mark writes with an uncommon grace. As I was reading this book I did feel like I had a wiser friend gently dispensing insight. Personal without being corny and deeply thoughtful without being overtly academic makes for a very compelling read. His personal stories and central thesis provide grounding for years of scholarly research.
Mark writes primarily to those of us engaged in “reshaping the church in the West.” He suggests that our efforts will ultimately fail, “because there is a huge unnamed problem with people inside the church.” (p.xviii) He goes on to argue that discipleship is both the problem and the way forward as the people of God reframe church practices for the sake of living out a more liberating, revolutionary, and life-embracing faithfulness.
After 12 years of ‘life together’ with communality I tend to agree with Mark’s assertion. We really can find all kinds of creativity in the ways we ‘do church’ but still leave our lives just as vulnerable to the dehumanizing influence of that which is unholy. It is no surprise that hot on the heels of this book those other Aussie missionary marvels, the Hirsch’s, released a book on missional discipleship (Untamed).
I found this book personally challenging, a perfect companion during the Lenten season. Mark was able to help me think about my identity as a human person in relationship with the Creator God (the vertical self). I must admit my severe (and, for the most part, ungodly) cynicism whenever I come across the latest “find yourself” recipes for self-discovery – especially from Christian writers. I was curious to see how Mark would avoid pressing my buttons and I was delighted to catch myself deeply moved by a challenging message. Mark is calling us back to a biblical anthropology that affirms what it means to be a proper human being and he cleverly articulates how frequently this quest is interrupted by the push and shove of our LOUD culture. Mark urges the reader to think about this proper humanity in terms of holiness, an admittedly un-sexy idea for this day and age. Mark helps unpack a kind of holiness (wholeness) rooted in scripture and affirming of our deepest impulses. His writing about the redemption of desire was especially helpful for fasting efforts during Lent.
I would have loved to read more of Mark’s reflections of being human in terms of the life of the Trinity. Our image bearing, it seems to me, is only possible in communion with other human persons. How does holiness become more than a personal trait and carry over into cultural (trans)formation? I’m also on a kick about ‘place’ and would love to hear more from Mark about how geography informs the vertical self.
BUY (OR BORROW) THIS BOOK
I highly recommend this book to you. Fantastic for personal inventory and/or reading in a small group setting. Few writers are able to bring the big-picture into the same landscape as personal formation with the clarity and gentleness of Mark. And while you’re at it, pick up his other book, “the trouble with Paris” for a brilliant survey of the mess we make when we allow faith to be submitted to consumerism (my review is here).
so many wonderful gatherings this weekend…and then several of our basements flooded. cups runneth over!
we had the growing community event in the east end, (saturday 10am-2pm), billy’s birthday party and derby gathering (saturday night), and the baby porter shower/celebration at the koch’s place (sunday morning). good times and even in the midst of soggy basements, some cherished community time.here are some picture (see more here)