Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Review – Friendship at the Margins

Friendship at the Margins 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.

1 comment:

amberly said...

Unflinching. Agreed. I just finished the book also, and slowly. I kept thinking I'd sit and read a few chapters, and after a few pages I'd find myself lost in reflection and confessional prayer. I thought the writing was honest about the difficulties and areas of needed growth. And that was balanced with confessional writing (no condescension detectable here), and hopeful writing. I felt no permission to just give up and say "this is too hard, so why bother?"

And thanks for the tip on the coming book from Chris's wife! Will add to my "to read" list immediately...