I first heard about Tony Kriz through Donald Miller, who called him Tony the Beat Poet. I remember reading the things Tony talked about in Don’s book Blue Like Jazz, and his insights there were pretty awesome. He seemed very down-t0-earth in his observations regarding Christianity and how it interacts with the world, and whenever he’d come around in the book again, I found myself listening closely.
But a whole book of his insights?
Neighbors and Wise Men is a series of stories that Tony tells from his own experience that illustrate how one can find and hear God from some of the most unexpected sources. It is a tale of humility and raw honesty from a man who has been through the ringer in many areas of his life, and he has no trouble expressing his honesty. The journey takes us from Tony’s work as a missionary in Albania where he learns more about God from Muslims than he does Christians, to his working at Reed College, a supposedly pagan institution completely devoid of morality, according to the church leaders close to the campus. Throughout the book, Tony talks to imams, drunks, Jewish women, anarchists, and recovering drug addicts, learning new things about his faith the whole way.
I can’t help but praise Tony for his relaxed, easy writing style. It’s like talking to a best friend, someone who is more than willing to open up and share from their experiences so that you may benefit from their knowledge, but doing so in a way that isn’t arrogant, or like they have the whole faith thing nailed down. His honesty doesn’t demonstrate an ax to grind, but it does tell the truth of events that happened, like when he talks about how a Christian leader reprimands him for allowing non-Christians to come along on a trip to San Francisco that involved volunteer work. He never tears down the person he’s talking about, either, but he does tell the truth.
I think my favorite story that he told was one where an anarchist friend of his, who wanted nothing to do with Christianity, but still came and spent time with Tony and his community, took steps to ask forgiveness of his ex-wife. Without telling you the outcome, I was amazed at the man’s bravery in admitting his wrongs. It’s never easy to come clean like that, especially to an ex-significant other.
The main thing I liked about this book was that it inspired me to listen more closely to those around me, even those I think have nothing to offer me at all on faith, life, whatever. There was one part where Tony was meeting with a Reed student named Jared. On their first meeting, Jared asked Tony if he was willing to learn from a student, that he had been around plenty of leaders who think they don’t have to learn from the people who they’re leading. Tony agreed to keep that learning attitude toward Jared and all of the students at Reed he spent time with, and it gave me something to think about as a youth leader. My kids have things to teach me too, and I need to be open to that. I don’t have all the answers, and to pretend like I do is a horrible way to lead.
Anyway, Neighbors and Wise Men. Check it out!