Making Friends

Book reviews are not a normal part of my blogging life, but last week I received a book entitled, “Making Friends among the Taliban.”   It is written by Jonathan Larson, an amazing story-teller and former chair of our DOOR-Atlanta program.  In it he tells the story of Dan Berry who on August 5, 2010, was murdered along with nine other members of a medical team in a remote region of northern Afghanistan. This is not a story of a senseless death, but rather of a life lived to its fullest.  Dan spent 30 plus years becoming a part of the Afghan landscape.  He was someone who seemed to have figured out how to be fully Christian in a place where Christianity, especially the western version of Christianity, is viewed with suspicion and apprehension.

From a certain perspective Dan was the wrong person to represent the Christian faith.  He lived without deadlines, communicated poorly, was easily distracted, liked to stop and smell the roses, viewed dangerous situations as simply obstacles to overcome and enemies as potential friends and allies, and thought the best places to visit were always sketchy and somewhat seedy.  You could say that Dan lived on the edge and therefore the manner in which he died was not all that surprising.

There is another perspective from which to hear this story.  Here was a person who knew the power of friendship.  Dan was willing to go to extraordinary measures to be a friend.  The title of the book hints at this, the Taliban was never his foe.   Like Jesus, relationship always took precedence over rules, policies and regulations.  For Dan everything was negotiable.  Being able to respect and understand all sides of any issue allowed Dan to be a peacemaker where peacemaking seemed impossible.  I cannot help but wonder how different our world would be if Christians choose to value relationship over conversion - not because I am against conversion.  So often the desire to convert becomes the barrier to seeing the other as a child of God.  For too many people, especially Christians, conversion is code language for you need to become like me.

One of the lasting legacies that Dan Berry has left for the church is new possibilities for being authentically Christian in a world where religious violence, mistrust and intolerance seem to be increasing.

The Call

In my work I get to spend a lot of time with people who are thinking about the call to full-time ministry.  They want to preach, direct a Christian education program or lead a para-church ministry.  From a distance the “call” can seem adventurous and life-giving.  But that is not always the case; Brain McLaren sums up a reality that many of us in “the ministry” face his book A New Kind of Christian:

I found the pastorate a pretty hard place to be a growing, thinking, honest Christian.  Too many people want you to spout the party line, never question, never think.  In the end, it was a matter of integrity and compassion.  If I had been honest in the pulpit about what was going on in my mind and heart – my questioning, my reevaluating – I would either have split the church or been fired.

 This inner conflict has been part of my reality for the past 20 years.  My Christian faith, my call to ministry is both the most important part of who I am and what I do as well as the most frustrating part of who I am and how I live.  I love what I do but I am always looking for a reason to quit.

These tensions have influenced my understanding of God’s call on my life.  There are days when I feel called and there are days when I am quite sure that God is just messing with me.  In a few days I am going to take a step that I have actively avoided for at least two decades - ordination.

Why am I doing this now?  My struggle with God is still an everyday reality – just this morning I came up with a new reason to quit!  Ultimately my faith is just that – a step of faith.  When I look back at the last 20 years it hasn’t been perfect, but God has been present – encouraging, patiently allowing me to rant and question and providing church families that love on me and my family without condition.

This Sunday, I will take a step of faith;  believing that God has called me into the ministry, not because I have my act together, but because God has called me in spite of my strengths and weaknesses. If you are in Denver this Sunday, September 11 you are invited to His Love Fellowship Church at 3 PM to celebrate the next step in my journey.