God in the Other (and beer): A book review

Neighbors & Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in a Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places by Tony Kriz

Tony Kriz was a good evangelical Christian. Because he was confident and had a sense of adventure, he signed up as a missionary to Albania. While he was there, he lost his faith and his soul died.  He was sent to seminary to heal and rebuild. Ultimately, Tony finds his faith again, but it wasn’t on the mission field or in the walls of Christian academia. It was in a Turkish bathhouse and a smoke-filled-pub.  It was in a New York homeless mission and on the campus of  ‘America’s most secular university.’  Ultimately the thing that heals Tony’s soul is not a place, not an act of volition or getting his theology right (though it doesn’t seem that bad).  It was his encounter with ‘the other’–those neighbors and wise people along the way (despite the gender exclusive title, some of the ‘wise men’ are women!).

This isn’t a book which touts a narrow evangelicalism. The people who speak life back into Kriz’s faith are often people on the margins or religious outsiders–a  friend from the bar named Pope, a Jewish woman,  a bartender,  Reed students, a crazy(?) homeless man,  activists and organic farmers, and other neighbors.  The conviction underlying this book is that the Spirit of God is at work in the world and speaks to us in surprising and unexpected ways through surprising and unexpected people. Kriz has the humility to learn from these ‘Samaritan’ strangers.

Fans of Donald Miller, will be familiar with Kriz as ‘Tony the Beat Poet’ in the pages of Blue Like Jazz. He was the guy whom Donald Miller worked with on the campus of Reed College.  I think Kriz brings a similar sort of introspection to his writing, but is more reflective on the nature of spiritual formation (Blue Like Jazz, focuses more on a slice of the journey; the stories in this book span about 20 years).

I recommend this book highly. It is an engaging read and Kriz has great stuff to say. This is hands down the best religious memoir I’ve read in a while.  Well worth it (provided they never turn it into a movie).  I really appreciated Kriz’s humility and grace as he describes his neighbors and internal attitudes he had to face in himself.  I also like that in his introduction, he invites me to pour myself a chewy IPA.  A guy with great taste in beer is obviously worth reading.

I received this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for this review.  I was not asked to write a positive review, just an honest one.

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