Neighbors and Wise Men – book review

by Andy Wade —

Every encounter is cross-cultural. I’ve believed this for a long time, and Tony Kriz’s new book, Neighbors and Wise Men, only reinforces that belief. It’s difficult, perhaps impossible at times, to recognize the assumptions we bring into each encounter; how they shape our perceptions and thus, our conversations.

Tony KrizTony’s book is filled with such encounters, from his conservative upbringing to his time in Albania and Hungary, to Portland, to his local neighborhood. He shows that really our assumptions about God, creating God in our own image, that knock us spiritually off balance. But if we’re willing to listen, God can speak through the most amazing people, often in the most ordinary, yet unexpected, ways. He writes:

I… am the one who is stuck. Not God. I am the one who walks through the world, dividing its elements up into two baskets. In one basket are the elements that I give permission to be conduits of God’s voice to me: the Bible, Christians, and anything that one might be allowed to sell in a religious bookstore. In the other basket are those things that God could not possibly be able to, or through…like a Muslim. p. 68

The personal stories Tony tells are so captivating I had difficulty putting the book down. I think one of the things I found so compelling was his honest reflection on his own short-comings as he entered each new relationship. The hero in these stories is not Tony. The hero is a steadfast God who loves us enough to whack us upside the head when we need it, to rock us out of our blindness and help us to see and to love just a bit more like Jesus. As Tony puts it:

My unexpected discovery was this: facts are the language of the head; story is the language of the heart. The language of the head encourages debate. The language of the heart encourages friendship. p. 74

Filled with insights worthy of deeper reflection, Neighbors and Wise Men is more than a spiritual auto-biography; it’s a mirror we can use to reflect on our own lives, our own areas of spiritual blindness, our areas of truth-telling and our areas of self-deception. It would be tempting to just enjoy the stories and pull out some great quotes, but if you miss the opportunity to really reflect deeply on your own spiritual journey then you will miss the most important gift this book has to offer – discovering how estranged we are from the voice of God speaking in and through the most unlikely people and circumstances. This is the voice we need to re-discover over and over again in order to fight against our internal urges to dismiss, to judge, to avoid. As Tony concludes:

Finally, and most important, my neighbors transform me. So much so that I no longer believe I can be spiritually whole without them.

This book is filled with lessons we all need to learn, to be challenged with, as we allow God to speak through anyone he puts in our path. It is Tony’s story, but ultimately it is our story too as we discover our lives bound together by a God who is relentless in love, in relationship, in creating unity out of chaos.