Last week I finished the excellent new release by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl, “Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission”. On the front cover is an image entitled, “Jesus Eats With Friends”. It’s an image in which I found myself caught up in the circle of relationship.
Reading this book brought me into that same space – one of inclusion and welcome, of friendship and being known. I felt as though Heuertz and Pohl had been secretly recording my thoughts in this crazy journey I’ve been traveling with New Direction. And it was so profoundly comforting and affirming to experience that this pair of theologian(s) and practitioner(s) had found language and image and story to portray the learnings and promptings and expressions of mission that I had felt increasingly drawn to. In fact, my recent post, “the Witness of Hospitality” was in large part inspired by reading the book (and for those of you who complained a wee bit about the length of it – you can find a podcast of this same post here).
“Friendship at the Margins” is part of the Resources for Reconciliation Book Series. This series is intended to address the tangible pursuit of hope in the midst of brokenness with the mission of “equipping and stimulating God’s people to be more faithful ambassadors of reconciliation in a fractured world.” In FATM, this reconciliation finds its centre in the midst of friendship – and friendships in some very hard places. The stories shared of friendship across ethnic, religious, economic and moral divides is exquisite – both beautiful and overwhelming. Particularly in the work of the mission, “Word Made Flesh”, of which Heuertz is the international director, we see this embodiment of mission and ministry with the experience of community as central.
“We were looking for a model that connected mission to everyday life and that located mission and ministry within community. We quickly discovered that for us this would mean moving back and forth between multiple worlds, not being specialists but dwelling with and becoming bridges between several communities.” (p. 25)
When I think about the values that have emerged in my time with New Direction, they echo the call of FATM:
• To be relational
• To extend dignity and respect across diversity
• To rest, and call others to rest, in the identity of the Beloved
• To be holistically concerned for the whole person – not just fixated on a presenting ‘issue’ (like sexuality)
• To embody generous spaciousness and to encourage hospitality
“We are better able to resist tendencies to reductionism when we are in relationships that affirm each person’s dignity and identity and when we come into those relationships confident that God is already at work in the other person.”
As we have found God moving us to a more generous space in our engagement with our gay friends and neighbours, this movement has been deeply informed by our experience of intimate and unconditionally loving relationship with God. “The Scriptures make clear that God’s love is abundant and available for each of us, but also that in a particular and protective way God loves those who are most vulnerable: widows, orphaned children, strangers and those pushed to the margins of a community.”
“Friendship at the Margins” doesn’t explicitly deal with those who find themselves outside the heterosexual mainstream. The margins of which they speak are often the stark places of profound poverty, slavery and sexual exploitation, and staggering injustice such that many of us in the west cannot fathom. But in their faithfulness to extend and be in community as an extension of God’s unconditional love, Heuertz and Pohl share with those of us seeking to be ambassadors of reconciliation among the divides around faith and sexuality a poetic, affirming and encouraging example of Christ-centered fruitful mission that extends dignity and respect through transformational friendship. I highly recommend it!
Note: Chris Heuertz joined us in our synchroblog last year – you can find his contribution here.