Tony Kriz hopes, through words both written and spoken, to give people permission to authentically feel/speak/struggle and to honestly express their faith-filled affections. He has a Doctorate of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and teaches in colleges and universities around the country on topics of authentic faith, spiritual formation, cultural integration, cross-spiritual communication, and sacred friendship. He is the author of Neighbors and Wise Men and the recently released Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides.
KW: Why did you choose to write ALOOF? Why the topic of God’s hiddenness?
TK: I have spent my life asking (and trying to live through) the questions that many people in religious spheres aren’t somehow willing or able to ask. My last book dealt with the issue, “how non-Christians can be God’s voice in our lives.”
Before I ever wrote a word of ALOOF, I brought up the topic of God’s hiddenness often… and when I did, I was got this response: first a moment of confusion, the person’s face expressing, “are you allowed to ask that?” Then their face would soften and their eyes would almost plead, “Would you please write about that?”
Then, when my 3-year-old nephew contracted inoperable cancer I knew, for my own spiritual sanity, I had to process, “How do I figure out life with a God who hides?”
KW: Why do you think there is so much confusion about how we hear from and experience God as Christians in America?
TK: This is a many-layered question and ultimately the answer is way above my pay-grade. Here is some of what I have witnessed:
Generally, I am not sure our collective faith is very strong at all. In religious circles we seem to feel the need to prop-up our faith with flowery or triumphalistic speech. Pastors, writers and media personalities tell us that God “speaks” to them every week, then the rest of us are left with the need to emulate them, so we sound just as spiritual.
This leads to a culture of pretending. Part of our problem is many people don’t feel free or like they have been allowed to process their stumbling faith honestly.
Where can we go to process our faith authentically? And where will we find the vocabulary/metaphors to express it?
That is why I wrote ALOOF.
KW: What is the big deal with epiphanies?
TK: I think all transformative learning comes through epiphany. It comes through the Aha moment. They are the lessons that sneak up on us. And they almost always feel like they come from outside of us, outside of our normal internal dialogue.
That is not to say that we cannot contribute to the epiphany process. Quite the opposite. Some people live just the sort of life that leaves them open and begging for the Aha to come. Epiphanies, most often, happen when we are off balance. It is those moments that feel like… like when you were a kid and you tried to walk along the top of a fence OR the first time you stepped out on a stage to give a speech. Off-balance moments.
If you want epiphanies, here are a few practices anybody can implement.
- More risk: take on a project that is way outside your comfort zone.
- Travel: this does not necessary mean going to Uganda. There are places that are only a bike ride away that might as well be on another planet.
- Embrace the “Other”: Our culture steers us to surround ourselves with people who look just like we do… vote like us, read like us, drive like us, spend like us, believe like us. Befriend folks that are wholly different than you: racially, culturally, economically, philosophically, spiritually, age.
These are just some of the practices that dare epiphanies to come.
KW: Can you summarize how you think orchestrated epiphanies contributed to your spiritual journey and the way you’ve seen them impact others?
TK: I have been the surprise recipient of more than my share of epiphany-saturated experiences. I lived with a Muslim family in the Muslim world for two years. I worked as a chaplain at Reed College (the smartest, most liberal and least religious college in the US) for 3 years. My family has been submitted to multi-racial inner-city leadership. We have been living for ten yeas in a multi-cultural, multi-class communal household. It has been a great life.
I did not set out wanting to do any of these things. I literally stumbled into each one. I am convinced that Jesus led us.
One of my ways of protecting myself (if left to myself) is to narrow my perspectives, so they are small enough that I can control them. When I fully invite the “other”, in a spirit of risk, that self-controlled narrowness softens, opens up and eventually shatters.
KW: How did you grow through the process of writing this book? How has it continued to shape your spiritual walk?
TK: It is a process that I call “narrative spiritual formation.” It can happen out loud, through conversation, or, in this case, it happeed through the writing process. What I do is I ask my life a question and then, through mediation, I identify all of the narratives (stories) from my journey that most contribute to that question. I often don’t even know WHY those stories are important, I just know that they are… It is like my soul knows before my brain has had a chance to figure it out.
In the case of ALOOF, I asked myself, “What are my experiences around God’s suspicious presence and maddening absences?”
Through the gift of writing each story, I discover the lessons or themes those experiences left buried deep inside me. Many of those themes are in fact lies, long clung-to lies, which though as yet unidentified, had daily affected my life with God.
KW: What advice do you have for people who are searching for God but feel they are waiting in a long gap of hearing from God?
TK: First, and this is really, really important: You are not crazy. There is not something wrong with you. You are not alone. In fact the vast majority of the Christian experience throughout human history was spent in relative silence. The vast majority of Biblical characters lived their whole lives with zero or very few ecstatic, tangible or otherworldly encounters with God. Our problem is we need to stop pretending like we have been promised a God who prattles at us every day.
Second, go back and reread my thoughts on epiphanies and…
- Try some risk.
- Experiment with a Christian tradition that feels foreign.
- Meditate (or “centering prayer” if you are more comfortable with that term).
- Beg God to help you.
- Make a friend that is nothing like you and argue with them about faith, culture, purpose and hope.