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Faces of Faith — “My Neighbor and Me”

Both of our children were power lifters while in high school at Montesano. My son continues to compete as a powerlifter as an adult. Over the years of their involvement, I have learned that a primary aspect and focus of any “strength sport” is the training, conditioning and building of muscle. Such conditioning involves intentionally stressing and actually breaking down muscle tissue through targeted lifting and other exercises, followed by the intentional recovery from that stressing. This pattern actually builds and grows muscle and, in turn, one’s strength.

As a pastor, I find faith to be similar to this understanding of building muscle in several ways. First, we are naturally designed for it. Our muscles are part of every aspect of our physical being. My heart is a muscle … My diaphragm muscle enables me to breathe … muscles move my eyes, allow speech, enable my consumption and digestion of food and water and create movement of all my extremities. And any injury or disease that inhibits or destroys muscle is serious, life-altering and even deadly. To intentionally focus on and build up parts of this system of muscles is to leverage and develop a natural asset.

Faith is first and foremost a relationship, and I believe humans are innately and inherently designed to be in relationships — relationship with ourselves, with others, with the world and our environment … and with God or whatever you call that which is beyond ourselves, others and the world. The foundational nature of relationships, like the system of muscles that is central to our physical life, is often taken for granted and not examined or reflected upon or intentionally developed. Like those of us who live rather “unfit” physical lives leaving our physical conditioning on auto-pilot, many people ignore the opportunity to intentionally cultivate faith relationships … in themselves, in dialogue and sharing with others, with nature, or with God.

Second, faith, like conditioning or pursuing or practicing a strength sport or regimen, is often thought of as a personal or private matter involving only personal goals and practices and approaches. However, the most accomplished athletes know the value of trainers, mentors, training partners, spotters and a shared journey that provides both encouragement and challenge from fellow athletes. Like the weight room, partnerships and sharing of experience and knowledge, insight, successes and failures in faith journeys helps build the most vital, engaged and strongest faith relationships. Faith, like powerlifting is not a lone wolf sport. It can be, to some degree. But full engagement of potential will never be reached in solitude and isolation. Writer Jim Wallis once said, “Faith is always personal but never private.” The inherent relational nature of humanity makes any faith undertaking or experience by definition more than “only private.”

Third, there are many approaches and theories and “systems” in powerlifting and conditioning. Many preferences, opinions, convictions, beliefs and styles as well as an entire marketing system and economy built around “building muscle.” The same could be said, at least in some ways, about faith. There seem to be many roads to faith, enlightenment, self-understanding, indeed, many roads and ways out there to God. For people of Christian faith, the many possible ways of being and living, practicing and understanding somehow center in and focus on Jesus Christ. That is what it means at a minimum to be Christian — to find one’s faith journey — relationship with myself, with others, with the world and with God, inseparably bound together with Jesus.

I have a strong conviction that I can learn a lot about my own faith journey from many sources, including other people whose experience and practices and beliefs are different from my own. I also believe that sharing my own faith stories with others can be a help to them in their own path, whether “Christian” or otherwise. And that posture of sharing and giving and receiving to and from others in authentic relationship is a key part of my own understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

On Friday, Oct. 4, from 6 to 9 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 5 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Montesano Church of God is hosting an opportunity to think more deeply about our stories, our faith journeys and the surprising broad variety of ways people find, practice and share faith — “My Neighbor and Me.” Our main guest speaker facilitator will be Tony Kriz.

Kriz is an author, a teacher of faith and culture through the mass media, via social media and at universities, conferences and communities of faith. He has served with a variety of international organizations, living much of that time in Eastern Europe ministering with Muslims in Albania and loving a war-torn former Yugoslavia.

Many were first introduced to Kriz under the moniker “Tony the Beat Poet.” He lived for a season alongside the radically liberal campus of Reed College in Portland. Some of his exploits were first described in Donald Miller’s best-selling book Blue Like Jazz.

Today, Kriz journeys with a community of life-servants among some of Portland’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods and lives in submission to a multiracial gathering of Jesus-followers. He is giving his time to transforming urban missions, nurturing the Parish Collective network, integrating a holistic gospel-life and serving as coach/consultant for church planters from diverse traditions.

Kriz lives with his wife, Aimee, and their three sons in an intentional community of faith.

Together they have been foundational participants of several spiritual communities that serve the disillusioned, artistic, and dramatically post-Christian cultures of east Portland.

His most recent book is “Neighbors and Wise Men: Sacred Encounters in A Portland Pub and Other Unexpected Places.”

Some other guests from our own community will also be briefly sharing about their own faith journeys. Come join us for all or part of this weekend and give your mind and heart and faith a workout. I think I can promise, you will grow. Admission is free and lunch is provided on Saturday.

Call (360) 249-3242 for more information.

Marc Rice is pastor of the Montesano Church of God, a member of the Montesano Ministerial Association and serves as chaplain for the Grays Harbor Sheriff’s Office, District 2 Fire Department and the Montesano Police and Fire departments.