Tony Kriz is one of my favorite Portland people. I knew of him through his writing, and I knew he was “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s NYT-bestselling book Blue Like Jazz, but I had never met him until my memoir The Invisible Girls launched.
A church in downtown Portland hosted a book reading for me, and while I was talking about the book, Tony walked in. He’d never met me, but he’d come to support a fellow Portland author. It’s a gesture of kindness I won’t soon forget.
Tony’s latest book is called ALOOF: Figuring Out Life With A God Who Hides. Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and ask him some questions about it.
ST: What’s your writing process like?
TK: I write the way that Marshawn Lynch runs down the football field. When I decide to begin a book, I write basically every day. Before noon, I have a cliff-top prayer chapel that nobody else goes to where I sit and compose fresh stories. Rewrites and strategizing happen in the afternoon, often in a Chinese teahouse, which has a little-used upper floor. After 4pm, I have two cigar rooms that I hide away in. Each of my three books were written, start to finish, in less than four months.
ST: What prompted you to write ALOOF?
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, Neighbors and Wise Men, 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 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 4-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?”
ST: In the video you made about your book, you ask lots of people, “Why does God hide?” What’s YOUR answer for why God sometimes hides (or seems to hide)?
TK: This is a very complicated question and one that is significantly above my pay grade. The topic of ALOOF is figuring out life in light of the fact that God hides from us. It is just reality that God hides. We know that God has the capacity to be tangible, sensory and visceral — just think Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34), Isaiah’s “Woe is me” (Isaiah 6:5) or Saul’s Damascus road (Acts 9).
It is probably worth noting though, that in the three cases listed here, God’s tangibility brought life to a screeching halt.
ST: The book is dedicated to Ransom, your nephew who was inflicted with cancer. What impact did that have on your faith/relationship with God/theology?
TK: There are many different ways that I could answer this question. I will offer you this one precious thought: watching my little sister hold her 4-year-old boy and carry herself through that season of Ransom’s sickness was perhaps the most heart wrenching and inspiring thing I have ever witnessed. To see her, in her inexplicable pain, cry out to God, sometimes scream at God…It was one of the greatest testimonies of God’s actual presence. What more profound commentary on Personhood is there, than to have a fitful argument with the Other?
ST: I know that community’s been important to you — you and your family have even lived in a community house in Portland. How do you think that we as a faith community can navigate life together with a God who hides? How is that different from navigating faith individually?
TK: One of the great lies of religion is this concept of individualism. I don’t believe that “I” am created in God’s image. I believe that “WE” are. God said, “Let Us create humankind in Our image.” There is a lot of communal language in that short sentence. In a very real sense it takes the combined mind/soul/imagination of “us” to even begin to fathom God and God’s ways.
And to that point, it is only a fractional improvement if my “us” is made up of people who are just like me: read what I read, believe what I believe, vote the way I vote, spend the way I spend, have my same gender/skin color/culture/orientation etc. If my “us” is just like me, then it stands to reason that we will all have the same blind spots… not much perspective there.
ST: When you think about the Bible, is there a specific person that resonates with you — someone who also had the experience of God hiding from them?
TK: One of my favorite passages (and characters) is Thomas in John 20. What unimaginable pain the disciples must have been in after Jesus was executed right before their eyes. I believe it drove Thomas to near madness (why else would he want to root around in another’s open wounds- vs. 25.) And then, to watch Jesus go to such lengths to embrace Thomas’ doubt and madness is unbelievably tender. If Jesus has space for Thomas, maybe, just maybe he has space for me as well.
ST: In addition to writing, what else do you have going on in your life?
TK: Raising three boys is a good life. My youngest turned eight today, so this whole week is devoted to him. Beyond that, I am still playing a little basketball, trying to be a loyal friend, and putting together a book tour (Anybody want me to come to your town?)
ST: You and your wife have 3 sons. If you could give them one idea or piece of advice to carry into their adult life with them, what would it be?
TK: What I wish I could do is implant an idea in their heads/souls, Inception style. Here it goes: My oldest would be: “Don’t worry about doing it perfectly or what other people think… Live free.” My middle boy, “May your eyes always be aware of injustice… may you defend the weak… you are a superhero.” My youngest, “Just follow your heart… focus your empathy on helping others carry their pains.”
Click here to pick up your copy of ALOOF.
Click here to invite Tony to speak at your event.