Becoming an Extremist for Love: A Review of "Making Friends among the Taliban"
For the past six months, I've been arguing that Christians ought to be seeking reconciliation, not victory in some ill-conceived culture wars. Dan Terry lived his life in Afghanistan as just such an agent of reconciliation. Larson describes him as a rahnama, that is, a guide or go-between "who gently nudges travelers on their way through uncharted terrain toward a more peaceable country." (33) In that Taliban prison, he made connections for a lifetime; for years afterward in Kabul, Larson reports, people would ask if Dan was at his place of employment, remembering, "He befriended us in prison." (47)
During one winter when isolated tribal people in the mountains were starving, Dan mobilized even their enemies to help open roads that had never been driven before in winter and bring them food. He gathered resources, trucks, food, workers. He organized them, and gave them a moral purpose. As one worker said, he shamed them into this moral adventure by being "more Muslim than the Muslims." (55)
What he was doing, of course, was living out his Christian faith in the way we are always told we ought to, loving strangers and even our so-called enemies with all the fierce compassion of Christ himself. (And anyway, who can we call strangers and enemies? Ultimately, no one. Augustine wrote in his Letter 130, that we are all related, that we are called to offer friendship to every human child of God, including our enemies, for whom we are bidden to pray.)
Surely we can learn a lesson from Dan Terry and the Taliban. Let's call it The Parable of the Enemies. If Dan Terry could devote his life to serving, loving, and communing with our so-called enemies, Muslims who are diametrically opposed to us in almost every measure, then what is the excuse we make for not serving, loving, and communing with those Christians we consider diametrically opposed to us?
Making Friends among the Taliban should shame us in the same way Dan shamed the locals, for it reveals that at times our Taliban foes can be more Christian than we Christians in connecting to others. But a catalyst for that transformation was certainly the powerful life and message of Dan Terry, who sought relationship and friendship, who recognized that even in their differences, he and his Muslim friends had much in common, and whose humility and humor allowed him to make connections in a land more dangerous and divided than ours will ever be.
I still have much to learn from the Parable of the Enemies, but Dan's story reminds me of the most important part:
Above all, clothe yourself in love.
Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on, and to read an excerpt from the new memoir, Making Friends among the Taliban: A Peacemaker's Journey in Afghanistan.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.