I first met Jim Forest -- author of Loving Our Enemies: Reflections on the Hardest Commandment (Orbis, 2014) -- about five years ago when he made the trek from Holland to the south coast of British Columbia to, among other speaking gigs, give an intimate talk on St. Ephrem's Lenten Prayer at my small Orthodox parish then meeting in a converted barn. While giving him a ride from the church to the place he was staying that night, our conversation veered into Eastern Orthodoxy's somewhat underestimated inclusive embrace despite its miscalculated reputation of cold exclusivism -- even if falling victim to this unfortunate reputation at times. From this initial encounter, I was instantly impressed by the judicious and calm manner in which Jim reflected on, in this case, a somewhat thorny ecclesiological issue that reflects the need for more peacemakers to engender ecumenical hospitality.
The inspiring talk he gave at an Orthodox Peace Fellowship conference I organized in Abbotsford, BC in the summer of 2012 only reaffirmed his stoic humility. And the open arms of Orthodoxy that we had discussed a couple years earlier was echoed by Jim's hospitality when he opened his cozy and welcoming home in the historic heart of Alkmaar, Holland to my friend and I while en route to Egypt for a research project on interreligious peacebuilding between Muslims and Coptic Christians. Over the years, I have witnessed -- even if mostly from a distance -- and come to admire Jim's ability to speak calmly, though no less confidently, in hostile arenas and on contentious issues. This is the avoidance of making enemies when speaking on the topic of loving our enemies -- however demanding and imperfect such attempts may be for anyone dipping their toe in such vexed exchanges and themes.
Like Jim Forest himself, Loving Our Enemies exudes gentle wisdom. Ever the engaging and vivid storyteller, Forest weaves together profound anecdotes and quote-worthy insights to ennoble the cessation of enmity and cultivation of reconciliation in this latest offering. For my money, the chapter "Holy Disobedience" is worth the price of admission alone. The book avoids highfalutin jargon and the reader won't get bogged down by esoteric theological terminology, making this a very accessible and fluid read befitting a lay audience -- which a book on this perennially sidelined topic should be. Much deserved, Loving Our Enemies is also the Gold Medal winner in the theology category of the 2015 Illumination Book Awards.