In May of 2001 I attended a Muslim-Christian dialogue conference in Baghdad hosted by none other than Saddam Hussein.  About 5000 delegates from all different kinds of religious backgrounds, from all over the world.  Mandaeans (followers of John the Baptist). Yazidis.  Syriac, Chaldean, and Assyrian Christians. Melkites and the usual Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant types (which is where I think I “fit”).  Primarily, however, it was full of Sunni and Shi’ite attendees. I’ve written at great length about this time, including in my recent book, Adventures in Saying Yes.

As I thought about how to start this New Year and encourage you in some small way, a particular man from this conference, whom I haven’t thought of in years, came to mind. I actually don’t even know his name. He was Sudanese.  About 7 feet tall.  Didn’t speak English and had a strong Sudanese Arabic accent.  He was black as night.  I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know his story, why he was there, or where he was headed.  But I sure remember him.  He had the smile of a drunk camel (I just made that up). He walked around for 8 days saying one thing:  “Inta Sadiki” (“You are my friend” – in Arabic) and throwing his huge arms around everyone.

Inta Sadiki.  A huge smile. A big hug.  Was it appropriate?  Not really.  At first people didn’t know how to handle him in the midst of everyone else trying to look cool and impress the other big wigs.  Who was this guy? What does he want? Does he know any other words besides “You’re my friend?”  Really, an odd duck.

But, oh my goodness, this guy changed the tone of the whole week.  People opened up.  Relational barriers came crashing down.  The rest of us starting smiling as broadly as our tight faces would allow and mimicking him saying. “Inta Sadiki.”  At first, we said it really loudly and without much integrity or passion – more as a joke.  But we kept saying it all week.  By the end, most of us meant it. You ARE my friend.

And in this vein are my three thoughts about how to make the best of 2016.

1. KISS.  Keep it Simple Stupid.  My uncle used to always say this to me. “Carl, remember KISS.” Then he’d laugh as if he’d just made the funniest joke ever. Every time!

Wouldn’t you agree that we often make life way too complicated.  I know I do.  Whether it’s theology, relationships or work, it seems I like to focus on the minutia and forget the main and plain.  Not sure why, but i do it often.

Can I encourage you to simplify (with me) in these two areas this year:

  1. Focus on the Great Commandment. Not memorizing it – actually doing it.  It’s what Jesus said summarizes everything.  Love God. Love people.  No excuses. Just do that. Love God. And then turn around and love people. Everyone.  Call it the Inta Sadiki principle.
  2. Practice the above on those closest to you. That means your spouse if you’re married. Kids if you have them.  And then maybe your closest workmates and neighbors. Actually concentrate on this. Think about how to love them.   Give to them. Serve them.  Strategize about it. Pray over it.  Talk with friends about it.  Then do it.

2. Have Fun. Seriously.  Fun.  Not deep abiding joy – way too spiritual. Just have some fun.  If you’re not good at it, get around some folks who are. Play. Pick up a new hobby. Games. Our big news: Chris and I are taking up golf.  54 years old.  Took our first lesson today.  We’re gonna do this. We’ve always talked about it but now we’re doing it. Feels great.  Fun. Challenging.  I’ve always said that I don’t have time.  It was just an excuse. We all have time.  We just choose how to spend it. My body and mind need to rest.  To re-create.  If I don’t have fun, I won’t do the rest of what I do very well.

3. Take a Risk. Something that has a clear cost to you if it doesn’t work (which is the definition of risk).  If it doesn’t work then you’ll be in trouble. Risk.  Think of all the risks our Leader took.  It cost Him his life.  MLK. Gandhi. Mother Teresa.  All our heroes – all took risks. They did things no one else was doing or dared to do.  It’s what makes us alive. What separates us from other animals? The choice we can make to leap. To step out in faith. Risk.

My Sudanese friend took a risk.  I don’t know why or what motivated him. But in the middle of a prestigious gathering of know-it-all leaders, this unknown Sudanese chose to jump in deep and call everyone his friend.  And quite inappropriately give them all a hug.

Maybe I thought about him at the beginning of this New Year because I’m sitting on a plane flying alone to Khartoum, Sudan.  Will you join me on this journey into the great unknown where we find life.  Risk.

Oh and by the way, for real – Inta Sadiki.