The world stopped for Emir Abdur Rahim in 1993. Actually, I knew him by a different name before he converted to Islam and yet our lives have followed parallel paths.

Actually, I knew him as Renzee Standberry.  We were celebrating Al-Fitr the last time we saw each other face-to-face.  I’m looking back over the number of times he has guest blogged for me:  on the topic of community from a Muslim perspective, we’ve wrestled with the nature of God’s wrath, and he responded to those people who believe Muslims hate them (part I and part II).

Renzee and I were friends in high school.  Well, friends may be a strong word (I was far too introverted and too guarded to do friendships especially well).  Let’s just say that we had an interesting relationship.  He was cool, confident, smart (and wasn’t afraid to let you know just how good he was at everything).  I liked being around him, was shocked that he let me in his circle, and though I am loathe to admit it, he’s who I measured my ideas of “blackness” against in high school.  He’s inspired more than one character in my stories, but for those who read my story Nurse’s Requiem, the relationship between the two male leads pretty much sum up Renzee and I.

In the mid-90s, he was sent to prison, convicted of rape.  As those who know me are aware, this is a topic that has struck too close to home too often.  (In fact, Wrath James White guest blogged for me on the topic and it was my intro of him, his guest blog, and my comments about imprecatory prayer which lead to Renzee guest blogging on God’s wrath).  I’m not going to say that it was an easy time for me and Renzee’s friendship.  It’s difficult reconciling a person who did a horrific thing with the person you knew and cared about.  You have the relational rug pulled out from under you.  You try to balance them receiving the consequences for their actions vs loving them well and walking beside them through it.  We had some tough conversations, put in the relational work, and managed to maintain our friendship.  If nothing else, you hold onto the hope that the person you knew and loved wasn’t a lie, they were just lost for a time.

Believing that people can change is what we’re supposed to be about.  And I watched Renzee change and grow into the man I knew he was.  Over the years, we’d become amused by our similar spiritual trajectories, me in Christianity, he in Islam.  We’d argue, ask questions, argue some more, build bridges between our communities (showing that dialogue can occur), rose to leadership, left leadership, found ourselves leaders again despite our efforts.

We’re quick to write people off in relationships.  We treat relationships like any other disposable item in our life:  it/they screw up, we go get a new one.  It’s easy to write people off, not forgive them, or give them the opportunity to show they’ve changed.  It’s easy to condemn them as irredeemable or failed.  It’s easy to forget our incarcerated brothers and sisters.  Sometimes it’s too difficult to see them behind bars.  Sometimes we just don’t want to put in the time of relationships.  But the friendships can be maintained and people can grow and change if you allow them to.

Me and Renzee continue to push in on each other’s lives, challenge each other (he still likes to remind me that he’s way smarter than me), and I’m proud to call him my friend.   He’s recently been spotlighted in an article regarding the work he’s been doing while in prison. I just wanted to share this with you.*

*Plus, today’s his birthday and this gets me out of having to actually get him something.