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On Friendship

February 8, 2012

So I am lucky in many ways. One of those ways is that I have many great friends. A lot of people know a lot of people (just look at their Facebook friend counts…..1,000 friends! Launch the confetti! Start the parade!, etc. etc.) but I think few people really have the blessing that truly good friendships bring. My best friend is my wife. I was going to type “of course my best friend is my wife,” but, unfortunately, that’s not a matter of course any more. 

There is one of my friends, however, that pays me a subsidy to call him my best friend. He’s been riding my coat tails since seventh grade when he transferred into my school. Since then, we’ve been groomsmen in each others weddings, college roommates, on missions trips together, served at churches together, etc. etc. etc. He began life as an engineering major and now serves as a middle school pastor. Sometimes he even reads my blog.

But the other day, he made me mad. Like, super mad. As we often do, we played a bit of phone tag. He won, and I answered the phone. As I often do, I came right out of the gate with some hard-hitting, no-nonsense questions. I unspooled a doozy right off the bat. And just what do you think he did? Met it head on, with the respect it deserved? Thought for a moment, digesting the verbal and non-verbal cues, meditating on a thoughtful response? Asked a few clarifying questions, and opened a dialogue? 

Nope.

He ignored me. Now, let’s give him credit. He did come with something powerful of his own. He said, “Hey, man.” 

“Hey, nondescript person of male gender.”

“Modest greeting, average human.”

“I’ll control this conversation, thankyouverymuch.”

“Grunt, caveman being.” 

He might as well have just thrown the phone down for all the respect he showed me. I mean, my question was much more insightful, at a much higher level. I inquired about the transcendance of God, or maybe about the cosmology of the universe, or maybe about the nature of the godhead itself. What question could squeeze this all in during the first few seconds of a phone conversation? This one:

“What’s up?”

And just like that, I was summarily dismissed. And I was hot. And I told him so: “You ignored my question? What’s the deal?” I demanded. 

“That’s not a real question,” he returned. “It doesn’t really ask anything.” 

Hmm. Got me there.

Why do you think it is that we, especially in America (let’s not forget the global readership of hotdog theology!) spend so much time in fake speech that doesn’t really mean anything? Did you know that many in Europe, especially Scandinavia, think that Americans are fake and shallow for just these reasons? I mean, we ask each other “How are you” every day, but we don’t really care. Why are you asking then? And we know they don’t care, because they often don’t even answer the questions (see above). We think of Scandinavians as cold, but they just don’t give fake attention. They’re actually quite welcoming once you get into their circles of trust.

This isn’t really how the Scripture teaches us to treat each other. In fact, I think it’s much the opposite. Scarily the opposite, really. The amount of attention that we are supposed to give to other people is often uncomfortable. Look at the parable of the Good Samaritan as a test case. The example given by the caregiving, loving outcast of a Samaritan in that parable calls us to give an unpopular amount of time and attention to others in need, whether or not we were close friends beforehand. 

But I think there’s a passage that makes me even more uncomfortable. Romans 16:16 and 2 Corinthians 13:12 each come at the end of their respective epistle, but, even more than that, serve as a sort of final encouragement from the apostle Paul to those congregations.* As far as we know, this was the last written correspondence from Paul to these churches, so the summations within them take on extra importance. And what does Paul tell them to do? “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”

I have to tell you, I’m a little uncomfortable with that. It just doesn’t seem sanitary.

*I am indebted to the inimitable Pastor (name changed to protect him although he certainly could never be confused as innocent) who used 2 Corinthains 13 as his farewell passage when he transitioned from our congregation to another when I was growing up. He taught me a lot of stuff, and this was one of those things. (I know, that is some high praise right there)

But just look at how that encouragement transcends the fake talk that pervades our lobbies, narthexes, and multi-purpose facilities these days. Despite the fact that it is no longer part of our culture to greet with kisses (as it was in Paul’s time), we still fall short of his standard. How often do you find yourself talking to someone who is sort of listening but really is scanning the crowd for someone more important/famous/popular to associate with? Or, worse, how often is that person you? How often do you find yourself mentally checking out of the conversation as you find it boring? Then why did you even start it in the first place?

Paul taught us to embrace one another fully, as one body. This is a far cry from surface interactions that pass for community these days. I challenge you to think about that as you interact with people today. Are you really there, present, and engaging with them? Do you care about them as you ask them questions? Are you just using them for their popularity or for what they can do for you? Or are you treating them as better than yourself, like you should? Are you surrounding yourself with real friends, who can speak real things into your life, including rebuke and tough encouragement when you need it, or are you more comfortable with thin, shallow, Facebook friendships who improve your perceived image?

I know which type of friendship matters more. It’s the same one that costs more.

As always, thanks for reading.

 

PS: I wasn’t really mad at my friend in the example above.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Davita Hirscher permalink
    February 8, 2012 1:36 am

    wow.. duly chastising. And I must say, oozing with wit in abundance. I was quite overwhelmed. =)

    • February 8, 2012 2:18 pm

      I was wondering what “equals parenthesis” meant, and then I realized it was an emoticon. So tell me, is the “=D” emoticon that I see floating around represent the “sloppy wet kiss” that Kari Jobe is talking about?

  2. Adam C permalink
    February 8, 2012 1:46 am

    Beyond appreciating the full post, I appreciate even the fact that you wrote this at all. Those who are in Academia can REALLY suck at connecting with people. Like, at all. I won’t beat around the bush when I say that I think that – by and large – the PhD students at GGBTS have acted like a clique from Day One. Granted, there are individual PhD students (such as yourself, Rex, and others) who have reached out to the lowly ThM students with friendship to some degree. I appreciate that. I always enjoy my conversations with you, whether it’s about theology, hermeneutics, scholarship issues, or board games and food. It’s just that it seems impossible for me and any other ThM student to connect with the PhD students as a whole because of the clique mentality.

    Did I just go off the rails on commenting on the actual contents of your post? Um…yeah. In my defense, it’s late, I’m tired, and just learned about the board game Hive without having the chance to play it yet.

  3. Kyle G. H. permalink
    February 8, 2012 3:45 am

    Your point is very true, and it could not have really been put better than the way that you did. In American culture one feels obligated to say, ‘How are you doing’, with so little care. This is where the Church should be different, but I would love to see America as a whole change in this way too. There is a group of people in my life though, that I know when they ask me this, they are really and truly concerned but this is something else entirely.

    I remember working with an Arab-Christian church in Bethlehem, and the men and women granted with a double sided or triple-sided kiss(I cant remember), but even here I am sure it can get monotonous and more cultural than caring-not very holy. But here we can realize that it is not the actions that make our life authentic in our pursuit after God in holiness, but our heart, to as you said earlier, “to embrace one another fully, as one body”, this is what Martin Buber talks about in ‘I and Thou’- aiming for encounter above experience. I certainly felt conviction here-

  4. John Shelton permalink
    February 8, 2012 5:27 am

    Howdy!

    • February 8, 2012 11:13 am

      Top of the morning.

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