Anne-Marie Ellithorpe wrote her PhD thesis on friendship – that deceptively simple relationship that all of us have experienced, but few of us have thought much about.
“Friendships,” Ellithorpe wrote in Perspectives, the magazine of the Vancouver School of Theology, “are relationships of mutuality and reciprocity that may take different shapes within varying contexts and stages of our lives.”
That’s “thesis language,” unfortunately – accurate, but not exciting. In summary, Ellithorpe found friendship a “school for learning to love.”
What friendship is not
Friendship is obviously not the kind of passionate infatuation that sets your heart racing and your palms sweating. But it’s more than the formal connection one has with a sibling, a parent, a colleague at work.
Friendships are also more than the dispassionate, almost cerebral, association often lauded as “agape,” one of the four Greek terms for love.
“Agape” implies that somehow I care about nameless refugees fleeing Somalia. Or flood victims in Iran. Or opioid junkies in downtown alleys.
It’s a kind of universal compassion based on the recognition that they could be me. Or I could be them. Except that we’re not. But God loves them anyway, and so should I.
None of them are actually friends.
The kingdom of heaven
The late Scottish philosopher John Macmurray once suggested, in a BBC talk, that friendship was an illustration of the ideal “kingdom of God” or “kingdom of heaven” that Jesus talked about.
Jesus, Macmurray reasoned, contradicted himself. One time he would tell his listeners, the kingdom is already here. Look around, you can see it. You all know it. Other times, Jesus would say it is not here. Not yet. But it can burst in, explode almost, unexpectedly.
What human situation, Macmurray asked, fits those contradictory conditions? Friendship, he answered. Everyone knows friendship already. Yet we also know that friendship can blossom suddenly, between people who previously were barely acquaintances.
Friendship doesn’t demand sameness. I don’t have to be an emotional or intellectual clone of my friends. I don’t have to fall in love with them. We can disagree on important issues. We can even take opposite sides. And yet we value and respect each other. We could and would trust each other with our possessions, our children, our loves and our losses.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could be friends?
That’s the kind of relationship, Macmurray argued, that God, or whatever you think of as God, wants us all to have. Not just with a favoured few humans. But with everything.
With all people who pass through our bubble of influence – even those on the far end of an internet transaction. With all of nature – the fish in the stream, the trees growing along the stream, the birds in the trees, the stream itself.
Even the deer who nibble my tulips every spring.
I need to treat them all as if they were friends.
Practically, I can’t treat everyone, everything, everywhere, as a personal friend. The numbers alone make that prohibitive.
But I can try.
It’s a far preferable alternative to treating them as things of no consequence.
Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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My recollections about sandbagging a flood, many years ago, encouraged a few of you to share your own experiences of floods and flooding.
Frank Martens wrote, “I was once involved in a flood of my own. We had purchased a property in Trout Creek, Summerland, when the Creek, before it was straightened, minimally flooded a few orchards beside it. But water crept underground along an old creekbed which happened to go through our basement. It was flooded to about a two-foot level. None of our neighbours had any flooding. We pumped it out and carried on.
“We have purchased a number of properties in Summerland since then – but never anywhere near creeks! I’d say a few words about people who do choose to live near creeks and/or lakes, but…”
With admirable forbearance, Frank didn’t go into detail.
Judy Lochhead saw the good side of flooding experiences: “Enjoyed your article about rising water, Jim, and feel I can respond, having been through several flood and extreme weather occurrences in the past few years. You soon realize how little control we really have.
“I noticed a couple of things in the conversations that happened since our experience. First it was the large number of people who have flood and extreme weather stories and experiences. No doubt the changing climate is putting a lot of stress on our capacity to handle the variations we now experience. But certainly we found a lot of sympathetic ears and it seemed to us it was finally just “our turn”.
“Secondly, call it God in action, or humanity at its best, when people need help, neighbours were there for each other with offers to sandbag, food, counselling, etc. It was so heartwarming to watch as the goodness in people became the norm and we just knew that peoplecared. When all was said and done, we recovered and moved forward -- and needless to say have much more respect for the power of water and weather!”
Isabel Gibson lives in Ottawa. Many TV reports showed the Ottawa River raging. Isabel wrote, “The floods in Ottawa and Gatineau are localized along the rivers. Anyone outside that flood plain is pretty much unaffected. Then they started talking yesterday about having to protect the water treatment or intake plant. If it gets flooded, the whole city will be on a boil-water advisory. Another reminder of how complex and tenuous our way of life is.”
Tom Watson saw some humour in my narrative: “See, Jim, everything proves useful at some point. Even remembering the way to an old girlfriend's house helped you guide your friends to the right place to do the sandbagging.”
Psalm 23 is probably the most popular psalm in the entire Bible. Many of us had to memorize it in childhood; its familiar wording brings comfort in times of grief and stress. Many can still repeat it by heart. That very familiarity, though, creates problems for paraphrases. And paraphrasers. Simply updating the language does little to convey the underlying message. I’ve written at least six paraphrases of this one psalm. Today, I decided to go back to the one that started it all – an attempt to pose the message in an entirely different metaphor.
My Mommy holds my hand;
I'm not afraid.
She takes me to school in the mornings;
She lets me play in the playgrounds and the parks;
She makes me feel good.
She shows me how to cross the streets,
because she loves me.
Even when we walk among the crowds and the cars, I am not afraid.
If I can reach her hand or her coat, I know she's with me,
And I'm all right.
When I fall down and I'm all covered with mud
and I come home crying,
she picks me up in her arms.
She wipes my hands, and dries my tears,
and I have to cry again,
'Cause she loves me so much.
How can anything go wrong
with that kind of Mommy near me?
I want to live the rest of my life with Mommy,
in my Mommy's home for ever'n'ever.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet