Friendship manifests itself in funny ways. Today:
- a dripping jogger, determined not to run through another week with out pinning me down to a time we could see each other
- someone who asked a difficult question and listened unflinchingly to a difficult answer (the opposite of the answer hoped for, I suspect)
- (most extraordinarily) someone who saw Mandelbrot’s obituary, and immediately sent word — having not yet seen my blog. There are few people in this world who know me well enough for that.
I sometimes get myself in trouble for saying that I don’t think priests should be friends with members of their congregation. When I am really brave, I also say that most relationships in church should not be friendship. Friendship is far too precious a thing to think that we can sustain it across hundreds of relationships, all at once.
Friendship demands time and commitment and a willingness to be ignored, hurt, and forgiven time and time again when one of you gets it wrong. It demands laughter, and perseverance, and trust at levels of our being that we’re not even sure we want to traverse, but learn face together. It demands holding on, even when you profoundly disagree.
And of course, a lot of those things are also a part of the relationships we build in churches. I hope that there will be real friendships in church — that everyone in a congregation will find someone, or hopefully several people, with whom they can build deep friendships. But there are other sorts of relationships too.
I may have said this before. (I have a feeling I have said this before.) When I think of some of the relationships I have most valued in church, I have valued them precisely because they were other-than-friendship. We didn’t try to share all of our lives, get to know each other’s significant people, or expect that the other would always be there. We just focused on something shared: a ten year conversation about prayer; a six month exploration of the enneagram; a vision for the church that we were both figuring out, that we could shape and sustain together; the experience of someone we loved coming out; the conflicts between our growing sense of what God was calling us to and what others might have expected of us.
By not aiming for breadth, some of these church relationships reach a remarkable depth. There is genuine love and affection, care and concern. Companionship and conviviality too.
But for me friendship is other; and that may make my definition of friendship somewhat odd.
And I will even concede that we all make exceptions. When both understand the need for boundaries and are willing to keep switching hats, there can be a fair deal of creativity in defining the nature of a relationship.
But today, I wish to keep the distinction: for the sake of the wet jogger, the brave questioner, the kind minder of my strange idiosyncrasies. Friends indeed.