I’m thrilled to bring you today’s guest post and a new, semi-regular feature around here. Megan is one of my best friends of all time and someone I feel genuinely blessed and privileged to know. Really, you should be jealous. She will be making appearances here every so often to share some thoughts on faith and life. She has an M.Div from Princeton Theological Seminary, currently lives in Nashville, TN, and her words always move me in just the right way. I’m kind of in love with her, and you will be too.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know the master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that you learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:12-15).
I do not live in America right now, and I have not spent much time there since April of last year. But I still consider it my home and so I feel an obligation and desire to stay in touch with it in the way I feel an obligation and desire to keep in touch with my family. My primary means of doing this is by perusing various American newspaper websites and listening to any story concerning America that happens to be piped through the BBC. One thing is for sure: Americans love to talk about something they call “family values.” These values range from a concern with a particular definition of marriage to the manner in which children are raised. It encompasses so many dimensions of American life—from the paying of taxes to the intimacies of one’s bedroom. While it is exceedingly difficult to find any two people who agree upon a precise definition of “family” or, for that matter, “values,” it is abundantly clear that Americans care about family values.
As I understand it, families are valuable to society for many reasons—the procreation of children and the propagation of the human species, the basic unit of human categorization (useful for taxing and census purposes), the initial human community wherein traditions and skills are passed down, etc. But ever more increasingly, I have begun to question if our valuing of families precludes us from our responsibility to another essential dimension of human relationship. That is, why is friendship so underrated? Why do we never hear pastors preach on friendship, politicians never run on platforms of friendship-valuing, and media outlets never seek to be “friendship-friendly”?
I obviously don’t have the answer to this question, but I do have a theory. That is, I suspect that we disregard friendship because, quite frankly, we have no “use” for it. We do not organize our society around friendships, we do not tax people according to their friends, and we do not contribute anything to society through our friendships. Friendship arises mysteriously and surprisingly. It is a relationship based upon the delight we experience in the presence of another. It inspires mutual joy, mutual love, mutual respect, and mutual appreciation. In friendship, we are utterly free to be who we are. Friendship is the only human relationship that exists for its own sake.
Perhaps this is why I am so stunned by the words of Jesus from the gospel of John. Here, in the middle of what is referred to as Jesus’ farewell discourse, Jesus—the one Christians believe to be God incarnate, God as Human, as one of us—calls us friends. We—Jesus’ students, followers, believers—we are Jesus’ friends. We are not Jesus’ servants, going about the mess of blindly obeying some aloof master. We are Jesus’ friends. It is a relationship arising mysteriously and surprisingly. It is a relationship based on the delight of one another. It is a relationship of mutual joy, mutual love, mutual respect, and mutual appreciation. It is a relationship of utter freedom; it is a relationship that exists for its own sake.
Contrary to popular imagination, we do not exist in some relation to a distant divine presence that makes demands of us and expects us to be of some use. We are instead—counter-cultural as it is—friends of God, intimately cared for and enjoyed by the creator of the universe.
Not from the heavy soil
where blood and sex and oath
rule in their hallowed might,
where earth itself,
guarding the primal consecrated order,
avenges wantonness and madness—
not from the heavy soil of earth,
but from the spirit’s choice and free desire,
needing no oath or legal bond,
is friend bestowed on friend.
–excerpted from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s poem, “The Friend.”