This week, Lisa and I celebrated our 19th anniversary. Over the years, people have occasionally asked me how a marriage lasts, why ours works. Sometimes people assume that there is some trick, like never going to bed angry or saying “I love you” at least once a day. That may be good advice that we follow more often than not. But tricks don’t make relationships. Perhaps we just got lucky and found “the one” on our first try. That may be true. From my perspective, at least, there was some kind of magic, definitely love at first sight. But the first sight is just the first sight. It doesn’t last. It can never be had again. And if you spend your life focused on that one moment, you’ll miss a lot of new moments. No, I think that the one thing that has held constant between Lisa and I, the one thing that keeps us together, is that we are friends. In a world where “friend” is defined as a mutually beneficial or mutually entertaining relationship that can be had with a couple of mouse-clicks, this may not seem like much. But friendship, according to John, is the pinnacle of life in God. If we can be friends, we can see ourselves and see God clearly and we can become what God has for us to be. Any relationship that we allow to do that will endure, perhaps eternally.
How is it different?
How does it relate to love? How does it relate to revelation?
Sandra Schneiders: “Friendship is essentially mutual knowledge, which is why one way of saying we are close to someone is that we know each other very well. This knowledge is not primarily intellectual. It is a kind of union by sharing of selfhood. As Jesus shares in the very being of God and can therefore say that he knows the Father and the Father knows him (10:15), so Jesus wants his followers to know him as he knows them, to share in his very being and life. As Jesus knows God through God’s self-revelation to him of the divine works, so Jesus’ disciples will come to know Jesus through contemplation of what he does and says.”
Sandra Schneiders: “union by sharing of selfhood”
15:13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
3. mutual and equal
Carter Heyward: “a way of being connected with one another in such a way that both, or all, of us are empowered – that is, spiritually called forth; emotionally feel able; politically are able to be ourselves at our best, as we can be when we are not blocked by structures and acts of violence and injustice or attitudes and feelings of fear and hatred.”
15:15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
4. bears fruit
15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
16:20 Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. 22 So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
I promised in the weekly email I would reveal what gays and lesbians have to teach us about God. In her book Just Good Friends: Towards a Lesbian and Gay Theology of Relationships – what my good friend Teri lovingly calls “the magic book” – Elizabeth Stuart takes friendship as a model for understanding our relationship to God and to each other. Like other queer theorists, Stuart asks that we, rather than assuming the normative view, examine our faith from the margins. Assume that those on the fringes can speak to the center. If we take seriously the character of Jesus, this seems like a valuable strategy. In this case, instead of assuming that marriage, particularly heterosexual couplings, defines the ideal relationship, what happens if we let same-sex couples, non-married partners, and committed singles define the ideal relationship? What is the promise and the peril of those relationships? She discovers that the most common way that gays and lesbians understand their relationships is as friendships.
There are many reasons for this. Because same-sex couples have been denied the possibility of marriage, they have constructed alternatives. And, rather than a pale imitation of “real” relationships, they find that friendships have their own value. In a somewhat closed niche community, it is likely that those who have been intimate will remain in the same social group after intimacy ceases. It pays to remain friends because this is a place of survival. In a world where non-normative desires and attractions are suspect, this is the space where one can be oneself, where one can truly reveal the self – in fact, become the self. Rather than adherence to a set of gender and sexual norms, the ideal here is one of mutual self-giving and self-revelation. By now, this should sound familiar to you, my dear friends.
Friendship, as seen in the Gospel of John and in our lives, must be mutual, equal, and revelatory. Friends do not use one another. Friends do not exploit one another. Friends do not – cannot – have power over one another. Otherwise, it cannot be a safe space to be who you are, to reveal yourself truly to the other, to become truly who God has made you to be. Father Richard Rohr says that marriage is learning to love just one other person and moving outward from there. I think this is true, but the same can be said of any relationship if we first choose to be friends.
Every moment of every day, we can choose to reveal ourselves to the other, to be who we truly are. We can choose to be the place for the other to become who he or she truly is. When we do, we know the other and we know God. We participate in an ongoing revelation. This, according to John, is why Jesus came to us: to show us who God is and what life with God is like. When we know that, when we choose to turn toward God, to walk with God, to see God and know God, we are called friends and our pain will turn to joy.