What is this? I’ve always counted heavily on my friends. This is partly due to necessity, as my parents weren’t as supportive as I’d have liked growing up. Among the Orthodox, the sacraments are also known as “the mysteries”. Sacraments are essentially ordinary, earthly stuff, like bread and wine, that God uses as a vehicle, like Holy Communion, to deliver divine grace to his people. God has blessed me with an odd assortment of good friends and my sense is I’ve been a good steward of these friends. Last week, I was in Seattle, basically goofing off, so I lined up some man-dates with some old friends. My two o’clock was a “church friend” (who reads this blog so I must tread carefully). Bill is a gifted leader, wise mentor, and has become a good friend through our work together at my former congregation in the 2000’s. Over a beer we chatted about family, ministry, travel, politics, and laughed about some of the “characters” and “experiences” from our church past. What I appreciate about our friendship is we are truly brothers in Christ, share a common vision for what it means to be fathers, friends, and to be faithful in Christ. I always come away refreshed. My four o’clock man-date was with a “party friend”. Jimmy and I go back to the college days of the 1980’s where we were roommates. A former marine and body-builder, Jim used to encourage me as he started me lifting weights. Being a good Christian, I was hesitant to look in the mirror like all those really vain guys, like Jim. But, he wouldn’t have it, “Come on Chuckee, look in the mirror, like what you see!” I remember post-college getting together when we were both looking for real jobs. With our college degrees, I was working at a car wash and he was clerking at Penny’s.
What does this mean? So here we are thirty-five years later, sitting in a Bellevue nightclub where he is part-owner. Jimmy is worth millions now, due to his incredible gift for sales and connection with Amazon. We talked of glory days, laughed about all the trouble he got me into in college, bragged about our kids, reminisced and reveled in the fact we picked up right where we left off in 1983. What I value about our friendship is beyond the all the good times, we really are good friends. Some friends you have, so many things may go unsaid, but you communicate anyway. My six o’clock man-date was with a “loyal friend”. Rob and I were both single dudes in the 1990’s, both came out of Portland posse, we called ourselves “the pickies”. Yes, there was a reason we were all single at the time. When I moved to Seattle in 1996, Rob was there when my moving truck arrived, gave me the tour of Seattle, and was a constant companion as we navigated single life in Seattle. Rob is one part professor, one part leisure guy (he gets six weeks vacation), and one hundred percent good person. I always learn when we talk politics or economics, live vicariously through his single adventures (not that I’d ever go back), and appreciate the security of having a long-time, loyal friend. I am not sure you get to choose your friends, at least the really good ones. God just kind of surprises you with a coincidental meeting, a shared experience, or common passion, like sports, ministry, or laughing out loud. That afternoon line-up was both historical and hysterical.
What is the takeaway? The bible says precious little about friendship, but there are a few notable stories and quotes to consider. On his way to the throne of Israel, David had to contend with a paranoid, vicious, and insecure King Saul. Ironically, David’s very best friend, Jonathan, was King Saul’s son and next in line to be king. Yet, Jonathan chose friendship over kingship, even incurring the wrath of his father. 1 Samuel says David and Jonathan were knit together, their futures were intertwined, and together they made a covenant to each other. Eugene Peterson writes, “Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like bread and wine, friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy. A friend is one who enters our life, is leisurely enough to find out what’s going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us”. There is no doubt in my mind, that I am blessed with an exceptional spouse. When Jimmy met her, he called her “stellar woman”. One of the best gifts she gives me is the freedom and support to keep up with my friends. Never have understood the way some married couples, in an unhealthy way, cling to each other, as if to suffocate the relationship of any outside contacts. My friends make me to be a better father, husband, and pastor. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says something quite extraordinary, “There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do as I command you. I call you servants no longer…I have called you friends.” In Christ, we are workers, worshippers, brothers, sisters, subjects, but also friends with God. Give thanks for the friends (church, party, or loyal) you’ve been given, they are God’s gift to you.