Saturday, 19 November 2011

Friends (coda)

Although I posted yesterday’s entry as the third and last in a series on friends, my restless mind has caused me to think of biblical texts about friendship.So here is my coda.

One such text is in a psalm of lament.  It begins with the words

“Hear my prayer O G-d;
Do not hide yourself from my petition.
Listen to me and answer me;
I have no peace because of my cares”

We all know that feeling.  It’s the feeling that G-d is not  listening to us despite our cares.

The Psalm goes on to speak of betrayal.

"For had it been an adversary who taunted me,
then I could have borne it;
or had it been an enemy who vaunted himself against me,
then I could have hidden from him.
But it was you, a man after my own heart,
my companion, my own familiar friend."

The quotations are from Psalm 55  (do read the whole thing!). 

The Psalm bears powerful witness to the human feelings of desperation when people are betrayed by their nearest and dearest.  

In that sense it is a very contemporary Psalm.  It reminds us that the bible is not just about G-d, Jesus, salvation and all those good things.  It is also about human experience.

On the other hand:

1. The New Testament book of James (Chapter 2 v25) speaks of Abraham as a “friend of G-d”. That, at one and the same time, is an entirely preposterous and an entirely wonderful assertion.  Dare we believe that G-d desires and enjoys our friendship?

2. The Old Testament Book of Ruth is predicated n the fabulous friendship/loyalty between Ruth (a Moabite foreigner) and her Israelite mother in law Naomi.

Hear again some words from Ruth to her mother in law, (as translated in the Authorised/King James version of the bible, Ruth 1:16/17).

“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee;
for whither thou goest I will go;
and whither thou lodgest  I will lodge;
thy people shall be my people,
and thy G-d my G-d:
where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried."

3. There is also the deeply moving story of the friendship between Jonathan (son of Israel’s first king, Saul); and David, the man who will usurp Saul.

Dynastic and familial ties abandoned, Jonathan cares more for his friendship with David than for his filial loyalty.

The Scripture employs such tender language as it speaks of David’s lament upon Jonathan’s death:

“How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle!......
...I am distressed for thee my brother Jonathan:
very pleasant hast thou been unto me:
thy love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women”  (2 Samuel 1:26-27)

4. The Gospel according to John refers to “the disciple who Jesus loved” (John 13:23), the disciple who “reclined on Jesus’ breast”.

No New Testament scholar has been able to name beyond doubt this “beloved disciple”:- (was it John?,  was it Lazarus?”)

That matters not. What matters is that the Gospel bears witness to a tender and intimate love between Jesus and one of the disciples. 

How blessed are we humans when we experience and enjoy tender and intimate love in gorgeous friendships! "For the bible told me so"

P.S.  Any suggestion that the friendships between Ruth and Naomi; between David and Jonathan; and between Jesus and the beloved disciple, are in some way analogous to our modern understanding of same-sex (lesbian or homosexual) relationships is no more than wishful thinking.

Throughout history, and in the bible, men have loved men and women have loved women. It’s only in recent years that the culture has determined that these human loves should be tagged as “lesbian” or “gay”. 

To that I say “phoeey!”

Friday, 18 November 2011

Friends? (3) and final

Historical friends
I’ve known some of my friends for many years.  I think of Jeff with who I’ve been in recent e-mail contact.  We’ve known each other for sixty years or more.  Then there is Tom.  He and I worked together for less than a year in 1960, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years.

There are also folks from my days at theological college, Dave and Alison, Les and Jeni, Keith, Colin.

And those I got to know in the various parishes I served, some of my colleagues of course, but  – I mostly think of people such of Joe and Dee (they were never parishioners), Joe and Marliese, and a handful of parishioners in the four congregations who’d become very dear to me.  Good folks, Good friends. 

New friends

I moved to Sarasota, FL in 2006 in part because I knew some folks in this area.  I already had friends in Sarasota and Manatee Counties.

There was Bruce (now deceased) who’d been a colleague in Massachusetts – I’d known him for 30 years, (and Bruce’s partner Ben who I’d gotten to know about six years before I moved here).

And there was Kay and Barbara who’d been parishioners in Pittsfield.

I’ve also been able to enter into a whole new circle of friends – folks with whom I hang out, have lunch or dinner, enjoy parties, chat with at Church, or go to the Opera. In truth these people are somewhere in my mind between acquaintances and friends. They’re probably best described as “pals”.

Lost friends

Many people think that I do a fairly decent job of keeping in touch with my friends and acquaintances of long standing. But you know, I get a to point when ‘phone calls or e-mails are all “one way” – with no response -  that I “sort of” give up - not on the friendships, but on the hope that they will be sustained.

Close friends

There are somewhere between five and ten people – no more – who I think of as close friends. Some are family members.  

These are the people who are the very first on my list when I have some good news to share, or some hard times to talk about.  And they are the people who will similarly be in early touch with me to share their joys and their sorrow.

The close friends are also those who get together with me in person or by ‘phone simply to chit-chat.  We are able to enjoy prolonged conversations with no agenda or no “angles”.


As I think about my friends, historical new, lost, or close,  I have a sense of the ones I value most highly.  This is why I do so.

I imagine that I’d been told that there are only six months before my death.  

These valuable friends, I call them good companions, are those I’d do my best to visit and enjoy in my waning months.

There is also a smaller group, those who are closest to my heart.

They are the ones who I'd  want to be with me during the final two or three days of my life.   

Would to God that I will be so blessed.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Friends? (2)

By way of background.

1.  I never cared for the T.V. sitcom “Friends”.  In that series “friendship” was based on clever remarks, put-downs and sarcasm. It was probably (in some ways) true to life, for there is a kind of friendship which is as shallow as the show portrayed.  But nothing in “Friends” ever made me laugh even though it was billed as a comedy.

2.  I have long been a cautious admirer of the Quakers.  They have an apparently egalitarian ethos, which is very attractive.  Mostly I like their formal name “The Society of Friends”.  Within the Christian tradition that is an important corrective to the religious hierarchies (such as in my beloved Episcopal Church) which are based in power and authority, rather than in service.

3.  The Gospel according to John (Chapter 15 verse 15) has Jesus telling his disciples that they are not his slaves, but that they are his friends.

With this in mind I will conclude my series on friendship tomorrow.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Friends? (1)

Some 55 years ago a retired Plymouth Brethren missionary lived three doors away from my home. He came across as a bully.  He and his wife had a son about my age.  I rang their doorbell one day and Mr. M. (the retired missionary) came to the door.  I asked if I could speak with his son K.  “Why?”, asked Mr. M. “Because he is my friend” I replied.  “He’s not your friend” bellowed Mr. M “he is an acquaintance”.   And I was not allowed to speak with K.

Of course Mr. M. was right.  K. and I scarcely knew each other, we were not yet friends.  But I still wish that the red-faced Mr. M. had explained this to me without yelling.  Indeed, he came over as a bully.

D. is a colleague in the Episcopal Church.  He and I occasional serve in the same parish.  D. took exception to one of my blog entries.  I’d attacked the Tea Party message.  

D. is a Tea Party sympathiser and he chose to take my words personally.  Part of his complaint was based on his assertion that he and I are friends.  

I did not take him up on this (no use in adding fat to the fire), but it’s the case that we are colleagues not friends.  

We’ve never eaten in each other’s homes; never had any relationship other than a working relationship at Sunday Eucharist; never had a deep conversation about any matter. 

If we had been friends he’d have well known that my generalised comments were not a personal attack.

A parishioner once asked me if I would be her friend.  I gently expressed my belief that I could not be both her pastor and her friend.  I added “but as your pastor I will try to be as honest and faithful as would be a friend”.

I long resisted joining Facebook because I do not care for its designation of mutual contacts as “friends”.  

Most of those I “know” on Facebook are folks with a range of life interests which are similar to mine.  

I've never met many of them.  

Just a few are truly my “friends”.

Now, based on some algorithm or other, Facebook has moved some of these people into a category called “close friends”“Close friends” in the Facebook playbook are those with whom I have the most regular or frequent interactions.  

But not many of them are designated as “close” in my heart and mind.

Facebook has some value for me.  In using it I have re-connected with folks I knew many years ago, and I have been able to be more connected with some of my extended family members (nieces and nephews).

But it is not, nor will it ever be an arbiter which decides who are my friends, and who are my close friends.

More tomorrow.....

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Ten Thousand Year old tradition.

My first cousin Janet Draper (nee Finch) from Bristol, U.K. is once again at a time share on nearby Longboat Key, FL.  She and her partner Steve came to my home for dinner tonight.

This is the sixth consecutive year that we’ve been able to get together here in Sarasota. 

In fact I’ve seen more of cousin Janet since 2006,  than in the thirty years prior.

My “new” (since 2006) friends Ron and Charlotte T. joined us.

We had a jolly evening, with lots of good conversation.  I served a cold supper – salad stuff - boston lettuce, orange pepper, cucumber, orange and red tomato, beets,  and  five bean salad –together with homemade (and very spicy) meatloaf, and good bread.

It all “worked”.

That was not just about the comestibles. It was also about the fellowship.

The five of us relaxed, and then engaged in an activity which is as old and valuable as human history.

We shared in a meal.  

We shared in lively conversation.

Folks have been doing this for at least ten thousand years!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

On Not Waltzing Matilda

I had planned a party for today (13th November 2011).  

I'd called it the “Back from Down under Party”, a celebration of a trip to Australia.

But because of the shut-down of the Australian Airline (QANTAS) last month (as a result of the stupid actions of an anti-Union Qantas CEO) I was not able to take the trip. 

It will take place later.

But I did not cancel the party.  I re-named it a “Not Back from Australia Party” and hosted it after all. 

For you see, to get fourteen of my Sarasota friends in one place at one time is all but impossible.

Receiving fourteen acceptances and not one regret is little short of miraculous.

It was a lovely party with wine, liquor and soft drinks for every taste and need; together with chips and dips, “chex mix” munchies, mixed roasted nuts, good crackers and three fancy cheeses. 

I used plastic cups and paper plates, so clean-up was easy.

Of my fourteen guests, seven were female and seven male.

Twelve of them were couples, straight and gay. 

Two were singles.

My cats rejoiced in all the attention (even though the normally docile Ada skipped out when both my front doors were open, and then shot back in, like a ball out of a cannon when I re-opened a door 30 minutes later). (I think that she was shocked to find herself outside!).

Penne was so good.  At first she was bewildered at the invasion of 14 homo-sapiens, and then she basked at their attention.

And I was so happy to have these good folks in my home.  I and they relaxed, had some good beverages and nibbles, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.

(The big news is that I relaxed).

We ended the party with a rousing rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”.

I end this post with a sense of gratitude for a lovely evening with such good people.

I amaze myself by being able to host a party without stress or strain, and with gratitude for my fourteen guests (only one of whom I knew before I moved to Florida in 2006).