All Friendship is Sacramental

I wanted to follow up with a note of clarification about my recent post How Friendship Can Save the World: Sacramental Friendship and the Strength of Weak Ties.

Specifically, a problem with my post is that by creating a "special" friendship category--a sacramental friendship--we are still erecting a sort of filter between rich and poor. The goal should be friendship. Plain and simple. Not sacramental friendship, or any sort of qualified friendship, just friendship.

So a note of clarification about this.

My coining the phrase "sacramental friendship" isn't an attempt to create a new sort of "special" friendship, one that remains inherently distancing because it is "special." When I speak of "sacramental friendship" I'm speaking of just plain-old, regular friendship.

So why call it sacramental?

If you'll recall from the earlier post, I use the term to help churches move away from seeing the poor as a project, and therefore as an object, as a group of anonymous people who need help or need to be fixed. The adjective "sacramental" is being attached to the word "friendship" to signal how agendas of those sorts--"You are a project."--should be stripped away. Leaving just friendship.

In short, I'm using the word sacramental as a sort of scalpel to cut away the "you're a project" agendas a lot of people have when they approach the poor in a non-relational and programmatic way.

Additionally, the adjective sacramental helps tame the Messiah-complex, the social-justice-hero-complex, the ride-in-on-a-white-horse-complex. Sacramental is just trying to get us to focus on what William Stringfellow calls "the sacrament of mere presence." Or the sacrament of what Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community, calls "accompaniment."

Which is to say, the sacrament of simply being a friend.

Basically, the word sacrament is being attached to the word friendship not to qualify friendship but to put a hedge of protection around friendship. To consecrate and hallow friendship in a way that says: Friendship is enough.

The word sacrament is attached to remind us that friendship is not utilitarian. Far too often, Christian "friendship" drifts toward the utilitarian. We use people to achieve our Christian agendas. Liberals use people for their social justice agendas and conservatives use people for their evangelism agendas. You're counting the number of people fed or the number of souls saved.

The word sacramental is used to remind us that true friendship rests in the simple "being with" others, for no other purpose than the "being with."

And that is why friendship is a sacrament, an experience of grace.

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4 thoughts on “All Friendship is Sacramental”

  1. This reminds me of John Taylor's description of the Holy
    Spirit as the Go-Between: the third party who makes true encounter and
    relationship possible; and the one who is present in every relationship
    where this happens, regardless whether this relationship happens inside
    or outside the church.

    I remember learning this with one
    of my friends, Dave, who connected with my church shortly after it
    started. Dave suffered greatly from depression and social anxiety, and
    had been either brushed aside or treated as a project by most of the
    people who interacted with him. I (and several other people) made a
    point to spend time with Dave: watching television together, eating
    together, having coffee, etc. I celebrated with him when he made
    breakthroughs, got irritated with him when he shared his political views
    (which differed greatly from mine), and harassed the heck out of him
    every time he went into a depressive period and started isolating. In
    short, we were friends.

    When he died unexpectedly of a heart
    attack, due to a horribly mismanaged combination of medications, his
    therapist, who I had never met before, spoke at his funeral. He
    specifically cited our community as the people who had saved Dave's life
    everyday. I still consider that moment one of the greatest validations
    of the work of my church and the clearest illustration I've ever
    received as to the transformational power of friendship.

  2. This is discipleship-talk at its finest, redeeming discipleship from its professional conceits, institutional pretexts, and imperial-commercial ambitions in the religious marketplace. *salute*

  3. I actually feel blessed that I live and work in a multiracial, ethnic and economic area. I have co-workers from these different backgrounds with whom I converse and share family history and concerns. And though most of us do not socialize outside the workplace, simply because our personal lives are so demanding of our time, we share an appreciation of one another's care.

    What I also find rewarding is being able to stand in line at the polling place during elections with people of different races, styles of dress and customs. For me, being in that line says we all belong here, we all belong to one another. Some may say "That should happen within the church". Indeed, it should. But, to be honest, church is not trusted and frequented by many, and sometimes a short conversation in a voting line, or in a grocery store check out line for that matter, can send people home with the assurance, "I belong". That happens for me; I pray it happens for others.

  4. I might propose the project/object mentality is a subset of the mentality behind ET soteriology. Many look at the "unsaved" as a special project, going in (perhaps not realizing it) with the hero/white-horse complex, looking to add to their trophy case when "leading one to Christ". A huge and sweet fruit of UR (IMO) is it throws ALL HUMAN CREATION in the same pool relative to God/Christ, the converse understanding being "no one is righteous, no not one - all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God". It immediatly dispells "othering". If those who were fomerly perceived as "unsaved" are now understood as ALREADY (and equally) valued/loved by Christ, the poor and marginalized are now immediate kin. Transform the attitude FIRST, then suddenly genuine heart-to-heart friendship with "others" (ANY others) becomes a lasting and natural (supernatural) possibility. Much easier said than done. But this begins with our individual perceptions of WHO GOD is (in relation to HOW GOD feels about EVERYONE He has created).

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