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Friendship as the locus of the Kin-dom

On Wednesday last week, Jemma Allen led a discussion on the importance of friendship, starting with the Greek philosophers, the Renaissance, right up to present thinking, exploring what it is, and what it encapsulates about being human. Very interesting to hear, were the different emphasies that we in the Moot Community have when we consider what friendship is.

Later, Jemma explored what the idea of friendship was in the context of Jesus, and how he reframes it to focus on intimacy, inclusion and empowerment in the context of justice. Rightly Jemma challenged our British language of seeing Jesus as Lord, which through friendships with all sort of people in the gospels, Christ in powerlessness, never Lorded. Jemma pointed out the first time Friend and Christ were used in Matthew 11,19:

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!


I have just read through all the times when Jesus says friend in the Gospels, and it is quite moving. I love the idea of the Kin-dom, not about top down hierarchy, but the idea of a bottom-up society of friends.
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POSTED 11.09.09 BY: paulabbott | Comments (17)

17 Responses to “Friendship as the locus of the Kin-dom”

  1. On September 14th, 2009 at 1:53 pm Jemma said:

    I really enjoyed the conversation we had and have written a bit about what I've been thinking about (and some of the stuff I talked about) on my blog at http://exilicchaplain.wordpress.com/2009/09/15/friendship/

    Have people been thinking more about mutuality and reciprocity? That's the bit of the conversation that especially stuck with me

  2. On September 14th, 2009 at 4:10 pm grace said:

    I actually wrote a blathery comment here this morning about reciprocity Jemma, but lost it so you are mercifully getting a summary.

    The reciprocity chat stuck with me too, and I've revised my fairly insistent view on Wednesday, that reciprocity felt transactional and earthbound and I believe in an almost transcendent love between dear friends.

    I think I was being a bit 2D about it; there is something in idealistically denying the mundane give-and-take of friendship, and harping on transcendent incorruptible, that while lovely is unrealistic and maybe a bit unhealthy. It may be lovely to find in a few years that a friend I've invested nothing in is still committed to me, but I now think that would miss the point – if I love them why would I invest nothing in them?

    And I thought, (and this relates to Ian's post above too), this is like the powerlessness, getting on in there with the muck of stuff and our own souls, that I find hard to look in the face but that Jesus opted for instead of choosing lordship – that he comes to us open to, up for, fully rising to, the sneering that he's the drinking buddy of people they despise. in fact his rising to it rebuffs the sneering and dignifies the people with him. I love it.

  3. On September 14th, 2009 at 4:19 pm Michael Radcliffe said:

    Hi Jemma

    I was present at the discussion, and really enjoyed it a great deal. It gave me time to think through this area – which I guess is something that has just built up over the years, without me considering it much before.

    I think the mutuality and reciprocity is an interesting one – I also think its informed by how much we accept other people's understanding of what friendships involve. It's hard to have reciprocity without recognition, and what came across for me most is that different people have different balances, mixes, and expectations about what friendship should and shouldn't involve.

    I like that about friendship. For me there's nothing better than exploring the differences and similarities with one's mates, and ultimately accepting those differences for what they are. This is the essence of what it is for me.

    Fantastic discussion, Jemma. 🙂

  4. On September 15th, 2009 at 6:18 am Ian said:

    Totally agree with what you Mike and Grace, it has really got me thinking a lot too – this idea of friendship being the point of the Kin-dom (love this idea instead of the Kingdom Jemma's challenge to me personally). It is really interesting to think about friendship as the central catalyst of change and transformation. This being so, it ties in with all that Chad Myers thing on the social significance of Christ turning the other cheek, carrying the bag further, and what Jesus means when he is before Herod and says I am not of this domination system which we translate as world, all through the central concept of just and redeeming friendship. Wow that is really exciting, when I think how this ties into what we could be doing in our new Lounge initiative.

  5. On September 15th, 2009 at 7:47 am Jemma said:

    I guess that if friendship is an ethic and an impulse that moves us towards the reign of God as proclaimed by Christ, then there will also be times when we are called to offer friendship that will not be mutual or reciprocal. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…

    Still thinking and grateful for the conversation…

  6. On September 15th, 2009 at 3:33 pm Michael Radcliffe said:

    Oooh! I think this is an interesting one, because of the possibilities for abuse.

    Offering friendship to enemies opens up possibilities, but also may create problems for either vulnerable people or people with a history of abuse.

    Also – Do we make exemptions for people who are vulnerable? Do we makes exemptions for people with sociopathic/anti-social tendencies? What about people who are not quite so extreme, but are very clever and manipulative?

    Wondering how to deal with that one. Is defining an ethic or an impulse like friendship about finding the limits of where that works and doesn't work? How far do you go? Would it work?

  7. On September 16th, 2009 at 7:32 am Ian said:

    Mike's question has got me thinking. I think we try to be generous, offer something – or gift giving with people who have intense needs, and that we are boundaried not to become door mats. In that way we follow Christ who spoke, drank and munched with all sorts of people with complex needs, but was disciplined about boundaries practicing withdrawal when needed.

    I think what Jemma is saying is that friendship becomes the vehicle for God, not that we represent God, but that friendship has a spiritual and mysterious element when it comes out of an ecclesial community. For example, I know I have encountered God at moments when people in Moot have shared thoughts, offered compassion, been there when I have been low and lonely, look to the good in me – rather than being negative about me because of my faults… the list goes on. So there is this encountering God at moments made present through the media of friendship, and the fact that when we offer unconditional love, justice, mercy and acceptance, even in our imperfection, we express something of the nature and values of God in Trinity.

  8. On September 16th, 2009 at 8:02 am Jemma said:

    Are you asking, Michael, whether an ethic of friendship obligates someone to offer friendship to their abuser? In the absence of repentance and restoration of relationship which in so many cases is impossible and might need to wait for the fullness of the reign of God (the eschaton perhaps)I would say holding the other accountable whether that's by prosecuting in a court of law or refusing relationship might be the best way to be a friend. Could that be justice-seeking and potentially the most generative version of friendship?

    Certainly not fully formed thoughts here.

  9. On September 16th, 2009 at 8:07 am Jemma said:

    It is possible I do think that we represent God in some way in our friendships. In an incarnational sense and maybe also in the sense that the faithful, persistent love of my friends has gently transformed my image of God – they have made God known to me.

    But I'd also argue that our capacity for friendship: with each other and with God is part of the work of the Spirit withing us. In the book of Wisdom in the apocrypha there is the idea that Holy Wisdom enters our souls and makes us friends of God. (A favourite blessing is one by Janet Morley which picks up this image: May Holy Wisdom, the breath of the power of God, she who makes all things free in every age, enter our souls and make us friends of God. Don't have the text with me but that's my memory of how it goes)

    Think I need breakfast before any more theologising!

  10. On September 16th, 2009 at 3:58 pm Michael Radcliffe said:

    I guess I was throwing out a whole bunch of scenarios as examples.

    Certainly the possibility of friending someone who has abused you is one of the ones I was thinking.

    I was also thinking about how wise it is for someone who is extremely sensitive, to constantly expose their vulnerability to people, when actually all their doing is bruising themselves unnecessarily. There is a sense, I think, that people need to give friendship and be generous out of what they actually are, rather than what they are expected to have. I would argue that (for some ) sensitivity can be a character trait rather than a sin – and that therefore its a matter of degree for everyone.

    The other (third) scenario I was thinking was in terms of someone new to a friendship-focused community who might see the potential for exploitation, unbeknown to it's members – I guess that's what I meant by anti-social/sociopathic. I appreciate that that is a risk we have to take on some level, but people aren't always cognizant of such risks, and the potential for abuse is huge.

    I suppose I'm thinking with a sociological/therapuetic hat on, rather than a theological one, although I think you're onto something with the idea of a supernatural Holy Wisdom, and a belief that this will help us deal with situations appropriately.

  11. On September 16th, 2009 at 10:14 pm Jemma said:

    I don't think it's unwise to be having a therapeutic/sociological eye on this whole question of friendship…

    One of the things I've been thinking about today is Ian's care to situate this conversation in the context of ecclesial community. It isn't all about how much I, personally, am capable of practicing friendship – or any other "I". Yes, friendship is a practice between individuals but when we situate that in the context of community it isn't all about who and how I can be friends but about the "we". It might not be healthy for me to be friends with a particular person, but it is still healthy that that person be befriended – it is the task of the community or the kin of the kin-dom most broadly, rather than any one individual having to capable of mutual, generative, reconciling friendship with any or every one.

  12. On September 17th, 2009 at 7:42 am Michael Radcliffe said:

    OK, that makes sense.

    That way the weight of expectation doesn't fall on one person's shoulders, it's the responsibility of the entire group.

    My concern was about how community administers those expectations: it can be a source of legalism/demonism if care is not taken to ensure the respect and recognition of the members within it. It's important to ensure that people are not pressured into friending beyond their means, which would burn the community out more than it would build up.

    I suppose that the other part of my thoughts revolve around what happens when someone from outside that community enters and places it under threat for whatever reason by exploiting the friendship principle, and how the community responds to that.

  13. On September 18th, 2009 at 1:01 pm Jemma said:

    While I think friendship can be an ethic and a way of living in the world I don't think you can make it into a rule! Affection, attraction, mutual respect are things that grow moreso between some people than others. There's that Mary Hunt quote (not to hand at the moment I'm sorry) which suggests that there is a quality of paying attention that characterises friendship that be common to all our relationships but the intensity of that, the vulnerability of that is something that grows over time and in particular contexts.

    There's something in all of this for me that's about integrity – individual integrity/authenticity and the integrity of the relationships that we're in. Is it friendship if we're only doing it because we should? What would it be like to be on the receiving end of that kind of friendship?

  14. On September 18th, 2009 at 5:50 pm Kerry Dawkins said:

    From my outsider point of view, too few churches ever feel like anything near friendly. In fact, most require you to be positively unfriendly and dehumanising if you happen to separated, divorced or gay.

    This is a good post, because I think much of church seems to be returning to forms of patriarchy and unhealthy expressions of faith that are not human centred, and tend to be very hard on people.

    Moot and other emerging churches are an oasis

  15. On September 18th, 2009 at 10:26 pm Marcus Rowland said:

    It seems to me that the last thing that many churches want is friendship with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners – or rather those classified as sinners who were really those who were socially excluded. In this way, they say they follow Jesus, but in reality follow what they want Jesus to be rather than what he did and said.

  16. On September 19th, 2009 at 8:55 am Jemma said:

    One of the limits of friendship as an ideal is that research suggests we are most often friends with people who are similar to us: especially in terms of education levels, world views etc. That's hardly the radical transformative version of friendship that Jesus practiced: one could say that for Jesus to be friends only with his peers would have required him to "stay in heaven", practicing friendship only within the context of the Trinity!

    Instead we find Jesus calling his disciples friends: the same people who would betray and deny him. We find him described as embracing friendship with those who were culturally marginalised. It's definitely a challenge to those of us who seek to be followers of Christ.

  17. On September 22nd, 2009 at 6:56 am PeterR said:

    Perhaps one part of this relates to the distinction – familiar to those of us from certain evangelical traditions – between liking and loving. I am not required to like everyone I meet, but I am called to love everyone I meet. Jemma's point about tending to be friends naturally with those who are like us is worth heeding because we shouldn't imagine that we will suddenly come to like people we find threatening or irritating. However, the call to friendship goes beyond those I like, or who are like me. And it goes beyond being "nice" to people, saying hello, making conversation. It means being ready to be a genuine friend to someone like that, adjusting my reactions by God's grace and the custom of community. It would be false to pretend that we aren't naturally more comfortable with some people than with others, but what matters is not whether we're comfortable but whether we're community, not what we initially feel but how we act. In that sense friendship is not so much about feelings and emotions as about actions and will – transformed by the in-breathing of the Spirit, I hope, if I'm ever to be much of a friend to anyone.