Tag Archive | friendship

Even the appearance of evil

By Josef Seibel (Portrait of two young women) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago, Stephanie Drury (Stuff Christian Culture Likes) posted a link to Set Apart Girl Magazine.  Nearly everything about it makes me cringe.  Even the title is awful.  I have a list of words that, as a woman, I do not want to be called.  At the top of the list is using female as a noun when referring to humans.  Second only to that is calling adult women girls.  Right off the bat this magazine has me wanting to punch something.

Feel free to read through the magazine if you want to, but bring boots and a shovel.  Meanwhile, I’m going to highlight the article that grabbed my attention: “Unnatural Affections.”  It’s about exactly what you think it is–and yet also not.

“Unnatural Affections” is the tragic tale of a friendship gone “too far.”  The young woman in the story, Sarah, has developed a friendship with one of her college classmates, Meredith.  The relationship is close, and it includes long talks, Bible studies, and physical affection.  And then the nightmare spiral into Meredith stalking and controlling Sarah . . . oh, wait. No, that’s not what happens.

What actually happens is that Sarah’s family and her boyfriend become “concerned” for her that she’s spending too much of the wrong kind of time with Meredith.  Her boyfriend, in a creepy-as-hell turn, even demands that she choose between him and her friendship.  In the end, Sarah caves and ditches Meredith so as not to hamper her future intimacy with her boyfriend (when they’re properly married, of course).  Just to prove what a parasite Meredith is, she apparently gloms onto another young woman to repeat her pattern.

This is a lovely little morality play, but there is so much wrong with it that I’m hardly sure where to start.  First, the relationship as described is not in any way abusive.  I’ve been in an abusive friendship, and it doesn’t look anything like that.  It looks like a friend who not only demands your time and attention but deliberately sabotages your other relationships.  It looks like an expectation to praise her every move.  It looks like her telling you that she thinks your boyfriend–who is well-liked by everyone else–is “condescending” and “too smart.”  It looks gossiping about you behind your back, cleverly disguising it as “prayer requests.”  It looks like demanding you give up friendships with people she doesn’t like.  It does not look like hugs and hair-braiding and long talks cuddling up while watching a movie.

Second, we women cannot win.  No matter what we do, we are seen as impure.  If we spend too much time with a boyfriend, we’re putting him before God.  If we spend too much time with another woman, we’re putting her before God.  If we have sex before we’re married, we’re “damaged goods.”  If we have a physically affection friendship, we’re failing to keep our bodies pure.  Essentially, young women are to be starved of loving touch until marriage, at which point it will magically become okay–as long as it’s only with our husbands.  What kind of sick joke is that?  It sounds like another variation of body = bad, soul = good.

Third, the whole thing is a clear example of why I’m still stubbornly writing about homophobia in the church.  See, here’s the thing.  A person doesn’t even have to actually be gay to find him- or herself victimized by the church.  One only has to give the appearance of doing something the church disapproves of.  In this case, the Big Bad was having a physically affectionate relationship with a friend; The article even refers to it as “subtly sensual.”

As a youth, I heard all about how I should “avoid even the appearance of evil” and “not cause my brothers to stumble.”  That meant I had to obsess over every single action I took, because I might somehow do something that could be interpreted as sinful.  I recall a youth leader explaining that it meant she didn’t drink wine when out at a restaurant because she couldn’t be sure there wasn’t a teenager or a recovering alcoholic in the restaurant, and she didn’t want to give the teen the wrong impression or tempt the alcoholic to drink.  That may sound extreme, but it’s another example of exactly what’s going on in the story of Sarah and Meredith.  It doesn’t matter one bit whether they were actually in a sexual relationship–what matters is that they appeared as though they were

I appreciate that some people may be hurt by having assumptions made about their sexuality (actually, no, I really don’t care about that at all; suck it up).   But I’m far more concerned about the message this sends to LGBTQ people: “You are so bad that we don’t even want anyone doing stuff that looks like you.”  Is there anything else the church believes to be sin that’s treated with such utter contempt?

Yesterday, some of the people I follow on Twitter were expressing the desire to stop coddling people who are not LGBTQ allies–to stop pretending that it’s just a difference of opinion and that it’s okay.  I’m all for that.  It’s not remotely okay to find every possible way to shame and humiliate people for who they are.  It’s not okay to tell lies about LGBTQ people from the pulpit.  It’s not okay to attach unnecessary subtext to a friendship based on those lies.  It’s not okay to sit back and tolerate other people doing it, either.

To the Sarahs and Merediths of the world, there is nothing wrong with you.  Whether it truly is just a friendship or whether you’ve discovered you’re in love with each other, take both as blessings.  You’ve found a valuable gift if you have a friend or a lover with whom you can talk about your love for God and the Bible.  Go find your joy in one another, and screw the loveless people who shame you for what you have.

Loss

I woke up this morning to learn that a friend had passed away.  We weren’t close, really.  We worked together at a summer job for a couple of years, kept in touch lightly after that.  I lost contact with her for several years, then reconnected with her on Facebook.  It was at that point that I learned she’d already been dealing with cancer for some years.  I tracked her progress as she continued to battle, and I saw what an inspiration she was to those around her.  Judging by the volume of comments when her husband posted about her passing, she appears to have touched hundreds of people over her short time in this world.

We first met before we worked together.  We were introduced by mutual friends who knew we would both be working at the same summer job.  I recall thinking that she seemed nice enough and that I was glad to have met someone so I wouldn’t be stranded with strangers for two months.  As it turned out, I underestimated her.  She wasn’t simply “nice.”  She was energetic, fun, good at her job, intelligent, and had a great sense of humor.  Those two summers turned out to be the high point of my college years.  As everything else in my “real” life fell apart, I had those few months of shelter from the storms.  This amazing young woman was part of that, and I am grateful to have known her.

To all who knew my friend, I am sorry for our loss.  May the things we loved about her live on in us, as we treasure our time with her and our memories of her.

Assuming We Know

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend.  She is generally a warm, good-hearted woman.  Please don’t judge her solely on this conversation.  Anyway, she mentioned that she has been praying with and for a young man.  I concede that she knows him and I don’t, and that she’s known him for a long time.  This does give her a measure of insight into his life.  Even so, some of what she said was troubling to me.  She said her young friend “was” gay.  (I’m not really sure whether he “isn’t” now.  I also don’t know whether he believes he shouldn’t be or whether he’s in denial or whether he’s just telling her what he thinks she wants to hear.  As I said, I don’t know him.)  What bothers me isn’t so much that she was thrilled that he said he is no longer gay (although hearing that makes me squirm).  No, what bothers me is what she had to say about what she believes to be what caused him to be gay in the first place.

Here’s the list.  It’s the same tired reasons I’ve seen and heard for years (Italics mine):

-He had a bad childhood [so did a lot of other people, and there are lots of gay people who had very nice childhoods]

-Our sex-saturated culture “convinced” him [not sure how this works, I would think the opposite would be true?]

-He’s confused [he certainly seems to be now, at any rate]

-He made a choice based on the above, versus being born that way [so, does that apply only to him, or to everyone?]

-His (affirming) church was just using him as a sort of poster child for their agenda

Actually, that last one potentially has some truth to it.  A well-meaning church might put someone in an awkward position unintentionally.  A church that professes to be affirming, but has no out gay congregants, might leap at the first one they encounter.  I’ve seen it happen with other issues, so I assume it’s possible in this case.  Whether or not they were using this young man for any kind of agenda is questionable.  That they might have inadvertently turned him into a front-man for their desire to demonstrate their affirming status is a possibility, though.

I wish people wouldn’t assume they know the root cause of anyone’s personhood.  It’s not as clear-cut as seeing a brown-haired child and knowing she can’t be the product of two blondes.  Whether it’s personality or sexuality, pointing to a person’s past is fruitless in the current relationship.  Knowing someone’s past may be helpful in relating to them, but it shouldn’t be the tool we use to analyze people.

In fact, when did it become okay to measure people anyway?  What gives anyone the right to puzzle out the reasons for someone’s life?  I’ve seen this happen far too often.  I’m not the most patient person, but one thing I do well is not pushing people to talk.  I leave doors open, but I don’t assume I know anything until they’ve said it.  Sometimes, this doesn’t work well.  I have had friendships drift and end because we didn’t feel close.  I suspect that for some people, being urged to confide is important.  I’ve had other relationships that didn’t deepen until we’d been friends for years, when we were finally able to reach a greater level of intimacy.

I’ve strayed far enough from the topic.  Anyway, I suppose I don’t really have a point.  I just wish we wouldn’t presume things about what “causes” people to be who they are.  Too many things go into shaping us into the people we become, including our genes, families, and circumstances.  Instead of treating people like puzzles to be solved, maybe we could try just being friends and caring for each other.

I Made a Friend

I have a new friend. This would not ordinarily be newsworthy. After all, I’ve been a functional member of society for some time now. But this was a little different.

We met by random chance. We happened to be in the same place at the same time. At first, I wasn’t inclined to like her. She has that oh-so-cute, perky innocence about her that usually makes me cringe, particularly in adults. Still, I figured I’d give her the benefit of the doubt. I made the effort to lay aside my own prejudices. I’m glad I did.

We make an unlikely pair. We have almost nothing in common, aside from both being church-going Christians. We don’t have the same taste in clothes, books, movies, or music. We don’t share similar philosophies on life or parenting. I’m willing to bet we don’t hold the same views on faith, and I’m certain we don’t on politics.

And yet.

I like her. It’s impossible not to. She’s sweet and fun, and not a little bit crazy. She loves people like mad and wants to hug the whole world. She doesn’t pass up opportunities to help and serve others, even at personal inconvenience. We may come at it differently, but in this we agree: As followers of Christ, we live to love and serve.

We don’t spend a lot of time together, and I doubt we’ll ever be close confidants. But I’m glad that I put away my own agenda and got to know her better. Having that kind of friend will make me a better person, a person who can look beyond the exterior.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7b, NIV)

Relationships: Friends with Strings Attached

Almost two years ago, my husband and I attended a Bible study.  It was a video series on reaching out to bring Christ to the people around you called “Just Walk Across the Room” with Bill Hybels.  Overall, it was a great series.  In one of the last sessions, Hybels talks about reconnecting with an old friend.  This friend had left the faith of his childhood behind.  He mentions having told this friend that he would be there for him, continue to be his friend, regardless of whether this person ever made a commitment to follow Christ.

After watching, several of the members of our group seemed confused and a little uncomfortable.  More than one wondered how a Christian could be close friends with a non-Christian, especially without continuing to “witness” to this friend (i.e., talk about Jesus).  There were murmurings about being “unequally yoked,” as in marriage.  Some people expressed concern that just being friends without actively evangelizing might be a failure on our part to do God’s will.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer that my friendships not have strings attached.  If I want to have a relationship with you, it absolutely must go deeper than trying to convert you to my religion.  All of my friends who are of other faiths know exactly where I stand, that I am a Christian.  But they also know that I am not going to spend as much time as possible “sharing the good news” with them.  They also know (I hope) that I am not friends with them for the express purpose of finding new disciples.  I choose my friends because I like them and we have common interests.  They also know (I hope) that should they tell me flat-out that there is nothing that would ever make them want to become followers of Christ, I would still want to be friends.

When I was a new Christian, I thought that’s what evangelism was—continuing to remind people that Jesus died for their sins, in those exact words.  It was my job to persuade people that they were essentially bad and that they were facing the wrath of what one friend aptly termed “Big Angry Sky Daddy.”  If I could convince them of those two facts, then I could move in for the “kill”: That if they said the magic words, Jesus would save them from Hell.  I think I’m oversimplifying it a bit, but not much.  This was really the gist of the message I believed I was supposed to spread.  I also had the impression that I wasn’t supposed to be friends with anyone unless I was going to make an effort to convert them.  I don’t think that part was really what I was being taught, but at least some of the Christians around me seemed to look at the world that way.  You can imagine how much my family, being non-Christians, appreciated my efforts.

People can tell when we are being fake with them.  No one is fooled by a Christian who strikes up a relationship solely to create converts.  It’s far better to develop friendships with people you enjoy, then let God work in both your hearts to develop mutual respect and understanding.  We must also learn to live with and respect family members who don’t see things the same way we do.  It doesn’t make family life pleasant for anyone when we act as though the love we have for our family members only goes so far.  Withholding love, putting conditions on friendships, and using spiritual blackmail doesn’t demonstrate Jesus’ love for all people.  Instead, love people, respect people, share your faith, and let the Holy Spirit handle the rest.