Pondering Friendship

by | Aug 11, 2019

Over recent months, I have been contemplating what does friendship in the margins look like, sound like, feel like, taste like. Multiple questions arise: Whom am I befriending? With whom am I eating, sharing a cup of tea, keeping company? Who is invited to the table, to the conversation? With whom do I engage, make eye contact with, smile at? Who is left out by choice or by lack my of awareness?

As these questions swirl through my mind, turn in my gut and rest in my heart I have been challenged by the writings of many mystics and prophets, some of which I share below.

Jean Vanier says “I can be generous: I can volunteer to help someone living in an institution, or I can go into a slum area and listen to the people, or give them money. However, when I am generous, I hold the power. In my generosity, I give good things when I want. The initiative is mine. When I extend my generosity to you, I become superior. The equation changes, however when I become your friend. The generosity becomes a meeting point for the two of us, and the journey of friendship begins, When I become your friend, I become vulnerable with you. I listen to your story; I hear how much you have suffered: and you listen to my story. In some mysterious way, friendship is the beginning of a covenant whereby we are all tied to each other. You have to know that once you become a friend of someone with disabilities, much of your life begins to change.” [1]

Christopher Heuertz and Christine Poh offer many challenges through their writings on friendship in the margins.

Our friendships create personal pathways between wealth and poverty and between vulnerability and power.[2]

People are transformed when someone is willing to listen to their stories, to share a meal with them to find insights and concerns important or interesting. They are able to recover a measure of self-respect and a fuller sense of identity. But hospitality works both ways and people on the margins also gain self-respect and recognise their own gifts when someone is willing to receive their hospitality.[3]

Henri Nouwen has written that “we will never believe we have anything to give unless there is someone who is able to receive. Indeed, we discover our gifts in the eyes of the receiver.” Making sure that each person has a place in community and an opportunity to contribute is important for all of us.[4]

While social ministry is sometimes perceived as focussed in helping people with their physical needs, friendship involves sharing ourselves as well as our resources.[5]

When friendship on the margins draws us into morally ambiguous or troubling circumstances, we desperately need to be located in a prayerful, truthful and loving community. We will not last in ministry in the hard places if we try to do it alone.[6]

It is especially important to have practices of accountability in place that will challenge our tendencies to self-deceptions.[7]

Ironically, local church congregations rarely offer support and accountability needed by those who dwell or minister in hard places.[8]

Gary Smith, a Jesuit priest who lived and worked among the poor of Portland Oregon, says: “…many individuals, I think, are driven to talking to themselves and to the mannequins of their lives, because no one around them listens to them or cares about them. They are not mentally ill, they are just lonely. Some folk connect more with cockroaches, mice, cats dogs, birds and plants in their SRO (single room occupancy hotels) rooms than they do with other human beings. This is not so much by choice, as it is as a result of the poison of human disregard.” [9]

I don’t have any answers, just acutely aware of the invitation to foster friendship where I can. I suspect I will follow up with further postings. But for now I will leave a link to a YouTube video connected with one place I am developing some new friendships- Breakfast at St Patricks.

 


[1] Jean Vanier. We Need One Another: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together. SPCK: London 2018. p54-55

[2] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. p53

[3] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. p80

[4] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. p80

[5] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. p85

[6] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. p99

[7] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. P99

[8] Christopher L Heuertz and Christine D Pohl. Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. IVP Books: Downers Grove 2010. P100

[9] Gary Smith. Radical Compassion: Finding Christ in the Heart of the Poor. (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002), 28

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