Equal to the Task has one of the strongest single chapter apologetics for cross-gender friendship intimacy I've seen from an evangelical author. I guess it didn't sell too well. Although it is indeed one of the strongest, it was a big admission of hers in this chapter to express "I love you" to a male friend. It is a big point in the friendship when those words can come out of one's lips. But the love relationship is only getting off the ground there. :-)
She does though, get at something that I want to make a strong case for in my book--although her book was published before "spiritual formation" became popular for Protestant Christians--she understands the discipline and passionate love in cross-gender friendship--the gift could be at the center of one's own spiritual formation. I tend to think that there are a small cluster of relationships (marriage is one but not the only one) that are at the heart of one's spiritual formation in community. It's one of the biggest points I want to make in my book
Ruth Haley Barton writes “We wonder, can men and women be friends without ‘the sex part’ getting in the way? Do love and emotional connection make us hopelessly vulnerable to sexual failure?”
She continues “In this context, love is not sentimental slop that goes wherever emotion and physical urges take us. It is not the stoic and sometimes sterile way we often speak about ‘loving our neighbors as ourselves’ while keeping our selves at a safe distance. Rather, it is the kind of love that engages with others on spiritual, emotional and physical levels. It is a love that opens us to the beauty in each other and compels us to reach out in meaningful and appropriate ways. Love calls us to hold each other in God’s presence regularly and take responsibility for ourselves so that we never intentionally do anything to hurt or defraud another person or their other significant relationships.”
“Surely God is calling men and women to do in community—to reach out with our whole persons for relationships that can transform and heal us. Real transformation does not come from a set of rules imposed from the outside but from within relationships where we open our hearts to what is and to what God wants to do. We enter life-changing relationships with a certain amount of not knowing; we do not know what it will feel like or who we will be when we emerge.”
I love the observation that transformation "does not come from a set of rules imposed from the outside but from within relationships where we open our hearts...."
“Somewhere between the guideposts of ‘You shall not commit adultery’ and ‘Beloved, let us love one another,’ there is a narrow path between two extremes; self-protective fear on one hand and a false sense of safety on the other. Fear will not do, because it is the opposite of the faith by which we are to walk…The narrow way will require much more from us than leaving office doors open and making sure that men and women always socialize in groups of three or more…This more excellent way will lead us to the freedom to engage in the intimate relationships with persons, regardless of their sex, that will heal and invigorate us and our world.”
I read Sheila these quotes and her response was "Wow. What's left to be said?" Ahem. :-)
This book indeed is the closest book to what I want to write on. These book proposal forms sent out by publishers ask you what are the closest competing books out on the market. This book is almost ten years old, but it would probably be the closest--yet I still envision my book would be different. I do like a title of "Love, Sex and Friendship" Sheila jokingly responded, "Love, Sex, Friendship and Videotape."
Haley Barton deals with the four challenges in this chapter--it's almost mandatory to categorize these if you are going to write on this subject: the emotional bond challenge, sexual attraction, equality and audience. Although I will address each of them, I refuse to single them out in four categories! Readers will know them when I get there!