I don’t know if this happens to you, but I had something special happen to me while I was finishing Cheryl Hall’s book, The Trouble with Passion: Political Theory Beyond the Reign of Reason. Her book is an insightful analysis of the dichotomy between reason and passion in political theory.
Reading her unflinching boldness to embrace reason and passion in politics felt like I was in the presence of a well-known companion-pioneer who thoroughly knows the all too-familiar gendered resistance to passion.
But she also knows passion's power for the common good.
The special thing was this. Sometimes, there are books that take me back to the unmitigated joy of a little child bursting forth with anticipation when he gets to unwrap the presents underneath the Christmas tree.
Hall’s book did that. Even though her book focuses on political theory, for me, it stirred up a fresh sense of God’s unmistakable presence as a friend to me as well as the glorious reminder that men and women mirror God’s friendship in their friendships with one another.
In our contemporary world, there is a sense in which, the good news of Christ to men and women is that Christ has come to embody the full presence of God’s friendship in order to free us from sexism, patriarchy, and the gendered dichotomy of reason and passion.
I mean, how does it get any better than this? “Mirroring,” is one of the beautiful words in the history of friendship going all the way back to the ancients. Then you add the spiritual dimension to mirroring in friendship—God’s full presence as a friend to both men and women.
How can it get any better than that??? Hey, I’m not the one who pioneered the radical good news that men and women can know God’s immediate presence as friends. That’s in the Bible. Moses was a “friend of God.”
This goes waaayyy back, friends. A friend of God! Can there be any greater description of God-human relationship in the entire cosmos than God and Moses speaking, “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Ex. 33:11)?
It doesn’t stop there. Jesus called his followers friends.
If the Gospel of Christ does not provide any glorious news for men and women in this world—that we can joyfully mirror God’s glorious, full presence as a friend between us—then we have nothing to offer men and women mired in sexism, patriarchy, and gendered brokenness.
We get to mirror to one another, the fullness of God’s desire to be friends with us—between a man and a woman. For Christian men and women, how can it get any better than that? How can we be Christians if we don’t acknowledge that the most precious, most beautiful, most hopeful, most inspiring reality in heaven and earth is the full presence of Christ?
Does it get any better for us as men and women than to know Saint Aelred’s, “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ in our midst.”
I can testify, I can serve as a first hand-witness that my optimism is not grounded in some kind of naïve, “don’t worry, be happy as friends.” I am first and foremost a flawed friend. I have disappointed my friends. I have unintentionally hurt my friends. There are times when I have failed my female friends. But my female friends are flawed, too. My female friends have disappointed me. They have hurt me.
Staying real, staying grounded in knowing we have flaws is one of the things that breaks us free from the fairy tale that we are going to reach some kind of perfection as friends if Christ is our friend. At least part of the glorious news is that we don't have to meet that burden. We don't have to be caught up in a shame cycle of passivity and despair.
I was so encouraged to see this realism expressed in Dan Allender’s book on leadership. He makes four points about dealing with the log in our own eyes. The first, “I am never sufficiently good, wise, or gifted to make things work.” The next is, “My failures will harm others, the process, and myself, no matter how hard I try to avoid failure.”
Such frankness, a hunger for us as Christian men and women to be transparent about our own flaws, our failures, our weaknesses—not just in our past but our future failings—is one of the hardest things for us to own—owning our own shit—in this cross-gender friendship conversation.
It’s hard, of course, to own our own flaws. It’s also hard to move toward a healthy realism of earned and hard-won transparency with our opposite sex friends. This is part of realism that Henri Nouwen was talking about, I believe, when he said that friendship between men and women could be a healing relationship. He talked about, “A mutual openness, a mutual sharing, a mutual confession and forgiveness, a mutual knowing and being known.” He called this a “Jesus-centered affectionate friendship.”
Now, it’s just here friends, when we are almost ready to give up in despair because of our flaws, because we see sexism, we see patriarchy, we know that men and women have enormous power to betray us as friends and hurt us as friends—that one of the clearest and inspiring themes of the whole biblical narrative stands out: we can know as flawed humans the freshness of God’s immediate presence where everything is possible.
More to come. Stay tuned.