Accepting Imperfections in Our Friends (And Others)

Yesterday I saw a link to a blog post that contained 27 points of a “friendship manifesto.” (Actually, the writer titled it a “No-Bullshit, No-Drama Friendship Manifesto.”)

Although the writer of the post was a mother of a young child, and many of her points reflect the difficulty inherent in parenting young children, many of her points are pertinent without regard to whether we are married or single, parents or childless.

The one I noticed immediately was number 18 (and its follow-up):

18. When I say something stupid that could be conveyed as insulting or whatever, you’re not going to get all overly sensitive and weird, calling mutual friends and psycho-analyzing what, exactly, my problem is (probably going back to childhood), rather you’re going to call me out on it and then I’m going to apologize and we’re going to move on, LIKE ADULTS, because occasionally adults say stupid [things], the end.

19. When you say something stupid, I’ll either do number 18 or, and I know this is revolutionary, I’LL LET IT GO.

This is obviously good and important advice for friendship. Friends accept that we are not always at our best. That sometimes we do or say stupid things. And they are willing and able not to let those things interfere with their friendship and love for each other.

But it also strikes me as encouraging a stance which we might usefully adopt even beyond those we label friends. A generosity of spirit, a willingness to give people the benefit of the doubt. An effort to try to see something another has said or done in the best possible light rather than the worst. And a willingness, even when we can’t find the best possible light, to accept that sometimes people say stupid things. And that not every stupid statement is a reason to dismiss the goodness in another.

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Even a Small Star

Much of the music at the Spiritual Directors International conference this past weekend was provided by Joyce Johnson Rouse, aka Earth Mama.

One of the songs she led us in was titled A Small Star. The message of the song is a simple one: “Even a small star shines in the darkness for someone somewhere to see. It lights the way for those in the distance.”

As the lyrics of the song convey, we don’t always feel brave or strong or inspiring. But we don’t need to “feel brave to be brave….feel strong to be strong…or feel inspiring to inspire.” We need to remember that our star, however small, can light the way for others.

I was reminded when listening to the song, of a passage in my friend Randy Buck’s play Trances, which I wrote about once before. In his play one character explains his bond to another by saying:

We remain apart. Yet even the most solitary soul seeks comfort. Companionship The hand stretches across the void, longing to find – something to cling to….[T]hough we each make the journey alone, there’s comfort in seeing the glow of another pilgrim candle valiantly pierce the night. Such a tiny light, so fragile, so easily extinguished, must be cherished, nurtured, or else we stumble alone through a dark no ray can brighten.

However small it might feel to you, however small you may feel, know that your light shines for another, helping to light their way.

People To Talk To

Yesterday I had the privilege and pleasure of spending an hour or so in conversation with Paul Knitter, author of Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian. Knitter, a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary, was kind enough to write a blurb for Growing in Love and Wisdom and this was my first opportunity to meet him in person. Having read his book, there were some particular things I wanted to explore with him. I enjoyed our conversation immensely and found it, at one and the same time, affirming and challenging.

If that was the only enounter of my day, it would have been enough. But yesterday was an embarassament of riches. I started the day with breakfast with my dear friend Joe Costantino, S.J., pastor of St. Francis Xavier (where I did book talks on Sunday morning). I always benefit from my conversation with Joe, who both broadens and deepens my understanding of what it means to live an Ignatian spirituality and who, better than anyone else, spots any signs of undue rigidity in my approach.

In the evening I got to spend some time with George Witt, who directed me when I did the Spiritual Exercises, and who is now pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola church, where I did a book talk after our dinner together. Given how transformational the Exercises were for me, there is soemthign very special about having had time with George to share where our lives have been since we’ve last had time together. I then ended the evening with a visit with my friend John Barrett, my friend and former colleague (and neighbor).

As I play back over the day, I’m filled with gratitude. I’m conscious of how many people feel alone, lacking people with whom they can share deeply, people who challenge them and help them grow. I realize how blessed I am by the presence of people like those I spent the day with yesterday.

With Whom Should I Surround Myself?

I’ve seen the following message posted on the Facebook status of a number of my friends: “Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who would never take advantage of you. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.”

At one level, I understand the sentiment being expressed. Our dearest friends can make us happy and make us laugh, help us when we are in need, genuinely care for us and would never take advantage of us. I cherish the companionship of those friends on my life journey and the love that we share. And I enjoy spending time with them. My dearest friends, who I love, are not only “worth keeping,” but I couldn’t imagine not loving them and “keeping” them.

At the same time, the words make me a bit uncomfortable, particularly when I think of the man who surrounded himself with sinners and tax collectors, and who sought, by his love, to transform them.

The danger of the words (and I’m not suggesting this was the intent of any of my FB friends who posted them) is that they might encourage us to put too much focus on ourselves, making us forget that there are times when are called to surround ourselves with those who don’t make us happy, who don’t make us laugh. Those who can’t be counted on to help us when we need it and who would take advantage of us in a heartbeat.

Because they surely need our love just as much (or more) than those who are good to us. And we need to be generous with that love, not treating them as “just passing through.”

Weaving Past and Present

One of the consequences of Facebook and other social media, and the internet in general, is the ability to connect up with people from one’s past in a way that wasn’t easy before. Some (many) are skeptical of the value of that, believing that if one has spent years without any contact with someone from the past, there is little reason to believe one would want to have contact now.

That has not been my experience. Both Facebook and e-mail have allowed me to connect back up with people who once had a place in my life in a way that has caused me real joy (and, in at least one case, has even allowed some healing of a hurt I had experienced many years ago).

Most of the time, my contact with people I have reconnected with from the past has remained electronic – e-mails and FB chats mostly. But yesterday, I had the incredible pleasure of spending time with two different people I hadn’t seen in over three decades, one for breakfast and the other for dinner. Again, I konw some people who think that is not a good idea, thinking it would be too strange or awkward to spend time with someone from the past. And again, that was not how I found it.

Both were truly wonderful experiences, albeit in very different ways, and I so much enjoyed the conversations and time together. I won’t say that in either case I could see anything of the teenage boys I knew years ago in the 50+ year old men I spent time with yesterday, but I could feel something of those boys, in the same way I could feel a piece of my own teenaged self revealed. And it was sweet.

I don’t know how long it will be before I see either again – Harry joked in an e-mail later in the day yesterday that he has calendared our next breakfast for 35 years hence (I’m hoping it is not that long!) and Will and I both travel enough that being in the same city at any given time is pretty much hit or miss. But, however long or short, however frequently or infrequently, there is something special for me in these encounters – encounters that pull together a bit tighter the different strands of my life. That reconnects me, not only to people of my past, but to laid down pieces of my own life. And right now I’m feeling very grateful for that.

Friends on the Journey

I just returned from a few days in Seattle. Although I was there for business, I stayed with my friend Joshua and his son, affording Joshua and me the opportunity for many hours of conversation about faith, our spiritual journeys, Christianity in its various form and the like.

My life is enormously blessed by the presence in my life of people like this friend – people who help me grow in my understanding of my faith and who challenge me by their questions and by their own lives. Some, like my friends Mark Osler (with whom I’ll be having another Mid-Day Dialogue of Faith next week, about which you can find out more here) and Chato Hazelbaker, sit only a few offices away from my own office at St. Thomas, affording the luxury of lots of face-to-face conversations over morning coffee or a meal. Others, like my friends John in NY, Doug who just moved to Rwanda, and Joshua in Seattle, live further away, meaning more limited face time and more electronic communication of one sort or another. Some, like John, have been walking with me for many years; others, like Joshua, have more recently become a part of my life.

But near or far, old or new, such friends are blessings – and necessary ones at that. No two spiritual journeys are identical, but we all need people with whom we can share our stories, who will challenge us, who will help us process and help us see things that we might not see on our own. We grow from our communion with them in ways we could not grow on our own.

I arise this morning tired from my travel, but enormously grateful for the love and friendship of the Joshuas in my life.

Through The Years

I just returned from several days in New York, where I attended the 25th wedding anniversary celebration of my friends John and Chieko. Among the guests were a group of us who had made the trip from NY to Tokyo for their wedding 25 years ago. Also included were some other people I had not seen in a number of years, including my friend Walter, with whom I worked in Hong Kong for a year and a half before I spent two years in Nepal, India and Thailand. (I still remember Walter, who had arrived in Hong Kong some time before I did, picking me up at the airport to take me to my apartment and help me get settled there.)

At the anniversary lunch on Sunday, John played some clips from the wedding video. In a moment we went from “grown-ups” in our early fifties, with children ranging in age from fifteen to twenty-one, to young and fresh-looking kids not long out of law school, single or newly married, ready to face adventure and trying to determine who we would be in the world.

We shared memories of our youth and told stories of our children. And we laughed a lot. It was a beautiful day and the warm feeling of it remains.

At the end of the day, some drove south to New York City. Others drove north to New Hampshire. Others flew home to places ranging from Minnesota, Florida and Texas in the United States, to Germany and Austria in Europe.

But wherever we go, and whatever distance separates us physically, we carry a piece of each other in our hearts. We left hoping to see each other soon – and some we will see, others, not. But whether together physically or not, there is something special shared between us that is always present, and it is a beautiful thing.

I give thanks to God this day for those who have such a part of my life through the years.