Friendships have been my life preservers, lifting me above the waves of the storms of life. Friends have helped me grow beyond the boundaries of my childhood, my spiritual tribe, and my self- imposed limitations. Friends have challenged my individualism and my dependency on institutions. They have confronted my prejudices, shared my sufferings, and shaped my worldview. Some of these people have remained lifelong friends. Each of them has helped shape my life into what it is today, and I am so grateful to each and every one of them.
Friendship has been the primary tool that God has used to develop my faith and guide me throughout my life. Friendships are sacred because God is nothing if he is not relational;
“God is only and exclusively God in relationship.”*
From eternity, he has existed in a relationship of loving friendship within the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have been created in his image as relational beings. Divine love searches to restore us into that relational reality of being “one” with him and with each other. This relational reality is the heartbeat of every human being. It is the key that unlocks our true identity. Without friends, we are easily lost in our old stories and a world of our own making.
Throughout my life, every time I have faced a challenge, I have discovered a friend. The most important friendships of my life have been stepping-stones out of darkness into his marvelous light. Because I was friends with a young man named Pat, I learned that my childhood beliefs weren’t the only way of walking in faith. Because of a friend named Pete, I learned God actually loved me—a radical revelation to my heart and soul at the time. And because of a friend named Father O’Connor, I received the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Other friendships have led me to my life’s calling, released an anointing on my ministry, opened my heart to missions, and invited me into leadership at levels I’d never have otherwise considered.
The psalmist declares,
Through the guidance of friends, I also discovered the convergence movement, a coming together of three historical streams of Christian worship—evangelical, charismatic, and sacramental—that first emerged in the mid-1980s.
Several years ago, I had the honor of being in a room with one of the most well-known people in the world—Pope Francis. I was with a group of bishops from the CEEC who were just as humbled as I was by the opportunity to meet this meek and gentle man. Interestingly, he broke every preconceived idea we had about him—he turned out to be so much more than we expected. He displayed an openness and willingness to offer friendship—one based not on theological debates or institutional alignments but on deep love and appreciation for each other.
At the end of our time together, we asked him if we could do anything for him. I will never forget his response: “Yes, do you know a priest?” When we said yes, he told us to ask them to coffee. “Let’s take a photo together, and when you have coffee, show him the picture and tell him we’re friends.”
We took out several iPhones to capture a picture with Pope Francis. Copies of that photo hang in my office and in my home. Every time someone sees that photo, they all ask the same question: “How did you get to meet Pope Francis?”
My Dad was fond of saying, “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” The better question is: “How did a Pentecostal country boy from Kansas become the presiding bishop of a Communion who, at its heart, longs for the unity of the body of Christ?” That’s what this story is all about.
Eugene Peterson says, “Like the sacraments of water, bread, and wine, friendships take what is common about the human experience and turn it into something holy.”
If we approach each other around doctrines alone, we will remain far apart. We’re never going to bring institutions together. Without friendship we cannot hope to see our divisions overcome, and it is our disunity that keeps us from being effective in reaching the world with the gospel of Christ.
We live in a culture that makes evaluations about individuals without knowing the person. We make snap judgments about situations we don’t fully understand. If we would take the time to listen to another person’s story, we would likely find a way to relate to one another. I wonder how many relationships have been lost due to our inability to overcome our own fear. We are afraid of our differences. We are afraid of what and who we don’t understand. With the loss of every relationship, humanity becomes more and more impoverished.
But Jesus has called us friends—we are all invited into friendship with God and with each other.
If the world could see the church loving one another, simply being friends with one another, then maybe, just maybe, the world would find the courage to pursue peace with one another. Unity doesn’t require uniformity but rather an acceptance of “reconciled diversity.”
As Christian Wiman writes, “If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time bound and time ravaged self.”
Friendships based on a shared experience of God’s unmerited grace are the relationships that can overcome every wall of separation. One friendship at a time, we can recover our true identity and reveal the unity and the love that Jesus prayed we would know and reveal.
Go buy someone a cup of coffee and listen. Listen to their story! Go make a new friend today. Go start a revolution one friend at a time.
* Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 7.