“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” ~John 15:15
Every week presents a new struggle. Every week, we hear of new tragedies and problems in our world. Every week, we experience new tragedies and problems in our personal lives. This life is not easy. Professionally, my biggest goals this year are to build my client base and to focus on my writing, and I am meeting with great triumphs and with disheartening setbacks. Also, professionally, like many of my clergy siblings, I am concerned about the present and future of The Church, an institution that I love. I am concerned about the ways that we, in our humanity, have soiled the purpose of The Church which is to be a place of wholeness and healing for all people. For, the church’s foundation is Jesus, and Jesus came to heal to save, and most of all, to love. Personally, my goal every year is to strengthen my current relationships and develop at least one new relationship that I value. For me, at least, that goal is much more easily said than done. And globally, where do I even begin. Do I begin with the transphobia that essentially tells trans folks that they ought not to exist in public? Do I begin with the Islamophobia, Xenophobia, and Anti-Semitism that makes life so challenging for so many Americans of different faiths and folks who are immigrating to this country? Do I begin with tales of genocide or girls who are being killed and kidnapped because they seek an education or, well, the list is endless. I recognize that a significant part of our global problem is that so many of us are, for various reasons, disengaged. I do not mean that we are disengaged in the sense that we are uninformed, although some of us are, rather, I mean that we are disengaged in the sense that we consciously and subconsciously are opting out, thinking that by getting involved we cannot make a difference.
In the last couple of days of black history month, I consider all my foremothers who chose engagement although engagement might have been the most challenging route. I think of Harriet’s Underground Railroad, I think of Maria’s public speaking, I think of Septima’s Freedom Schools, I think of Mary’s college, and I think of Ella’s student movement, I think of Rosa’s seat-keeping, I think of Fannie’s hymn-singing, I think of Katherine’s calculations, I think of Angela’s resistance. There are so many other women in this lineage of creative resistance, including so many names that are yet to be known by us but that are fully known to God. I think of Viola Davis’s speech at last night Oscar’s awards, “Exhume those bodies,” she said of the possibilities of her craft. What would happen if all of us, in our many professions, took it upon ourselves to exhume those bodies? It is challenging and frustrating work. What gives us the strength?
Well for the Christ-following creative resistor, the strength comes from friendship with Jesus. Yesterday morning as I got dressed and showered for church, I considered the great paradox of my personality. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am loud, youthful, and innovative and that I am also introverted, mature, and traditional. My loudness makes me an advocate for peaceful interaction along the lines of social difference. My youthfulness gives me a gift for relating to youth and young adults. My innovativeness allows me to teach and learn new concepts with ease. My introverted-ness allows me to rest and to get work done. My maturity makes me an effective leader. My traditional-ness makes me a rule abiding and orderly citizen. I am shamelessly a walking, talking paradox. We are all walking, talking paradoxes. We are made in the image of our Creator, so if we all are paradoxical, that means that we serve the master paradox. Our God is at once gentle and ferocious, quiet and deafeningly loud, tender and firm.
Sometimes we are overcome by fears that prevent us from living into the fullness of our paradoxical identities. In these past months, I have noticed a tendency in myself, and many of the people around me, to rely too heavily on certain parts of our identities more than others. For example, as an introvert, when I feel scared or backed against the wall, my tendency is to retreat within myself rather than taking a breath and fighting back at full volume. As a traditionalist, fear of the unknown often means that I don’t innovate when the truth is we can only survive when we innovate. On far too many occasions, our fears have compelled us to hide the parts of ourselves that could make all the difference.
Overcoming our fears and walking with faith instead is the entire message of the second half of the Gospel of John. The disciples are fearful because Jesus will not be with them much longer. Who will guide them? Who will encourage them? Who will teach them? Who will offer them unconditional love? I imagine that they began operating out of fear, hiding the parts of themselves that would have made all the difference, turning inward to care for themselves alone rather than turning outward to love the world they had been called to serve. Does their struggle sound familiar to you at all?
Anyway, in the verse I refer to at the top of this post, Jesus changes his relationship status with His disciples. They are no longer servants; now they are His friends. A friend, Jesus explains, is the one from whom we hide nothing. We lay our true selves bare with our friends, allowing them to accept us, flaws and all. When we hide parts of ourselves, we force those around us to take on the role of the servant to us, they do not fully know or understand what we are doing, and they are forced, in effect, to work with us. Our friends, on the other hand, know our secrets, they understand our pain, they can come beside us and care for us, and we care for them. There is power in Jesus’ statement, “I have called you friends.”
Today, friendship operates differently than it has in the past. We send “Friend Requests” on social media to folks we barely know, allowing them into our social network. When the friend request is sent and accepted, suddenly we have an inside look at our new “friend.” We see their newsfeed which usually represents those things that they value most. Jesus no longer calls us servants; Jesus has sent us a friend request. We can see His newsfeed. We might not understand everything that we see on that newsfeed, we might need new hermeneutical goggles with which to see, it might take us our lifetimes and beyond to begin to comprehend that sacred newsfeed, but we have full access to it.
The sacred newsfeed compels me to move forward although I understand that I only know in part. It can live a life that is worthy of calling myself a friend of God. I will go, forward and onward. With the help of your friends, will you go? See you next Monday.