the christmas story, friendship, and our crazy notions about neat & tidy.

blog christmas story friendship* today is the december synchroblog.  the topic is advent: tell me a story, places where we see God’s love & hope & peace & joy in the midst. i didn’t really write this post for the synchroblog, but the more i thought about it, the more it does fit.  it’s the crazy unexpected story i keep finding God in over & over again.  

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 i love the christmas story.  it’s such a crazy, wild story.  God, choosing to reveal himself in a human baby born to unwed parents in a dirty stall filled with animals and chaos.  we sometimes like to make the story so much cleaner than it is.  we have our perfect manger scenes and an adoring mary gazing at Jesus while the animals looked in.  the reality is that it was probably really smelly & noisy in there.  animals poop and make noises.  babies being born are bloody & messy, and it is painful.   it kind of makes me chuckle, really, just how chaotic those hours & the days before & after Jesus’ birth must have all been.

but it reminds me, too, how as human beings we like a cleaner, neater story. we like theologies that fit into a box & easy answers to complicated questions. we like staying in our comfort zones.  we like boundaries that keep the riff-raff out and help us maintain life on our terms. we like formulas & do-this-to-get-that’s or don’t-do-this-or-you’ll-for-sure-get-that.

i’ve been thinking a lot about friendship this past week, mainly because i’m in the thick of them on a daily basis at the refuge.  i have the privilege of journeying alongside some pretty awesome people in leading the refuge and we do this work not as a job but as friends, as equals, as co-laborers in living out these crazy church dreams.  so many people have said that men & women can’t be friends, that it’s not possible.  that ultimately, anything good will always get ruined by our “humanness.”  it’s just not practical, people say, for men & women who aren’t married to spend too much time or heart together.

but a little like the christmas story, everything doesn’t always have to make sense.

as kingdom cultivators, our eyes should be centered on Jesus’ upside down ways, not the ways of the world.  And Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is available here, now. and in that reality, i truly believe men & women should be learning how to be true & equal & close friends, brothers and sisters in community, who can love and be loved, who can be healthy & strong & free & connected. and there’s only one way to learn these things–to practice them.

oh, we are doing a lot of practicing around here! i practice in a lot of relationships as part of life in our community, but one of the most important ones is with my friend karl, who has been my dear friend for the past 7 1/2 years and was the catalyst for the start of the refuge in 2006.  without him, there is no refuge.  over the past years living this life out together, i have longed for a different story, an easier story, a cleaner story.  a story where we weren’t depressed or insecure or controlling. a story where it all made sense & when we asked God for stuff, he gave it.  a story where i never cried or needed anything.  a story where we never had to work at being friends, it just magically appeared out of thin air.  a story where it never hurt and was never hard.  but alas, our story is much like the christmas story. it’s messy & dirty & doesn’t make sense in the world’s eyes.

but with Jesus-trained eyes, oh my goodness, it’s been one of the best things that has ever happened to me because it has been a place to learn things i need to learn in relationship.  it continues to heal places in my heart and church experiences that have needed healing.  our friendship has also given me hope that the deep grooves of patriarchy and hierarchy can be broken down and replaced with equality & love & grace.

i have needed to trust karl and mike, our other co-pastor at the refuge, in some of the same ways i trust my girlfriends and jose.  i have to show up and tell the truth and be honest about how i am really feeling. i have to let myself cry and be angry in front of them. i have to receive and not just give.  i have to say what i need to make our friendship better and be willing to hear what they need from me.  i have to show my ugly, controlling, fearful self and hope that they still love me after they see it.  i have to be vulnerable.

i have to give my heart daily.

that is what friendship is.

our messy, beautiful, vulnerable hearts mixed up with other messy, beautiful, vulnerable hearts day to day, month to month, year to year.

a lot of our church experiences have taught us false notions about how relationship between men & women should go.  we’ve been led to believe that something really messy is supposed to be orderly.  and that the way we can keep relationships between men & women tidy is by maintaining a protected distance.

the kind of love Jesus calls us to will never be possible at a protected distance. in our efforts to keep things neat & tidy, many have missed out on the incredible healing & freedom that can come from deep & meaningful friendships with each other.

yep, it’s hard.  yep, it’s messy and so-not-neat-and-tidy.  but it is so possible, so pretty, so good.

God, give us courage and strength and humility to learn how to be friends, real friends, with each other.  

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ps: if  you’re longing to form deeper friendships in your life, not just cross-gender ones, but all kinds of friendship, too, join us for the 2013 sacred friendship gathering in chicago hosted by dan brennan at the end of april. it’s called bold boundaries: exploring friendship between men & women. i love conversations like these because they help us grow & learn & be challenged to something deeper.

ppss:  for advent, we’re doing a series at the refuge called “light”. it’s been so pretty & fun.  i’ve got a post up at the refuge blog this week called “i want to see”.  God, help us see.

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

14 Comments

  • Thanks, Kathy, for reminding that ministry, relationships, and following Jesus is so messy and difficult. That makes me feel better, because sometimes it just seems like everything is wrong and backwards in the way I am headed.

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    • yeah, i know that feeling so well, where it all feels backward and weird and wrong somehow when maybe it’s the rightest thing we’ve ever done. love from colorado!

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  • Yeah, we want to clean up not just the Christmas story, but also the wild and crazy Jesus who hung out with sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. The Jesus who touched lepers and the unclean. We want to pretend we’re someone we’re not, and want to surround ourselves, especially in our churches, with other people who’ve also learned how to pretend.

    Cross-gender friendships work for some of us. They’re no problem, and we find them very worthwhile. When someone tells me they don’t work, they’re telling me they’re afraid of them. Well maybe they can’t trust themselves in such a relationship, but it works well for some of us. I’ve had many very good, very close female friends and my life has been much richer because of them.

    Reply
  • thanks Kathy for the honor of working with, for, alongside you. you have taught me more about being a pastor and friend than anyone else. actually, for me those two have turned out to be the same task.

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  • We live in a sadly divided world. Can’t be friends with the other gender, or with people who are significantly older, younger, richer, poorer. Can singles be friends with people who are married? Can friends with kids spend time with those without? Do we need to restrict our friendships to those who share our political views.
    I love that God reaches past all our silly, self-protective boundaries, and weaves his story from male and female, old, young, insiders, outsiders, wise and very foolish.
    Thanks for the reminder of how very much I value the men and boys who have enriched my life as colleagues, friends, and brothers.

    Reply
    • thanks, carol! i love this line: I love that God reaches past all our silly, self-protective boundaries, and weaves his story from male and female, old, young, insiders, outsiders, wise and very foolish.” yes!

      Reply
  • kathy – I will try to keep this comment focused … as you know, I have written passionately about cross-gender covenantal friendships and I will try not ramble and pontificate and wave my “me too” flag for very long.

    Most of the friends of my wife and I are single women and many of them are struggling single moms. Sometimes I hang out with them alone and sometimes as a group. My deep, loving friendships with these women have no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives. We are buddies-for-life. They are like the kid sisters I never had and always wish I did.

    They are family.

    In my personal experience, these relationships are normal in Italy and France. I found them not only recognized and respected over there, but even admired and celebrated. Imagine that I have just spent a laughing-tearful emotional whiplash kind of evening with some of these friends on a courtyard balcony in Milan. I have prepared and served them a wonderful meal. We have enjoyed a few glasses of wine. We stand to hug and kiss good-bye. Then, in a loud and Italian-passionate voice, I proclaim to my neighbors across they way, “I LOVE MY KID SISTERS!!!” (amo le mie sorelline). My neighbors would smile, having listened in on the evening’s banter, lift their glasses, and celebrate the passionate unconditional asexual love which is so precious … because it is so rare.

    … when it should be oh so very common. For it is the love of Christ that He freely gives regardless of gender or marital status … a love He expects us to love forward into the hearts of souls of our neighbors untainted by societal fears and prohibitions.

    The good news is that some of my daughters’ generation “gets” this much better than we do. They grew up hanging out with each other as a group which pretty much ignored gender differences. Even though they are now both married, they have retained many of these friendships and their husbands have retained many of theirs. There is much hope in that.

    Reply

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