A brief reflection of mine to a friend wondering if pastors could be friends with those in their congregation. My answer is “yes,” but my advice for all Christians is to choose wisely. Here is my brief reflection:
You may know that Augustine wrote more about friendship than anyone else in the ancient period so his perspective adds light to our discussion. Cicero, whose writings Augustine loved, also wrote on friendship. Cicero’s work is just a little before Christ so the two give nice bookends to the ancient world’s perspective on friendship. Cicero said you can’t be friends with tyrants or sycophants. Yes, I know there are loads of those in the churches! And with the laxity on choosing elders there are plenty of them on elder boards. But the perversion of a good thing does not eliminate the need for the good thing.
“We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.”
The past two posts on Princeton have focused on places. This one focuses on people. My last week Princeton included four wonderful days with some terrific folk. My first was with well-known artist and author, Makoto Fujimura or Mako for short. Mako has recently written an absorbing book called Silence and Beauty. It is a commentary of sorts on Shusaku Endo’s novel, Silence.
We took a day trip to Yale. There we met with David and Karen Mahan. Doreen worked with Dave at Virginia Tech in the early 1980s. Both of them were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru). I met Dave during the summer of 1985. Our son, Chris, is looking into various graduate programs. Yale is one of his possibilities so it was wonderful that he could join us.
James McPherson is widely hailed as our greatest living historian of the Civil War. In 1989 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his magisterial book, Battle Cry of Freedom. I spoke with Professor McPherson on how various people processed the carnage of the war.
My week finished up with Carl Trueman, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. Carl and I have corresponded via email, but never met in person. He is a terrific historian and wonderful essayist. Make sure to check him out on First Things and Mortification of Spin.
To Richard Beck’s important reflections below I would add that many who say they want community, are really only interested in what Robert Bellah and his associates called “lifestyle enclaves.” We want to be around people like us in all ways. Different is scary, risky, and too big an investment.