(Note: the primary message which inspired this post can be heard here.)
Dan Brennan kicked off this year’s Sacred Friendship Gathering, themed “Bold Boundaries“. In the year since the first and most recent gathering, I had almost forgotten the intensity stemming from the depth of the presentations and the feeling of being surrounded by such a high quality group of people. Everyone I met was warm, friendly, intelligent, thoughtful, caring, genuine, and passionate to push for new paradigms of understanding which see, hear, love, free, heal, and include those who have been marginalized and hurt. (Seriously, this is probably the highest quality group of people I’ve ever been around.) To me this sounds like Jesus’ idea of love. And in my mind, it was in this way a little piece of the kingdom of God.
Back to Dan’s talk; he discussed beauty in friendship. He talked about how one of the push-backs to opposite gender friendships is the feeling that, if people get too close, they will want “something more”. In our culture, sexual intimacy is often seen as the pinnacle of relationships (though often this is not conscious). Since many Christians maintain that sex is only acceptable within marriage, marriage is therefore elevated to the place of being the highest relationship.
Dan however argued that sex isn’t the pinnacle of relationships. He argued that there is a relational intimacy which doesn’t include sexual intercourse but which can be just as deep as a relationship with sex.1 In other words, the pinnacle of relationships is the close friendship, not sex. The “something more” is the beauty of deep, relational intimacy—sharing yourself with another and opening yourself up to receive the other. This is sacred friendship.
There is a beauty in friendship, especially deep friendship. This beauty is a deeper beauty than what typically comes to our minds. There is a certain beauty which comes by way of makeup and clothing. But this is a shallower beauty related (mostly) to outward sexual appeal.2 Yet our culture is highly invested in it: “Sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.”3 But the beauty of friendship is the deeper, more fulfilling beauty.
This relational beauty is an image of God’s beauty. I hold that we are created to be relational at our deepest levels, and that this is how we are created in God’s image. God is love at his very core because of how he exists in the Trinity. God’s nature is relationship. Likewise, God is also the source of beauty. It occurred to me that since God is the source of relationship and therefore the definition of the ultimate relationship, sex can’t be the pinnacle of relationships (unless we maintain that the members of the Trinity engaged in sex with one another). If God is the definition of ultimate relationship as I believe, then it is relational intimacy which is the pinnacle of relationships. And this closeness can exist in many different relationships, freeing marriage of the need to be the ultimate relational fulfillment.
Through this discussion on beauty and through the people in attendance at the conference, I felt I could see this beauty and that I was subsequently seeing God. God is beautiful. This was the highlight of the weekend for me. I would love to be able to communicate this better. However God is kind of like the Matrix in this regard in that you really can’t be told what it’s like—you must experience it for yourself.
To wrap up, Dan stated that promoting friendships—even between those of the opposite sex—shouldn’t lead to illicit sex as conservative Christians fear, but rather it ought to lead to the community of saints! This is a theme I keep espousing. As I’ve said before, early Christians didn’t referring to one another as brothers and sisters because it sounded nice—we’re supposed to function like a family. This displays to the world God’s goodness by manifesting a tangible image of the kingdom of heaven. “Friendships for the world to see.” (Brennan) “If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my followers.” (Jesus as quoted in John 13:35).
- Hugo Schwyzer stated that in our culture, we have the notion that sexual desire corrupts friendship so that the only acceptable friendships are ones in which sexual desire does not exist. He disagrees with this idea. Others have shared how they believe our sexuality is broader the just sexual intercourse, and how it is what drives us to connect relationally with others, whether sexual desire is present in that particular relationship or not. While this sounds confusing, the bottom line is that even in friendships without sex, we don’t cease to be sexual beings.
- In her discussion on modesty, Jonalyn Fincher talked about how the way we present ourselves outwardly (clothing, etc) is ideally an expression of who we are. Yet many times our presentation has more to do with getting people to like us and even manipulating how they feel about us, whether it’s to draw attention to ourselves or to attempt to hide ourselves.
- Malcolm Muggeridge. Character qualities are the most important factor in developing healthy relationships. But it’s more difficult to sell something which will supposedly make you a good person than it is to sell something which will supposedly make you more sexually attractive. Furthermore, sex is a fleeting fulfillment whereas character and friendship are much less so.