{Lent 2017…a mug a day…meditations and reflections…}

This mug was given me by a friend. I suspect it was Billie Starr Brightwell, my faithful colleague at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education (a Graduate Center for Educational Ministry). Billie was first a student there, then a graduate who became a DCE (Director of Christian Education) in Kentucky, and a short time later, she returned to PSCE to be my assistant in the Video Education Center. (It turns out that she had listened to me on the radio as a youth.)

Billie was big on friendship. There were friendship cards, notes, gifts, and scrapbooks. And this mug.  Obviously, it’s from the TV show, and the words at the top say “Good coffee, good friends.” I didn’t even drink coffee until well into adulthood when Billie had a pot brewing as I came into the office. She made it for herself each morning and I found the aroma inviting and sampled some. I’ve been sampling some every morning since.

Friends share a lot more than coffee. Life’s celebrations and disappointments, its many climbs and descents, make or break friendships. My guess is that if that friendship is genuine, whatever life deals us cements the heartfelt relationship. It may test it first, but ultimately the strength of friendship is reinforced. Love is that strength.

Love? Maybe that goes too far. Many friendships are casual, maybe even convenient, or neighborly. The James Taylor song “That’s Why I’m Here” is a good example of that. Friends meet one another’s needs. They have what we could call an amicable or amiable relationship. While the root of those words is love, maybe that intimacy isn’t the best descriptor of a casual friendship. But, if we are lucky — or blessed — to be friends with some people beyond immediate usefulness or fun times shared together… meaning over a lifetime and/or over long distances… then we know deep and true, even loving, friendship.

In my prayers are friends I haven’t seen or spoken with for quite a while. (My fault; damned introversion.) But they are dear to me. I treasure so much the past we shared that it seems like the present. As I age, I’m finding such friendships are more difficult to build. My life is full of acquaintances, and many of them close ones; but few friends beloved.

They say that men have a much more difficult time than women do building such trusted and affectionate relationships . Sharing interests in sports, civic affairs, hobbies, or religious groups can create fertile ground for planting the seeds of friendship. Loyalty, faithfulness, and trust both feed and result from such connections. One test of whether a relationship has gone beyond mere acquaintance to friendship is if two people can share a deeply intimate conversation. And eventually, shared silence. And always, a confidence.

Guess what they taught us in seminary about friendship. Ministers shouldn’t build friendships with members of their congregations. “You can’t be their pastor and a friend at the same time.” We were encouraged to remember the boundaries set by propriety and practicality. Show no partiality, they told us, but find friendships beyond our church folk. Maybe in neighborhoods or civic groups. But if a pastor moved around every few years, that was hard. I’m not sure how well that worked for me, or for my colleagues in ministry. (Many of my “colleagues” were my closest friends, too. But imagine if ministers’ only friends were other ministers. Yikes.)

In an old sermon I wrote on friendship I noted that friends do enjoy life together. Sharing fun times may initiate a friendly relationship, but then it grows into that “I’d do anything for you” kind of thing. As it matures, there comes the realization that having such friendships makes us mutually into better persons. And the whole world could benefit from that.

Finally, I never take for granted my best friend of over 50 years, my wife Joan. This is friendship taken to its very highest level. Faithful, fulfilling, and eternal. Oh, and blessed, to be sure. Mutual understanding, lots of laughter, intimate love, even honoring our differences (she is so ambitious and disciplined — and I? not so much), and still growing together after all this time… it is pure grace, and the gift of a lifetime.

Though I have to make my own coffee.