Lisa and I went away for a few days to enjoy our 30th anniversary. And we did enjoy it. We had a wonderful rest with some extended times of good conversation.
One of the things we talked about, with tears, was all the friends we have lost over the years. All because of the church. Of all the people we've known outside of the church, this kind of thing hardly ever happens. People are just friends, and their jobs and commitments are on the periphery of their friendship. Although this brings to mind the movie The Firm. At one point, after a company barbecue, Abby expresses her concerns to Mitch. Something's not quite right. She says to Mitch that another lawyer's wife said to her, "The firm encourages children." In other words, this isn't just a job with a law firm, this is membership in a family. Their "friendships" within the Firm are triangulated and therefore will not survive when their loyalties are summoned.
This relates to our church experience. Most of our friendships inside the church were what we would call triangular. Like the diagram shows, there is me, then there is my friend, but then there is this third party in our relationship‚Ä¶ the church. And this, like all triangular relationships, has always been a problem. Most of our friendships have largely been complicated by the unfortunate influence of "the church" upon them. The "church" often wins out in the triangular relationship because it is weighted down with religious, spiritual, ethical, moral, emotional, psychological and theological gravity. Of course, when it comes down to me or this other, the church will always win. And it has. Except for a few*. The friendships within the church that have survived and thrived are because we and these friends have learned that "the church" as a separate entity is just a phantom. It is not real. The fact is that the communion I and my friend enjoy is the church. It is not separate. There is no third party unless we make it so. Which almost everyone inside the church is tempted to do.
This is what I have fought so hard and so long to explain. This is where relationships break down. This is what destroys relationships and communities. I've seen it so many times. And we never seem to learn.
*When I say "our friendships", I mean almost all. There are a few of our friendships that have learned to survive in healthy ways by keeping the church's relationship to our friendship healthy. We are thankful for these friendships. In fact, even to use the word "friendship" is dangerous because it is not a separate entity aside from me and my friend‚Ä¶ unless we make it so.