what moves you to befriend a person? what moves you to not be a persons friend? what makes you take the first step in getting to know someone? looks? color? style? ethnic background? gender? what moves you to friendship? if you walked into a crowded party and it was filled with people you did not know, what would drive you to seek friends? what would make you move to one grouping and not another? what would you be looking for in that group that said "this is a group i can be friends with?"

i think we are naturally attracted to people that look like us, or act like us, or even think like us. as of late i have been watching some very interesting people interact with others, and i am wondering what they were thinking, or if they were thinking. let me share with you a few examples.

the first group of evangelists:
recently, we have had several groups of "visitors" visit us on friday nights; they seem to think we are not doing it "the right way" [which simply means we are not doing it their way]. these people are from a local "house church." there are four of them, three guys and one girl, all in their mid to late 20's, maybe older. during one of their visits, i said to a gathering of teens sitting on one of the couches, "they are back" [in my best jack nicholson impression, which is not very good] and one of the teens looked at me and said, "they won't bug me, i'm black." i smiled and said, "no way" and the teens simply said, "they only talk to the white kids, watch." as he walked out the door, he stood directly in front of one of the visiting evangelists; he was so right, and it came across like a sharp knife. as this teen stood before them, they would look past him and speak to the kids around him, but not to him. not only did i notice, but so did the teens - and they were not impressed. as they were speaking with the teens in front of the building, i noticed that they did not speak with the black teens, the asian teens, or the hispanic teens. they simply spent time talking with "the white teens." now, i will admit there is not an abundance of black, asian, or hispanic teens hanging around, but we do have a fair number. what makes us talk to one group and not another? what makes us talk to one teen and not the other? who do you invite into your house?

the second group of evangelists:
this group is the funny group, but funny in a nice way, they are our "missionary baptist group." they stand across the street and shout to the teens that they will all fry in hell because they are wearing black, color their hair, have earrings, and listen to rock music. teens being teens, will sometimes walk across the street to talk with them, and it is amazing how these grown men will act. one teen was sharing with me his experience with the men and i could not believe my ears. you see, the teen is a firm believer, this teen knows more scripture then peter and paul combined. in fact, i would say he knows fundamentalist/evangelical doctrine better then most preachers in that walk of faith. he does not have a piercing on him, but he does dye his hair and he does wear black. in principle this kid believes the guys acorss the street are right and they are doing God's work. one day, he and a friend went across the street. now the friend is an atheist, but he looks like the team captian of the football team. when they got across the street, the teen who looked "different" was condemned and the other was praised - what? what makes us accept one person over another? what causes us to think that one person thinks like we do? more so, are we ever right?

i remember once serving in a church [as a student pastor in seminary] where one of the leaders came to me and said that he and his wife were thinking of leaving the church, because we were attracting a "wrong crowd." i was not sure what he meant, but he explained that many of the new families that were coming to the church were not of the same "quality" as the founding families, or the families that "give the most money to the church." it was "suggested" that i discourage "those" people from coming to church. needless to say, i was not the popular man on campus that year. who doe we seek to be friends with? do we have friends that are different then we are? can we break walls and openly accept people for who they are?

i think we must. i believe we must welcome all people, regardless. when we start "selecting" people we think "worthy" we are not doing God's will, we are doing our own will. it is the nature of our humanity, when we sit down and decide who we will "target" they always look like us, think like us, dress like us, have our politics, have our incomes, and have our vision of what the kingdom of God looks like [an most of the time it is a gated community].

think of it like this, onesimus [the name means "useful"] was a slave to philemon [the name means "one who loves"]; for all intents and purposes onesimus was under philemon, and philemon could do what ever he desired to do with onesimus. onesimus stole from philemon and ran into the arms of paul, and soon became a values christian brother. to see it today, think of onesimus as the guy who cuts your lawn, or cleans your streets, or washed your car, or bags your groceries, or is your maid; they may not speak the same language, and they may not have a "green card" that says "welcome to this country" but they are our brothers and sisters in christ. you see, paul adds a very interesting twist to the relationship - paul calls onesimus philemon's brother. they are equals; paul even says that he values oneimus as much as philemon. this idea of being equal in christ is echoed in jame's letter [2:1-13] and speaks clear of who is seen as "high" and "low."

given this, given the fact that we are to befriend all people, accept all people, love all people, welcome all people we will still find reasons not to, and that hurts. given that God desire us to treat all people the same, we will find reasons not to, and there is pain in that action. we think we know what God desires, but do we? if we did, we would treat all people as an equal, regardless of where they were born. in the early church all followers were seen as equals, brothers and sisters in christ. today, we see class, we see color, we see ethnic background - but we should see christ; we should see friends. so, what makes a friend a friend? what can you do to extend friendship to others? when you have a gathering of friends over the house, what does that look like?


Jeremy Duncan said...

Wow, those people sound like caricatures more than real living breathing humans.

Mike and Rachel Whitenton said...

Well said, John.

john o'keefe said...

mike and rachel,

thanks - sometimes i think i even impress myself - not really :)