Friend-ly

I would be friend to all – the foe, the friendless

Growing up I always had people my age, who I regarded as friends. Those relationships focused on one thing – play. At school or in the neighborhood, we all craved the wonderful outdoor climate of Southern California in the 50s and made the most of our free time at recess and after school. No matter the game, we had fun.

As I got older the nature of my friendships changed. My athleticism was strictly recreational. I was just as exuberant and competitive as before, just not as skilled as those who were pursuing athletic scholarships and talked about going pro someday. I might have dreamed of playing centerfield for the Dodgers, but knew that such a fantasy is what dreams are made of.

Not surprisingly, girls started to enter my friends’ network without any regard for their athletic prowess. Form and face and blonde hair topped my criteria list. A gentle spirit was appealing as well. That such a belle failed to take any interest in me meant my social calendar was fairly empty.

By the time I entered high school all of my former playground friends were gone. We were part of that generation, whose parents had moved to Southern California following World War II, bought their first home in the suburbs and then moved to more affluent neighborhoods as their fortunes improved. For me the loss was disastrous. It was essentially a blow to my identity as a rowdy, fun-loving kid, who could be found running around the neighborhood enjoying life to the max. The gang was no longer “all here.”

My own bad fortune changed one day when I saw a moving van drive by and stop about four houses down from where I lived. The next day there was a new kid in school and his presence changed my whole perception of friendship. Of the same age, we did everything together during our high school careers. Double-dates, trips to the beach with our surfboards in the back of my father’s ’63 Chevy pickup, sports and general mayhem befitting our free spirit mentality. What I remember most, though whenever I look back on those days, is the time spent just sitting and talking.

My friend was analytical in ways I had never even considered. And from my now more mature perspective on life, I would say he was also more original. It changed me simply due to the need to keep pace just as I had done in matching my skills in running, catching, throwing and batting when the game of life was defined by baseball.

I considered my friend to be the dominant partner in our friendship. I was surprised to learn many years later that he thought I was in the lead. What a hoot. The one thing we could both agree on is that our friendship spoiled us in terms of how we defined friendship during our adult years. We were neither one ever as honest and open with others as we were with each other during those crucial teen years. This for me defined friendship. I have since become cognizant of using that term minimally as I have met others, who have subsequently been relegated to the class I distinguish as acquaintances.

If you have been following this current series of messages, then you know I am relying on a 1905 poem to guide the content of what I write, while giving me a little assistance in staying on task for writing and posting on a weekly basis. The poem, by Harold Arnold Walter, is constructed as a vow to his mother about the type of Christian character he would maintain and the actions he would undertake in his relationships with both God and people.

So far we have seen that he vowed to be true, pure, strong and brave. The quote given at the start of this week’s message begins the poem’s second stanza. His worthwhile and noble vow is to be friend to all.  But you may be able to determine from my ruminating on my own past that his is a line that I could not write let alone endeavor to follow. Not that I have an aversion to people of any caste or character. It is just that friendship is not universally applicable for me. It is simply too intense. It is something that cannot be offered wholeheartedly or indiscriminately to the foe and the friendless. But kindness can. Hence my alteration of the word “friend” in the title to advance what I believe to be true about following the Golden Rule. Kindness, and even compassion, can be extended to all. Friendship is the reserve of commitments made, which entwines us heart and soul with another.

This in no way alters our prescribed actions captured in such a phrase as giving a drop of water unto the least of our fellow beings. Such kindness is an expectation of the doctrine Walter studied as a student of theology at Princeton University. It is a reflection of the self-sacrificing love which is the character the relationships among followers of Jesus. It is what I would term being friendly, but with more depth than the casual toss of a coin or two into the cup of a homeless person.

If Walter were alive to ardently defend the face value of his words, I would admire him. But we would be at odds about the true nature of friendship. Doctrinal wars ensure over such disputes and divisions occur despite our best intentions. I am guilty in this; I make a clear distinction between being a friend and merely being friendly. Our outward actions in how we deal with the foe, the friendless may appear to be the same, but Walter and I would know that there is a chasm between our respective understandings of our motivations as different as a noun is from an adverb.

What matters most is that there is an action where need exists, to friend and foe and friendless alike.

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