I got a host of really interesting responses to last week’s E-pistle.
One person wrote back, chiding me, “I don’t believe you’ve given up wanting to know. You really DO expect to figure out and learn more.” Ok, yes, I hope so… even if it’s simply a growing comfort with all that we can’t know and need to leave to God.
I thought about writing in this week’s Epistle that “time itself is the ultimate teacher.” I remember an interview with a wise-cracking octogenarian who responded to the question, “To what do you attribute your longevity?” with the astute and concise answer: “Time.” I think that E-pistle will be about finding God on the long flat plains of life, and in shadowed valleys, not just in the bright light on the mountaintops. It will be about not wasting so much time. And about maturity. I’ll probably quote Paul again. But I don’t have it figured out enough, so it will have to wait!
Another person laughed at me, “Why in the world would you really want to get married again?” So, this week, I’m going to write about companionship. What does Adam need? The intimacy of company.
Consider this: God’s first salvific act, if you will, after the creation of “man” (in the second version of creation story) and even before the Fall!, is to offer אדם — Adam — a companion. “It is not good for man to live alone.” Voila’: Eve. (In the other, the first human creation story, God actually creates the couple simultaneously: Male and female God created them!)
God remedies our existential loneliness — that we have surely inherited from our foreparents as much as original sin — by providing us with companions at our tables, company on our journey, relationships for our days, and the promise of intimacy. Humans need to find themselves connected to someone other than themselves.
I’ve always thought it curious that in Adam’s need for Eve, there is a confession on God’s part: that our relationship with God will not be enough. I don’t quite understand why that would be. But it seems God saw it and accepted it.
And, to the same point, much later in salvation history, watching the disciples… even when God came to them in Jesus, it didn’t seem to be enough. And so God gave them the church (God help us!). In other words, God offers a solution to our alienation in the assembly of others, our network of relationships, the peers of our time.
Which is to say, I think we make a mistake in understanding this God’s ur-act of creating companionship as the establishment of marriage as between a man and a woman. Of course, you know, I believe — and as a church we stand for — the holy possibility of intimate relations between two women or two men.
But I don’t even believe that the addition of Eve in this early chapter of human history models or makes normative two person partnerships. Not everyone has to be in this kind of relationship! Because marriage isn’t the be all and end all of relationships. Think about it, soon after the creation story in Genesis, marriages involved more than two people… And one of the difficulties of modern American life is that we hang too much on marriage. We expect this one person, this one relationship to be everything for us.
I wrote earlier, “We need to find ourselves connected to someone other than ourselves.” And God has acknowledged our faithfulness to the Divine won’t be enough. So let me correct myself: I don’t think a husband or a wife or partner will be enough either. We need to find ourselves connected to OTHERS — plural. No one relationship is going to do it!
It takes a village. No one is an island. “I cannot be who I am to be unless you are who you are to be” (MLK, Jr.). Mandela’s “ubuntu.” There is something needed, creative, redeeming, supporting, comforting… good in the network of relationships that are the ground on which we stand. I like how in a fishing net or a spider web, no one connection is that strong, but the whole holds together because of the tension created by the all the connections pulling against and reinforcing each other — every last, single one. In a very real sense, you are who you are related to.
It’s hard to be all you need and can be if you are all alone. There are a hundred other relationships besides marriage that can remedy your loneliness and meet your needs, serve as a bit of salvation, be good for you. God sets up to offer us a network of family and friends, companions and fellow travelers.
For about the past year and a half, I’ve been saying that I need more friends. I realized that coming to Philly, I left a huge support network behind in New York. Coming to Old First made that transition easier: you all gave me a pre-made community as my new home, one that is very dear to me (and a bit demanding of my time too!).
But this also the first time that I’ve had a local church community to deal with when I didn’t have a family at home with me too!
And, truthfully, the ambiguity extends beyond that. It can even be sort of confusing. You all are an incredibly good fit for me… could simply be my friends… a great community for me to be part of… except that I’m also always the pastor! Well, you are my friends. And I count on you, trust you to let me be myself, a real person (it’s one of the nicest aspects of this church), even though I know that I’m also always the pastor. See what I’m talking about when I say ambiguous and confusing?!?!
So, recently, finally, I’ve actually started acting on my need to make friends beyond the church. It was always easy in school. Or when one had kids in school. But I’ve found it’s not that hard even after all that. Even as an old guy! You simply say something like, “I find myself needing to expand my circle of friends.” There could be all kinds of reasons for that, and no one ever asks why. I think mostly because they often know the same need.
And maybe I’ll get married again!
Beloved, most of us spend most of our time and energy sorting out our personal lives. Our private sagas and trials, the intimate disappointments and individual victories. Of course, all that’s against the big backdrop of and affected unavoidably by the what’s happening in the world around us — the great social movements, the intellectual challenges of our day, the world-changing events of our time and place. But mostly, don’t we tally our lives more intimately, by how we did with those with whom we live most closely — cheek to jowl — those whom we love and cannot be separated from? What then does our faith have to offer us with this vital work?
I read an article just yesterday “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, And It Is Not What You Think.” It proposed that neither a genetic predisposition nor a chemical hook in certain substances is the cause. Instead, it suggested that people get addicted because they are without or unable to make human connections.
Against so much of what we have been taught to believe, it is a more persuasive argument than you might think. I had always assumed that the alienation I have so often seen in the lives of friends and family who are addicted was a symptom of the addiction. What if it was the cause?
How could our faith help remedy such loneliness? What does Adam need? The intimacy of company. It turns out we are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers.
See you in church
(where at Old First we put a premium on community),