Desire and Friendship

AcquaintancesThere is a serious downside to killing off all our low-level personal interaction. And I really think we’ve been killing it off. Take for example, the famous middle-class flight to the suburbs throughout the 20th C or the loss of geographical affiliation through the willingness to pursue employment opportunities to the ends of the earth. I think it is probably fair to claim that never in the history of any society have people known less than we do about the people with whom we live in close physical proximity.

I survive living in the center of this city through a carefully constructed, shared fiction that I am practically alone. And I’m not alone in playing that game. When we all walk to work in the morning there are probably several thousand people within shouting distance, and we act as though we are invisible to each other. Other than the magical choreography that ensures we don’t touch, there is no visible evidence that we are aware of each others presence.

Honestly, I’m not entirely critical of this situation, I don’t think we’d get very far into the day if we all stopped to say ‘hello’ and ask after each others families.

The downside to the loss of unimportant relationships, is that our important ones carry so much weight. The death of low-level interaction, the demise of ‘unimportant’ relationships, does not mean that we simply stop being in relationship. I don’t think our contemporaries are any less gregarious than were our Grandparents’. However, I think we find that more of our relationships are of the nature of ‘voluntary associations’. Unimportant relationships, as are family relationships, are determined by circumstances that lie outside control of the participants. I am a brother to my sister, whether I acknowledge this or not, no matter how I act, no matter what I choose. I am your neighbour by virtue of the fact that through various machinations we ended up living side by side. In neither case did we choose each other.
It is these relationships we did not choose, the ‘necessary’ relationships (in the philosophical sense), that are withering in the toxic fumes of our obsession with ‘Will’, or more properly ‘Desire’.
We have come to believe that our most important relationships are the ones we choose to be involved in, the people we do not have to see but choose to see.
Do we secretly value them precisely because they are an expression of choice? Could our offering of friendship to these chosen few truly be an idolatrous worship of our own freedom?

I suppose I should leave room to acknowledge that we may choose our friends because we actually like or even love them. Aargh, I’m too much a cynic.
I know that we love our friends, not for our own choice, but because in this one and that, we have found a pearl of great price, sometimes strangely overlooked by others. When I love them, I love Them, and am enriched and ennobled by having loved.

But I’ve got to say, it might be that the great value of true friendships has led to our neglect of acquaintances.

Bear with me a little longer, I’ve got more thinking to do. I’ve been wandering along this path because I think that it might help with understanding some of our contemporary struggles in evangelism, and might also help to reflect on what we expect from Church.

4 thoughts on “Desire and Friendship

  1. Hi Dan, my good friend!
    Perhaps another (but not necessarily an alternative) way of thinking about it is the idea of enlarging our circles of friendship with inner and outer layers, so that we share the jewels we have found in our friends .. here is CS Lewis on Friendship.
    In some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love affair.. above all Eros (while it lasts) is necessary between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number of friendship, is not even the best. .. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend.. Of course, the scarcity of kindred souls .. sets limits to the enlargement of the circle; but within those limits we possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, friendship exhibits a glorious 'nearness by resemblance' to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates the unique vision to all the rest. That says an old author, is why the seraphim in Isaiah's vision are crying 'Holy,Holy,Holy' to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have." – The Four Loves


  2. Hi Dan,

    Are you saying that this lack of a "wider community" is a god or bad thing? Or is this a way in which the church can be different by going back to the old style of community.

    You said the downside of loss of unimportant relationships is the emphasis it puts on our important relationships. why is this a bad thing? Does it mean we become to inward and forget our great comissioning? or does it keep us strong in a tough world.

    I tend to agree with what your saying. If the world will know us by our fruits we shouldn't put the tree inside the house where it cannot be seen.

    I am looking forward to your next response on this matter. Please correct me where you see fit as i am not an academic. Just a Christain (who can't type or spell) trying to find a balance of where the church should position itself within society


  3. Hey Cath, thanks for the quote from Lewis. It was reading that section on friendship for a sermon last year that started me thinking along these lines. The danger in Lewis is that he doesn't talk about the relationships that are 'a-loving', neither love nor unlove. Maybe there are no such things, but I don't think that fits with our experience. Lewis' beautiful description of friendship just adds weight to the burdens we might when we begin to relate.

    I think that I think the loss of wider community is a bad thing. (I'm still thinking about it 🙂

    You have picked up where I'm going when it comes to talking about evangelism, if we have lost the casual social interactions with our neighbours – we have lost what made Christianity a potent evangelistic force in the past. That is, simply letting our neighbours see the reality of an authentic humanity that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit.


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