I’m excited to write about the next tremendous thing about shalom-filled relationships. A turn to shalom is a turn toward relational holiness. It is the beauty of all-encompassing redemptive shalom that heals what were two rival intimacies for Western Christianity in the twentieth century.
This is good news for sexuality and friendship in the twenty-first century. It is good news for singles, divorced, widowed, celibate, and married.
I shared my recent reflections on shalom with Susanne last night. Her first suddenly quick response was reflected in her eyes in sort of an Aha! moment. She said, “Dan, why of course, it’s all there!!! The fullness, the richness, the abundance, the delight! It’s all there!”
Here is another tremendous thing about shalom-filled relationships: the turn toward shalom is a turn toward relational richness and delight in the big picture.
Just like that Susanne was helping me fill in what an all-encompassing shalom means for friendship and sexuality. We were both caught up in a moment of shared delight in thinking how much friendship between the sexes fits in with God’s dream for the world: shalom.
Christ-centered relationships are shalom-filled relationships. To turn toward an all-encompassing shalom is a turn toward safety, trust, rest, security, healing, justice, wholeness, and the power of redemptive healthy love in relationships.
In this blog series, I’m looking at five tremendous things about shalom-filled relationships. I am borrowing the phrase “tremendous thing” right out of the classic children’s book, Charlotte’s Web. Friendship as a personal relationship has the wild and glorious opportunity to be a shalom-filled relationship. I think an overwhelming majority of Christians would affirm that last statement.
The tricky, weird, and messy part of this boundary-shifting conversation is when we insert the qualifier “cross-sex” or “cross-gender” (or whatever your preferred term is) before friendship.
Suddenly, we check out, we disengage, we retreat, or we vigorously seek to qualify what we mean. Friendship between men and women in evangelical sub-culture, to borrow the language from the atheist Antony Flew, “dies the death of a thousand qualifications.”
Must Christian friendship between men and women die the death of a thousand qualifications? Must cross-sex friendship die the death of a thousand qualifications in the presence of the evangelical romantic empire?
"Shalom means peace. But it contains rich hints of redeemed restoration to health, safety, rest, completeness, wholeness, welfare, perfection, blessing, harmony. Seeking the shalom of the world is what we have always been called to do."
If I was looking for one word (other than God, love, or gospel) which pointed to an all-encompassing, attractive vision for the fullness and wholeness of relationships shalom might be it. It's quite a challenge to find a word that describes a reality that is big enough to paint a vision of God's glorious dream.
I was with Susanne recently. At this moment in the conversation, we were talking about my voice, my life, and the big picture of cross-sex friendship. My heart immediately began to swell up with overflowing gratitude. By many evangelical accounts I was not supposed to be where I was in the moment.
I thoroughly enjoyed this Sabbath-sized moment resting in her presence; we share deep trust with each other. In our intimate friendship we share this real and concrete sense of safety and security and also delight in one another. It doesn’t get any better than this, I thought.
Well, that has to be put into context. I’ve had similar “it doesn’t get any better than this” moments in my friendship with Susanne back in 2009. Then again in 2010. And more in 2011. Those moments were also present at various times in the last four years. In her immediate presence I was experiencing another one of those moments. Those, “it doesn’t get any better than this” moments in my friendship with Susanne keep coming.
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
Charlotte to Wilbur in Charlotte's Web
Five years ago today, I published the ground-breaking book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions. It was the first full length book from an evangelical with high aspirations to explore the mystery of sexuality and friendship. Does the Christian faith give hope for men and women as sexual beings to participate in a relational intimacy we would identify as personal friendship?
Evangelical publishers were spooked by such a notion and turned me down. .
Five years later, evangelical publishers have not budged.
Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions remains the only full length book on other sex friendship by an evangelical.
The notion of cross-sex friendship faces two enormous hurdles in the evangelical community. In the eyes of many evangelicals, a woman as a friend in the sense as another self (in relationship with a man) remains closely akin to women mingling with the guys after they have served casseroles at potlucks. Or women in emotional relationships with other women.
Valentine's Day 2015. For all the persons who have a significant other, partner, spouse or in a dating relationship, Valentine's Day is an an invitation to intimacy. In America, it is a particular gendered day of cultural celebration. Women expect to be showered with attention, courted, wooed by men. Yes, the Western culture is changing where women expect to be courted regardless of gender, but Valentine's Day is a gendered day of celebration.
Many women understand Valentine's Day as a day to receive intimate attention, lavished attention, and, ultimately special attention from their significant others. In the Western world Valentine's Day is a cultural marker for the women to feel extraspecial.
“For if my enemy had reviled me, I would verily have borne with it…But it was you, my equal, my close companion, my well-loved friend…We had intimate talks with each other…and we went to the house of God in company.” 55th Psalm
“If you lead you will eventually serve with Judas or Peter. Betrayal in some form is as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.”
It is safe to say that one of the darkest periods in my life the past ten years was when a close friend betrayed me. Just as the Psalmist agonized over his friend’s betrayal, I too, experienced a friend who turned from a trusted, well-loved friend into a relational enemy. A powerful dose of intimate betrayal can push us into a Psalm lamenting trauma.
In my thirty plus years as an evangelical, I’ve read and heard Psalm 55:22 “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you” quoted for myriads of burdens but never for what the Psalmist anguished over: the traumatic betrayal of a friend. And yet, as part of ancient and deep wisdom, we clearly read in Psalm 55 one of most painful burdens we can experience in this life is when a close friend turns on us and deeply wounds us.
The Gospels also challenge any superficial or simplistic notions about how we can avoid intimate betrayal. In Jesus we see the fullness of God. Incarnate Love. Yet Judas who ate with Jesus, walked many miles with Jesus, witnessed Jesus’ abounding love up close and personal still betrayed the Love he encountered. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
Is intimacy worth the risk of such deep betrayal? I’m not just talking about intimate friendship. I am, but I am thinking beyond that. Intimacy as an orientation as a way of life. What do I mean?