Harry, Sally and Jesus

“For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another…we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other…this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another…dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3

There seem to be two camps in the discussion of whether or not men and women can be friends. On one side are the people who have never had close friends of the opposite gender, never really saw the need, and feel that it’s inappropriate to pursue or engage in such relationships regardless of marital status. On the other are people who have had meaningful, nonsexual relationships with members of the opposite sex and who believe that such relationships are important and unthreatening (within obvious boundaries) to romantic relationships.

I tend to fall into the second category. Without getting into all the nuances of marriage, singleness, intimacy, insecurity, infidelity, etc., I’d like to plead my case. First and foremost, I am a human being before I am a gender. I have been made in the image of Christ, and one day all barriers between me and others will be gone. I will be a child of God amongst children of God and we will know and be known. I was created with a gender, but as a human being above all. When we associate with each other strictly as one gender or another, I fear we unnecessarily sexualize each other. If I really believe that the kingdom of God is here, that all things are being made new, that the order of Eden can begin to be restored in this life and on this earth, then I have to believe that part of that restoration is the freedom to love people as people, not as merely sexual beings.

Second, I really struggle with the idea that all encounters between people must be regulated by a system of rules based on gender. Frankly it confuses me, because I don’t know the rules and often lose the game. I mostly still feel like a little girl when meeting a new person, thinking “I want this person to be my friend.” While I am far from innocent in many ways, there is a simplicity to most of my intentions when meeting new people. I like making new friends. I like new people. New people inevitably introduce me to new experiences, new perspectives, and if I’m paying attention new facets of the face of Jesus. No offense to the ladies out there, but if you are the only people I ever get to know I will be missing out on half of God to be found in others. So much of the wisdom, perspective, and peace that’s come to me in the past few years has been carried through the words and actions of men who weren’t afraid to sit and talk with me, to engage in my life. And in many of the most powerful moments of my being used by God to speak into another’s life, that other person was a man who opened his heart and life to me.

Third, and the catalyst for this post, I heard a really insightful sermon today based in 1 John 3. We talked about active love, love that is expressed in meeting needs and sacrificing something of ourselves for others. We made space for the Holy Spirit to show us how we might practically show love to someone we know, and were warned against “talking ourselves out” of doing the good we knew we were being led to do. This last point stirred up in me an angst, because several of the (I believe) Spirit-led ideas that came to mind had to do with extending friendship in one form or another to a few men in my life. Yet in some recent conversations I’ve listened to godly men say that a woman extending friendship to a man will always be received as romantic pursuit. This frustrates me, because I don’t romantically pursue on principle and I really hate being misunderstood. I do know that the men telling me this fall into the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends camp. One of the men who came to mind during the sermon has been a friend for years, so I know he’s in my camp. But the other is new in my life, and to extend friendship could be misinterpreted.

So I’m asking myself, am I willing to sacrifice my dignity and risk being misunderstood and embarrassed (and rejected) by offering friendship to a new personΒ  in my life? Am I letting myself be talked out of doing good, or submitting to “wisdom?” And if it’s true that men and women can’t (or worse, shouldn’t) be friends, how am I to love? It seems impossible to me to honor 1 John 3 if I can’t be a person’s friend. “I love you, sacrificially and in action, but I can’t be your friend.” That’s a statement I don’t understand.

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”

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7 Comments

  1. Jason W. said,

    April 30, 2012 at 10:48 am

    I particularly liked, “First and foremost, I am a human being before I am a gender.”. God did not create the male gender first but mankind first in the second story. The genders were created at the same time. Eve came from the side not the head to be above or the feet to be below but the side to be equal. At least in my understanding.

    Talk of one day things will be made right and such in your post sent shivers down my spine in a good way. When I think of eschatology, the Kingdom of God is always indeed at hand and the answer to our prayers of on earth as it is in heaven lies always just before our next thought before separation.

    Indeed, I agree with you. It should be possible to love one another and that the sex filter is likely more cultural than Godly.

    Fantastic post, Mandy. And not just because of the bambling rambles that it inspired in me.

    • MandyK said,

      April 30, 2012 at 11:06 am

      I really appreciate the feedback, Jason. With such a tough topic it’s nice to know with whom I can breathe a sigh of relief when interacting πŸ™‚

  2. Catherine Cambra Hopkins said,

    April 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I’ve thought about this quite a bit and don’t know the answer. I’ve had guy friends and girl friends my entire life but once I got married I pretty much let my guy friendships slide by the wayside, with the exception of male co-workers, who I don’t see outside of the boundaries of the workplace for the most part. The main reason I don’t pursue friendships with other men is to respect my husband’s sensitivity to the issue. His ex-wife left him for a mutual friend of theirs…the emotional intimacy of one-on-one conversations eventually led to an affair that ripped his life apart. But do I believe men and women can be friends without sex? Absolutely. I just think if both your motives are pure, it’s do-able…hmmm, this gives me food for thought when Jeff comes home tonight! πŸ™‚

    • MandyK said,

      April 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Due to the limitations of appropriate blog length I didn’t get into some of the obvious caveats, exceptions, etc. I’ve experienced unfaithfulness as well (though not to the extent of marital infidelity) and that drastically impacted my views on this topic. But I think through healing, forgiveness, and perspective I’ve come back to a healthier place with it (for me). And for those in the “they can’t be friends” camp I totally respect those choices and boundaries. Church situations can complicate the matter as well, since I am sometimes in a position to counsel or pray with individuals. Messy stuff; I pray your conversation tonight is fruitful πŸ™‚

      • Catherine Cambra Hopkins said,

        May 1, 2012 at 5:15 pm

        It was a fun conversation to have. Jeff and I need conversation starters like these! πŸ™‚ I don’t think it’s black and white. πŸ˜‰

  3. sharppointythings said,

    May 2, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Mandy,

    This is an issue I have wrestled with. You know where I’ve come from (it being the same place as Seth and Crystal) so I’m sure you can fill in a lot of the details. There was a culture that, in an attempt to protect purity, highly sexualized all relationships between the genders. Now, being out of that culture, I’m left trying to figure out what’s holy and what’s hogswallop.

    A very helpful concept that came out of Jonathan’s and my premarital counseling was the idea of loyalty. It’s a big concept so it hits on a lot of different possible issues. Jonathan is my person, above all others; I’m his. So in terms of interacting with my family, my girl friends *and* my guy friends the question to ask is “Am I still being loyal to my person above all others?” F’rinstance, when I’m having a rough time, who do I run to first? My sisters? My friends? According to how we’ve chosen to set up our relationship is that being loyal to him? My man likes being needed so he really appreciates it when I bring my crap to him and let him help me through it so for us, as a broad generality in that area, loyalty helps me decide how I interact with any of my friends of either gender.

    I think very much that wisdom is required in any relationship, whether across gender lines or not. And that is something that is very scary for many people because the risks are high and the consequences of screwing up are equally high. But just laying down a harsh set of rules is stifling and goes against the freedom God’s given us.

    I really appreciated this post, Mandy. I still have some kneejerk reactions I’m trying to weed out and put down. This helped identify one of them and gave me the space to, hopefully, put it down.

    • MandyK said,

      May 2, 2012 at 11:37 am

      I think the loyalty point is a really good one, Gabrielle. Maybe part of the reason this issue confuses me is because I tend to be fiercely loyal (to a fault), whether the relationship is a friendship, a church, or a dating relationship. So it’s equally impossible for me to imagine being unfaithful or rejecting friends who have been in my life for years. I hope that doesn’t sound cocky or naive; it is what it is, I guess.

      I would be interested in hearing your perspective on your experiences sometime; I have to admit to being very curious πŸ™‚ Thanks for the feedback here!


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