I recently learned a new term “frenemy”. I know, I’m a bit late to the party – well, I do spend a *lot* of time studying. For those who are slow like me, this word blends “friend-and-enemy”. I found that out from Mr Google.
It came up due to a pastor friend in Perth who *loves* Italy. He is married to a beautiful Italian woman, so I guess we can forgive that he has an obsession with all things Italian – he seeks out the best coffee beans, has a passion for growing his own tomatoes and owns a great little Vespa motorscooter. One day, he parked his Vespa outside a shop, and came out to find a better, sparkly new one sitting right beside it. He snapped a photo of it, wrote a status update “this man needs to die” or some such and uploaded it to Facebook. I responded, “why can’t this be your new best friend?” and he shot back a quick comment: “new best frenemy”. I know he was joking, but it seems like sometimes we just can’t imagine giving up rivalry. When our identity is wrapped firmly around something (such as having the best Vespa in Vic Park), it’s hard to be flexible enough to undo that. So we often just don’t.
And, maybe it’s the honest-to-goodness truth that there will be times that it isn’t even possible. I don’t know, maybe my friend just couldn’t go on sausage-making outings with this guy without thinking “oh I hate that your Vespa is cooler than mine”. And maybe the other guy *will* always think “Ha! I like you but your Vespa is just a little ratty”.
Do we just admit that this is human nature? You can’t actually just decide to like someone, I don’t think.
William Dyrness talks about this in his book Senses of Devotion (2013). He wanted to see if people of different faiths could talk to one another through art. Why? Because we have all these hidden codes in worship that reflect our values. As in, Reformation Christians might prefer a blank white wall and simple wooden pews, all of which silently communicate a rejection of hedonism and earthly pleasures. In contrast, an Orthodox Christian may prefer praying with the detailed symbols of gold iconography on the walls, and heavy incense in the air. Dyrness calls this our “aesthetics” and defines it as what sparks interest or disgust in an individual (Dyrness 2011, 76). We are drawn towards certain things, and we are repelled away from others. He suggests that these emotions (interest and disgust) are important information to note. They help us understand the values we hold. If we take notice, we find interest and disgust permeates our faith, and our relationship to God.
Maybe we experience it more as excitement and ambivalence (or, “yay!” and “… meh”). Either way, there’s no doubt that Christians experience both interest and disgust. We are human after all. But our disgust may prevent us from truly receiving the benefits of friendship with people who are unlike us.
If you are running all your actions through the Bible, and through a grid of community (your church), it can be easy to be in sync with the Christians around you, and to generate a collective interest and a collective disgust.
I think one of the challenges is to ensure that collective disgust isn’t what the Christian church becomes known for. At least, individuals shouldn’t feel the brunt of that disgust. To reflect Jesus, we should surely be nuancing it more clearly to reject behaviours, and not people.
Martin Luther King once said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend”.
Maybe that’s the ultimate answer as to why I can genuinely say that Tanya Levin is my friend – and that she interests me. That doesn’t and won’t make sense to everybody – which is why we were asked to go on record to explain a little more about it. Part two of our article was published in The Big Smoke here. If you haven’t read my last blogpost, I suggest you do that too. I’m not saying that I’m a saint, because I know I’m really not. I’m just trying to spark some questions, and prayers. May we allow Love to do its fullest work within us.