Choosing Our Communities & Friends (in memorium of Gideon Addington)
There have been many great blog posts written in the past 9 days, since the social media and blogging worlds realized that our friend Gideon Addington (@gideony) had passed away as a result of his own deliberate action to make it so. I don't need to rehash any of it. I will only reference one post here, but if you google you will find a plethora of posts and articles.
I considered blogging on my memories of Gideon and on the impact he made on me: how he changed me permanently before his untimely death, and how he is at the core of who I have become. I decided that I will instead return to blogging-as-a-spiritual-discipline to express more of what I am now, but that I don't choose to share publicly things that were shared by a friend privately with the expectation of confidentiality. Friends don't do that to friends, even after death - or perhaps ESPECIALLY after death.
But the key topic that has been swirling in my mind since last Wednesday is this: I AM my choices about my friends and my communities. I choose who I am as I choose my friends, and as I choose my friends, I choose who I will become.
We all have many circles that we only partially choose: the people with whom we work, the people with whom we are in family, the people with whom we attend school, etc. Of course we choose some of this -- our spouse, our college, where we send our resumes -- but a lot of it is just "luck of the draw". Those people often form our primary communities, and work unconsciously and consciously to indoctrinate us into their beliefs and values. When those beliefs and values settle easily into our consciousnesses, we are blessed . . . but often something inside us rebels!
And this is where our truly CHOSEN friendships come in! We can seek out those who enjoy what we enjoy, who are passionate about the things that compel our passion, and who think and feel in ways that we intuitively "get". Here, we choose our own selves!
C.S. Lewis spoke about "The Four Loves" on the BBC back in the mid-20th Century, and those talks are still available on iTunes and from other sources. The material is similar but not identical to what he later published in his book by the same title. He spoke of the 4 Greek words for love, and of how they play out in our lives. Storge is comfortable, familial love -- where those we don't particularly even like become so familiar that we call it love. Eros is the passion which is romantic love --- not just lust, but that yearning that can even seem detached from the physical. Agape is the love that our faith exhorts us to show toward all others -- to seek to be the tool of God in their lives for God's best purposes for them and for us. And Phileo is the love of which I write here -- a friendship-love that is joined by mutual interest and that welcomes into it many others who share the same interest.
I was friends with Gideon Addington in a way that was very special. We chose each other as friends because we had mutual interests and loved to discuss them. This love did not revolve around the life of either of us, but rather around theology and the church and books and music and culture. There is much that I did not know about him, and that he did not know about me . . . not because we chose actively not to discuss it, but because there were so many other things we DID choose to discuss. It didn't matter that he was a young man of 30 while I was a middle-aged lady of 45. The stuff that people discuss if they're infatuated with each other (Eros) didn't matter and never came up. Nor did we have to be "kindred spirits" in being in agreement on everything or with a strong intuitive connection. We were just chosen friends. By choosing him I chose toward who I would become, and by choosing me he did the same.
I have many others that I know through Second Life, Twitter and their blogs that are also in that same sphere for me: friends I choose, and by choosing them, I am choosing myself. That doesn't take away from what I reveal about myself (and choose to be) in my relationships with my husband and boys, or at work, or in academic or church pursuits. It doesn't take away from what I reveal about myself and choose to be in my relationships with my very dear sisters-in-friendship that are face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder friends in my chosen recreational and discipleship activities. But it does shape me in a way that those relationships cannot shape me, just as they shape me in ways that my virtual relationships cannot shape me. We push to our limits in each sphere of relationship, and then can escape into another sphere -- and the picture of those interlocking spheres and the way they reflect our time, attention, and love becomes the picture of ME, the picture of identity that is imposed and identity that is chosen.
One of the key identity issues for me has always been an issue of gender. I remember being 5 and seeing my dad take my just-turned-4-year-old brother out to hunt ducks, and being hit for the first time with the fact that I was supposed to fit a certain mold as a girl, and that I might not find that easy or nice. I won't bore you all with my musings and events through 45 years that lead me to today . . . but today I am comfortable in my own skin, and I know myself to be a woman that loves to have sex with men but that hates to fill the old cultural norms for women other than that. I love my butch lesbian sisters because I identify so much with parts of their identities, although I love to look "fem" and love to feel sexual tension with men who are attracted to women who like to share power and like to fill male cultural roles, even as they do the same.
Another key identity issue for me is FAITH. I love God, even though God cannot be defined. I do love the Jewish and Christian Scriptures and traditions . . . but I love God and the people of God even more, and one of my "callings" (defined here as a key part of my innate identity in my own experience) is to pursue an integrated knowledge of "revelation" and personal experience, as well as an integrated praxis of communion and service. I started out in a family that gave me the gift of deep faith and lots of knowledge of faith as a foundation for that deep faith . . . and I have been going on to build a network of chosen friends who ARE in their faith (creed and praxis) what I choose to be. I am so blessed by them, and these days every single one of them is pushing past their old limits toward something unknown, and they have the courage to do that. I love them.
I do not know what happened with Gideon. Those who were in his other circles of friendship and community are much better positioned to explain that than any of us, and it would be an affront to them for me to engage in my own speculation. I do know this, though: Gideon loved all his circles of community, as I do mine. He told me so and I still believe him. I also know this: Gideon allowed himself to be changed by his communities, and was fearless in pressing on toward truth. As much as I know the dynamics of depression and suicide, I also know the dynamics of hope . . . and I feel certain that Gideon hoped in the spiritual realities that we spent so many hours discussing in so many ways, and that that hope brightened even the darkness.
Each of you who are attached enough to me to have read this far in this post are people who are shaping my life and identity and experience of living. We are real people in all our communities -- chosen and not-so-much -- and truly are NOT alone. We form a great web of life -- the web for this generation. I am grateful to Gideon for his impact on me and on you, and I am grateful to each of you for your impact on me and on each other. I considered lacing this post with hyperlinks to the many excellent posts on virtual space and real community and faith and gender and sexuality . . . but each of you either already gets all that or wouldn't get it just by virtue of my hyperlinks, and it's not the point, anyway. My point is just this: we make choices in life, and there is no choice more important than "who will I be today" -- and that choice is made in not only my declared faith and my vocation and in all my public-identity choices, but even more in my daily choices about who I love and befriend.
I chose to love and befriend Gideon, and I choose to love and befriend you.
Who are your friends, and what are your communities?
I disagree- the critical question is "What will I do today?"
If you believe (as I think you do) that our lives are lived out in the context of a much larger process set in motion by a higher power, then the most important thing for us to do in life is to align our actions with that larger purpose. Many religious traditions teach that failure to do so leads to suffering.
The question "who will I be?" is all about your own reaction to your role in this drama. If you decide that your self is separate and you get to decide who you will be, then you're setting yourself up for suffering.
I'm sorry to hear of your friend's death- sorry for whatever pain drove him to this point, and sorry for the pain this caused you (and of course his family and other friends.)
Thanks, Brian! I agree that this post was particularly narcissistic, and I agree that a bigger question of purpose is yours . . .
But then your continued interaction with me and I with you is a good example of my point, which is still my point (though just for this post) that our individual identities are largely socially defined, but that we play the manager's role in that process of social definition.
When I got out of bed this morning, though, my first activity of the morning was (as it always is) to engage in my morning prayers and readings, which are specifically designed to center me on the answer for today of YOUR question. And for me, as for you, the answer to what I'll do this day and this moment must be centered in a bigger picture - bigger than my identity, and bigger than my goals for my life!
I wish you and Suzanne were on twitter and participated in my circle of friends there. But you get your daily need for intellectual stimulation at your level met through your vocational choice, as you shepherd graduate students, don't you?
You are one of the friends that is shaping me, though -- and for that I am grateful!
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