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The Theology of Friendship

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last post was on the theological virtues as expounded in Louis Markos’ book, “On the Shoulders of Hobbits.” Of course he covered the familiar trio of faith, hope and love, but then he threw in a fourth one: friendship. That one had me scratching my head a bit. I can agree that friendship is a virtue, but a theological virtue? Then I started thinking about it.

Darn, I hate when that happens!

A little research, a little scripture reading and it started to make sense. In fact, friendship fits in perfectly with faith, hope and love. Before I go into how this all works together, let’s take a look at friendship in general, and in the eyes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien in particular.

Anyone with a passing knowledge of Lewis or Tolkien not only knows the two were close friends, but they were also members of a group of friends who called themselves the Inklings. This group, which also included Charles Williams and Lewis’ brother Warren, would regularly gather to discuss various topics and to read some of their works in progress. Lewis thought so highly of friendship that he once wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves that “friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I shd. say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’ ” ( I got that quote from a marvelous book titled “The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life,” by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. If you are a Lewis fan you have to read this book.)

As for Tolkien, I don’t know if he ever wrote directly about friendship but its place in his heart is obvious by its place in his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Truly the central, driving force of this epic is a series of friendships, anchored by Frodo and Sam. Of course Merry and Pippin’s bond is practically as strong and their adventures when separated from the Fellowship provide wonderful examples of why friendship can rightly be called a virtue. Then there’s the relationship between Gimli and Legolas, proving that even seeming enemies can develop strong friendships.

So what is this thing called friendship? Markos quotes Lewis describing it as “that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen.” Further, many ancient people looked upon friendship as the most human of all relationships, in some cases more important than family. I’ve heard it said that friends are the family you choose. A friend is not just someone you hang out with at the mall or go to the movies with. A friend is a person you willingly cast your lot with, extend loyalty to, and stand behind with a steadfast spirit. There is a type of affection that goes with it, but it isn’t of the overtly emotional variety. Friendship is as common as an ordinary day, and as wondrous as the night sky.

Friendship is also a key theme in the Bible, though often overlooked. Many times God related to His chosen ones as friends. God refers to Abraham as “my friend” (Isaiah 41: 8). Exodus 33:11 tells us that ” the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” And Psalm 25:14 states that “The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” When you stop to think about it, it’s rather amazing that God, the creator of heaven and earth, would willingly relate to humans as friends. But how can this work?

First off, we have to define what friendship means, especially in relation to God and Jesus. I hear a lot about having a “personal relationship” with Jesus these days, but exactly what do people mean by this? I have a hunch that it means different things to different people since “personal relationship” is such a vague expression. People these days like “vague” because it gives them the wiggle room to define things any way they want at their convenience. But I think Jesus had something a bit more specific in mind. As a matter of fact, he tells us exactly what kind of relationship he expects in John’s gospel: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15: 14,15, ESV).

Friendship is the model Jesus would have us follow. This makes perfect sense since friendship is an excellent channel for the practice of the agape type of love that is referenced so often in the New Testament. This is the love of willing sacrifice and self-giving. It involves steadfast loyalty and support even during the hard times. Especially during the hard times. And while there may be an emotional component that goes along with it, it isn’t of the butterflies-in-the-stomach variety that can vanish so quickly. Together friendship and agape love form bonds that are meant to last a long time. Maybe into eternity.

Put all this together and it seems almost obvious that friendship is truly a theological virtue. Further, it is one that is familiar to all of us. Can we use our existing friendships as models of relating to God? In many cases, yes. We can also learn by reading about great friendships, like the ones in The Lord of the Rings and other great works of literature. Examples abound all around us. We just need to look, pay attention, and practice being God’s friends.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Book Review, Favorite Books, Ideas

 

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I’ll Take “Book Hunting” For 100!

Unless I’ve miscounted or my blog program is lying to me, this should be my 100th post here at the Old Book Bible Story BookJunkie. 100. Didn’t know if I’d make it that long. Thanks to all of you who have read and/or followed me here. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your “likes” and comments. Hopefully, I can earn your continued patronage in the year ahead. Now, onward.

Once again I have been out among the thrift stores and library sales, and once again I have found some nice books. This past Friday my wife and I were at the Disabled American Veterans Thrift store, one of our favorite places to rummage around in. They have great items at great prices and for a great cause.

For example, I found a nice copy of “Egermeier’s Bible Story Book: A Complete Narration from Genesis to Revelation for Young and Old,” (1955, Warner Press Publication, Gospel Trumpet Company.) These versions of the biblical stories were first written and published in 1923 by Elsie E. Egermeier. The 1955 version I found was revised slightly by Arlene Hall.

Samuel gets a new coatElsie Egermeier’s intent was to “present these stories in such a simple, direct manner that her youthful readers will have no difficulty in comprehending their teaching.” It seems that this type of book, re-telling the key Bible stories in plain language for younger readers, was very popular in the early to mid-20th century. Some of the newer ones I’ve seen today tend to be cartoonish in their approach, particularly the illustrations. As you can see from this picture, that’s not the case with  “The Bible Story Book.” The book is full of wonderful color and black and white lithographs that don’t turn the stories into fairy tales. I have concerns about children seeing cartoon depictions of Moses or Jesus. Do they understand that they were real people and not some cartoon characters?

I also picked up a good, clean copy of “The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha, Expanded Edition,” (1977, Oxford University Press, Inc.) It is edited by the great Bruce M. Metzger and this expanded edition contains the third and fourth books of the Maccabees and Psalm 151. That’s right, Psalm 151, which is purportedly a psalm of David commemorating his battle with the giant Goliath. Is it true? God knows, but the psalm is great:

I went out to meet the Philistine,

and he cursed me by his idols.

But I drew his own sword;

I beheaded him, and removed

reproach from the people of Israel.

Whether you think the Apocrypha should be canonical or not, it is a marvelous enhancement to the Scriptures. I’ve always enjoyed reading it, particularly the Wisdom of Solomon and Tobit. This annotated copy of the Revised Standard Version is a great addition to my library.

Finally, I found a copy of the “Abingdon Bible Handbook,” (1975, Abingdon Press) by Edward P. Blair. This will be a useful reference book since it includes nice, brief summaries and backgrounds on each book of the Bible, as well as chapters on Bible translation, interpretation, history, archaeology and chronology.

Well, that’s all for now. Thanks again for hanging with me and I hope to have a lot more interesting things for all of you in the year ahead!

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Book Hunting, Children's Books

 

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Don’t Get Too Close!

http://www.exophagy.com Frankenstein (1910 film)

http://www.exophagy.com Frankenstein (1910 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sorry I’ve been away from the old keyboard for a bit. About two weeks ago I came down with something like a head cold on steroids. Headache, sinus pressure, a small cough and the usual “Yuck!” By the time my wife and I would get home from work in the afternoons the only thing I would be good for was the couch. It hurt to think much less actually put thoughts to paper (or screen, as the case may be!)

But even when I’m sick, there is one thing I still can do. Read. So here’s a brief recap of what I’ve been reading since the last time I put fingers to plastic.

I finished the fourth book in Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein series, “Lost Souls,” in which we meet the third incarnation of Victor Frankenstein, Victor Immaculate. By far the worst of the three, he is even scarier because his views are the same as certain groups of very radical environmentalists today. You might think that there couldn’t be anything funny about this book, but you’d be wrong. Koontz’s pairing of characters and the situations he places them in bring forth some of the best dialog you’ll ever read. Trust me on this. The fifth and final book in the series, ” The Dead Town,” is ready and waiting for me to finish two other books I’m now reading.

One of which is Eugene Peterson”s “Eat This Book.” My Christian friends will recognize Peterson as the author of “The Message.” Some think “The Message” is another paraphrase of the Bible but it describes itself as a “contemporary rendering of the Bible from the original languages, crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and ideas in everyday language.” Now, in “Eat This Book,” Peterson discusses the best ways to read this amazing book called the Bible. He stresses that we should try to avoid “atomizing” it, chopping it down into little factoids or proof texts for our pet positions. He spends a lot of words exploring a type of spiritual reading called “lectio divina” which has come down to us from ancient Christians. It’s a wonderful, encouraging read.

Finally, I’m reading the second in Thomas Cahill’s “The Hinges of History” series, titled “The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels.” I read his first volume “How the Irish Saved Civilization” last year and was completely charmed by it. This volume is equally well-written and fascinating. Even if you’re not a person of faith, you owe much to this bunch of desert dwellers. Without their beliefs and ideas, the way we view ourselves and our world would not be possible.

Well, that’s it for now. There are plenty of other books lined up for this year as well. I need to put together some sort of reading plan, but since organization has never been one of my strong suits I won’t promise anything. But I will promise to try to be better about getting to the keyboard. Once I’m feeling better.

Better spray your screen with Lysol for now.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Authors, Book Review, History, What I'm Reading

 

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So, How’s Your Soil?

It is possible to read the Bible from a number of different angles and for various purposes without dealing with God as God has revealed himself . . .

To put it bluntly, not everyone who gets interested in the Bible and even gets excited about the Bible wants to get involved with God.

Eugene H. Peterson, “Eat This Book,” Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 2006

Take a look at Mark 4: 3 – 9.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2013 in Quotations

 

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The Word in the Wilderness

The Garden and the WildernessI’ve had a very successful week or so as far as finding some great books at thrift stores and library sales. Fortunately I’ve had the means to purchase the ones I really wanted. Not that any of these were particularly expensive, but times are a bit tight, after all. I’ll be doing another post soon to share these finds, but I wanted to do this post on one book that really started me thinking.

Now, this book isn’t anything rare or expensive. Nothing like that at all. But it is somewhat unique in that I doubt you would find anything like it being published today. Or used, for that matter. The book is titled “The Garden and the Wilderness,” and it was published in 1973 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. It was a high school textbook in a series from HBJ called “Literature: Uses of the Imagination.”

What this textbook does is take excerpts from the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy (from The New English Bible, one of my favorite translations) and arranges them with writings from such authors as Carl Sandburg, Edwin Muir, Dylan Thomas, Loren Eiseley and William Blake, among others. The selections include essays, poetry, plays, short stories and folk songs. As the book’s introduction explains:

The Bible has enormous importance historically and as a sacred book. but it is also literature, with a central place in any serious study of the works of the human imagination. We hope that in years to come you will be stimulated to move from this volume and its companions to the Bible itself, and that some of you will even study the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek as paths to the rich absorbing writings found there.

Amazing.

Nearly 40 years ago, this textbook was used in some school, I can’t say for sure if it was a public or parochial school, though my hunch is that it was a public school. Here’s my question: Do you think such a book would find a place in any public school today? Would studying the rich themes of the “book of books” be considered too religious for our children? Despite the role these words played in the founding of our civilization?

In our increasingly secular American society, faith themes and ideas are increasingly marginalized, pushed aside, forgotten and ignored. The “war” isn’t on Christmas, but on religion in general.

The Word is, indeed, in the wilderness.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2012 in Education, Ideas, Old Books

 

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Chapter and Verse. Or Not.

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Iraq: part of the Schøyen Collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While grazing through the “Abingdon Bible Commentary” I acquired recently, I came across this interesting bit of info in the opening article: “…our older version breaks up the Bible into chapters and verses. But there are no chapters and no verses in the original. There never were any in any version until the thirteenth century. One evil effect of this splitting up of the Bible is to give it an artificial and unreal appearance.” (From “How to Study the Bible” by Professor F.J. Rae.)

When one stops to think about it, it’s pretty obvious that this is so. The ancient Hebrew scriptures were on scrolls. Not even a page number there. But many of our modern Bibles not only have chapter and verse divisions, but also little letters and numbers scattered all throughout the text with verse cross references and short commentaries in the margins and at the bottom of the pages. This can be distracting and is not conducive to really reading the biblical text. Plus, it can be quite a turn-off to any newcomer who wishes to explore the Bible. But what to do?

Well, what I did is went out and found myself a copy of “The Reader’s Digest Bible.” Don’t laugh. Reader’s Digest has a long history of publishing excellent Bible reference books aimed at the general public. Here, they’ve taken the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, put their crack editors to work reducing many of the repetitions in the text, and then published it in a handsome hardcover edition. The titles of the biblical books are all there, but there are no chapter or verse numbers in the entire volume. Presto! Just what the professor ordered.

So how do I like reading the Bible this way, you ask? Stay tuned.

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2012 in Grazing

 

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