What Makes For True Friendship?

Oh, sweet brotherhood. How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that comes down upon the skirt of his garments. Don't tell Kimberly, friend, but it just might be that your love is sweeter to me than the love of women. Yes, I do love me some robust unity and some hirsute brotherhood.

Right now I'm sitting in a sweetly designed hipster barbershop, sippin' on whiskey and loving just being around dudes. Tonight I'll be heading to a local craft brew pub to meet with a bunch of men and talk about the Bible and other manly stuff. It's a manly time to be a manly man, y'all. Beards are still in. So manly, all the manly time. So manly hip, such manly beard, so manly manliness.

Y'all know this manliness schtick is my soapbox. My wheelhouse. My well-worn wagon rut. You heard it before, but I'm-a climb up this thing again. I'm a-preach it like nobody's business, going to talk about all the brotherhood things, but at the end going to do a thing where you think, hey, that was cute, glad I read this manly man blog post.

How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity. It's been said. It's true. You know that two are better than one. You know that woe to him who is alone when he falleth, for he ain't got nobody to lift him up. Plus you know that if a man prevaileth against one who is alone, two shall withstand him. You know these things because you read Ecclesiastes 4.

I also read Ecclesiastes,  long enough, at least, to self-consciously seek out the ties that bind men together. What are the things that have bound me together in three-stranded cords? What things have the power to bring us together, to bring unity? (Besides olive oil on the beard, obviously.)

Well, there are common interests. Things like my beard club and my rugby club and my philosophy club. Y'all know I like clubs. Also, hobbies. I hear people like model train building. Or passions, like my passion for the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Then there's mutual self-interest. Maybe we're business partners. Maybe we're seeking the good of the city. Maybe we're just anarchic libertarians who believe that self-interest is a force for good. Bottom line is, when we both want the same thing, we come together to win it.

Me and my friend Grizzly.
There's also culture in common, geography in common, time in common. That guy you grew up with. That guy at work who's from your hometown. The guy who went to the same college. The guys who wear the same hipster clothing, the guys who hate the same hipster clothing. Bands, education, breweries, politics. All those cultural markers you throw out there as identifiers.

 You know when you meet that guy and it's so perfect and dreamy? You hit it off right away, and you're not sure why, but then you realize it's because you have this and that and this and that other thing in common and isn't it exciting! Of course, almost always in those cases you could have guessed that you'd have so much in common, 'cause dude was displaying the cultural signifiers to indicate what he was into and you, interpreting them, were more inclined to approve of the guy.

The best thing about being around those guys who are into the same things you are, who have common interest, mutual interest, and a common culture, is that you can relax. You can let your guard down and be yourself. You can dwell together in unity. Which is an extremely welcome thing after a long day of fighting the good fight, fighting the man, fighting the power, fighting the powers and principalities, fighting the world the flesh and the devil, and fighting for your right to party. How good and pleasant it is to find these shelters where iron can sharpen iron, but without all the sparky troubles.

You've got to have at least one of those three things (common interest, mutual interest, and a common culture) in order to get along with another guy, I think. And when you've got two or even three, why, then you've got a friend.

I've met a lot of guys to love in my travels, and experienced many places where the welcome was immediate, the atmosphere congenial, the friendships likely to be long-lasting, because we were all there together, and all into the same thing.

But you know what's been the most binding, unifying, collegial/congenial thing I've experienced? Where I can be confident that I'm understood? Where I know I can be myself and be accepted as family? Do you know what binding agent I've found brings men together like no other? That, in fact, brings all people together like no other?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus, y'all.

I'm serious, friend. And this was enough of a revelation to me that this can't be a Jesus juke. If it seems obvious to you, there was actually a moment in my life when I realized this. And being reminded never hurts.

Let's continue to stick just with dudes in our scenarios for the sake of this post's coherence. And because in theory it is modest and meet and right for me to be intimate friends with an infinite number of guys, but only with one gal.

Let's look at the things I'm really into, that behave as binding agents.

I love books and ideas and debate. I've always sought to put myself in places where I can talk about these things. Had that bookstore for a while. Had the discussion groups. The post-college study groups. The late night bartending sessions. I've had some great bookish friendships.

I love rugby. Rugby is strong. Rugby is a community. Anywhere in the world, if you're a rugger and you find a rugger, you have a bond. I've had some great rugby friendships.

I love history. I love travel. I love to talk about places and cultures. I like craft beer. I like to talk about the arcane minutiae of pipe tobaccos, their production and enjoyment; what is more, I know people who will enjoy and talk about pipe tobacco with me. All these things and more have led to great friendships.

But something always gets in the way after a certain point. And no, it's not me. Or not totally me. Y'all know that, because you've experienced this. It's mutual parting. There's something else for the Christian that's too all-consuming and all-demanding for the world to handle. Maybe rugby is all my friend lives for. Maybe he's using it to distract himself from the trajectory of his life. Either way, we are ships passing in the night. And, tragically for our friend, we are on the ship he seeks, passing, passing.

On the other hand, I hope you've all experienced the flip side. Like when I hang out with a short soft-spoken shave-faced accountant who drinks Budweiser, but our acceptance of each other and our bond with each other is so profound that it can only be Jesus.

Have you ever been struck with that thought? "Like, why am I hanging out with this guy and why do I love him so much? Oh, yeah, that's right, Jesus."

These are our people. This is our commonality, our mutuality, our culture, our geography, our time, our Kingdom. These are our home. As in, those dudes right there are home. They are where we can let our guard down.

How then shall we live?

1. We can start being more loyal. These are our people. Not the people in the world who like the same ice cream. These people who look and behave differently from you. These people who are baptized, who are washed in blood. Be loyal. Be true. Show up. Sing the songs. Eat the food.

2. We can stop prioritizing common groups inside our churches. The fact is, the old and young, the poet and engineer, the literate and illiterate, even the yankee and the redneck, they are all our people. Behold, all things are made new.

3. We can start being more generous at church. These brothers are true brothers. We love them and want their good.

4. We can start eating more at church. And by that, I mean, start being fed. By all those people who aren't like you, and value different things. Ultimately, you are seated at the table in Christ's kingdom. Don't be too good for it. 'Cause, you know, you're not.

5. Start hiding less, start proclaiming more. You know that the fissure between you and your pagan friend will ultimately be exposed. Embrace it. Bring it out early. One day rugby will end. One day your interest will wane. But Jesus and his Kingdom are forever. Throw him a rope, get him on the right ship. I mean, you love the guy, right? Save him, not the friendship. The night will soon be over; you are passing now; soon it will be too late.

Oh, sweet brotherhood. How good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head that runs down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard; that comes down upon the skirt of his garments.


Ships That Pass In The Night
Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872-1906
Out in the sky the great dark clouds are massing;
   I look far out into the pregnant night,
Where I can hear a solemn booming gun
   And catch the gleaming of a random light,
That tells me that the ship I seek is passing, passing.

My tearful eyes my soul’s deep hurt are glassing;
   For I would hail and check that ship of ships.
I stretch my hands imploring, cry aloud,
   My voice falls dead a foot from mine own lips,
And but its ghost doth reach that vessel, passing, passing.

O Earth, O Sky, O Ocean, both surpassing,
   O heart of mine, O soul that dreads the dark!
Is there no hope for me? Is there no way
   That I may sight and check that speeding bark
Which out of sight and sound is passing, passing?


  1. Excellent.

    This topic has been on my mind for some time, too. Male friendships are so rare, and so little talked about it. Yet so important. A podcast put it this way, "Masculinity is learned. And men learn when they're around other men." It's the silent mentoring, iron sharpening iron, which helps me be a better man. And the aspect of "You can let your guard down and be yourself" is so truly necessary.

    Perhaps — maybe! — this is one of the reasons that Scripture says there is no closer friend than Christ. Not just because friendship is meaningful, but because it's language that men can understand, and it makes us curious. "What can be deeper than the friendship of a genuine bro?"

    I'm glad you're writing about this. We need to get a smoke sometime.


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