Feb 11th: Building Community Through Deep Connection, with Rev. Kally Elliott.
A Part of the Series:
Building Community Through Deep Connection with Rev. Kally Elliott. Series: Holy Friendships A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: John 15.
Bend is a weird place, especially when you’re new. You move here excited to be surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, perhaps believing you’re moving to a small town where you can slow down and easily meet your neighbors and make friends at all the outdoor events you will be attending. And while you are surrounded by natural beauty, and the town is smaller than, say, the Bay Area or Portland, and maybe you don’t spend as much time in traffic, though, that is quickly changing. The Making friends part that seems to be a little trickier. And I don’t think it’s just me, I’ve had at least two friends who moved here around the same time as I did, only to move away a couple of years later, because they just couldn’t seem to make the deep connections. They were longing for one of them saying to me, you know, it’s like people are friendly, but they don’t want to do the work of being friends. So we my family and I had been in Bend for about six months when one of my teenagers and I stopped by a youth group social event at a local yogurt shop, introducing myself to a family who was also new to bend, I immediately felt a connection to the mother. Kind of like you know, when you meet the one and you just know you too are meant to be. And that’s how it felt with this other mother only in a much more platonic way than if I was meeting the one. Thankfully, she was as extroverted as me and we exchanged cell phone numbers without too much awkwardness. I texted her a few days later, because you know, I didn’t want to seem that desperate to run home and text her right away. And I invited her to her I invited her family over for dinner. And when they arrived all five of them I was in the kitchen making last minute preparations. My new friend stocked in and immediately began searching through my kitchen drawers for the plates and the silverware she needed to put the finishing touches on her contribution. And to help me wrap up my cooking. There was no hey, you know, do you mind if I look for a fork? Or I hope it’s okay that I borrow a cutting board at chop these carrots. Nope, she just simply made herself at home for a jean through my kitchen while asking me questions about how I felt my marriage was doing or if my kids were happy or if they were struggling and basically diving headfirst through all the surface stuff straight into the deep waters of my emotional life. I was in love, friendship, love, but in love nonetheless. Having lived here for a little over six months, I was so dang tired of small talk of smiling and saying how much I loved living here when in reality. I missed my friends on the east coast of pretending that my kids were thriving when actually they were not. And I was so worried that moving them across the nation in the middle of the school year would be the reason they failed out of school and ended up jobless and living in my basement forever. I was weary of friendly faces saying hey, yeah, let’s get together. And then it never happening. Exhausted from wondering if maybe I just didn’t fit in here. And then Carrie came over and took over my kitchen and asked me deep and probing questions, and I finally felt seen. Now if you’ve spent much time with me, I will have undoubtedly shared with you too much information about myself. I am not a fan of small talk, I can do it. But I tire of it quickly. I’d rather get to know you, like really know you I want to know what brings you joy about your relationships, what beliefs you hold dear, what makes you struggle, the fears you’re facing and what keeps you up at night? And if you ask me or often even if you don’t ask me. I’ll tell you more about me than you probably wanted to know. With love in his heart. My husband often says he says he never knows what’s going to come out of my mouth. But you know, I don’t want to pretend I want to know you and I want to be known. There’s a longing I think we all carry inside of us. It’s our souls cry to know that we are seen and to know On and loved and to love another in the same way. In his very last conversation with the disciples before the cross, after tenderly washing their feet, Jesus says to them, Hey, guys, this is my commandment, that you love me that you love, sorry that you love one another, as I have loved you, no one has greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, you are my friends, if you do what I command you, I do not call you servants any longer because the servant does not know what the master is doing. But I’ve called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I heard from my father, you did not choose me, but I chose you and I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving giving you these commands, so that you may love one another. This is the message that Jesus leaves with His disciples on the night he knows is his last with them. You know, he could have given them so many other instructions or advice, he could have said so many other things. But the message he wanted them to hear, to know and to grasp in their hearts to live was You are my friends. I’ve let you really know me and I know you I love you. So go and love one another well, friendship becomes discipleship. The understanding of the role of friendship has shifted throughout history as societies have shifted. In Jesus’s time, friendship was understood in patron client relationships, you might be considered a friend, if you were, say political allies, or if you allowed someone to borrow money, it was very transactional, you do for me and I will do for you. And there was this also this idea of false friends in Jesus’s time, much like in our own time, false friends were those who would use a person for their own success. These people were called flatterers. They those who flatter their patron to get something they want. This fake flattery was such a problem that philosophers and Jesus’s time would actually warn people about these flatterers saying that the way you could tell a real friend from a flatterer was by their quote, freight and Frank speech in how to tell a flatterer from a friend Plutarch writes frankness of speech by common rapport and belief is the language of friendship. On the other hand, that lack of frankness, is unfriendly and ignoble. Jesus it seems the same, the same. Friendship happens when we share the Frank truth of our lives. Now, I’m not saying we should go around pointing out each other’s flaws, but that we don’t have to hide our tender hearts. And we don’t have to shy away from asking about one another’s tender hearts. I recently listened to an interview with our Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. On Kate Bullers podcast, everything happens, sharing about the loneliness he was feeling. He tells the listeners, I was struggling to figure out how to build community. And I was at this retreat, and these two buddies of mine were there as well. We decided to just take a walk together. And it felt really good, you know, old friends reconnecting and we realized that all three of us were feeling a bit lost and lonely, trying to figure out work and life stuff and feeling disconnected from people. At the end of our walk, I remember saying, you know, we should get together more often. And it immediately felt wrong, like this is not going to happen. And we all felt it. So we we made an explicit commitment to actually be there for one another. We modeled it off the Okinawan concept of Moai, a notion that from a young age, you and a group of friends have each other’s backs. You’ll always be there for each other no matter what. Somebody runs into financial trouble or health problems. You all help out. Whatever the issue is, you have each other’s backs. And so we decided to build our own Moai to make our implicit friendship explicit.
We committed to once a month to video conferencing during which we weren’t going to be distracted by our phones or anything else. We were just going to talk to each other. We also decided that during that time, we were going to discuss what really matters to us. Of course, we would joke around as usual, but we would talk about stuff that friends don’t often talk about openly enough, our health, our finances, our family, our fears, between those monthly calls, if something came up that we wanted to celebrate, or a real challenge that we were facing, we agreed that we would text the group and if we needed to, we’d pull together an emergency call and I’ll tell you, I loved these two guys before. I love them now, but it’s different having this explicit commitment with them, where we now show up for one another regularly, consistently. major decisions in my life about work and family about health have been impacted by the conversations I’ve had with this Moai. Jesus created his own kind of Moai with the disciples they ate and slept and walked and together for three straight years they witnessed sunrises On mountain tops and helped each other through deep valleys. They cried out in fear together as their boat was pummeled with the waves and bickered and celebrated and prayed together. Most of all, they forgave one another. It wasn’t perfect when times got dangerous and his life was at risk. Peter, one of the disciples denied his friendship with Jesus. Jesus later sought peter out and made him breakfast and invited him on a walk. And as they walked along that beach, Jesus asked him Hey, Peter, do you love me? Yes, yes, I do. Love you, Jesus. Peter responded, then feed my sheep. Jesus said, their friendship endures. And Judas, Judas literally sold Jesus out getting him arrested. And yet, as Judas led the soldiers to Jesus, Jesus greeted him saying, Friend, friend, do what you are here to to. We can be loved, but not but not known. We can be known and not loved. But to be fully known and deeply loved feels like being loved by God. And there are people in our city and more specifically in our congregation who could use this type of friendship. But how do we as a community practice friendship, I mean, real friendship frankness of speech friendship, Moai friendship, Jesus friendship. I think first of all, we give what Anne Lamott calls our bodyguard time off. Our bodyguard is the smart, charming person we let do the work of meeting people, or truthfully keeping people out. So we start by giving our bodyguard a vacation and showing our true selves or as Brene Cole Brown calls it our soft front, staying vulnerable, letting our true self be seen and loved. I know one church that has made it one of their core spiritual practices to reach out to at least one person a day with a text, a note, a phone call or a card with words of encouragement, not flattery. But hey, this is what I like about you because it is true sort of thing. And I know some of you have started regularly having dinner together bringing whatever is already in your frigerator to share with others. Maybe you’ve been thinking about inviting someone over for a meal, but you’d have to clean your house and actually cook something and I’m here to tell you that Nope. No, you do not clear off a space on that kitchen table and serve frozen pizza, Oreos and water the kids like frozen pizza better anyway. It’s not about the house or the food. It’s about the connection. Or what about committing to a group at the church. We have so many groups that form friendship through their service together, to name a few. We have the group that tutors at the local elementary school and those that make prayer shawls and quilts. Those that gather for a book study those that pray together or visit the hospital those that work for justice in our world. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about church, any church really but this church too, is the opportunity for intergenerational Relationships. What if your family committed to getting to know and regularly visit a church member who lives alone? Or maybe in an assisted living facility? or what have you got to know a young adult and invited them to your house for dinner? You are my friends. Jesus says the invitation is to be friends fully known and deeply loved. The prayer is that we might live this love Amen.