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9 min read

From the barber’s chair: the friendships that open us up

Adrian and Neal recall and recount tales of friendships and what made them work so well.
Three men walk down a path, the middle one talking and gesturing while the others listen.
Centre for Ageing Better on Unsplash.

Adrian

As life moves on, I began to realize how important my friendships are. Half the people that I grew up with are now married with kids and the other half are still living their life independently. We all have our own paths in life, and I believe whichever path you take, those whom you consider friends will support you and your decisions no matter what. 

As I went through my issues in 2019, I had nothing but support from my family and 

friends. It wasn't easy for me to be open with my struggles because I felt that everyone would look at me differently. I received nothing but support from everyone then and when I returned to work. They were all there, waiting to book their next cuts with me. From the beginning of my return I knew, then, how important my clients were to me. I wasn't just their barber; I was their friend whom they continued to support even during one of the craziest times in my life.  

Trying to stay afloat during a global pandemic was not easy; honestly it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. I knew I had to be as strong as I could be so I could help my loved ones stay positive and their heads held high. 

During these times, I worked as much as possible. At every appointment with a client, they showed support and always checked in with how I was. I used all these opportunities to help myself by speaking what was on my mind. Sometimes they would even open up to me and share what was going on in their lives, positive or negative. These times were much needed therapy sessions at every appointment. Being vulnerable helped me so much and it also helped my friends share what was on their minds; they opened up to me. 

When I finally felt right to open up about this incident it was with people who shared the same struggles. They understood and never once judged me. 

Growing up we were taught never to show any fear or emotion. I grew up in a rough area where if you showed weakness, you could be the next target to get bullied. I didn't realize until about four years ago how that way of living was wrong. That way of living haunted me for years.  

Going back to my childhood, there was an incident that shaped my teens and early 

adulthood. I was touched inappropriately by a member of my family and thankfully someone came home so it didn't go further than it did. I never spoke about this incident because I didn't realize the severity of the situation as a young boy and how it would affect me in my later life. You would never think a family member would do anything to put you or harm you in any way. Even as an adult I never said anything because I did not want to get judged or have people put a label on me that wasn't true. When I finally felt right to open up about this incident it was with people who shared the same struggles. They understood and never once judged me. 

These were people who I just met but I felt like I had known them for years. I opened up to them more than I had opened up to my childhood friends and family.  

This is where I discovered the meaning of friendship. I was never judged and looked at differently. I was the same person to them, and I was accepted no matter what. What a great feeling. I began to hold my friendships close as I had the confidence to share so much with everyone. One of the first clients whom I felt comfortable with opening up with was my friend Neal. I remember going over to cut Neal’s and his sons’ hair and I always left feeling purified. I can honestly say that Neal is one-of-a-kind and I'm so lucky to have him by my side. Neal has seen me at my lowest and never once has he ever judged me. 

He and his family have shown nothing but support and just truly care for our friendship. This is where I discovered the meaning of friendship. To me, the meaning of friendship is endless love no matter what the person or persons are going through. You never judge but try to point your friend or loved one in the right direction. Always support and be there when you can. We can take for granted those friendships and lose sight that they are the ones that would be there with a simple phone call or text. 

Today I cherish all my friendships and I'm there for those who were there for me when I was at my lowest. I will do anything in my power because I know my friends and family would do the same for me. 

Neal

Thirty years ago, there were a little over 600 websites, two years after the World Wide Web debuted on the global stage. Today, there are a little over two billion websites. Yet, with all of our connectivity, loneliness is endemic. The social isolation that ensued during COVID-19 only exacerbated what was latent in our body politic. Yet, whether pre-, peri-, or post-COVID, the level and depth of loneliness is staggering. While many people have social media accounts, and the ubiquity of smart devices keep us all connected 24/7, one’s number of “likes,” “friends,” “followers” belie what is experienced in silence: we live, and move, and have our being in lonesome existence. We seek to be known and loved, but our career pursuits and dreams of having families leave us feeling alone.  

They desired someone or a few who could understand them, who desired to understand them, to love them.  And to love them not for a quid pro quo, but just to love them for who they are. 

For eight years I served an affluent congregation in one of America’s most affluent ZIP codes. Business acumen, political gravitas, excellence in duty, and elegance in program execution were the values and expectations of the community and congregational context. It was a wonderful ministry, where I learned much and where I had to engage my gifts and skills in deeper ways. God opened up spaces for me to minister within, love and be loved by people who were successful in their industry.  

When that ministry concluded, two separate congregants asked to meet for a meal. Each of them shared that they appreciated my season of pastoral ministry and they hoped that we would continue staying in touch, perhaps become close friends. They realized that they had spent decades forging business relationships, raising a family (for one of them, navigating a divorce of a second failed marriage), and having careers. Now in their mid-/late fifties they looked around and saw the absence of relationships of any meaningful depth. Sure, there were the business lunches, dinners with friends and cocktails with other couples. But in their mid-life, they sought authentic friendships. They desired someone or a few who could understand them, who desired to understand them, to love them.  And to love them not for a quid pro quo, but just to love them for who they are. They said that they experienced a semblance of that in my eight-year ministry with the congregation.  

What was I to do with their request? I had already left the employment of the church by then. They and I had to part ways as I was no longer their pastor. If anything, we were friends, and would remain so, but I could not commit to the level of depth they desired. I told each of them, gently and pastorally, that two decades ago, when I was newly married and starting my pastoral vocation, I intentionally forged a wide network of friendships. Not just for my work but for emotional and spiritual support.  But among this network, there was that small few whom I can count on one hand who are the A-Team of friendships. Those friendships were cultivated over many years – a couple of them over two decades – as we have been intentional about being in each other’s lives. We would stay in touch and would find opportunities to see each other, carving out precious times wherever we were in the world and whatever demands were on our plate.  That intentional commitment meant being willing to be vulnerable. It meant taking the risk early on to open up my heart with guys I deeply trusted and who entrusted their hearts to me. 

The Message version of the Old Testament wisdom sayings of Proverbs says: “Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” 

It’s that quality of friendship that is most needed more than ever. It’s the God-shaped heart that takes the risk to love and be loved. It’s the kind where you can whisper to your friend the sacred longings, hopes, dreams, and fears of your heart 

I didn’t want to deflate the spirits of my two former congregants. But neither did I want to over-promise, to commit myself to investing the time and energy in cultivating the depth of friendship they sought. I told them let’s stay in touch and we left it that. It’s been over a year since those sacred conversations and there’s radio silence.  

In reflecting upon those conversations, and in similar conversations with many pastor colleagues and fellow dads who are not pastors, loneliness is, indeed, endemic. It’s tragic and it’s sad. As we can’t be deep friends with everyone, there is a yearning and longing for the depth of friendships that my former congregants sought. People seek that authentic depth of desiring to be known, of being listened to, of being received and welcomed into one’s heart without having to prove anything.  

As Jesus was nearing the end of his time with his friends (his disciples), he emphasized how important it is to love one another. He even washes their feet to demonstrate that even the Son of God will humble himself because he loves his friends. He teaches them what he means when he calls them friends, when he regards us as his friends, and not as servants. This is what Jesus our friend said,  

“I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” 

The late Earl Palmer, an American Presbyterian pastor, taught from this passage. Palmer observed that Jesus regards us as his friend by virtue of the fact that Jesus allows us to be in the company of him and the heavenly Father as they have a conversation about the secrets of God’s heart. In other words, only to his friends will Jesus whisper the Father’s heart because to do so is to entrust the treasure of the One who loves him into our own heart. That by doing so, we are let into the heart of God. 

It’s that quality of friendship that is most needed more than ever. It’s the God-shaped heart that takes the risk to love and be loved. It’s the kind where you can whisper to your friend the sacred longings, hopes, dreams, and fears of your heart. It’s, likewise, receiving from your friend the same: being entrusted with the treasure of their heart. And it’s also experiencing joy and delight in being with each other, even through online technology, whether it be for a 15-minute coffee or for a whole day at the tennis courts or sharing corny jokes that no one else appreciates but they do.  

Friendships are gifts of God and gifts from God. The ability to open up our hearts and lives to others is a gift of and from God as well. In doing so, we reflect a bit on what Jesus shows us what love is about, what it takes to love, and what it means to be loved.  

The wise words of philosopher and poet, Henri-Frédéric Amiel, encapsulate well what is needed more than ever:  

“Life is short. We have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So we swift to love, make haste to be kind.”  

Article
Belief
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Life & Death
Politics
4 min read

Did God save Donald Trump?

In the aftermath of the assassination attempt, Graham Tomlin asks whether or not we can see the hand God at work.

Graham is the Director of the Centre for Cultural Witness and a former Bishop of Kensington.

Red hat with the words Make America Great Again

Given the polarised nature of American politics and the venomous nature of the debates, the assassination attempt on Donald Trump was not entirely a surprise, even if a massive shock to the system. It was both tragic for those who were killed and yet a relief for everyone that Trump survived, not least for the unimaginable consequences across the country if he had not.

It doesn’t take a very deep dive into the maelstrom that is Twitter/X these days, to discover a common theme among Trump supporters - that God shielded him from a certain death. “God protected President Trump,” Senator Marco Rubio posted. “God saved the life of Donald Trump” say a million others, confident that the seemingly miraculous slight head tilt at the moment of the shot that ensured the bullet hit his ear, not going through the back of his temple, was a moment of divine intervention.

Yet look elsewhere on X and you can find vast numbers of people equally certain that this is complete nonsense. God did not save Donald Trump, either because there is no God to save anyone, or because if there is a God, either he doesn’t intervene at all, or even if he did, he certainly wouldn’t want to save the likes of Donald Trump.

If God saved Trump, they say, why did he not save the life of Corey Comperatore, the volunteer fireman who was killed by bullets fired from the gun that was used in the attack?  Trump supporters respond with the claim that Trump has a special calling, justifying divine intervention, to ‘restore the Judaeo-Christian heritage to America’ as one tweet put it.

So, which is it?

Christian thinkers have normally held to the possibility that God can and does, at decisive moments, interrupt the normal flow of history.

Christian thinkers have normally held to the possibility that God can and does, at decisive moments, interrupt the normal flow of history. After all, the central Christian claim is that he did this in remarkable acts of deliverance such as the Exodus, at key moments in the history of Israel and most importantly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, they claim, he does it in less prominent ways, as testimonies to prayers answered and apparently miraculous occurrences suggest.

Yet divine interventions like this are by definition rare. In one of Douglas Coupland’s novels, one of the characters ponders a Christian group that expects constant miracles: “They’re always asking for miracles and finding them everywhere. In as much as I am a spiritual man, I do believe in God - I think that he created an order for the world; I believe that, in constantly bombarding him with requests for miracles, we are also asking that he unravel the fabric of the world. A world of continuous miracles would be a cartoon, not a world.” He has a point.

Yet a world without any interventions at all would be a world which God had seemed to abandon to its fate. The idea that God set up his world to run like clockwork with no further intervention is Deism, not Christianity, a theology popular in the C17th and C18th, still found today, but leaves God watching us from a safe and uninvolved distance. It would lead to the conclusion that God did not really care that much about the world, leaving it to its own devices, especially when evil runs riot and nothing seems to prevent it. Such interventions are best seen as signs, special indications that do not ‘unravel the fabric of the world’, yet are tangible reminders that even though it is broken, God has not given up on this world, and will one day redeem it.

Yet if God can and does step in at certain moments to divert the course of history in a fallen and broken world, that doesn’t mean that every claim to divine intervention is genuine. So how can you tell? Who do we believe?

If God can and does step in at certain moments to divert the course of history in a fallen and broken world, that doesn’t mean that every claim to divine intervention is genuine. So how can you tell? Who do we believe?

At several points in the Old Testament, writers wonder how you can tell the true prophet from the false. One of them answers like this: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.”

To be honest, this doesn’t appear to help much. You can tell if a person has got it right if their prediction comes true, but at the time, you have no idea whether it will come true or not, so it still leaves you in the dark as to who to believe.

Yet it does suggest an important insight. You can only tell God’s intervention retrospectively. You can only say with a degree of confidence that God has ‘intervened’ when looking back on events and seeing how they turn out.

If Donald Trump is elected, and somehow brings about harmony and flourishing for as many people in the USA as possible, stabilises the economy, enabling all people to live a decent life, not just the rich and powerful, restores a sense of civility and generosity to public life, resists the forces of harm and evil in the nation and in the world, and brings freedom for Christians and others to practice and promote their faith, then maybe we might look back in future years and say that God did step in on July 14th 2024 to frustrate the purposes of evil in the world.

Yet if none of that happens, and what results from his survival is instead a deeper fracturing of social cohesion, a coarsening of public debate, a siege mentality that divides the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’, an increasing divide between the rich and the poor, the elites and ordinary people, then we might in future say it was mere chance, one of those random things that happen in this created yet fallen world with its mysterious blend of order and chaos.

Which will it be? Time will tell. Until then, we’d better be cautious about claims of divine intervention. Not because God never does it, but because we’re not very good at telling when it happens.