On Friendship (For Hawk)

Dedicated to Hawk (d. December 2011)

These days I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship.

Since the early days of Emergent Village it has been common for us to name this conversation a “generative friendship,” and for solid theological reasons, of course.

In the Hebrew Scriptures we find countless examples of friendship. One of the reasons God creates Eve is for companionship, that he might not be alone. Job’s friends play a key role in that story. We have specific friendships too like that between David and Jonathan and between Ruth and Naomi. There is, too, a long Christian tradition that is centered around the spirituality of friendship. The Celtic tradition improvised a significant version of Christian friendship in its practice of “anam cara.” Martin Luther spoke of the “mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren” and the “happy exchange” that is shared in what can only be called a practice of friendship. The Quaker tradition goes even further in its meeting of friends.

Yet, friendship is one of those words we struggle to not let our concepts and definitions impoverish. It’s a struggle worth wrestling with given how vital friendship is to our very being.

Though we did not quite have the words for it back then, when a group of us started The Netzer Co-Op, we instinctually knew that friendship must be at the core of it. When we began our ministry with the homeless in Austin, Texas we yearned to build authentic relationships and we often wondered if we could call them our friends. In that community, one of our core commitments in worship was to use music birthed out of friendships. One song in particular—“Give Me Your Hand”— grew on us and became something of a theme song for our community.

On one occasion, a homeless man named Hawk walked right on into our worship. When Hawk drank the all our communion wine before we got started there was this profound clash of commitments. The song claimed “There’s none to poor, to dirty, to naked, to stupid, to drunk to be thrown outside his love” and yet here standing in our midst was an opportunity to not just sing about that, but to practice that; to practice friendship.

I tell this story in the chapter I contributed to The Hyphenateds: How The Emergent Conversation is Re-Traditioning Mainline Practice (Chalice Press, 2011). That book came out in mid December and just days after I received tragic news about Hawk. The very morning  caseworkers from The Department of Veterans Affairs headed to Hawk’s old stomping grounds to let him know they found housing for him, they learned he had died in his sleep the night before.

It was strange to know what to do. Several of us from The Co-Op shared our disbelief together. My friend Brie, an artist, remember a painting Hawk had done. Ryan remembered seeing him just a few weeks ago. I still wondered if I could call Hawk my friend. I wondered if I could cry for him and weep over the failure of our society, and especially the church, to provide the most basic of needs to one another.

Note: The above video of “Give Me Your Hand” was recorded in Louisville, CO by Aaron Strumpel. For the last decade our friendship has stretched, sustained and shaped my journey in countless ways.


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