This is the post about “possibilities for publicly honoring nonmarital sacrificial love,” and there are a lot of directions I could go with it.
I could jump into the ongoing conversation about vowed friendships, except that a) I delve into those questions extensively in the book and b) I don’t tbh really grok the CS Lewis, friendship is about gazing outward not at one another, friendship is a realm of pure freedom, stuff. You all already know I don’t like realms of pure freedom and am not good at them. So I’m not the best person to talk about what’s good in that worldview and how we can still have those kind of friendships even in a world where vowed friendships are normal–although I do think that several different kinds or levels of friendship can coexist. They already do; and they did in the societies where vowed friendships were normal.
I could list ideas: ways we can honor people who sacrifice time, energy, money, and especially ego to care for loved ones outside a conventional family. I do this a bit in the book and there’s a huge range. Vows are at one end but, like, mentioning your friends in your Christmas letter is at the other. Yesterday we blessed pets for Pete’s sake, so why not the people you love? You’ll bless a cat who loves me “like a glutton loves his lunch,” but no blessing for friends or chosen family? But here I’m more interested in hearing your ideas. Where have you seen extrafamilial sacrificial love honored publicly? Where and how would you like to see it honored?
I could give you super practical reasons to honor sacrificial love in friendship more than we do now. You get more of what you honor–you get more of what you name, for that matter–and one reason we find it hard to build close friendships may be that we don’t view friendship as an arena where people are expected to sacrifice for one another.
I get that some people read this as adding yet one more area of debt and duty to already-overburdened lives. The same thing with “marriage is work!”–I have work to be work, do I need love to be work too? Whatever happened to home as my “haven in a heartless world”?
I see the force of that. But honestly, any relationship deep enough to shelter you is probably going to require a huge outlay of selflessness at some point. Better to view the sacrifices as a normal and necessary part of all long-lasting loves, so you’re prepared when they happen, and don’t add the humiliation of feeling like a freak or a loser to the preexisting humiliation of e.g. having to apologize to or forgive your friend. The more we honor friendship and chosen family as means of mutual sanctification, the easier it will be to perceive purpose and meaning in the really, really tough times. And therefore the easier it will be to stick it out.
But I don’t actually want to write a post about all of that. I want to write about one really deep emotional reason that I want greater honor for sacrificial love in friendship–and a deeply conservative reason, as well.I love the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof. It consistently makes me well up. (Am I, at heart, a sentimental middle-class Jew? MAYBE.) Part of what makes it so poignant is that it shows us that the bride and groom–their lives as short as a breath–are linked to the past. They are part of the chain of generations. Because they are linked to the past, they can imagine a future. They are not alone in the world. Their love is as new as their first wedded kiss, and yet it also reaches back to Adam and Eve, and forward until the end of days.
Without tradition we are trapped in the present day. We are only as old as the age on our driver’s license. We’re trapped in our present historical circumstances, in the “bright room called day.” (Am I, at heart, a sentimental middle-class Communist Jew? ONLY SOMETIMES.) Even when we project our ideas forward into the future, without some tie to the lived human past we can only be utopians. Tradition draws us closer to the dead–the cloud of witnesses, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant. Tradition reunites us with our dead; it offers a shadow or echo of the communion of the saints. And by living within our tradition, we can also pass this gift on to the generations to come.
I think this is part of why Alan Bray and so many others–many gay, some straight–have been so moved by the evidence of public honor for same-sex friendship in the past. The shared graves, the vows, the kiss of peace on the church porches: These are our equivalent of the chuppah and the invocation of the law of Moses. Is there a canopy for me? Perhaps not; but there are other symbols, other ways by which a community acknowledged that God is above all human love, to guide and shelter it.
When I was a baby dyke I spent just hours and hours listening to cassette tapes and reading indefensible literature in search of those moments of recognition: Someone has felt this before! I’m not alone and not crazy. There’s a language for what I long for. Finding out about the Christian traditions for honoring friendship felt so similar, but even deeper: Someone has felt this before, and found a way to offer it to God and to God’s people.
I do believe honoring friendship would be useful to us, as a society. But I admit I want it more because it would be beautiful.