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Friendship makes this harder

Last Saturday evening, about a dozen Mary Wash students were arrested from the UMW campus, charged with trespassing, and taken to the Rappahannock Regional Jail for processing, and released without bail. As a campus minister, you really never want to get a text from a student with a selfie in a car full of people, saying, like "we're on our way to jail!" even if only to help the other students with possible bail.

Thank God that our small town had a small protest and a small police response, thank God that it did not become what it has become at other places with encampments having become compounds, thank God that here it did not become protestors bloodied and bruised and broken for having been wrenched away from their protests, like it did in other places.

There is a lot that we could say about this protest, about the shape of other protests, about university and police responses to protests, about what we're supposed to do when 13000 Palestinian children have been killed, but all of those things are a little too big and hairy for this moment, here. What I can say, is that when it comes to pass that a university has its own students arrested, something in this university-as-community-as-relationships is broken -- does not break, but is already so broken -- that I do not know how it can be repaired. When the mediator between student and administration is third person physical force, something is already broken and it needs to be mended.

As long as I've read this passage, I've struggled with Jesus framing his relationship to his disciples as friendship. This is among the last of what he says to them before he is arrested and crucified, and it's illustrative of how his relationship with them has matured since their calling. 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.

At the outset, this ragtag group of Gospel workers were brought along by a coy prophet who spoke to them in riddles and parables, much of which they did not understand. And at the last, he spoke to them plainly, not as the Master but as an equal, as a friend. If the son of God, the incarnate word through which all of creation came into being, can level with us as friends, then what ever keeps the rest of us from doing the same with one another?

I struggle with this passage because claiming friendship with those with whom you serve -- or over which you have authority -- muddies the water in a way that makes our roles less clear. In something like a protest, it's easy to know that I am the right one and you are the wrong one, you are the hero and I the villain, you are the tear gas thrower and I the one choking, you the one in the encampment and I the one here to clear it. When you are the son of God and I a lowly disciple, when I am the police officer and you the protester, when I am the master and you are the servant our roles are clear, what happens next is clear, how this conflict plays out is clear.

But when I am a friend to you and you a friend to me, and we're both looking at a huge conflict, it's not so obvious what we do next. When the nature of our relationship is as friends, and we find ourselves in a predicament of ethic, it becomes much harder to tear gas one another, it becomes much harder for me to brazenly defy you or to vilify you or call you a sellout, it becomes much harder for me to shrug off that you think I'm a sellout, or to shrug off that the choices I make have hurt you. When we extend that friendship, that radical vulnerability to be perceived and known in all our messy incoherent reality, when we extend that friendship to the people on whose behalf we protest, it makes it much, much harder to throw the wet blanket over the smoke and embers and get back to regular life. Friendship makes conflict harder, not easier, and harder is how it should be.

Our friend Meghan Cotter from Micah Ministries says that people don't become homeless when they run out of money, they become homeless when they run out of relationships. And the same is true for quite a lot of things, we as a people are running frighteningly low on good will towards one another, on the benefits of the doubt for one another. And with our cultural friendship tank on empty, we are happily employing our last resort tactics zip ties, tear gas, air strikes. Something has already been broken by the time we hear ourselves saying "the only way forward is to arrest our students" or "the only way forward is to be arrested by my university."

I do not know how we fix it. But I do know that every week we come together here and tell a story about an all-powerful God who wanted so badly to know us and be known by us, that he became one of us, vulnerable and weak and permeable and without a trump card of violence up his sleeve, if only so that we would learn finally how to befriend one another.


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