Tag Archives: friendship

Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?


This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”. The list with the contributions , which I recommend you to read too, can  be found at the end of this post.

I am one of those calvin-and-susie-25895people whose mere existence can be a threat to some peoples worldview…

I really don’t get certain (sub)cultural taboos for example, and they actually are quite unnatural and illogical to me. One of them is the way American conservative people are offended by the word ‘shit’, but that might be for another time. Today it’s about the idea that ‘men and women can’t be friends’. This is something that seems to be a doctrine in certain Christian circles, but I’ve also encountered it in other places that were completely unchristlike, and actually have thought it  to be misogynist worldliness for a long time. And moreover, everything I know in my life points to the obvious fact that this is just nonsense…

If we skip the discussion about the segregation of the sexes that exists in certain Muslim context for example, and just look at the cultures I more or less align with, we still find enough examples. I remember as a teenager that I was watching a Flemish talkshow on the subject, and there were people for whom it was natural that such friendships were possible, but also some kind of weird loud working-class guy who said that it was impossible for men and women to be friend, with some reasoning about sex and gender roles and a lot of stuff I could not relate to. I think that was the first time I realised that some people had the idea that cross-gender friendships are impossible, or even harmful.

Maybe for some personality types it is harder, I don’t know, I suppose so. I also wonder if you’re used to watching women as lust objects it is harder to relate to them as friends… at least that was my explanation for the phenomenon that some people were unable to be friends with the other sex. I had noticed early enough (and seen it again and again) that the type of man who likes to boast about watching porn and make remarks about women passing by on the street was less likely to have ‘just’ friendships* with women (the sort of women they found attractive that is, they might be friends with the old lady behind the bar or so…)

The thing is that I was the kind of boy who always found it easier to make friends with girls than with boys. And there was no ‘hidden agenda’ for me, I’ve always tended to friend girls whose presence I liked, but to whom I did not have romantic attraction. (At that age I was too shy to friend girls I was in love with anyway, it made me uncomfortable and stuff. Poor me…) So anyone who ever tells me it’s impossible to have friends of the other sex is like someone telling a Martian that aliens don’t exist. Not in a million years it will ever be convincing unless you destroy my identity…

As a Christian teenager I  liked to hang out with girls more than with boys, and was friends with several of them, and never heard (or at least did not understand from what I heard) that it could be wrong. I heard a lot of stuff about relationships, but since I’ve been single until I was 21 or so, that stuff wasn’t relevant. what I did hear was that friendship was important in a relationship, and I never conceived that a friendship with a person of the other sex not leading to a romantic relationship or a marriage could ever be a problem…

Maybe I sometimes encountered stuff like stories of pastors who wouldn’t even be alone with a woman not their wife, or of the dangers of meeting other women alone if you had a relationship, but that did not apply to a single person who was not at all such an exotic thing as an American pastor… And to be honest, not much difference happened (except for a shift in priority) when I started a relationship, or even when I married.

Later when I was in my late twenties I saw some signs that it was actually a taboo, especially for married people, to have cross-gender friends. But I was actually married by that time, and both me and my wife still had good friends of the other sex, so I just found it weird, and couldn’t relate to the idea. Upon investigating the subject it turned out a lot of people would find my life and friendships unnatural and dangerous, or just not possible. (Americans seem to like to quote some movie about Harry and Sally on the subject, but I’ve never seen it, and I don believe in the cannonisation of Hollywood movies at all… I also find it quite nonsensical from the viewpoint that a lot of people are bisexual. Should they have no friends?)

But it became a subject that held my interest. I learned a lot about the subject from the blog of Dan Brennan, (and his excellent book sacresacredd unions, sacred passions) who did come from a point of view where he had to defend his positive views about cross-gender friendships all the time, which was not always as relevant to me, but he also laid out a beautiful history of cross-gender friendships, and a quite interesting positive theology of cross-gender friendships in the already-and-not-yet Kingdom of God.  He only confirmed my conviction that friendships are part of the command to love one another, and that this does not exclude people of the other gender.
(Something that’s quite obvious in the way Jesus relates to women in the gospels, sometimes completely contrary to the culture he lived in!)

So, what’s my conclusion: cross-gender friendships should be natural to those who followed Him who called us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is part of the already and not yet of the inbreaking Kingdom of God in our world. I also think that learning to develop friendship-love towards the other sex is a very good antidote to the toxic tendency to  objectify women (and men!) in our society as sex-objects. My life and my faith would be poorer without them, and even my marriage would never have been what it is without what I’ve learned through cross-gender friendships.

shalom

Bram

The other synchroblog participants:
Chris Jefferies – Best of both
Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible
Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age
Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
Alise Wright - What I get from my cross-gender friend
Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church
Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships
Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers
Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women
Maria Kettleson Anderson- Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships
Bram Cools - Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?
Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women
Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul
Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship
Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion - Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians
Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship



See also on this blog:

Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
On cross-gender friendships and Christians…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
christians and cross-gender friendships
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
sacred unions, sacred passions (musical prelude)
sacred unions, sacred passions I: beyond the romantic myth
Sacred unions, sacred passions II: Freud and the irresistible sex drive
on sexy porn models and human dignity

* There is no such thing as ‘just’ friendship. A real friendship is a very valuable relationship that is not at all less valuable than a romantic relationship or a marriage. This expression just shows that our culture has a too low view of friendship!

Sacred unions, sacred passions II: Freud and the irresistible sex drive


So right now I’m blogging about Dan Brennans book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘, subtitled ‘engaging the mystery of friendship between men and women’. I’ve started this series with a musical prelude, and part 1: beyond the the romantic myth but I had already introduced the subject in another post earlier this week.

So Dan writes in his book about cross-gender friendships, a topic that is naturally to me (and him) but still it is very controversial for some christians, and some others in this world. One of the reasons for having problems with the idea of cross-gender friends  is the way we view sexuality as an all-controlling power in our post-Freud age. Freud himself reacted rightly againt the repression of sexuality in his victorian age, but what he gave in return was the other evil side of the pendulum… He sexualised and genitalised every form of human tenderness, and interest between the sexes and even within the same sex(even between mother-son and sister-brother pairs) and this myth has been deeply injected in the fundaments of our modern western way of viewing relationships, even for conservative christians.

If you combine this with an almost medieval worldview on creation order, that is still alive in some more conservative strains of evangelical christianity, you get a very deterministic view on any kind of relationships, which does in fact not differ much from St-Augustines, who was so affraid of women that he didn’t let his widowed stepsister stay in the same house as himself. but those were they days the church was absolutely negative about both sex and women (which is not very biblical, just read the song of Solomon…) and I don’t think anyone wants to go back to that time…

Like Dan points out: For many conservative believers, sexual drive towards the other sex is almost embraced as a nonnegotiable part of the created order. A number of Christians, like my former pastor (who told me I was playing with fire), believe men and women are hardwired for sex, as if that is the sole purpose for female-male relationality in Christ’s Kingdom and the world. It is “natura!” and therefore predictable for men and women who enter into any kind of close relationship with each other to take it to the next and ultimate level—which would mean having sex. Romantic and sexual coupling is in our genes as a man and a woman get close to one another, according to this interpretation.
Nature takes over and overrides the best of intentions between the sexes with irresistible force. Conversation, then, about male-female relations before marriage or in addition to marriage immediately goes toward temptation, lust, avoidance, rules, and boundaries. The discussion quickly degenerates into finding a list of rules to stave off powerful sexual urges. This common approach, however, is in danger of reading into the divine order a narrow, Freudian view of human nature as well as the romantic myth.

And from elsewhere: When Christian communities make Freud’s view of sexuality (even modified) and the romantic myth “compatible” with their biblical principles, the idealization of marriage becomes coherent with the rejection of intimate male-female friendship beyond marriage or outside of marriage: all the gestures, pleasures, emotions, and desires of nonromantic love are genitalized on this side of Freud. (..) As Lisa McMinn comments: “Although Freud has been misunderstood and criticized for saying so, hè saw sexual energy as the life force that motivates all human behavior. When conservative Christians adapt a modified Freudian view of sexuality and conflate the romantic myth with the meaning of one flesh, one wonders how Christian husbands and wives are able to pursue deep intimacy and become companions on the marital journey. Perhaps the greatest enemy of marriage when the notion of one flesh has been made synonymous with the romantic myth is the one flesh vision of marriage itself. When the romantic myth makes sex and romantic passion the end of marriage, it creates impossible standards. As Tallis notes, in romantic idealism “we unwittingly expect love to deliver the kind of happiness that was associated with a direct experience of the numinous. In effect, we look to another human being to give life meaning and purpose.

So what is the problem? First that those 2 cultural myths are adapted and used as foundation of bible-exegesis, on which we build our view of relationships. And worldviews and expectations are really self-fulfilling. If you just believe self-control does not exist, and that it’s only logical to look at women like sex objects, it will be that way. I am reminded here in a scene of the narnia book ‘the magicians nephew’, where the evil uncle Andrew, who does not believe in talking animals, tells to himself they are just making animal noises. And in the end he isn’t able to hear anything but animal noises, even if he would try (and the speaking animals don’t recognise his speech as language either.) I believe it is the same with the way how we look at the role of our sex drive: if we genitalise it all, all will be genitalised. If we start from friendship, mutual respect, and love, we will end with them…

It is not true that when I’m in love with a girl, that I have to start a relationship with her. Au contraire, even if you’re both in love you can decide to not start a relationship if you know it wouldn’t work… Like I did once. Neither is the sexual drive ever irresistible. If you really cannot fight temptation, you have a problem, and might even be a danger to society. There are enough people whose life proves that the irresistible sex drive is just a lie, christians and non-christians alike. And others who’ve made it truth in their own universe…

And especially we as Christians should not fall for such determinism that gives our flesh so much power! Don’t we believe in the fruits of the Spirit, including self-control? Don’t we believe that we are called to love each opther (a command which is never sex-segregated) and that in christ we as brothers and sisters live in a new reality, in which there is neither ‘greek’ or ‘jew’, nor male and female? We may do like the bible as a source for abstract truths, but when will we learn to live inside it’s new reality? Did Jesus die in vain to reconcile us, if all we want to believe is exagerrated psychological and biological determinisms, and the power of our flesh? shouldn’t we be living in the law of love, the resurrection and the new life?

shalom

Bram

sacred unions, sacred passions I: beyond the romantic myth


Right now I’m blogging about Dan Brennans book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions‘, subtitled ‘engaging the mystery of friendship between men and women’. I’ve started this series with a musical prelude, but I had already introduced the subject in another post earlier this week.

so now it’s time to start talking about Dans book itself. And what I like a lot about it, is his thoroughly investigation of the subject.You get a lot of background information, history, bible verses, and quotes (somtimes it’s almost academically) of which you wished you’d know it before.

In the beginning of the book he identifies some of the underlying assumptions in how Western society (and thus, in modified form, Christian subcultures too) view sexuality, relationship and marriage. And the sad thing is that we most of the time don’t seem to be able to see through them… One thing Dan identifies as the foundation of a lot of our thinking is what he calls ‘the myth of romantic idealism’, which we all will recognise if I give you 2 quotes that were used in the book:

Our culture generally elevates the romantic experience of falling in love above religious commitment, teaching us that this emotional experience is both beyond our control and beyond all reproach! Idealizing romantic passion as the unique, one-and-only, exclusive form of love between a man and woman has created a pervasive romantic myth in our contemporary world when it comes to male-female paired relationships. (Laura Smit)

Romantic relationships are celebrated as an ideal woman-man relationship in our society. The myths of our culture secure a special status for romantic heterosexual relationships since these myths idealize romantic love and promote the notion that the emotional well-being of men and women is dependent upon their involvement in a ‘successful’ romantic relationship! (Kathy Werking)

So romantic love is seen as the most important and deepest form of love, and ones life will never be complete without it. A lot of movies and books and songs do have that idea as the basis of the underlying worldbview.

The sad thing is that ‘conservative’ christianity has absorbed a lot of this idea, and combined it with the biblical of “one flesh” (an expression used for both marriage and sexual union from genesis, which is referenced to in the new testament by both Paul and Jesus himself) to create something unrealistic. The “one flesh” relationship is supposed to satisfy all our deepest yearnings for oneness, sexuality and deep friendship. So every male-female interaction is viewed in this light:

The Christianized version of the romantic myth exaggerates, idealizes, and isolates the path of dating or courtship to marriage as the only prize in paired male-female relationships under the justification of “one flesh!’ Embodied knowledge, relational depth, emotional closeness, physical tenderness, sensual warmth and play, vulnerability, trust, fidelity, commitment, union, spontaneity, understanding, giving the utmost— these dynamic nongenital relational qualities are romanticized and sexualized under the evangelical rhetoric of one flesh. Some Christians who see these dynamics in male-female pairs presume this “couple” must be on the path toward romantic and genital intimacy.

Which is asking way too much of romantic relationships and marriage. Surely in this sexually broken world it is important that we point to marriage as a place of love, passion and sexual fidelity (also with our lives!), but that does not mean that all other ‘unions’ in our life are just peripheral…: To use Dans words:

Here, classical Christianity calls us out to something much more than the ‘much more” embedded in romantic idealism. God, who is love, calls us all—singles, husbands, wives, widows, widowers, divorced— into a spirituality of love and friendship in marriage, beyond marriage, and outside of marriage. While God honors and blesses the marriage bed, God does not confine delight, goodness, passion, attraction, beauty, sensuality, spontaneity, or creativity to the boundaries of married love. Jesus himself embodied these realities as a single man. The spirituality of love and friendship in classical Christianity does not give us a stark contrast between great mystery of marital love and uninspiring platonic friendship outside of marriage. Both in the Bible and in tradition, the spirituality of friendship is presented as hungering for the good, the beautiful, and the true.

The whole romantic myth is not something we should swallow as truth as Christians. We follow a single man as Savior, and most of our new testament was written by another single man. How could we ever believe that ‘being in love’ and having a romantic relationship is the highest good to pursue without which we’ll never be complete? This is very denigrating to singles, and to all non-romantic relationships too. While friendship and brotherly love have been honored throughout a lot of church history (and in lots of other cultures) we seem to not value it very much in our society. Only the expression ‘just’ friends tells us enough, as if a friendship in itself is not enough to be meaningful…

So the first thing from the book that I think everybody should think about is this romantic myth. It doesn’t matter if it’s the christian or the non-christian form, we shouldn’t fall for it!

shalom

Bram

innocense mission


And now for a musical interlude

I must confess, I’m jealous at this band. I wih that I had come up with that band name… But even then I would never be able to make such soft fragile beautiful music…So they deserve the name…

I really want to live an innocense mission, in the darkness and dirtiness and brokenness of this world. To show the possibility of love and simple friendship to the people that I meet, instead of all those broken sexual games, dog-eat-dog power games, hate and selfishness, consumerist self-absorbsion, and other things that aren’t fun at all and that complicate the human experience needlessly. Whatever their age or sex or income or musical taste or color or…

Each woman and man and boy and girl is created in the Imago dei, and our first calling is to love… If we’d be fully able to do that, the world would be different…

anyone who wants to join me?

shalom

Bram