The Dancing Puritan

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Friends: Joined With Hand and Heart

My friend, I join you with hand and heart. 
Clark of Lewis and Clark Fame 

Reading Comrades by Stephen Ambrose has been a great experience. Often missing in all of the conversation about manhood that pervades our culture, is the cultivation of friendship among men.  Ambrose, a big fan of Lewis and Clark, writes about their friendship. President Jefferson commissioned Lewis to lead the now famous western expedition. Lewis wanted his old friend to join him in the effort and wrote a letter inviting Clark to be that man. Clark responded, "My friend, I join you with hand and Heart" (p.101, Comrades).

Clark's comments are a great description of what friendship entails. Friendship is built on love (heart) and means active commitment of life (hands). True friends are companions because they want to be and therefore their duties to one another are discharged faithfully. In fact duty does not feel so much like duty to true friends. The engagement of the hands is a natural overflow of the heart filled with love. Ambrose writes:

Friendship is different from all other relationships. Unlike acquaintanceship it is based on love. Unlike lovers and married couples it is free of jealousy. Unlike children and parents it knows neither criticism nor resentment. Friendship has not status in law. Business contracts are based on a contract. So is marriage. Parents are bound by law, as are children. But friendship is freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised (p. 106, Comrades).

There may be reason to question some of the conclusions in Ambrose's comments, but he is right that "friendship is freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised." He is also right that, "unlike acquaintanceship it (friendship) is based on love.

I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women (David speaking of Jonathan in 2 Samuel 1:26).

A man's wife should be his very best friend in the ways that she can be. Yet David was on-to-something in his comments about the love of Jonathan "surpassing the love of women." There is much that could be said concerning the context from which David uttered his words of affection for Jonathan. Suffice to say that there is something distinctive (not homosexual) about true male friendships that surpasses the friendship between a man and his wife. On that level man-to-man friendships are better than man-to-woman friendships. In the larger context, the marriage relationship (when one does not have the gift of singleness), is superior to man-to-man friendship.  The friendships are not the same, however. In the ways that they are not the same, they surpass one another. For example a husband is called to love, lead, protect, and provide for his wife. His wife responds to that kind of loving leadership but she cannot fully grasp it the way another man, committed to the same thing, can. She sees the burdens that her husband must bear but she cannot enter into those burdens and joys in the ways that a male friend can. The same is true in the reverse.

We need friendships. We need those who are joined hand and heart with us. We need to be joined hand and heart with others. There will only be opportunity for a few friends like that. Yet there must be those few, those three friends that will strengthen the cord of heart and hand amidst the battles of life. Yet it is not only in battle that we need friends. We also need friends in laughter.