Mark Brown is our newest guest blogger here at BCC. He is known on the records of the bloggernacle as Mark IV. Mark believes that hell is the place where it is always summer but never baseball season.
I see friends shakin’ hands, sayin’ “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’ “I love you.”
…And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Lyrics by Bob Thiele, performed by Louis Armstrong
Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism.
Joseph Smith, Jr.
Everybody needs a friend.
Gordon B. Hinckley
I’d like to explore the idea of friendship in a Mormon context and to suggest that the success of the church depends upon our ability to make and be friends.
First, Joseph Smith’s statement itself is surprising. If you were to ask ten random Mormons to fill in the blank: “Joseph Smith said _______ is a grand and fundamental principle of our religion.”, my guess is you would get answers like revelation or faith or temple work, but I don’t think anyone would say friendship. I believe it appears to be such a simple thing that it is considered unimportant, and we assume that because it is simple, we are already good at it and don’t need to be reminded. But that assumption is clearly false. I wouldn’t give us a grade above C+, and I’m an easy grader.
In general, we have a lot of control over our associations and social interactions. If we dislike someone we can simply avoid him. But the church is unique among other organizations because it attempts to foster friendship among people who do not select one another. Think about home teaching or visiting teaching, for instance. These simple callings bring us into close contact with people whose 1) understanding of the gospel is incomprehensible, 2) personality is annoying, 3) political views are alarming, and 4) life is a mess. If you were my home teacher, you might go four for four, and I might think the same of you, too. It is only when we realize that we are stuck with each other that we can begin to make progress. Often we feel uncomfortable and out of place, but I’ve been surprised to learn how many others feel the same way. We are mostly a collection of square pegs, all wondering where we fit.
I used to be put off by the idea of someone trying to be a friend, as though that were something undesirable or insincere. I now take the position that there is no such thing as too many friends, and I will take them any way I can get them. Since we reject the notion of creation ex nihilo, we shouldn’t expect friends to appear around us spontaneously. Rather, we speak of making friends, a process that implies time and effort.
The advantages are clear. When we serve, we gain wisdom, insight and empathy. Our church service can bring us into close contact with lives very different from our own. In one month of hometeaching I can help a single mother find a way to fund some schooling, visit an older woman who is in almost constant pain, and help a father who has lost his job look for work. How can we possibly aspire to bear one another’s burdens if we cannot first befriend one another? Just as our personal lives are largely defined by the nature of our personal relationships, our experiences in the church are often a reflection of our friendships with our ward members.
In Kirtland, when Joseph Smith met with others in the temple, they greeted one another by saying: “I receive you…to be your friend…through the grace of God…”
I think both Br. Hinckley and Br. Armstrong would be pleased if we could do the same.