Why Did the Monk Unfriend the Deacon?

A number of years ago, I received a very unexpected friend request on Facebook. It was from someone I’ll call Stephen Nash, OFM. The name is made up, but the OFM is legit. Puzzled, I looked into Stephen and discovered that this acronym stands for “Order of Friars Minor.” Stephen, it seemed, was a Franciscan–specifically a Capuchin–monk. Let’s be clear: that’s Capuchin monk rather than monkey.

Not this!

Discovering the Monk

Having no reason not to accept the request, I clicked the appropriate button, wondering all along why this guy would be reaching out to me. I had every intention of asking him, but I never got around to it. Then, a couple of weeks later, seeing the name again, I thought, “There was that guy named ‘Stephen Nash’ in high school.” That’s when it hit me. Stephen had been the most religiously inclined person in our small class. He moved from evangelical circles to the Anglican communion at some point. As memory serves, I saw him a few years out of high school and he had crossed the Tiber to become a Catholic priest.

Honestly, Stephen and I weren’t best buds in high school, although we talked a fair bit. Thirty-plus years later, we had even less in common, but I always enjoyed seeing his posts. He thought about things in ways I never would.

The Monk Disappears

Facebook has a weird way about whose things it shows you. At times, I feel as if their algorithms are designed to annoy users, but surely that isn’t correct. You might have 500 friends and see posts from only 25 or 30 of them regularly. So when somebody disappears from the feed, you don’t necessarily notice it immediately.

Yesterday, after writing about how it is important for Christians of different opinions and backgrounds to carefully think about each other’s words, I thought about Stephen. I hadn’t seen one of his posts for a very long time–perhaps a year or more.

I searched for him in my friends. He’s still on Facebook, but he’s not among that rarefied group. I know I didn’t remove him from my list. Presumably he removed me from his.

The Deacon Questions His Self-Worth

What did I do to run afoul of Stephen’s sense of Facebook propriety? You don’t have to look very hard at his current postings to see that he is not a supporter of our current president. He posts a lot of editorial cartoons and comments upon them as if they were somehow fact rather than opinion. That’s fine, although I try not to do that sort of thing. I’m probably more apt to question my conservative friends when they say something not well thought out.

Having said that, I will confess that I tip my conservative tendencies sometimes. I’ll question the apparent self-contradictions of those on the social and political left, including my own children at times. I try to do that in a kind manner, but I’m sure that sometimes my snarky attitudes come through.

Did I somehow offend Stephen? Did I say something that led him to consider me persona non grata? Was it my excessive celebrating when the Royals won the World Series. I’ll probably never know.

The Deacon Opines

In the end, this whole episode just makes me sad. Yeah, I’ll miss the thinking that Stephen caused me to do, but I know that this sort of siloing–is that a word?–is going on all around the country. People on the left are cutting themselves off from people on the right. People on the right are cutting themselves off from people on the left. People in the middle increasingly find themselves forced to choose teams. And God forbid that we are confronted with some sort of reasoned opinion that causes genuine reflection.

Take good care of your like-minded friends, but take just as good of care with those who make you uncomfortable from time to time. And if I made Stephen too uncomfortable, I wish he’d have spoken to me about it.

Managing Time Management

The professional class in our society, a group in which I find myself at work, makes a lot of noise about time management. You have to synchronize your Blackberry with your Outlook folders and keep a complicated to-do list. Multi-tasking and advance planning are absolutely necessary. The most successful person in this world is the person who gets the most things done (well) in the briefest time.

This mindset sat in the back of my mind yesterday when I found myself at home around 1 pm and resolved to get a great deal done with my remaining hours of daylight. Listening the Wuthering Heights on my iPod, I headed out to the barn. I would jump in the truck and make several water runs before turning my attention to other necessities. That’s when the first fly jumped into the ointment.

Hearing a vehicle coming up the driveway, I turned to see Josh approaching. Josh had arranged to stash some of his family’s belongings in my barn while they’re between houses. I’ve been in that situation, hunkering down with parents when buy and sell dates didn’t line up well, so I have sympathy for the guy.  A couple of minutes later, Brad arrived with a truck and trailer full of Josh’s stuff.

Had I gotten into the truck ten minutes earlier, I could have been gone when Josh and Brad arrived, but being present, I had to pretend I owned the place, opening the door, turning on the lights, and helping to unload the trailer. In the time we did that chore–and in the few minutes we all stood around jawing after the trailer had been emptied–I could have gone to town and brought 425 gallons of water up the hill. That’s three or four days worth of water in my house. But the opportunity had flown.

As soon as the sounds of their tires had disappeared down the hill, I jumped into the truck and started off toward town. At the bottom of the hill, I found Jim, my excellent neighbor, abusing trees with his tractor. When he saw me, he pulled the tractor alongside the road and turned the engine off. Obviously I was meant to stop.

Jim and I sat there on the driveway for at least a half hour–long enough that Kate, my dog, was whimpering and whining about the delay–talking about buying gravel, the winter, deer hunting, and a host of other things. Three different times, I indicated that I needed to get moving, but then we’d both tumble back into conversation. Only when I turned the key in the truck did we manage to break it off.

All in all, I’d guess that I lost the opportunity to haul two and possibly three additional loads of water yesterday. I wound up getting two delivered, enough to keep us supplied for a week. The time-management gurus would not smile on my failure, but I’m not so sure that I didn’t come out ahead in this exchange.

Time is money, our society says, but time is more than that. Time is value. Time is relationship. In the end, my money will flicker and fade, but relationships have the potential to endure. The time I spent helping Josh or talking with Jim will not show up in Quicken or appear on my tax return, but they have value.

You can’t always schedule these sorts of time usages on your to-do list. Careful planning doesn’t usually foresee pulling a friend’s van out of the ditch, unloading a trailer, or just chatting with a friend you haven’t spoken to for months. That’s as it should be. After all, if your life can be completely laid out in the confines of a Blackberry’s database, it’s a pretty poor life, regardless of your income.

Field of Friendship–3 John 1:1

The elder, To my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth. –3 John 1:1

As I look back over my life, I can trace a list of friends, best friends, whom I couldn’t imagine not seeing on a regular basis. First there was Rob, who lived across the street from me. We were best buds up until about fourth grade, when he moved to a different part of town. Then came several years of Tony. We were inseparable from fourth grade until high school. When Tony and I ended up at different school, Scott stepped in to finish high school. Shawn filled some of that time as well. At school there was Roger and Joe and Larry. There was Dan, with whom I rode to school every day for five years.

Which of these friends from the past have I stayed close to? None of them, to tell the truth. Rob is my optometrist. I see him annually. Tony emails now and again. I haven’t seen Scott for ten years. Shawn has apparently dropped off the planet. I joined the same church as Roger ten years ago. We agreed that we needed to get together, but we never did. Larry and I talked once after high school–just once. Joe and Dan have gone on to their reward.

As I look back over my salvage yard of friendships, I wonder what the problem is. Perhaps I should note that one other friend, my best friend for life, Penny, dates from those years. What was the basis of those friendships? I suppose it was Batman and G.I. Joe’s, baseball and rock music. In the cases of the school it was just unpopular guys who banded together in the face of the popular.

A friendship based in Christ, in the truth, is a true friendship. As I look at Christian friends who have drifted in and out of my life over the years of my life, I recognize that friendships based “in truth” will endure. No, they may not remain as active as they once were, but they will endure. While I’m fairly certain that I could not resurrect the friendship I once had with Shawn, I have seen dormant Christian friendships spring back to life. I’m also convinced this is why my marriage to Penny is so permanent and marvelous.

You have friends, but what is the field in which those friendships grow? Let it be the truth.