Monday, October 30, 2006

Joseph Smith and Friendship

I read this article by Terryl Givens yesterday and several statements got me thinking.

In it he talks about Joseph Smith's ability to forge a sense of community and fellowship within the converts of the early church. Givens makes the asssertion that "When he [Joseph] later stated, with striking brevity, 'Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism,'36 he was saying something about the deepest underpinnings of Mormon theology" (15). I'd just never heard it put that way before—the idea that friendship, not just families, plays a fundamental role in our theology.

I think this can mean several things. For one, it is important to strengthen family ties through friendship. I don't live with my brother and sister anymore, and haven't for almost a decade, but I'd say we were friendly growing up, and that we're certainly better friends now. I don't worry about whether or not my family will stay in touch because not only do we love each other but our friendship is important to me. The same principle came into play as I was getting to know Nick's family—things became smoother once I decided to work on developing friendships with his siblings (not that they were bad to begin with—it's just more comfortable now).

But I also think the broader application of Joseph's statement holds true: the power and emotional ties of friendship are also eternally important in Mormon theology. I've always had a hard time imagining a celestial kingdom where I would "only" see my family (taking family in the constrained sense—I know we're all family when you look at it from God's perspective). Good friends have had (and continue to have) a significant impact on my spiritual growth and development. Givens talks about Joseph's words in the context of religious community. Friendship binds people together, and when you believe in eternal relationships, that bond even on earth can be quite strong.

These thoughts are all good and nice—friends are important and we can rely on the strength of friendship (and brother/sisterhood) in the eternities—but they also made me think more carefully about how I treat other people in my religious community, specifically in my ward. I'm afraid I'm too prone to avoid friendships, to judge others for their decisions, to say to myself "we're only going to be here another year, so it's ok if I don't extend myself a bit." I don't think I'm outright mean or rude, but I'm not sure I'm doing all I can do to build up the kingdom either. I don't believe you can force a friendship, but I think I can do a better job at being open to them and appreciating them when they do form.


morgan said...

I really enjoyed this talk. It's one of the more memoriable devotionals (for me at least) from the last few years at BYU. Of course, I don't attend many devotionals now a days, so that might be skewing my opinions, but it's still a really good talk.

I agree with your conclusions Jenny, of both the temporal and spiritual importance of friendships and communitiy. It really is something special about our church I think. Kelly just headed down to Texas, and already has a small group of people that she knows thanks to the church. The same thing is true for Russ "the cousin" when he and his family headed out to Delaware this summer. And hopefully it'll be true for us when we head to Wisconson. Just having a ward community that you can turn to when you move to a new location can mean a lot for somebody.

I also really liked what you said about friends in heaven. My patriarical blessing mentions "eternal friendships" and the idea has always been very appealing to me. I think one reason heaven will be so great will be because not only can we be with our family but also our friends there.

I think I definitely need to be better about reaching out to people and making friends. I know I always appreciate it when people take the time to get to know me, I should probably reciprocate and get to know others. I think my biggest problem is I have what I like to call a "comfort zone", and it's just so comfortable there I don't want to leave it.

Speaking of friends, when are you guys going to invite yourselves over for dinner?

Nick said...

Right now.

And, when did you decide on Wisconsin?

(How does saturday sound?)

Jenny said...

See Morgan, that's the trouble—I want friends, I like having them, I value the ones I have, and so why in the world do I find it hard to reach out to other people sometimes? When we first moved into our ward here I was really good at saying hello and getting to know people. And now I have a comfortable group of friends, some of whom I have even begun to become close to and will miss a lot if/when we move. But as for all the new people who moved in over the summer? I haven't a clue ...

JonnyF said...

I want to add support to what Morgan said. We've had good experiences with our ward in Colorado and now with our ward in Michigan.
Katie and I have discussed several times the importance of reaching out and making friends with everybody; and also being non-cliqueich. (mmm, quiche.) That way we can sort of leverage the good friendshipping that is already going on to make, well, a little slice of Zion, or possibly something less corny sounding. Katie is, of course, much better at being outgoing and making friends with people. It's harder for me because for so long I relied on my good looks to make friends and ended up with no friends. Seriously, it's something I'm bad at and need to get better at.
I think it's important to make a deliberate effort to make friends with people in the ward. We are so busy that that is what it takes to really make a difference. I was talking with a family last week who joined the church about 25 years ago and they were telling me about how it used to be that church activities were held much more often in those days. But now we're so busy with band, soccer, gymnastics, etc. that there isn't as much demand for activities and so those friendships are harder to make because we don't see each other as often.
Okay, I guess I'm done.

morgan said...

I think you guys are right, but I probably just think that because you agreed with me. Good friends are definitely worth the effort.

Oh, and I don't think this weekend will work, it's turning out to be a very busy weekend. How about next Saturday?