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Friendship Management

Ever since I got married and have two kids, time and energy have become even more precious commodities. It is not unusual for those in my life stage to feel like friendships have to be “maintained,” since it truly takes much effort to build relationships. However, Rodney Clapp argues that our managerial language towards friendship actually distorts it.

“As MacIntyre, Robert Bellah and others worry, perhaps the exclusively contractual structure of the economic and bureaucratic world is becoming the model for all of life, including the practice of friendship. The danger is that now we can see and unironically talk about even our friends only in the way managers see and talk about employers.

Thus ‘time demands‘ weigh on couples seeking friends, just as they do the manager. Friendships have ‘agendas‘ and are ‘maintained‘ until they no longer serve a purpose and are ‘terminated.’ Given the chaotic busyness of our lives, visits with friends are a matter of ‘organization‘ and ‘arrangement.’ We can regard the advantages of friendship in managerial terms, namely that it provides ‘accountability.’ And friendships are viewed from the vantage point of ‘productivity,’ so that we ‘invest‘ in a friend. I have been struck recently by how much I and other suburbanites worry about keeping ‘ledgers‘ in our friendships. Have we been negligent and not invited Shelly and Kenneth over for too long? Willis and Lisa have now asked us to baby-sit their kids three times to our one–maybe it would be better if they just hired sitters and we stopped trading off. Should I borrow Frank’s tools again, or have I done so little for him lately that I’m in danger of sponging?

I am suggesting that managerial language and culture constantly distort friendship. They maximize its work and burden while they minimize its spontaneity. They incline their users towards manipulation and calculation rather than free appreciation. They make inappropriate external demands on friendship while denying or at least ignoring its abundant internal rewards.”

If we shouldn’t view our friendships in managerial terms, what then? As Christians, Clapp argues, we need to recover a Christian understanding of what friendship is all about.

“The basic statement of the gospel in relation to friendship is that we are (or can be) friends to one another because Christ chose us making us his friends by laying his life down for us and revealing to us his Father’s intentions. Christian friendship, then, is a matter of what God accomplishes rather than what we do. It is not best addressed in the managerial terms of technique, nor is it primarily yet another assignment to be squeezed onto a packed agenda. The good news is that friendship is a gift, an opportunity provided by God in Christ. By first of all making us his friends, Jesus frees us to be friends to one another.”

Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People: The Church as Culture in a Post-Christian Society (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1996), 207-8.

I think Clapp’s argument echoes Bonhoeffer‘s in Life Together. We can only come to one another through Jesus Christ the mediator. Without Christ, any attempt to achieve genuine community or friendship will easily be distorted with self-seeking agendas, filled with unnecessary stress and disappointments.

Posted in Culture, Posts in English, Theology.

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