Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship

Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship

by Paul J. Wadell

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How do Christians understand friendship and intimacy? How does worship form Christians into a community of the friends of God? What virtues does God call us to incorporate into our lives? In Becoming Friends, Paul Wadell explores the connections between worship, justice, friendship, and the life we are called to live.

This engaging and accessible book offers a fresh viewpoint from which to explore the nature of Christian friendship. Such friendship, Wadell contends, is more than a bonding of people with similar interests, a "ritual of hopeless consolation." True Christian friendship summons us to love all of our neighbors. Wadell examines obstacles to and characteristics of true friendship and, drawing from the works of Augustine, Aelred of Rievaulx, and other Christian exemplars, contends that we are called to serve God through friendship and that this calling requires us to cultivate certain virtues--especially hope, justice, and forgiveness.

Becoming Friends offers a provocative look into the nature and importance of true Christian friendship. Anyone looking to reflect on the indispensable role of good friendships in the Christian life will find this a hopeful and encouraging book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781585585861
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/01/2002
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 186
File size: 507 KB

About the Author

Paul J. Wadell is associate professor of religious studies at St. Norbert College, DePere, Wisconsin. His previous works include Friendship and the Moral Life, Friends of God: The Primacy of Love, and Morality.
Paul J. Wadell is associate professor of religious studies at St. Norbert College, DePere, Wisconsin. His previous works include Friendship and the Moral Life, Friends of God: The Primacy of Love, and Morality.

Read an Excerpt

Becoming Friends

Worship, Justice, and the Practice of Christian Friendship

By Paul J. Wadell

Brazos Press

Copyright © 2002 Paul J. Wadell.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1-58743-051-7

Worshiping Dangerously

The Risky Business of Becoming Friends of God

Many years ago when I was first teaching in Chicago, Stanley Hauerwas, then a professor at the University of Notre Dame, came to our school for a lecture. In a discussion that evening with some of the faculty, Hauerwas was asked what he thought about the U.S. Catholic bishops' then recently released pastoral, The Challenge of Peace. Hauerwas responded that he was impressed with the document but regretted the bishops had not asked more of American Catholics. He wished the bishops had gone further by challenging American Catholics to see pacifism not as a gospel option but as integral to a life of faithful discipleship. When the questioner suggested American Catholics would never accept pacifism as a requirement of faith, Hauerwas, a Methodist, responded, "You Catholics go to Mass all the time. What do all those Masses do for you?"

It was vintage Hauerwas—a response only he would think to give—and his question stayed with me for a long time. What does worship do for us? If we find ourselves in communities of worship week after week, has it made a difference in our lives? Has it changed us? Has it made us see the world differently? Has all our worship had any lasting transformativeeffect, or does worship comfort us in ways that are misleading? Have we made worship safe and, therefore, empty?

These questions go to the heart of the relationship between Christian worship and the Christian moral life. Worship and morality share a common goal: both want to initiate us into the truth of Jesus so we can become as much like God as we possibly can, so resplendent in holiness and goodness that we walk the earth no longer as strangers or foes of God but as the loyal, faithful friends of God, a people committed to living for the plans and purposes of God. The strategies of Christian worship and Christian morality are one. Both seek to bring God fully to life in us and in our world. Both work to remove all the things that obstruct the full unfolding of God in our midst, whether that be in our hearts, in our relationships, in our communities, or in the structures, practices, and institutions of society.

But true Christian worship is dangerous, far more a risk than a consolation, because true Christian worship initiates us into the stories and practices of a God whose ways are so maddeningly different from our own and, therefore, full of hope. True Christian worship allows God to go to work on us, sanctifying us, gracing us, purifying, renewing, and reforming us; indeed, doing all that is necessary to make us new creatures in Christ. Nobody should enter into worship and remain unchanged, because the graced power of worship is to make us vulnerable to the God who has ceaselessly been vulnerable to us in covenant, in grace, in Christ and the Spirit, and in sacrament. Put differently, if we worship faithfully, those who knew us in our "former lives" should hardly recognize us in our new lives. This is why from the beginning the church has described this startling transformation as a death and rebirth, as a burial of one way of living, thinking, perceiving, and acting and a resurrection into a radically new kind of life that is gracious and abounding in hope because it is life in, with, and according to Christ.

The ongoing effect of Christian liturgy and worship should be to form us, the church, into communities of friends of God. This is not quaint, pious sentiment but the most accurate and captivating way to describe the radical change of self and community faithful worship should engender. We are not naturally friends of God because we do not naturally seek the ways of God, or we approach our relationship with God in the same way we approach so many other relationships of our lives—as something we can control, limit, direct, and manipulate according to our own interests and plans. Consequently, we become as deft at exploiting God as we are at exploiting others.

Authentic friendship is notoriously different and inescapably risky. True friendships are not relationships we control but adventures we enter into; indeed, friendship is more a surrender than a conquest, more a loss of control than a calculated plan. Friendship is a matter of mutual affection, of reciprocal love, care, and concern. It is also a matter of shared vision, of similar beliefs and convictions. Every friendship is an adventure, a journey perhaps, that changes us over time, shaping our character, forming our habits, cultivating in us attitudes and dispositions that stand as an inventory of the relationships we have had and the effect they have had on us.

Christian liturgy and worship should form the church into a community of friends of God. Such a hopeful and magnanimous way of understanding our lives is also ineluctably risky because to live in friendship with God is to will what God wills, to seek what God seeks, and through a lifetime of faithful, committed love, to become one with a God who has a dream for the world we often strangely fear, a dream Christians call the reign of God. Ultimately, the goal of Christian worship is to create and sustain a community of friends of God who precisely because they are friends of God commit themselves to embodying and proclaiming and practicing the ways of God's reign in the world. Such a life is not without risk—the faith of the martyrs attests this—but it is the vocation of the friends of God, a vocation into which we are initiated as we learn and practice the ways of Jesus, the perfect embodiment and exemplar of friendship with God.

In this opening chapter we will explore how the worship and liturgy of the church should form us in friendship with God and make us into a community committed to carrying on the mission and ministry of God. But as Hauerwas's question intimates, sometimes "all those Masses" do little for us because we approach worship as something safe and comfortable and constantly reassuring, and not as the setting in which we learn "the dangerous ways of God" that come to us in Christ. Thus, we shall first examine how Christians can manipulate, deform, and sabotage worship so that it becomes less an act of genuine praise and more a ritual of hopeless consolation. Second, we shall reflect on why the heart of Christian worship is the risky endeavor of learning the language of God that comes to us in Christ, a language that forms us in friendship with God. Third, we shall consider two ways a life of friendship with God summons the Christian community to serve the world.

From Sham Worship to True Worship

In their book People of the Truth, Robert Webber and Rodney Clapp say worship should form Christians into a people of distinctive identity and vision, an identity and vision that I suggest is best expressed by friendship with God. This redemptive transformation can occur only when we open ourselves to the full power and promise of the liturgy. Too often, Webber and Clapp suggest, churches try to tame the liberating power of worship by making it something we defuse and control instead of something that provokes, challenges, and changes us. We make worship safe and predictably soothing, a practice designed to assure us that all is already well with us in lives that are already pleasing to God. We enter worship confident that our hearts can remain untouched and our spirits unexposed, and we leave, not surprisingly, unshaken and unchanged. In such a scenario, worship becomes a weekly massage for the ego, not the ritual that initiates us into the often unnerving disciplines of discipleship and the redemptive practices of God.

Or we turn worship into entertainment, thinking good worship is not necessarily one that praises God but one at which the congregation applauds at least once, laughs agreeably at well-timed jokes in the sermon, and leaves us upbeat and smiling. This trivializes worship because it shifts our attention from the narratives of God and the compelling challenges those narratives present to us to strategies that make worship a hopefully pleasing pastime (much like going to the movies) but not a ritual that can empower us to live in hope. No wonder a growing number of people, particularly the young, experience worship as tediously boring and eminently forgettable. Once we believe worship has to be entertaining and amusing in order to be worthwhile, are we not secretly acknowledging we no longer believe that the stories of God we find in the Scriptures are captivating enough to merit our attention? Or that the God who comes to us in the Eucharist is sufficient nourishment for our hearts? Or, more seriously, that what happens at the Eucharist is finally neither important nor believable and thus must be enhanced by something else?

When liturgy becomes entertainment, our worship becomes as trivial as our lives. The aim of such liturgies is not to unleash the power of God in our lives and in our world but to keep God as safely remote as possible precisely because we fear what any real encounter with God might bring. In short, when the dynamics of our entertainment culture determine the shape of our worship, we manipulate God so that God becomes pleasing to us instead of us becoming pleasing to God.

There is a scene in Walker Percy's novel Love in the Ruins that captures this. One of the characters in the novel is Fr. Rinaldo Smith, pastor at St. Michael's Church. One Sunday morning Fr. Smith steps into the pulpit to begin his sermon, but instead of speaking he falls silent. The priest stands there not saying a word. For thirty seconds he looks out on his increasingly baffled congregation but doesn't open his mouth and, as Percy observes, "Nothing is more uncomfortable than silence when speech is expected." The people begin "to cough and shift around in the pews," wondering what is wrong with their pastor.

Finally, Fr. Smith breaks the silence by saying, "Excuse me, but the channels are jammed and the word is not getting through." The relieved parishioners think he is talking about troubles with the sound system and are reassured, but their comfort fades because instead of continuing with the service, Fr. Smith steps down from the pulpit, walks out of the sanctuary and, fully vested, returns to the rectory.

Percy's fictional priest knows that sometimes the "channels" of our lives are so jammed by our needs, desires, preferences, anxieties, and concerns that the Word of God cannot break through. In People of the Truth, Webber and Clapp call this "sham worship," the kind of worship that masquerades at praising God but whose real intent is to celebrate and compliment ourselves. In sham worship we are the center of attention, not God, and God is admitted into worship only insofar as God is useful to us. As Fr. Smith's hasty retreat from the church indicated, sham worship is not only dishonest but is also a colossal waste of time.

There is a crucial difference between entertainment and celebration, between sham worship and genuine praise. Praise is born from wonder and gratitude for the goodness of God. Praise is evoked by thanksgiving for the unending generosity of God and amazement for the saving deeds of God. In genuine praise and celebration our attention is drawn to God, not ourselves; in fact, it is exactly this attentiveness to God that frees us from such enervating preoccupation with ourselves. Moreover, there is a dangerous deception behind entertainment once it becomes culturally baptized as a fitting way of life, namely the suggestion that to be human is to be continually distracted and amused. In a culture in which entertainment is approached with religious zeal, everyone, including God, has an obligation to please us.

Liturgy and worship should be about praising God and celebrating the goodness and faithfulness of God. Worship ought to be liberating precisely because to praise God is to be drawn out of ourselves and into the stories and narratives of God. With worship we enter into the world of God so we can come to know the ways of God and become active participants in the reign of God. Entertainment asks nothing of us, but worship asks for our lives. Entertainment tells us we have a right to be gratified, but real worship reminds us that our lives are not our own, they are God's, and God summons us to be part of the ongoing story of God that has come to us through Israel and Jesus.

Entertainment distracts us from the pressing obligations of life, but real worship cultivates in us not only a sense of indebtedness but also of "requiredness." Real worship reminds us that to be human is to be summoned, to be entrusted with a task. Real worship suggests the fundamental question of life is not "What are my rights?" or "How can everyone and everything please me?" but "What is demanded of me?" and "How does God depend on me?" As Abraham Heschel so presciently observed, "To celebrate is to share in a greater joy, to participate in an eternal drama. In acts of consumption the intention is to please our own selves; in acts of celebration the intention is to extol God, the spirit, the source of blessing."

As Heschel's comments indicate, entertainment is a species of consumerism, and much of contemporary worship has been taken over by the logic and categories of consumerism. In the logic of consumerism, the pastor or minister becomes not the leader of a community of faith who is summoned to call that community to greater faithfulness in discipleship but a salesperson trying to market a product to a congregation. The congregation in turn sees itself not primarily as the people of God but as a group of diverse and very demanding consumers whose needs often conflict. When worship becomes captive to consumerism, you need a God people will like and a message they are willing to buy. Instead of telling a congregation they must grow in conformity to Christ and see their lives as an ongoing conversion of heart, in consumerist Christianity it is the gospel that must conform to the needs, interests, and fancies of the congregation. It is the message of Christ, not the Christian, that must be adjusted whenever what Christ asks of us is unpalatable. The result is a Christianity with no power and no promise, a Christianity not sufficiently "dangerous" to be hopeful. Wherever such congregations exist we find not a community of the friends of God but an assortment of isolated and often divisive individuals whose lives are connected by nothing more than the slender thread of choice.

If we experience worship as safe, as something that never rocks our world or shakes us out of our normal habits of feeling, seeing, thinking, and behaving, we may be consoled but we shall never be redeemed. As a line from Eucharistic Prayer C in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer implores, "Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal." Accordingly, Webber and Clapp note, true worship, like God, may be good but it is never safe. True worship is risky because through it we become increasingly vulnerable to the love and goodness of God, a love and goodness that can be so powerfully transformative that through it we gradually acquire a new identity and a new way of life.

Through worship, then, we are to see ourselves not as consumers and not as self-interested individuals, but as a people, a community formed and centered around a self-giving God who calls us to friendship through Christ and the Spirit. Put differently, the church is the community that lives from, in, and for the friendship of God that comes to us in Christ. If we see this as our vocation, as the summons God extends to all of us, then we know that in this friendship we are entrusted with the task of being God's people in the world, of witnessing God's ways in the world, and of furthering God's purposes in the world.

Learning the Language of God: How the Church Becomes the Community of the Friends of God


Excerpted from Becoming Friends by Paul J. Wadell. Copyright © 2002 by Paul J. Wadell. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents


1. Worshipping Dangerously: The Risky Business of Becoming Friends of God
2. Exploring the Mysteries of Intimacy: What Hinders and What Helps the Friendships of Our Lives
3. Why There Are Some Debts We Can Never Repay: The Good Things Good Friends Do For Us
4. Confronting the Riddles of Intimacy: Augustine on Friendship in the Christian Life
5. What Medieval Monks Can Do For Us: Aelred of Rievaulx and the Life of Spiritual Friendship
6. Astounding Them By Our Way of Life: What Friends of God Can Offer the World
7. Setting the World on Fire: Friendship With God and a Commitment to Justice
8. Not Letting Hurt Have the Final Word: Friendship and the Practice of Forgiveness


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