“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” ― Thomas Jefferson
Yes, you read that correctly. No, I’m not kidding. I saw it happen. I was hanging my photos for an exhibition in a coffee house and a group of three ministers from a nearby church took a table near me and began talking about a fourth colleague, the church’s youth minister. The primary focus of the conversation was that the senior pastor had gone through the youth minister’s list of MySpace friends and then gone through the lists of friends of his top ten friends (creepy, no?). Within that second group, the friends of friends, was found one young man who had posted a photo of himself holding a beer bottle. That was all the senior pastor needed to see. Obviously, by his judgment, the youth minister was not sufficiently careful in whom he befriended and, therefore, must be fired.
I’m not sure what bothered me more: that the pastor would dig so very deeply to try and find an excuse for firing his young minister, or that neither of the other ministers present rose to the youth minister’s defense; they both very quickly agreed with the senior pastor that the youth minister would have to be gone before the next Sunday, which was only two days away. Such shallowness, such cruelty, and such absurd reasoning struck me as not merely non-Christian, but a severe level of Authoritarianism that was not only unreasonable among the clergy but in any employee/employer relationship.
When I was a child, my parents very carefully chose my playmates for me, cautious to make sure that neither the child nor the child’s parents might prove to be an improper influence. Almost the instance I moved away from home, however, I took no time in expanding my circle of acquaintances to those with whom my parents would not have approved. Over the years, my circle of friends has included witches, drug dealers, shamans, a whole host of LGBTQ people, strippers, prostitutes, and yes, even Irish Catholics. While not all of those ultimately upheld that friendship, a surprising number did and there are still several within that list that I could call for help right now and know they’d come running.
Independence is to not be under the authority of someone else, but it does not exclude the need for friends, and even friends of friends. The test of independence comes not in who we choose as friends, but in our ability to not let our friendship become an encumbrance upon anyone else. Not only must we value our own independence, but that of our friends. Among those with whom we might pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our honor, there are no labels nor any form of moral judgment, for when they are genuinely friends any other title is irrelevant.