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"You and I are different because _____ lived among us." I liked to include this sentence in the opening statement of a funeral or memorial service.

Andy, my first long-term friend, died earlier this year. Suddenly that sentence became intensely personal.

It's true. Without Andy I would not be me. I am different because he lived. But how? How has our friendship of 46 years formed me?

I have begun the pleasure of living that question. I mark his disciplined naivete, leading with curious questions; his gift of listening others into being; his relational understanding of reality; his discovery of dying as birthing; his authority/authenticity that authored hope in others. There is more, much more to be harvested from my grief. But this awareness startles me: these are not primarily ideas. These are embodiments that, to some extent, are being embodied in me. I see him in me. These, and other revelations to come, hint at the difference in me because Andy and I were friends.

I confess. I am an "idea" junkie. I relish, like the bite into a fresh peach, new "insights" or fresh perspectives. Over the years I have fallen in love with theories, and only with stubborn reluctance have I been able to acknowledge the limits of each one. I've assumed that it was ideas that formed me.

More to the point, I am suggesting to you, we are being formed by friendships. Maybe the ideas and theories that stick to our bones, those that become transformative, are the ones embodied in relationships. Maybe our friends create us. Or better said, they provide containers in which God's ongoing creation and creativity occur. Friends are "believing mirrors," to use Julia Cameron's phrase. They mirror back to us our competency, craziness, possibilities, limits, options, and encouragement -- all marinated in laughter and wonder.

Intuitively I have known this. From the first "cell group" in university days, I have always been a part of a circle of peers that met regularly to befriend our lives and work. And now in retirement, I am still at it, fostering clergy collegial communities -- yes, named AnamCara (soul friend). In addition, there are the less structured friendships along the way, nurtured by an occasional e-mail, coffee or vacation together, or telephone call. It's clear to me now  -- friends, including familial friends, are our truest social security.

We are trained to think of the lonely artist or lonely pastor. It is their name we see on the book, or portrait, or sermon. But if you look closer and inquire, any artist or pastor "worth their salt" will talk about the circle of friends who make their work possible.

Not surprising, this reflection has been formed with friends.

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