Relationships: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Every evening, between 6:30 and 6:45, I call my mother. As I hear her slipping away from me, it is usually my most difficult call of the day. My mother is one of those who “fakes good”. That is, she seems alright in the first few moments of the call only to say, “Duane, you probably shouldn’t ring me so early in the morning”. After I explain that it is actually 6:30 in the evening, she seems unsurprised as she asks me how my day was. Every evening we have the same conversation. She can’t remember who else might have called her during the day without bringing up the names of her sisters or her niece. She can’t remember her meals or what she might have eaten that day, unless they served one of her favorite deserts. At the age of 93, resident in an assisted living facility, her activities and socialization are limited owing to the pandemic. At the end of the call, just before I tell her that I love her, she reminds me not to call her so early in the morning…
Of course, I will call her again this evening. The “facts” of her day will be either forgotten or misremembered. That really does not matter. She is my mother, and the relationship is important, for both of us.
Every week for the past several years I have had a set time to call my friend, Michael Newnham. The calls began as tutorial sessions as Michael made his way into the Anglican communion. Over the course of years, however, our weekly sessions have evolved into wide ranging conversations. We talk about our families and loved ones. We discuss theological topics and books that we are reading. Often we share opinions concerning reactions to articles posted on his blog. We share with each other concerning challenges we are facing. We may have differing political opinions in some areas, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure because it is seldom the central topic of our conversations. In fact, although I think that I could make a reasonable guess as to who Michael voted for in the last several presidential elections, I really don’t know for certain. I don’t know because Michael has never said and I have never asked. One thing that is said at the end of every call is, “Love you much, Michael” and the response, “Love you too, Duane”.
As with my mother, my weekly call with Michael is about a relationship. That relationship, by the way, is not based upon our mutual agreement and/or interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion set forth by Anglicans in 1571. Neither is that relationship based upon where either of us place ourselves on the political or theological spectrum of liberal, centrist or conservative. Again, that really does not matter. Michael is a friend and brother, and the relationship is important, for both of us.
For me, this is basic. The faith which we claim is founded on two sets of relationships. The first, of course, is our relationship with Christ. The second, however, is of equal importance and that is our relationship with one another. The meeting point, or the nexus, of these two sets of relationships is what constitutes the Church.
Yet, for the sake of secular politics, we have been willing to destroy and/or abandon relationships, some of longstanding. For the sake of shouting our point of view, whether in person, or in the comments on a thread or timeline, we are willing to say that my opinion is of greater value than the person I am engaging. Surely this is idolatry. In Christian ethics, the end, no matter how noble, does not justify any means. If the Church is to survive these turbulent times, the first task is to rebuild relationships.
There was a time when a pagan could look at the Church and write, “Behold how these Christians love one another”. Unless that time comes again, our future may be to see the shadows of the last people darkening our doors… as they leave… and they may well be justified…