I love ancient history. I’ve read most of the ancient creation myths. While I enjoy reading all of them, the one I enjoy the most is the one that goes rogue against the overarching mythologies - the Hebrew version. In this one, the God is not at war with humanity, but on their side. The gods are not battling each other, rather harmony and beauty are the outcomes of the god’s work. A few chapters into the story, after the fall of the adam, we have a unique encounter between two brothers. One is named Cain the other is Abel. Cain may have been an actual figure, or he may have been the archetypal human for the agriculturalists, while Abel may have been the personification of the hunter-gather society. It may be that in this story we are reading of humanity’s attempt to tell how agriculture and thus the birth of civilization came into being through violence, or it may be a story of two literal brothers. But that isn’t the point of the story. The point is out of competitive jealousy, and the need to be right, Cain, kills his brother Abel and creates an ethic that will make its way all the way into modern business, politics, and family life. I’m getting off track - I digress.
A fascinating conversation between the deity and Cain takes place. This all-knowing God poses a question to Cain: “where is your brother?”, and Cain responds with a very modern western concept - “Am I my brother’s keeper?” In the Hebrew, the word, “keeper” is packed full of meaning. Cain is literally saying to God, “Seriously, Able is not my responsibility, do you expect me to keep watch and protect him? Is it really my job to save his life. Do you really expect me to celebrate his life?” All of this is packed into the word, “keeper.” Another modern word for this is “friend”. Often in our world, the idea of friendship has been reduced to folks who will simply agree with us. People who will never confront us. People who will praise every mistake we make. This is not what God had in mind. This deity desires for us to have people in our lives that we “keep” and who “keep us”. People who will look out for our well being even when we can’t see it. People who will celebrate us. People who will protect us even if they have to protect us from ourselves.
One does not automatically gain this position in the life of another, it must be earned. This friendship takes years. It demands trusting the other with the deepest darkest parts of our lives and knowing they will protect you as you protect them. It is to allow them permission to speak the things we really don’t want to hear, not because they judge us, but precisely because they love us. This requires two values that our culture so often frowns upon, transparency and vulnerability. I have not had many of these relationships in my life, but when I have, it has made the essence of my life what it is. In Austin, we had three couples - the Vidals, Sanchezs, and Kecks - they had the right to speak into my life, challenge me, and question everything about me and my actions. We were, indeed, each other’s keepers. We earned this right from each other. I never doubted their love for us. They were such an integral part of my life that without them I couldn’t be me. They, were our keepers as we were theirs.
Last week we said the key to surrounding yourself with folks who have gone before us is submission and humility, this week, the key to the kind of relationship I’ve been talking about is transparency and vulnerability. I like how C.S. Lewis says it, “[True] Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” While it isn’t necessary for survival, it is necessary for story formed life! Surround yourself with people who will keep you and allow you to keep them!