I think a good part of what I’ve been struggling with these days comes from missing friendship. I’m not trying to write a sad song here — I definitely have friends and acquaintances and, more importantly, a beautiful, supportive family. But, in the last couple of years since we moved out to California, I find myself missing the community we had on the East Coast more & more. My seminary days were tumultuous and difficult, but I treasure the friendships we forged there.

David Park recently shared some great thoughts about accountability, authenticity and friendship. As I read, I was reminded of the “accountability” group I was a part of during my seminary days. We would gather every week to share about our sins & struggles and to pray for one another. However, all of us being Asian American, I think we were pretty guarded. There were several things working against sharing what was genuinely in our hearts — we didn’t all know each other that well, we were all raised in an honor/shame culture, we were all men and the group was little bit too large to allow everyone to share in a reasonable amount of time.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I really valued, and still value, those “official” gatherings. But those kinds of accountability groups, as Joseph Myers points out in Organic Community, have a tendency to focus on the negative. As he puts it, “There is such an underlying expectation of failure” when all we do is keep “account” of our sin & failure. Even my personality (introverted, and shy to boot) works against the effectiveness in my life of this kind of gathering.

I found that simply sharing life together with these same friends set me on a true path. Laughter and joy keep my heart in order and provide perspective, keeping me from getting too wrapped up in my own problems. Actually being there together builds more trust in my heart than going around in a circle and sharing coded prayer requests with people who are essentially strangers.  And it is being there together that creates an environment where, from time to time, deep sharing can occur.

I suppose this is all tied into what I am feeling about my future in the church. I am tired of being part of commuter communities, where the sheer physical distance makes it virtually impossible to build deep friendships. I’ll probably say more on the problems of commuter churches some other time but, seriously, can we develop meaningful relationships in a couple of hours a week — much of which is spent sitting in relative physical proximity but never really engaged with each other? Or can a people’s minds really be there for someone else sharing late into the night at a weekly small group gathering if they know they have a twenty or thirty mile drive in order to get home after everything is done?

Maybe I just need a friend to go to the batting cages, or some indie rock shows, with me. It would relieve a great burden from my wife — who is an extraordinary listener, but who is burdened with the entirety of my worry, stress and frustration — and from me.