Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
– 1 Peter 2:11-12
“’… I am not preaching to you. Love your neighbor; it makes sense, doesn’t it? Even if it happens to be a religious command.’
“’But we don’t love our neighbors… We are envious of our neighbors, we try to grab things from them, we annoy them. And we make fun of them when we can get away with it, and we kill them too if they don’t want to put up with our demands. You can’t prove history wrong. I was too young to have been in the last war but I’ve seen the documentaries, and I’ve heard the stories and seen the numbers burned into people’s arms. We have an army to make sure that the neighbors across the frontier behave themselves and we have a police force to make sure that we behave ourselves within the frontiers. Do you know what the place would be like if the police didn’t patrol it? … Without the police society would be a mad shambles, sergeant, a free fight for all…’”
– Janwillem van der Wetering, Death of a Hawker
Peter calls his readers ‘foreigners’ and ‘exiles.’ He also called them ‘dear friends.’ In this passage, Peter is saying that the world is broken. He is saying to live your life as close to blameless as possible and let your good deeds shine glory to God. Maybe then, the ‘pagans’ around us will see those good works. But he warns us that we are at war and our neighbors will accuse us of doing wrong.
When we are attacked and accused, we need to remember that we are not alone. We have Jesus. It is also good to have an earthly friend to talk to.
I just finished Death of a Hawker by Janwillem van der Wetering (1931-2008). The author, among his writings, wrote a collection of short stories and 14 novels featuring adjutant Henk Grijpstra of the Amsterdam police and his investigative partner, sergeant Rinus de Gier. In the quote above, de Gier is telling his temporary partner, constable Cardozo, to love his neighbor. Then Cardozo goes into his lament. (By the way, the ‘frontier’ is the border of the country, but that should be obvious from the context.)
The quote from the novel struck me as a fit report on this world of ours. The book was written in 1977, so the last war was World War II. But in spite of the actions of mankind taken since that war, among them the creation of the United Nations, we still have wars. I heard a staggering statistic (that I cannot remember) about how few years of peace that the USA has experienced. Oddly, my four years of active duty military time were four of those years, but there was tension even then. I was in Germany during the Cold War. The hostages were taken in Iran while I was stationed in Germany, creating movement along the ‘frontier.’ There were wars elsewhere and rattling of swords around the world. In fact, the novel containing the quote above was published when I was first stationed in Germany.
I love reading mysteries. Years ago, I would try to figure the mystery out before the reveal at the end of the book. Now, I just read and enjoy, hoping that I will be pleased in the end. Three of my favorite author creations feature duos, of sorts. Two men, in these cases, that talk to each other about everything, the topics often having nothing to do with the mystery at hand.
Rex Stout created the Nero Wolfe series of mysteries, but the series has a heart due to the discussions, word play, and nasty arguments between Nero Wolfe, who never (almost never) leaves his brownstone, and Archie Goodwin, his assistant who does all the leg work, unless they call upon Saul Panzer and a few others when more than one person is needed.
Matthew Shardlake is the creation of C. J. Sansom, who garnered awards for the Shardlake series of historical fiction. The hunchbacked lawyer working for Thomas Cromwell (in the first book) goes to a monastery that is to be dissolved in the first of the series, Dissolution. He strikes up a friendship with Brother Guy, a monk who is a displaced Moor and dispenses herbal remedies. Brother Guy also dispenses great wisdom as Shardlake and Guy talk about England during the time of Thomas Cromwell and King Henry VIII. It is the author’s opportunity to discuss the history of that period, but also the thoughts and fears of the people of that time. Brother Guy helps Shardlake and is featured in the entire series (although I haven’t read the latest one yet, published in 2014), but Brother Guy never serves as Shardlake’s assistant. He is simply a wise and marvelous sounding board.
Grijpstra and de Gier are of the same type as the other people with their conversations, but their boss, the commissaris (fairly high ranking official in the Amsterdam police), and constables, like Cardozo, often become the sounding boards or people who do the sounding.
NOTE: With a name like ‘Grijpstra’, you are probably asking how to pronounce the name. If you think German is a guttural language, you haven’t heard Dutch. My wife is Dutch, although born in Indonesia and Eurasian by ancestry. This pronunciation description is by an American who can barely speak English trying to explain Dutch. I mean no disrespect. If you need an audio file, I’ll try to record my wife saying the words. First, you can’t speak Dutch without a lot of spit. The ‘G’ in Grijpstra and de Gier is pronounced without the “G” sound and sounds more like when you clear your throat when you have a bad cold or sinus drainage. Then the “R” is rolled, so Grijpstra starts with the throat rattle and you blend that into a rolled “R.” I do not even attempt it. As in most European languages, the “I” is pronounced as a long “E.” The “J” is more of a “Y” sound, in this case silent. So Grijpstra becomes “rattle”-rrr-eepstra. As in German, the “IE” of de Gier is prounced as a long “E.” I can’t leave this paragraph without stating that Grijpstra is from Friesland, a northern province of the Netherlands. The capitol is Leeuwarden (pronounced Lay-Varden). The language of Friesian is disappearing, but it sounds more like Old English than a Germanic language. Think William of Orange who as the Dutch king invaded England in 1688 and became king in early 1689, and the influence that would have on everything English. (Maybe now you also get the idea of the Dutch sports teams using orange instead of the colors of their flag, red, white, and blue.) As soon as my wife saw my first van der Wetering book cover, The Rattle-Rat, I think, she shouts “Grijpstra! He’s Friesian, just like my father!” Even though I liked the author’s style, at that point, I was hooked. It was the third or fourth novel (in the order that I read them) before Grijpstra was confronted by others, mostly de Gier, about his stubborn ‘Friesian-ness.’
But how does this all tie together? The mystery authors use the aside conversations to give more depth to the characters, but also for social commentary. We as Christian foreigners and exiles in the world will never be at home here. The best time of the day should be that time when we focus our heart, soul, and mind in communion with the only one that is guaranteed to be our BFF, best friend forever. For those who love Jesus, He will be our BFF, forever. Pardon the repeating of forever, but that’s the point. Our greatest bosom buddy on earth may or may not be there on the other side of the river. Even if you are both saved, we know nothing of who our neighbors will be in heaven. We are not going to complain about them. That’s for sure.
But it is vital that we have an almost BFF here on earth. It could be a spouse, but sometimes we need someone else as a sounding board. My wife and I talk about everything, but after 43 years of marriage, it sometimes sounds like talking to our echo. We agree on so many subjects. We have experienced the same things, often with the same reactions.
Our BFF could be a pastor, but the pastor has an entire flock to look after. We cannot expect the pastor to be a BFF sounding board.
But finding a BFF should definitely be a focus when choosing a church family. And within a church family that openly shows their love for each other, you need to find that person that connects on your wavelength.
The three fictional duos mentioned in this article came from varied backgrounds, often with widely different ages. Their experiences were different. Their viewpoints varied just enough to have conversations turn into arguments. But the arguments usually led to deeper understanding of each other. And along with that understanding of each other there came an understanding within themselves.
Without that kind of friend today, this cruel broken world could chew us up and spit us out.
Thank you, Lord, for my friends, from within my community, on social media, and the blogosohere, and thank you for being my BFF, forever. Amen.