Brotherhood. Friendship.

May 7, 2009 | 7 comments
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I am part of a Band of Brothers. Though nothing as dramatic and dangerous as the band of brothers that Stephen Ambrose writes about in his book on the men of Easy Company during World War II, it is nonetheless a group of men with a bond, with a trust and respect forged over several years.

We are men who meet regularly, friends whose shared connection is Mormonism.  We are a diverse group, with our ranks ranging from strident atheists to fully active and believing LDS, and our ages ranging from mid-twenties to mid-fifties.

Our monthly fellowship meetings consist of everything from spiritual and theological discussions to bawdy humor and angry confrontations. Mostly, though, we have spirited and candid discussions about our faith and about our lives. These candid discussions – and even the angry confrontations – are made possible because of the high level of trust and respect within the group. We have developed a real love for each other, a true brotherhood. We disagree, we fight, and we do so forcefully. But we have shared enough to maintain the love and respect within the group to come back again and again.

Our friendships move beyond the monthly meetings, sharing conversations regularly through our private email list, through attendance at movies and events, and through service. We are there to help a brother move, to spend weekend mornings canvassing neighborhoods for a fellow brother running for public office, to respond to needs and comfort those who face pressing struggles.

In the past year we have formalized our monthly meetings in order to focus on one individual. When assigned a month, the individual prepares a narrative of his faith journey, sharing the experiences that shaped him and the values and beliefs he holds most sacred. The experiences have striking similarities, even as they are incredibly diverse. Through this process we have come to understand our brothers in new and even intimate ways, increasing our bonds and cementing friendships.

Key to this is our ability to strip ourselves of pretense; to lay bare our faults, our doubts, and our struggles. It is a refreshing – and frightening – experience to be completely candid, to trust the others within the group to listen and respect our experiences, even as they candidly respond and criticize. It can be brutal at times, but behind that brutality is always a sense of love and friendship.

What I have found in this group is a level of trust and brotherhood unlike any other I have experienced. It is a brotherhood forged through shared struggles and grief, of shared humor and joy. It is the friendship and brotherhood I think Joseph Smith preached, that he at various times experienced, and that he valued dearly. He called friendship “one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’…”

Elder Wirthlin spoke last year about these bonds of friendship, about the need to have them in our quorums, about how difficult it can be to develop them. In his words:

Some of the choicest blessings of my life have been the close friendships I have experienced over the years. Often, these friendships have been forged in the fires of shared experience. I think back with fondness on the football teams I played on, the missionaries with whom I served in Austria and Switzerland, the bishoprics and stake presidencies with whom I served. I think about my family—the happiness and grief we have shared and how those moments of tenderness have amplified the love we have for each other. Most recently, I think about the indescribable bond of brotherhood I have felt within the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

And

Establishing a bond of brotherhood is critical. If those who serve with you feel this mutual love and trust, the work of the Lord will thrive and heaven will aid you in your efforts. Fail to establish this bond, however, and you may find your work tedious, toilsome, and unproductive.

My experience is outside of our local quorums, our wards. My band of brothers consists of men who travel long distances to be a part of our group, but who nonetheless are doing the work of the Lord through sacrifice and service, friendship and love.

Elder Wirthlin talks of establishing this within our assignments, within our quorums, but I struggle to find it. It requires honest engagement, shared struggles, personal sacrifice, and much more than a single scheduled hour each week, going through the motions.

Is it possible to develop such bonds within a quorum? Within the Relief Society? It certainly happens among those called to presidencies, those who wrestle together and serve together, but I am asking about the broader groups, those who attend weekly but long for real connection, for real friendship, for deep trust.

It has taken me a long time to really understand the value of such bonds. I am blessed to know of it, to experience it, and I wish that all could have these experiences.  But I confess, I am at a loss to understand how it might be shared. How it might be created. Is such a bond organic, something that takes on a life of its own when the conditions are right? Or is it something we can develop? Something we can foster?

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7 Responses to Brotherhood. Friendship.

  1. Christopher Bigelow on May 7, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Yeah, I don’t get anything even close to this through any church channel. Once every couple of years or so, someone opens up a little in a lesson or in conversation at a church activity, but then they close up tight again and put that Mormon facade back on. I don’t feel any real emotional or friendship connection at church, just keep going to please my wife and kids and because I do believe in the theology and am mindful of the afterlife.

    Where I tend to make most friendships of the kind you describe is at work, where you don’t have the Mormon cultural pressures to come across as good as possible and maintain yourself as a walking propaganda billboard for the faith. I also dabble online in certain e-mail groups and blogs, but I usually end up being too liberal for some people and too conservative for others. (It doesn’t help that I usually speak up mainly when I want to be provocative or when I’m reacting to something that gets up my dander, such as the gay marriage stuff.)

    Anyway, your group sounds appealing in many ways, but it also sounds like it would take up a lot of time and energy, at least from my current overworked, overextended middle-aged perspective. I guess that’s why I have my friendships at work; it’s just easier because we’re in close proximity every day, as well as largely free of Mormon social/cultural constraints (except a couple of my coworkers who really seem to live their lives as if they’re at church all the time).

  2. Vader on May 7, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    I’m pretty sociopathetic, but I don’t blame that on the people in my ward. I’m the strange one, not them.

  3. Jerry on May 8, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    I also have little in the way of friends at Church although there have been many and great ones over the years just not so much now. I talked to my wife and she felt the same way and she eventually quit after she realized that the kids weren’t getting any connection either. I still go though and still feel a need to be there.

    I think this type of group would be great I think it could get too political real easy. I doubt it would work in my area here there are lots of Mormons and we have many small almost cult like groups that form the wards here. Thanks for the post.

  4. Bookslinger on May 8, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    “But in Friendship… we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say ‘You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others.”
    -C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

    Vader: I feel like I’m the weird one too. Every ward needs its fringe. It gives others the opportunity to feel grateful, “Thank God I’m not like him.”

  5. Brett on May 8, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    I haven’t had a good male Mormon friend since my mission. I agree it’s hard for men to make men at Church. I often get jealous of the evangelical and protestant men I know when they talk about their men’s group at church. It actually sounds like they have some open and frank discussion on how to be a a better man within their faith. They discuss problems and everyone offers advice that isn’t patronizing and then pray for each other.

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that in Elder’s Quorum and I think that’s pretty sad.

  6. Brett on May 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm

    I meant to say “make friends at church.”

  7. Bookslinger on May 9, 2009 at 10:07 pm

    We had a double-baptism at church this evening. A couple in their mid to late 20′s got baptized.

    One of the husband’s LDS friends from high school (a local Indianapolis area high school) drove here (to Indianapolis) from Michigan for his baptism.

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