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Relationships Make Us

I am fortunate to have lived long enough to have grandkids.  Having two girls of my own were great.  They taught me much as they grew up and became adults in their own right.  I always told people that I liked every next step of their lives better than the previous one.  Of course, it is amazing to see one’s own child born into this world.  The first year blows your mind because of their physical development.  And the second year is equally mind-blowing because of their mental development.  And so it goes. 
Even though I obviously was aware of relationships before they were born, their lives forced me to focus more on the nature of relationships.  There was something about becoming a father that changed.  Before my girls, I knew myself as a son, brother, cousin and friend.  All these relationships gave me a slightly different view of who I was.  I was always intrigued by the idea that I was a single individual---my own person.  But each of the relationships offered a different angle on myself.  Some were more important than others.
But it was the arrival of my two girls who made me a father that was a game-changer.  It is as if they offered an in-depth look into who I was and who I would become.  Of course, the process is never finished.  We are always evolving as people.  Relationships are simply one of the most predictable ways we evolve.  And now I have grandkids.  In some ways they look like me---which is genetically not surprising.  And in some ways I claim them to be “mine.”  But they are also obviously not “mine.”  But they give me another, interesting look at who I am.
Since they are still relatively young, they could not care less about what I do.  I write a book and they are not the least impressed.  They would rather go to the playroom and build a train track!  I could win an award and they would not applaud.  Almost anything our culture deems a mark of success or prestige makes no impression on them.   Instead, they are interested in whether I will play with them?  Will I be fun?  That is a much harder to question to answer.  Having a PhD is no guarantee that I am fun!
Having relationships and being in relationships caused me to think about what this means in spiritual terms.  I realize relationships are very important spiritually speaking.  As we begin to look briefly at the nature and effect of relationships, let me say that relationships are always tied to the issue of identity---who am I?  In fact, if I can answer the question, who am I, without reference to my relationships, then I probably don’t have an accurate understanding of who I really am.  Relationships are that important.
As I think about relationships from a spiritual perspective, I realize it goes back to the very beginning---at least for Christians and Jews.  Indeed, in that first chapter of Genesis we have the story of creation and, hence, the spiritual saga of our origin.  The first chapter of Genesis says that we are created in the image and likeness of God.  I know enough about this text to have a sense of how biblical scholars understand it.
Suffice it here simply to say that, like my daughter and grandkids, we have a genetic likeness to the God who created us.  This will always be true, regardless of what happens to us and whatever we do.  Scholars recognize that I might lose my likeness to God if I choose to go the way of being a jerk, i.e. a sinner in the old classical language.  But even I persist in being a jerk, I never lose being in the image of God.  That is like our spiritual genetic code---the spiritual DNA, if you will. 
If I follow the Christian path, there is another relationship that looms large.  In the New Testament there are a number of these relationships that are named.  If I think of the Apostle Paul, I think about all those times he talks about the role and effect of grace in our lives.  Grace is always a gift.  And the effect of God’s gift on us, according to Paul, is it creates a new relationship.  To come under the sway of God’s grace is to become a son or daughter of God.  With this image God becomes paternal.  I must admit I like the idea of being an offspring of God.  It is nice to know God as a kind of eternal, gracious parent who also parents all the other spiritual cousins of mine. 
When I think about the Jesus presented in John’s Gospel, I think about the Jesus who said to his followers that he no longer wanted them to think of themselves as slaves or servants (same word in Greek).  Instead, Jesus said to those disciples, “I call you friends.” (15:15)  That may be my favorite verse in the entire New Testament.  To be a friend of Jesus.  When I think about this, I think about friendship, to be sure.  But I also think about what it means to be a spiritual friend, because I am sure he had that in mind, too. 
I smile because I know I am not the only one who whom Jesus extended this friendship.  Over the centuries countless millions and, now, billions have been invited into that same relationship of friendship.  Every friend of Jesus also becomes a friend of mine.  I suppose we are all part of one, large community of friends.  This relationship and others are what make us.
Biologically, I began with my grandkids and end in recognition that I am a friend of Jesus and an amazing community of friends across the globe and across time.  Literally, I am nobody if all these relationships are erased from life.  Without relationships, my story would be a non-story.  Relationships make us.  And even more importantly, our relationships give us the amazing realization that we will always be somebody because we will always belong to Somebody. 

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