November 04, 2010

Friends We Need (MDIV 555)

Journal for November 4, 2010

I met Jake at the Daily Nebraskan. The DN is the independent student newspaper of University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Jake is a young man with a wide, cheerful face, unruly brown hair just a bit too long, and the air of a young history professor, complete with glasses and questionable fashion sense. We were both became opinion columnists the same year, but we never encountered each other until Jake became an assistant section editor. Later, Jake would become opinion section editor and I his assistant editor. We edited each other’s columns for a year and a half.

Jake always wrote as a Christian about Christianity. He might also talk about politics, lifestyle choices, or environmentalism, but it was always from that viewpoint. He wasn’t above printing scripture in the otherwise staunchly liberal and slightly irreverent newspaper. It was our policy to give our columnists their head and recruit a diversity of viewpoints, so Jake and I were no exception. I wrote from the standpoint of a cultural critic, and if there was Dharma in my columns, it was only ever subversive.

It was our duty, as an editor, to make our writer’s columns the best they could be. Jake and I spent hours critiquing his argument against premarital sex so that it didn’t come across as sanctimonious or religiously repressive.

“So God wants people to refrain from sex until marriage?” I typed into Google chat. Jake and I had conflicting schedules, so we couldn’t edit in person.

“Right,” he typed back.

“So what’s God’s motivation? Why does he want that?”

“God’s motivation? Well, I suppose…”

Our conversations, both in person and via chat, could last for hours. Jake was a student of religion, philosophy, history, journalism, and literature, but knew nothing about Eastern philosophy. It wasn’t taught at UNL at that time. My viewpoint was much narrower by comparison, so there was a lot to learn.

“So Buddhists are existentialists,” Jake typed once.

“I don’t know. What’s an existentialist?”

Jake sent me a link to an essay by Sarte. Together with the dead philosopher, he set about explaining existentialism.

“I suppose you could say Buddhists are existentialist, to a certain degree, at least in regard to mental concepts. But Sarte seems to have a nihilism Buddhists don’t agree with,” I replied.

“Why not?”

“Well, because…”

Now Jake and I are even more separated, but our friendship has survived, partially because it already had a strong online presence. He’s in Minneapolis, working in a wine shop, attending a wonderful church where his close friend is pastor, and contemplating his ThD application to Duke. I knew it was only a matter of time until he went back for an advanced degree, despite his own misgivings about graduate schools.

We both blog and Jake has a set of loyal commentors, mostly personal friends from within his Christian circles – and one Buddhist who delights in tossing philosophic grenades in from left field.

“I enjoy your comments at the blog. You mess with the theists and the atheists. It's awesome,” he told me via Facebook today. He once told me he thought I was a good Christian, which made me laugh. I often tell him he’s a better Buddhist than I am, which makes him smile. We don’t always agree with each other, but we find joy in the disagreements.

These are the kinds of friends we all need.

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