In the June term this year at the seminary where I teach, Trinity School for Ministry, Ill be the instructor for a week-long intensive class on a Christian theology of friendship. Im excited about this opportunity not least because Im working on a book about friendship , and teaching a class on that theme will give me a chance to try out many of my ideas in group discussions and receive helpful feedback and criticism. (And vice versa: because Ive been reading and writing so much on the theme, I expect Ill be of more benefit to the students than I otherwise might have been. As Mark Noll has said, There can be no good teaching without good scholarship.)
My plan is to have the students read two books ahead of time, the first being Liz Carmichaels Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love . Carmichael, whos a chaplain, fellow, and tutor in theology at St. Johns College, Oxford, does a fine job of surveying the history of Christian thought on friendship, from Aelred of Rievaulxs dialogue Spiritual Friendship to Jeremy Taylors misgivings about it to John Henry Newmans writings on the topic. Alongside Carmichaels historical (and warmly pastoral) book, Im assigning Brother John of Taizés more overtly pastoral, edifying treatment, Friends in Christ: Paths to a New Understanding of the Church . This latter book will help us flesh out in practical terms what Carmichael puts in historical perspective, namely, the early Christian transplanting of Greco-Roman ideals of friendship into an ecclesial, siblings-in-Christ context. And during the class itself, well spend a good bit of time working our way through Aelred of Rievaulxs dialogue itselfattempting a close reading, as they say.
After the class concludes, the students main assignment will be to bring these historical and theological reflections to bear on a narrative of friendship. Im giving them the choice of writing on Wallace Stegners gorgeous novel about a friendship between two married couples, Crossing to Safety , William Maxwells tragic novel about a friendship between two adolescent boys, The Folded Leaf , and Gail Caldwells memoir of friendship with her (now deceased) fellow writer Caroline Knapp, titled Lets Take the Long Way Home .
Ill report back after the class is overfull of many new insights, Im sure.
(Cross-posted at Spiritual Friendship )