This has been my epiphany in the last week. It is a thought that has never crossed my mind before now. In fact, it feels a bit sacrilegious to declare it because I admittedly enjoyed the show, but I really believe it’s true. The 90’s sitcom Friends, beloved for ten years by millions of viewers, has ruined our generation for community.
The show about six characters basically documents their friendship. It was a simple concept and hugely successful. In my opinion, its success was not based only on the humor, attractive cast members, and perfect time slot. No. Its true success was because it played into our desire for good friends, lifelong relationships, a want to be accepted and to belong, a desire to be known and loved.
Friends always had that sense of community and intimacy and fun that we all long for in some way. Because of that I think it has formed a lot of our ideas about friendship and community.
Think about it, Friends started when I was 12 and ended when I was 21. For many of us this is true. Those are the most influential years for social development, as well as developing independent thoughts about the world and life. For ten of our most formative years we were fed daily by shows like Friends- shows that base their plot around a small in-group: Seinfeld, 90210, Saved by the Bell, even still today with How I Met Your Mother.
When you think about the kind of community you want, the kind of friendships you want, what do you imagine? Is it like one of these shows?
Now, you are probably wondering what is so bad about these shows. I mean initially I wanted to defend Friends and say how great it is at depicting community and friendships, etc. I do think that these shows illustrate good friends, and good community, my problem is that the friends are so closed off to others.
In Friends there are never any additional new friends. There are never people brought into their wonderful group. They never share what they have with others. They never expand. There is a reasonable explanation for this. This is a television world, with limited cast and budget. The writers do not want to always be writing in new people. The producers do not want to make new story lines that complicate the simple concept.
This is my problem. We grew up watching after-school specials and sitcoms about 6 people, 6 friends. We inadvertently learned that our goal in life should be to make 6 good friends and spend all of our time with them. Even mature shows like Sex and the City follow a small number of people intimately bonded with no room for outsiders. The shows suggest we should not only be completely invested in them, but ultimately we should date them and marry them. A bit incestuous, right? I mean Zach and Kelly, Slater and Jesse, poor Lisa always got stuck with Screech. Then of course there is Chandler and Monica, Ross and Rachel. You get the idea.
I cannot tell you how many people I know that long for this television world to be their reality. They want six best friends, preferably 3 guys and 3 girls who can pair off and be couple’s friends and live life together forever. (Some of you reading this still do not see this as a negative way to live).
There are over 6 billion people in this world. There are over a million people in the average city. Your neighborhood probably has 100+ people in it. And you want five friends?
It seems twisted to me. In fact I think it is downright selfish and sinful. In-groups and cliques are the antithesis to the kind of community God calls us to be. He tells us to welcome the foreigner, to open our homes. He is constantly described as the bridegroom inviting people into his house for a feast. These are not his five besties. These are people off the street, strangers, anyone who was willing to come and eat and celebrate.
How does Friends compare to that?
My experience in Vancouver has been extremely positive. So many men and women have invited Alastair and I into their lives. It has been convicting. I used to live in a bubble. I used to only have certain people I invested in. I used to have a hierarchy of sorts for who I could spend my time with. I am ashamed to say I was living a life based on the assumption that Friends was an appropriate and good model for life.
Maybe you are a lucky in-grouper as I once was. Maybe you have found your five BFFs. Maybe you have found friend heaven. If so, I hope you can have the courage to invite others into your life and into your group. I hope you can bring someone to your lunch table and let them belong. I hope you can share what you have with others.
I am convinced we should be always extending ourselves to others. I am not saying it is easy or comfortable or even natural, but I am saying it is how God interacts with this world and how he asks his followers to interact with others. I hope we can grow past the idea that popular television presents. Our lives have so much more room than to have a few friends. I hope we can grow into the vision of the banqueting table where all are welcome, even sinners like you and me.
Community is good. Friends are good. Exclusion is wrong. Never stop inviting people into your life. Never stop opening your home. Every day is an opportunity to make a new friend. God has invited us to the table. He wants us to invite everyone we know to join us. Do not ever stop his invitation. Pass it on to everyone you meet. Invite them in.
“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21)