I recently went to the theatre in Bath to see a play called “Art!” Set in Paris in the current day, the story revolves around three friends—Serge, Marc and Yvan— who find their previously solid 15-year friendship on shaky ground when Serge buys an expensive painting. The canvas is totally white, apparently with a few white lines.
Serge is proud of his 200,000 euro acquisition, fully expecting the approval of his friends. But Marc is very dismissive about the painting.
At first it seems that Marc’s anger is about the painting. But as the story is told maybe he is angry at his friend Serge?
For the insecure Yvan, burdened by the problems of his impending wedding, his family and a job he dislikes, their friendship is his sanctuary. But his attempts at peace-making backfire. Eager to please he laughs about the painting with Marc but tells Serge he likes it. Pulled into the disagreement a blazing row takes place between the three.
They square off over the painting, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less about art and more personal, they border on destroying their friendship.
It all sounds a bit grim yet actually it is a very funny play which contains many truths. On one level the play points a finger at the art world and its pretentions. But at another level it looks at friendships and all their complexities. Especially when friendships are under strain.
Friendships can be so important. Some are brief perhaps typified by those in school or at work. But others stand the test of time. And real friendships are those that remain strong despite the turmoils of life. Despite disagreements.
We know that Jesus placed a great emphasis on friendships. We see it in his relationships with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And of course, we see it in the disciples - especially James, John and Peter.
Jesus’ friendships were tested following his arrest and crucifixion. He felt let down and rejected by his closest friends. However, following his resurrection he comes to them, he forgives them, and he reinstates them.
From time to time we may find ourselves let down by friends. We are then faced with choices. We can cut those friends off for the harm we feel they have done. Or we can look at what they have done for us in the past and forgive them.
A verse of an old hymn gives good advice:
Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious saviour still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms He’ll take and shield you. You will find a solace there.
Rev David Gray May 2018