I am a proud member of the Barbershop Harmony Society which is hosting its international convention this week in Vegas. Since I can’t be there to enjoy the fun, I’m listing the reasons I love this hobby. Monday I talked about how beautiful the music is. Yesterday, I reflected on how fun performing is. And today, I want to talk about friendships.

But first a little backstory.

Not long before I joined the Society I was preaching in northwest Indiana. One of the guys in my church was very involved in theater, and he decided to start a little community theater group in the township where his family lived. He knew I liked music and was a ham, so he asked me to audition for a couple of the productions. I played “Marryin’ Sam” in Lil Abner, and the mayor in Bye Bye Birdie. It was a lot of fun! And since several of us from church were involved, it was a great way to be together.

One night after we finished Bye Bye Birdie, several of us decided we wanted to hang out, and since I had a parsonage, I invited the cast to come to my place. As it turned out, none of the other cast members that went to church with me came, but several other cast members did. And as we sat in my living room playing games, I realized that this was the first time I had people in my house that I had no church connection with since…well, forever.

And so I decided that night that if I was going to follow the example of Jesus, who made a point of befriending people outside of the circle of disciples, that I needed to do the same. So I made a New Year’s Resolution to join either a Toastmasters club or a barbershop chapter, searched for a local chorus on the internet, and the rest is history.

That decision has paid off in ways I could never have imagined. I’ve made friends all around the world, from an enormous variety of religious, political, and social backgrounds. I’m missing a lot of them this week!

It is no secret that America is a deeply divided nation. The level of vitriol on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter is astonishing. There are lots of reasons for the fragmented nature of civic life in our country, but one of the biggest factors is that too many Americans are content to live in tiny ideological bubbles, listening only to media sources that they agree with, socializing only with those who share the same beliefs. Barbershop provides a beautiful outlet to break out of these sorts of cocoons and do what sociologist Jonathan Haidt recommends:

Make an effort to meet someone on the other side. Only with people who challenge us can we find the truth.

Through barbershop I’ve engaged in incredibly interesting – and for the most part, amiable and respectful – discussions about sensitive issues like belief in God, the basis of morality, and same-sex marriage. These exchanges have helped me better understand those who disagree with me, and those friends have forced me to sharpen my own thinking. It is all too easy to dehumanize the people who disagree with us as opponents and enemies. But you can’t dehumanize someone you are ringing a chord with!

But most of all, I am thankful for the love and support this wide network of friendships has shown Kristi and me as she has battled cancer. We are blessed with a large circle of friends through our church connections, but in addition to that fellowship, we know that there are people all over the world who are a part of the barbershop family who are praying for us. It means more than we can say.

Longfellow once said that “Music is the universal language of mankind.” Sharing it with each other is a powerful way to transcend the Babel of division and learn to understand one another. Barbershop harmony offers a path for me and many others to seek the deeper harmony of our shared humanity.

For a powerful example of the transcendent power of harmony, enjoy this championship performance from New Zealand’s Musical Island Boys!