Friday, May 24, 2013
All the Lonely People
Friday, April 01, 2011 Comments (0)
Though Americans have never been closer to one another, at least in terms of physical distance, at the same time, they have never been more apart. Loneliness has always been something people have had to wrestle with. But in recent years, folk have seemed more pinned down by a greater sense of isolation. There is no more sinking feeling than to be surrounded by scores of people and still to feel as if you’re all alone.
This increase in loneliness flies in the face of all the “social media” networks at our disposal. While advances in technology promise us constant companionship, the truth of the matter is that people continue to need actual face and touch time in order to be truly human. I am still haunted by an observation the trend tracker John Naisbitt made in his groundbreaking work, Megatrends, published way back in 1982. Naisbitt peered into the future and noticed that while we were entering into a new era of “high tech,” we would need to be careful to remember that people would continue to need “high touch.” And boy was Naisbitt right. The level of anxiety in our society over the possibility of being alone has definitely reached the orange “High” level and is threatening to move upward to the red “Severe” one.
No other body has the opportunity to address this phenomenon more effectively than the church. Christian faith is inherently a social practice. There is no “Lone Ranger” Christianity; we are called by Scripture to live out our faith in community.
We Southerners have a quaint expression (at least I think so, since I am one). In order to distinguish between the second person singular (“you”) and the second person plural (also “you”), we created this quaint contraction (“y’all”). While grammatically incorrect, this condensing of the less assonant “you all” serves to distinguish between when we’re talking to an individual and when we’re talking to a group.
It was like having my face doused with cold water when I was taught in my baby Greek class in seminary that every single one of the second person pronouns in the New Testament were in the plural person. They were all “y’all” constructions, indicating how each promise and directive was intended to be lived out congregationally. Jesus may have called the disciples one by one (though James and John seemed to have been together at the time), but he nonetheless called them to follow him as a group.
I think you see the point: the church is the one place where people should feel accepted and at home. Of all the groups in our society today that promote inclusion, none should be easier to work one’s way into than the body of Christ. In the church, there should be a place for everyone.
I still remember something Emily Zlotnicki said to me in the breezeway of our church one brisk Sunday morning. As I greeted her, Emily, who has since gone on to be a part of the great “cloud of witnesses” in heaven, looked at me, gave a wry smile, and admonished me never to forget “that saying,” as she called it. “What saying?” I asked, totally befuddled. “That saying,” she insisted. “You belong here!” “That’s what makes this church different from any other church I’ve ever been to. You really mean it here; people really do belong in this place.”
Now, we say that we are “here for life,” and indeed we are. But part of that “life” is to invite people to experience “belonging.” Let’s never forget how important that need is, for if we do, we’ll just be a gathering of individuals who inhabit the same space for a couple of hours one or two days a week, and a far cry from the open and caring fellowship that Jesus expects us to be.
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