Despite marvels of modern communication technology, there is mounting evidence that many of our increasing number of gadgets are aiding and abetting a growing national pandemic in American culture: isolation and lack of social interaction.
How can one not, on the one hand fail to be in awe with these instruments of communication that allow us to communicate faster and more efficiently than ever before, but on the other hand minimize and lessen our face to face communication- whether it be talking on the cell phone, emailing, and texting-often while driving!
Robert Putnam, sociologist at Harvard, and author of the best-selling book Bowling Alone goes even further. He writes, “The distinctive effect of technology has been to enable us to get entertainment and information while remaining entirely alone.” Putnam’s research shows since the 1970s there has been a precipitous decline in engagement in the life of the community that has traditionally formed the backbone of American civil and religious life. He finds that Americans are increasingly isolating themselves via technology, with friendships and commitment to community is dying as we spend more and more time staring at screens and yakking on cell phones, touching base with our millions of friends on Facebook,-as opposed to seeing people honestly and forthrightly, face to face, with the emotional riches and challenges therein. A former Surgeon General summarized his recent experience as a doctor in a recent article by saying that in his years of caring for patients, the most common pathologies he saw were heart disease and diabetes but now it was loneliness. He went on to say that patients came to see him because loneliness made them sick. Weak social connections have health effects similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and a greater negative effect than obesity he said. Last year in our land, 8.2% of Americans under 25 suffered from severe mental health issues.
So, the question is, since my guess is that these instruments of communication will continue to grow and flourish, are there places where interpersonal relationships and community are not just valued but are hallmarks of the very nature of the organization. Who can offer a remedy to this growing sense of isolation, lack of social contact and loneliness?
One answer is the Church. I believe the church can be and should be a place where interpersonal relationships and sense of community are lifted
up, valued and nurtured. This is so in large part to our understanding of the Trinity. That’s right!
Now let’s face it, the Trinity is a difficult concept for even the most ardent church-goers and believers to grasp. In the historical documents section of the Prayer Book you will find the Athanasian Creed. It states: And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible! What?
The Trinity is incomprehensible in one’s ability to communicate the person and functions of the three members of the Trinity but in terms of our practical lives, the Trinity informs us that God exists in community, in relationship and that love is generated only through this relationship, overflowing into the very creation of the world itself. Therefore the relationships that exist in the Godhead are the basis and a model of all our relationships. These relationships are self-giving, shared, interactive and overflowing and therefore potentially offer an antidote to the epidemic of loneliness and isolation that exists in our culture today. 3 ways:
1) The Church can be a place where we are known and appreciated for who we are-warts and all. Remember the 80’s sitcom Cheers? Regulars and visitors found a safe place where as the theme song put it, “everyone knows your name.” We share this life around the altar with bread and wine and not a bar with Budweiser, but you get the point! This is huge!
2) Love, energy, care are generated from our relationships- as they are from the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; therefore the church can be a place where we can honor our diversity and learn to express our differences face to face, speaking the truth in love precisely because we have learned how to interact with the other; and when we blow it, when we hurt each other as we will continue to do, the church can be place where we are forgiven. I’m not sure you can be forgiven over e-mail.
3) Finally, the acceptance and confidence we have learned by interacting with one another, will often flow out beyond the walls of the church into the larger community-to engage folks out there who are isolated and lonely, hurting and afraid; maybe that initiative could be the means by which people would be encouraged to come and see the power of community here at Grace Church in its various ministries.
Modern technology is here to stay; it is neither good nor bad. It offers advantages and disadvantages, but it cannot be and never will be a substitute for genuine human interaction. Relationship and community are gifts offered by the Holy Trinity to the whole of creation. Oddly enough, maybe it is the proliferation of modern means of communication and its focus on “by myself” that will cause people to yearn for something richer and deeper than any Facebook or e-mail can provide- a community that welcomes and offers genuine love, care and relationship-not virtually but face to face;