One of the long-term effects of this pandemic will be the impact on human relationships. While daily infection numbers and death rates capture our attention there is a secondary effect that is taking a hidden but heavy toll on people: isolation. We know that ‘social distancing’ keeps the bug from spreading to some degree, but do we know what deconstructing our social fabric, keeping families apart, avoiding going places together, and closing our schools is doing to our emotional and spiritual health?
What we do know is that depression has risen sharply. Divorce rates are climbing, too. Yes, we are even getting physically heavier, in part, as a result, it is theorized, of eating more to compensate for loss of social connections. Please do not read those words as a political statement. Twin imperatives have met – keeping physically healthy and staying meaningfully connected. Time will tell if, as a society, we have chosen the right balance between the two.
What is inarguable is the critical importance of maintaining our network of family, friends, and colleagues. The American myth of rugged individualism is just that – a myth. While we may make a legend of the ‘self-made’ person who supposedly dragged himself up by his own bootstraps, the truth is that everyone of us relies heavily on others to survive. The children who do best in life are those who grow up in healthy, functional families with a wide circle of support. Generally it is not pure intellect that allows a person to become a ‘success’ in life. The learned ability to negotiate social interactions, to build friendships, to deal with conflict without self-destruction is a key component of personal fulfillment.
“Community” is one of those words we like to toss around. Who can be against it? But, who is actually for it? Our highly mobile society, the willingness to pull up stakes and relocate every 5 years, is evidence that we have redefined the how we understand ‘community.’ For many complex reasons, Americans tend to change jobs every 4.5 years! The idea of working for the same employer for 40 years is a quaint notion in our time.
Two generations ago it was likely that a person would remain in the same town in which she was born, that she would know her extended family, that she would invest in building the social structure that would sustain the next generation. Far fewer persons are willing to choose fewer ‘opportunities’ to remain in a place where they can build and sustain life-long connections with friends and family. Living in community is absolutely essential to order, for the transmission of values, as a part of development of character.
The last 20 years have given us ‘social media.’ Many believed that these technologies would be the new, perhaps better, way to sustain connections. I am very thankful that Facebook™ allows me to stay ‘in touch’ with friends far away, with those I knew ‘in person’ long ago. However, as we are learning more each day, the blessing of virtual connections is not what we might have hoped for.
Facebook is often more ‘Fakebook.’ Reality and digital image are, in many instances, at wide variance. We are, strangely enough, much more likely to attack a person online than we ever would even think of doing face to face. The chasms of social divide are, in large degree, the result of algorithms that increasingly expose us only to people who think, act, and vote like we do, reinforcing our own opinions. A discussion in a church foyer sounds much different than a ‘discussion’ on social media.
What does this have to do with our Christianity? Basic to the practice of faith is being ‘in the Body of Christ.’ We may split hairs about whether or not being in a church is necessary to our salvation, but the importance of being truly committed to a local community of faith it is beyond debate. In my faith tradition we talk much about having a ‘personal relationship with Jesus.’ I believe that is true. He knows and love ME personally. We must not forget that Jesus also calls us into His Church and to the interdependence of the shared spiritual gifts that are expressed within a local congregation.
The wisdom of God is found in this passage penned by Paul under the inspiration of the Spirit. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment.
But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.“ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, NIV)
The healthiest and most fruitful Christians will find a local church; get committed, work through inevitable conflicts, grow through personal disappointment, worship together, find joy, and live in the strength of community. It is a fact, though one that many are willing to dispute or ignore these days.
Here is a word from the Word. May we take time to consider what the Spirit is saying to us and discover the life that Truth brings to us. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.”
(Hebrews 10:19-25, NLT)
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord.
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride,
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
Elect from every nation
Yet one o’er all the earth.
Her charter of salvation-
One Lord! One faith! One birth!
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.
Samuel Sebastian Wesley
© Words: Public Domain