Self-inflicted ignorance of history can be devastating
How about if we update our images of the Amish?

What we lose when we drop out of community to go it alone

The idea that human beings are built for relationship is found throughout the sacred scripture of many faith traditions.

Value of CommunityBegin, for example, with the creation stories in the book of Genesis and you will discover that Adam, the first man (at least metaphorically), was lonely and pretty useless without a companion. Thus, Eve.

Even Jesus didn't do ministry as a solo job. He recruited a dozen close companions. Knowing what we know about human behavior across history, one of the miracles of the Jesus story is that only one of those dozen disciples intentionally and permanently betrayed him.

So throughout history people have at least unconsciously understood the need for companionship. Among the results of efforts to meet that need: Houses of worship, social clubs, extended families, sports teams, restaurants, political parties and on and on.

Today, however, as this insightful Atlantic article makes clear, as Americans slip away from a commitment to institutional religion, they also are losing some of the very collective bodies that help to give their lives meaning. But what's worse is that what we're losing in the way of togetherness is being replaced by damaging isolation, due, in many ways, to our addiction to screen time.

As Derek Thompson of The Atlantic writes in the piece to which I've linked you, "America didn’t simply lose its religion without finding a communal replacement. Just as America’s churches were depopulated, Americans developed a new relationship with a technology that, in many ways, is the diabolical opposite of a religious ritual: the smartphone."

Our technology today not only keeps us physically apart but also apart mentally even when we're physically together. How often have you walked by a table full of people (especially but not exclusively young people) in a restaurant and noticed that almost no conversation is happening because they're all staring at their phones?

Again, Thompson: "As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes in his new book, The Anxious Generation, to stare into a piece of glass in our hands is to be removed from our bodies, to float placelessly in a content cosmos, to skim our attention from one piece of ephemera to the next. The internet is timeless in the best and worst of ways — an everything store with no opening or closing times. 'In the virtual world, there is no daily, weekly or annual calendar that structures when people can and cannot do things,' Haidt writes. In other words, digital life is disembodiedasynchronousshallow and solitary."

It strikes me that many religious congregations don't fully understand or value the togetherness they offer others. If the divine plan was to create people for deep relationships, and if those relationships are life-giving and life-sustaining, faith communities should be demonstrating why that's so and why people need such connections.

I feel blessed not simply to be part of a congregation that pretty well understands all that but, from that base, to be connected to at least three groups of people who meet weekly in person (with a Zoom option in one case). Because of all that, I think I have a better sense of who I am and who I'm not than I ever would if I spent those together times sitting on my couch staring at a screen. (Though, yes, we all need some quiet alone time.)

So just now I'm going to quit staring at the screen on which I'm writing this and go join one of those groups for the next hour-plus. Its members will help support, sustain and care about me -- and I will do the same for them. I recommend this pattern, even if its roots aren't in a house of worship. Are we together on that idea?

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Back in 1996, a professor at Duke Divinity School, Richard B. Hays, published a book called The Moral Vision of the New Testament. In it, he explained why he thought that the Bible condemns homosexual acts. This misreading of scripture (see my essay here on why I call it that) gave comfort to Christians who called themselves conservative theologically and who agreed with Hays.

Now, however, as this RNS story reports, Hays and his son, also a theologian, are about to publish a book that says Hays was wrong in his earlier book. As the RNS story reports, "Hays argues, in a preview of the book posted on his publisher’s site, that a 'dynamic and gracious God who is willing to change his mind…has already gone on ahead of our debates and expanded his grace to people of different sexualities' and includes 'Richard Hays’s epilogue reflecting on his own change of heart and mind.'”

Sometimes people read the Bible to find arguments to back up opinions they've already formed. The LGBTQ+ question is an example, and it's currently causing a major schism in the United Methodist Church. Other examples across history of damaging misreading of scripture include ideas that women should not preach, that slavery is perfectly justifiable, that white people are superior to everyone else. And on and on. The LGBTQ+ question should have been dispensed with years ago, but scholars like Hays added to the fire that kept it burning. Thank goodness he's finally seen why he was wrong, even if his confession is bringing widespread condemnation from people who think he's lost his mind.


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