I started writing a post about friending and unfriending people on Facebook, and took a pause to read what some of my friends were posting on Facebook. One friend posted a link to an article in the New York Times, How Social Isolation Is Killing Us.
The final paragraph starts, “A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart”. Yet this seems to overlook the fact that we’ve been drifting apart longer than we’ve been digitally hyper-connected. In 2000, Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” came out, in which Putnam explored the trend of social isolation starting back in the 1950s.
The Times article explores the negative impact of social isolation, the way we interpret ambiguous social cues, and the stigma of loneliness. It suggests different ways of addressing this.
Religious older people should be encouraged to continue regular attendance at services and may benefit from a sense of spirituality and community, as well as the watchful eye of fellow churchgoers.
A few things came to mind as I read this. First, going to church isn’t just for older people. I often talk about the importance of multiculturalism. The same applies to multigenerationalism. We need to cross not only boundaries of race and ethnicity, but also boundaries of age and value people of every age.
The catechism of the Episcopal Church in America describes the mission of the church saying,
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
To put it another way, a key part of the church is to fight social isolationism.
Another article I stumbled across this weekend illustrates this very well. The Portland Press Herald recently ran this article: When you’re the only one who shows up to church
As we talked, I thought about the timeliness of this little scene. In an age when many Americans have abandoned the institutions they once turned to for solace and truth, there we were, a priest and a journalist huddled together in an empty church. With the light fading and our voices low, it felt almost subversive, as if even kindness were a political act.
I shared this post, urging people to be subversive, practice kindness, and wonder about what their Epiphany will be this year. After reading the Times article, I’d add help destigmatize loneliness and fight social isolation.