How we associate, kind of, now
How we connect to ourselves, others and God has changed, and we feel it.
The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is a conservative/libertarian research and education think tank. In a 2021 article for them, Joseph Sunde tried to add to the big discussion among researchers about why Americans are so disconnected. He sidestepped the obvious by not mentioning being locked down for a year by a virus that made us suspicious that relationships might be contagious. And he neglected to highlight the Trump effect that made family reunions (and churches) minefields of politics. Instead, he took the long view.
The unraveling of the U.S. social fabric has been well-documented since Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone in 2000. When I was a pastor in 2000, that book gave facts to bolster our instinct that one of the main directions the Spirit was moving us was to create community in a city where every other force was tearing it apart. Sunde reviews what studies are showing two decades later, and they are revealing. One researcher says, “Today, Americans tend to have fewer ties of association with each other and fewer organizational memberships, but they also spend less time on friendships….Many of the ties to social identity Americans do have are less conducive to social flourishing. For example, church attendance has fallen dramatically despite its social benefits, whereas entertainment-focused associations such as sports teams have risen in popularity.”
At some point, sports reached the tipping point vis a vis other associations, especially the church. We could see it tipping when soccer practices began to invade Sunday morning. Another good reason we had our worship times on Sunday nights was so parents did not have to force their children to choose. However, we still had to adjust for the national holiday called “Superbowl Sunday” to take up a Sunday night. We were definitely “second fiddle” then.
Another example of “entertainment-focused associations” presented itself in Philadelphia last month when Taylor Swift’s tour arrived. The local CBS outlet said, “Lincoln Financial Field is ‘holy ground’ for Swifties tonight as Taylor Swift will hold the first of three concerts of her Eras Tour.” Tickets were hard to get but “fans who were able to score a ticket dressed up for the occasion inspired by their favorite Taylor Swift songs.”
All that goes to validate how you feel disconnected and why. You probably do. I am a lot more disconnected that I was in 2019. A perfect storm of troubles has atomized the country and wicked people are capitalizing on our disconnection to seize power and keep us divided, as they historically do in such circumstances. It’s an evil instinct.
So what do we do? Maybe you can fill in your own personal details as we brainstorm how to claw back some connection.
To reconnect with yourself
Now that the church is so weak in many places, we’ve really got to step up our personal spiritual disciplines. After many people lost their churches during the pandemic, they realized their love for the Lord — heart, soul, mind, and strength, was mainly about being associated with the church. That’s a good thing, of course, but it is not the only thing. Without a growing personal relationship with God, spirit to Spirit, we lose ourselves quickly when trouble comes. And it is likely to keep coming.
You probably have some moribund disciplines that could be reignited. And you probably have some you’ve always thought you should try. Look at what your heart, soul, mind and strength each need and do something right now.
Here are some ways to reconnect that might not have some to mind.
- Sing with a karaoke version of a worship song on YouTube. Singing is very integrative. Here’s one of my son’s childhood favorites.
- Try sex with your partner again. Stress is bad for sex but sex is good for stress. We feel better about ourselves and our connectability when we get close physically. If you don’t have a sex partner, touch people, kiss your parents, hug friends.
- Take a pilgrimage. It could be to Portugal or King of Prussia. I just got back. Being out of the rut for a while and rubbing up against new things is a good way to see yourself as who you are now. It is also good for meeting God in surprising ways, which is the crucial element of knowing one’s true self.
To reconnect with others
The problem with connecting with others is connecting. We have to do something, move toward someone, organize to connect. The deepest parts of us say this is just supposed to happen, like mom should feed me. But once we’re over 30 or so, we need to take responsibility for meeting our connection needs.
Apart from changing your mind, here are smaller things to try:
- We decided to end our disconnection with the church by going to a church meeting six weeks in a row during Lent. It worked!
- Eat with someone. You don’t have to go through a drive through all the time. Make the family gather for dinner. Go out with a couple. Plan a monthly date with a friend or group. At least eat inside where other people are once a day.
- Do some therapy. The experience of being listened to loosens up our capacity to connect with others.
To reconnect with purpose
The last few years have left use reeling. The huge problems of our politics, climate and disconnection have reduced us to survivors. It is no wonder huge spectacles are welcome distractions from the huge forces that plague us.
The associations for which America was once famous were built by people with a common purpose. Do you think we can still act out such purpose? Here are foundational ways to do it.
- Listen. Who are you God? Who am I? What shall I do? These basic prayers are the kind that get answered. I don’t think they are answered by books as well as they are answered by meditation. Take the time.
- Plan. Write down what you hear and let it get shaped into a plan. “I need to stop drinking. What shall I do after rehab?” I don’t think things happen to us as much as we would like. We need to happen ourselves.
- Create. We just watched the movie “Air.” The theme was, unsurprisingly, “Just do it.” It was a good depiction of how hard it is to give your gifts and do what is best. But that is what are meant to do. We were created to create. Take the best thought you have now that aligns with the resources your have now and do something about it every day. You’ll feel better.