Go to Church

church-cartoon1Right after the election, my wife and I drove to Denver to visit our daughter and her family. My youngest granddaughter was being confirmed in the Catholic Church, and we attended the ceremony.

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I’m not religious. It just never took. I grew up in the 60’s, when the message was “If it feels good, do it.” Church was viewed as square; the cool kids didn’t go to church. I was the furthest thing from cool, but I felt no incentive to buck the conventional wisdom of my generation.

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Fast forward to today, and one begins to see things from an entirely different point of view. Just the other day, I read an article in the Chicago Tribune which dealt with the matter of gun violence, and contained a litany of lines about the fear of attending public events or sending kids to school. The take-away line was:

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“Is this truly the best we can do? Is this truly the way we’re choosing to live? With an ever-present dread? Knowing that none of us is safe from an outburst of rage…”

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I want to use that line to dive into something I’ve wanted to talk about for quite some time. While we have become more and more connected through social media to people we’ve never met around the country and even throughout the world, inviting them to be “friends” on our Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, how many of us know the names of the people living next door or across the street?

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We’re now ordering our lives along a narrow band of interests and are limiting our acquaintances to those who share those interests, while at the same time ignoring our real communities, where we actually live. While our circle of “friends” grows, we find ourselves ever more isolated and alone within our own four walls.

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And why is that so? I think it’s partly due to the fact that we’ve internalized all of the incidents we see happening thousands of miles away and imagine them happening right around the corner. It’s not that those incidents are more numerous, it’s that they enjoy a wider circulation and we allow ourselves to be personally affected by them, thinking that we could be next. But the fact is that in most communities, people can walk down the street, send their kids to a park or to the movies or attend 4th of July fireworks displays or public concerts without fear of violence. Schools are statistically still the safest place for our kids to be. But by allowing ourselves to be bombarded with such widely-scattered events, we’ve convinced ourselves that all of this is happening right next door. It’s one thing to be aware of and have empathy for the victims of these random acts, and yet another thing to allow them to keep us in a state of such constant fear that they control our every action. We’re becoming a culture governed by fear.

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This is where I circle around back to the time I spent at my granddaughter’s confirmation. Strip away the rituals of the Mass, and you’re left with three things: the profession of faith, the forgiveness of sin and the gift of the Eucharist. Even if you can’t make that leap of faith, those things still bring comfort because of their appeal to those who don’t seek that comfort by the approbation of an echo chamber but through the search for some deeper shared meaning. I saw generations brought together into a community that is universal, but in a way that is so much different than the community that those addicted to their social media circles would seek. That’s because those participants are looking for something that’s timeless and bigger than themselves, and are doing it in the midst of their neighbors, families and friends. I believe that’s the true means by which people can regain a connection with the things that matter. And by doing that, we can begin to knit back together the fabric of community that is being lost as we become ever smaller and more isolated in a world with boundaries so elastic that they have stretched beyond our ability to see them. We aren’t meant to live our lives in isolation; we are social beings who need and want to be needed.

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There’s a place where that can happen. Go to church.

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