I Think We’re Alone Now

We live in an age of loneliness. As David Zahl pointed out at the recent […]

Connor Gwin / 5.21.18

We live in an age of loneliness.

As David Zahl pointed out at the recent NYC Mockingbird Conference, the age of anxiety has given way to an age of loneliness, the effects of which can be felt by everyone.

The U.K. has appointed a Minister of Loneliness.

We are divided from each other in myriad ways. We have built silos inside our silos and now we are all standing alone wondering where everybody else went.

The problem of loneliness is not a simple one and it does not have a simple solution. While some are quick to blame social media and technology, I am not sure that they are the primary culprits. Sure, staring at a screen all day does damage. Yes, thousands of online connections do not hold the same power as one or two real-life friends. Indeed, we are all participating in an unregulated experiment on the effects of technology use in humans and we won’t know the results until the damage has been done.

All of that is bad, but it is not the cause of our loneliness, it only exacerbates it.

The problem of loneliness (and anxiety, for that matter) is a problem of integrity. I don’t mean integrity in the moral sense. I am not hearkening back to some laundry list of values that have been eroded by video games or women in the workplace. When I say integrity I mean it in the true sense of the word.

I usually judge people who start articles or sermons with a definition, but here goes nothing. A quick Google search tells me that “integrity” means “the state of being whole and undivided” or “the condition of being unified, unimpaired, or sound in construction.”

We are divided in more ways that we can count. We are divided from each other and we are divided from ourselves.

We lack integrity. It is the human condition. It is what some would call original sin.

The apostle Paul named this lack of integrity two-millennia ago: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

We are divided against ourselves and we think we are the only ones.

Human beings are very good at deceiving ourselves. We think more highly of ourselves than we should.

I would love to have a solid daily prayer practice. In my heart of hearts, I want to pray the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer every day. I would love to start my day with a cup of coffee and Morning Prayer.

But I rarely do.

Every time I travel I lug my big copy of the Daily Office book with me because this might be the week that I start praying the Daily Office. Without fail, on the last day of a work trip or vacation, I look at the Daily Office book which has remained unopened on the bedside table and think, “Next time.”

I would also love to do yoga. I have a heart condition that prevents me from doing much of any exercise, but yoga is the one thing I can do. So I look up yoga classes. I buy yoga mats and yoga clothes. I even start dreaming of the day when I will wear beaded bracelets and linen shirts and people will automatically think, “Namaste” when I pass them on the sidewalk.

I haven’t stepped foot on a yoga mat in months.

I am fundamentally divided within myself. I want to do one thing, yet I continually do something else.

This is where social media has upped the ante. Now I can project the whole version of myself. I can construct the person I would like to be onto my social media personas. The problem is that I am not that person.

There is trouble too when we occupy an online space where ideology can be pure and undefiled by human weakness and division. Online, I can be ideologically pure, but it is harder to be ideologically pure when I am interacting face-to-face with another human being. As David Zahl put it, it is hard to hate someone when I can smell them.

And so the anxiety grows. I am one person online and another in person. Or more specifically, I am one person on Twitter and another on Facebook and another on Instagram and another at work and another at home and another with my family.

We are divided people. We lack integrity. We feel alone because no one knows who we really are and if they did we think it would all be over for us.

We have all become like the Gerasene Demoniac in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus came upon a man who had isolated himself from his community and was living in the tombs. When Jesus asked the name of the demon, they answered, “Legion, for we are many.”

Jesus healed the man of his many demons. He made him whole and unified again.

This is what we are all longing for and it is the offer Jesus makes to each of us. “Come to me,” he says, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

The trouble, of course, is that we don’t really want people to be whole because we are afraid we will never be whole ourselves.

In the story of the Gerasene demoniac, the crowd was not too thrilled that Jesus healed the man. When they saw the man sitting next to Jesus “in his right mind” they were afraid and asked him to leave their town.

We are those people.

We are so deeply divided that we reject wholeness and healing when it is offered. We reject the Good News because it is too good.  

The miracle of grace is not that it is offered, but that it is offered again and again until we are at the bottom of the well and can finally bring ourselves to look up. Seventy times seven is not a large enough number to count the number of times God will welcome us home again.

We all think we are alone. We all think that no one really knows us and that no one ever could. We all have that one thing we did or that one person that lingers like a “band of static right behind our eyes that we filter everything through” (Roll With The Punches, Dawes).

We know that we are not our social media profiles, yet we calculate and construct online versions of ourselves. We spend hours deciding on the right filter or caption to paint the prettiest portrait of the person we wish we could be.

It is not us and we know it and it makes us feel alone.

So come, you divided soul. Come to the table where a place is made for each of your personas. Join the feast of the loved unlovables that was prepared before time began. Come all you failed yogis, bi-monthly Daily Office participants, and struggling sinners — integrity is offered here in the broken body of Jesus, and we are made whole through his blood.