I’ve written on this blog before about Robert Putnam’s work in his book “Bowling Alone.” He makes the observation that has been cited by hundreds of different authors and speakers that while bowling as a whole is on the rise, bowling league participation is drastically reduced. That is more people are bowling, but they are bowling alone.
Now Putnam isn’t the Don King of bowling or anything. Instead he is making a convincing argument that we, as a society, are becoming more and more disconnected from one another. And it’s killing us.
Did you know that people who are isolated from others are somewhere around 2-5x more likely to die from a variety of causes than people who have deep friendships? John Ortberg makes the point that “People who have bd health habits like cigarette smoking, overeating, elevated blood pressure, and physical inactivity- but still remain connected- live longer than people who have great health habits but are disconnected.”
Which explains why my side of the family tends to live so long. We may be eating deep fried beef jerky, but so are our really good friends.
Now you might think that not being connected to a group of friends isn’t that big of a deal, but Robert Putnam makes a pretty big argument that it’s not just important. It’s life-giving. Literally. Putnam says that the man or woman who belongs to no groups but decides to join one cuts their risk of dying in the next year in half!
But for some reason people are dropping out of their communities left and right. Why? Why if this is engrained into our DNA for us to be connected, why are we still insistent on bowling alone?
There’s an anthropologist named Victor Turner who spent some time with an African people group who emphasize community a bit differently than we do. When a boy is born into this tribe, they live a normal, adolescent life…until they turn 13.
And on some predetermined day during their 13th year, they, along with several other boys are blindfolded, kidnapped, and taken to the jungle, where they are circumcised (happy birthday!) and forced to fend for themselves for 6 months.
I know this sounds a bit like the plot for the Lord of the Flies, but what is interesting is what happens during these 6 months. Because this little group of boys will start off as individuals, fending for themselves, but after a while they begin to learn that, in order to survive, they have to stay together. They will have to cooperate just to have food and water, and during this 6 month trial they will grow to have a connection that will last a lifetime.
It’s such a deep connection, that Victor Turner, needed to invent a new word just to describe it, and that word was Communitas. It’s more than just community, it’s community with a common goal that is greater than any one of us, but requires each one of us to accomplish.
So I’ve spent the last several months living in the book of Acts, this dynamic story of a group of people who, unbeknownst to them, are charting the course of history. They are sacrificing everything, property, time, even their lives, for a common cause. The relationships that are formed in Acts jump off the page as people who are deeply bonded to one another. And it shows up in all aspects of their lives.
Which is a bit different than today.
In college, I belonged to about a dozen different churches. When I wasn’t speaking at some church somewhere, we would try going to a church in Searcy until they did something we didn’t like. If I liked the speaker, or worship we might go back there next week, and if I didn’t it was on to something else. I had this stock-holder mentality to what it meant to be a part of a church. And if they wanted my sizeable tithe of $5 a week than they were going to have to cater to me.
Because that’s what community has come to mean. What can it do for me?
But that was a foreign concept for the first Christians. (If you wonder about this, or just generally enjoy feeling uncomfortable re-read Acts 5.)
The church started off as communitas.
And when she’s at her best she still is.
One of the things that has sustained me in ministry over the past few years, when things get rough, or people let me down (including myself), has been that I think I’m a part of a group that’s making a dent in the way things are. I talk often about the university that we are integral in beginning in Uganda, or the thousand plus people who go on mission trips from RHCC each year. I love being a part of a community that has a vision for how big the Kingdom of God is, and what their role is in it.
Community says we were created to live with one another.
Communitas says we were created to live for one another.
It’s time to stop bowling alone.