Monday, May 18, 2020
A phrase I hope not to hear again. . .
Perhaps my concern is colored by the more carefree time in which I was raised. After all, as a child I was free and safe to roam where I wanted and to gather with friends as I desired. My brother and I had free rein to go where our legs could take us -- as long as we were home for dinner. I lived in a small town in which the folks saw themselves aids and extensions of my parents and they did not hesitate to call me out when I misbehaved. It was a time when people felt the deeply the bonds of community. I am surely there were places where this was not so. But the social connections of my childhood were never distant.
We live in a time when social distancing might have been inevitable even without the corona virus. After all, long before we were required to keep separate we had begun shopping online and waiting at home for our groceries and goods. We had long ago learned to work from home where and when possible and watched as manufacturing and other jobs gradually declined in favor of robotic technology and the interplay of the office give way to the virtual reality of the internet. Social distancing was a phrase we learned but its behavior had long ago begun to be normal.
Our neighbors are strangers to us and even the friendship of co-workers is often left at work. Even in congregations we seek a certain measure of anonymity and distance. We would rather sit apart than sit too closely in the pews. We look for the chance to depart without the obligatory greeting of the clergy at the door and the once vaunted tradition of church pot lucks are not what they once were. We would rather eat what we want by ourselves or in the small company of our closer friends. Social media has become the way we communicate along with text messages or Facetime -- all to replace the face to face contacts and more personal interaction.
Internet communion is the perfect sacrament for social distancing. It gives us the appearance of intimacy without all the mess of it. We can be spectators and enjoy the level of intimacy with which we feel most comfortable. We can judge the whole experience on the basis of what we find enjoyable and meaningful. We can search the choices to find just the video that suits us and pursue it without the baggage of doctrinal integrity to detract from our preferences. And then when it is done, we can go back to our solitude and YouTube channels and Facebook memes. That is just about how we want it. We are not only socially distant from each other but also from God. We are spiritual but not overly religious, enjoying the private rites we prefer without having to engage in any real communion.
The day will come when we will not remember corona virus except as an asterisk in a table of past epidemics but I fear that social distancing is a term that will remain with us still. And that is not something good. If we have learned to be suspicious enough of others to turn in those who would dare to violate social distancing, we will not quickly forget how to remain apart.