By Eugene C. Scott
The Illinois sky was painful, gray, close, oppressive. The few of us standing on the hill in the cemetery were all tucked into our coats and scarves against the winter wind. He, the man we were gathered around, was tucked against that same wind–against life–into a nondescript coffin.
I was a young associate pastor in a large Presbyterian church and had been asked to preside at the man’s funeral. I hadn’t known the man. He was homeless and had been hit and killed by a train. The few others at the graveside, dark suited men from the mortuary, a newspaper reporter wishing he were elsewhere, the policemen who had found the man’s body, workers from the homeless shelter, and the grieving train engineer, didn’t know the man either. Nor did anyone know if the man had stepped in front of the train accidentally or on purpose. It mattered to the engineer.
Funerals are always heart breaking. I remember each one I’ve officiated. But I’ve carried that particular funeral and that man in my heart for twenty years.
At all of the other funerals there was always someone who could speak for and about the person who had passed. Even the very old, who have outlived their friends and family, often have a doctor or nurse who witnessed their last moments. Presiding over these memories is painful but beautiful too.
This day I read the man’s bare-bones obituary, recited the 23 Psalm, offered a prayer, stood in cold silence for a moment, grieved in a strange, disconnected way and then turned and left the man in the hands of God and the gravediggers.
No one should be that unknown.
Yet many of us in modern culture, especially in America, and not just the homeless, live isolated lives, unknown to ourselves and others. I recently heard someone say we Americans are people of the box. We live in boxes, travel in boxes, and work or learn in boxes within a bigger box. Shared knowledge and experiences are rare. Each of us has his or her own earbuds plugged into a personalized playlist. And it’s costing us.
In 2003 thirty-three researchers from various fields published a report called “Hardwired to Connect” in which they wrote, “We are witnessing high and rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children and adolescents.” Further the report states, “In large measure, what’s causing this crisis of American childhood is a lack of connectedness. We mean two kinds of connectedness — close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.” Hardwired to Connect is not merely opinion but a combination of various empirical studies that show how and why humans need to know and be known by others.
Science aside, most of us intuitively know we need each other. Starbucks has not taken over the coffee shop world because they serve the best coffee. Starbucks’ genius was offering Americans a place to connect, if only briefly and outwardly. Mark Zuckerberg too made a mint providing people with a way to connect. Yet we need deeper connections than these two famous entrepreneurs capitalized on.
I was recently interviewed as a character witness for a long-time friend. A few minutes into the interview, I realized the FBI agent was professionally sprinkling into the conversation questions that would confirm whether I truly knew my friend.
“What do his children do?” he asked as if he didn’t already know.
“Has he ever travelled out of the country?”
Each question drew up a different memory from our thirty-four years of friendship. Pictures of being at each others’ weddings, of ski trips, fights, the births of our children, tragedies, successes, meals, illnesses, vacations, funerals, you name it, they flooded into my head.
Finally the FBI agent asked, “Is he patriotic? Does he love his country?”
More memories. To my chagrin tears rose to my eyes and my chin quivered. I was crying in front of a FBI agent.
Patriotic? My friend has served in the military all the time I’ve known him. Love his country? He volunteered to serve in Iraq for a year despite the fact his age would have kept him from having to do so. His son fought in Bagdad as a Marine. Patriotic? Are you kidding me?
But those memories aren’t the ones that brought on the embarrassing tears.
After my mother passed away in 2003, I inherited the United States flag that had draped my father’s coffin years before. That year, for Christmas, my wife Dee Dee gave me a wooden triangular case to display the flag in. One night we had a group of friends over, including my patriotic friend and his wife and son. They noticed my father’s flag was folded improperly and asked my permission to refold it. My friend and his son stood apart–the flag between them–and using sharp, precise military moves refolded the flag, handed it to me, and saluted. I wept that day too.
This was not playing army. This was father and son honoring a son and a lost father. This was an intimate gift coming from a long friendship. My friend knew me.
Sitting across from that FBI agent I cried because in a world of isolation I knew my friend well enough to pass the test and he knew me that well too. And neither of us would face life or death unknown like that unfortunate homeless man.
Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog. If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.
16 responses to “Created to Connect: How Intimacy Gives Life and Isolation Kills”
Beautiful post, Eugene. Heartfelt and inspiring. Deep, intimate friendships like you and your friends don’t happen over night. They require years of faithful connectedness.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your heart with us.
What you are describing is so very (and sadly) true. Actually, the problems and causes are obvious (although not always acknowledged, even if recognized). We’re in very severe denial, spiritually and psychologically, robotic-ly reproducing flawed human paradigms, hood-winked by bankrupt and seductive and misleading philosophies.
True human love begins in God. And the Truth is really fairly simple. God’s Words to us are amazingly important and relevant in these matters. Respect for God’s order and plans will generate respect for one another. A man, a wife. Mutual love and respect, and creation of Life. Security should begin in the womb, a sacred and safe space — but “no longer so.” (Witness the Right to Life struggles, as if a Supreme Human Court could overturn God’s Divine Word on these matters!) Security and belonging are also initiated at the mother’s breast, in her arms — warm, cozy, loved, adored. Dads are important, as are extended family, to back up and supplement 24 hours a day of ongoing protection and nourishing need-meeting, nurturing. Connectedness is a deliberately and faithfully “incubated” result of humans being consistently “connected” and lovingly obedient to a Loving God and each other.
Bonded families will also bond with one another to form bonded and mutually supportive communities. Or, at least, that’s the way it should work.
But, we have so many excuses, so many buts. “The demands of our modern economy” rip the mother away from the baby, long before either is ready — (“It wasn’t always so,” dear children). And babies, considered an inconvenient result of unbridled pleasure-mongering, rather than the miracles that they are, are untimely ripped from the womb and disposed of. Even existentially speaking, the message now being given each day to humanity is, “you are disposable,” your nature is “accidental.” The God-given worth and definition and unique identity of each one, although still true, is being obliterated by the insidious suggestions and manipulations of “those in control.” And we’re “buying into it” — hook, line, and sinker.
I’ve been saying “good psychology is good spirituality” and “good spirituality is good psychology” for a long time now. A lot of the faux principles of the “independent modern mind-sets” are in violation of both of these things. When will we wake up to the dangers of the brainwashing that is occurring?
Feminists are so “all together” that they can “do everything” and “stand alone?” Children will thrive in day-care? Old folks are basically a burden? We all need (and deserve!) the newest, most expensive time-wasting gadgets and diversions, and luxury cars, fashions and homes? Men just want to “play around” and hate responsibility? What is “this God stuff” all about anyway? I know who I am, and what I feel like doing!
Is it really just all about “what I think I believe and think” rather than what’s really True?
Living these Lies will have consequences. What Eugene describes is a big part of it. The most insidious result/problem is that we have become disconnected and strangers to our very own selves, we deny even our own true selves. And sometimes, after the damage has been done, no amount of ordinary “outer stroking” can heal or touch the pain and divorce left within. Very tragic indeed. But with God,…
12 “Therefore also now, says the Lord, turn and keep on coming to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning [until every hindrance is removed and the broken fellowship is restored].
13 “Rend your hearts and not your garments and return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness; and He revokes His sentence of evil [when His conditions are met].”
Acts 26:18 “…To open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may thus receive forgiveness and release from their sins and a place and portion among those who are consecrated and purified by faith in Me.”
How different are our modern lives and problems from even those we read about in the Bible?
Ecclesiastes 1:9 “The thing that has been–it is what will be again, and that which has been done is that which will be done again; and there is nothing new under the sun.”
It is an honor to write and have God spur you on in your thinking and sharing with us. I love the way you (and God) connect so many passages with the little pieces I write. Thank you so much. Eugene
Excellent post Eugene, brought tears to my eyes! It is so true about our American society . I watched an interesting documentary last week called ‘God grew tired of us’. It was about the lost boys of Sudan in which they documented a group of these boys in which the US granted them visas to live here. It was so sad because these young men commented about how unfriendly Americans are. In their country they were used to being invited over into a total strangers house for fellowship and here hardly anyone even gave them eye contact or said hello. It really struck me how isolated we are in the US.
I’m very thankful that the Lord showed me early on that ‘money cannot buy you happiness’. To know others and to be known is very important to me and I’ve made a point of developing and maintaining rich and meaningful relationships. Even for the ones that ended for whatever reasons or when someone decided to end a friendship with me. At times I was tempted to think, ‘it’s hurts too much to love’ but I pushed through and I’ve found the Lord always brings more and more people into my life to enrich it and bless me beyond what I could comprehend.
Thanks again Eugene for such an inspiring post about how important relationships are and our deep longing to be known by others !
Thank you for reading and responding. It’s been a while since we conversed (if I remember right) in this way. I have heard of that documentary but have not seen it. I will have to watch for it. I hope we can all be a part of God developing intimacy and community again within Christianity.
God bless, Eugene
I wish I could have finished that last with a reference that I can’t find (possibly a psalm). The meaning was that God is Faithful — (ever loving, forgiving, and merciful — this is His nature and consistency) — even when man has turned away.
Carri’s words resonate with me very deeply. I say that I suffer much as a southern/mid-western transplant to the northeast. Actually, I DO like to gripe about it, but I have managed to adapt and survive.
But for many years I could not put my finger on something that just seemed “to be wrong” and out-of-synch. Finally, I realized that I was indeed a product of my family’s conditioning and my early childhood surroundings, which were very much at odds with the negative brute survival instinct of “every man for himself” that you find up here. It took me a long time to perceive and believe that the root of coldness and uncaring — (that I would naively interpret as just being surface appearances, “believing” that there must be a warm heart “somewhere in there” that was reachable) — was as deeply ingrained as it really is in many cases. Such a stubborn root. So frustrating — & even in the churches!
Over the years I have been blessed to fellowship, from time to time, with a visiting group of precious southern Christians & was able to also be with them once in my own hometown of Louisville, Ky. I remember the tears streaming down my face as I had to acknowledge the peace, comfort, and joy I felt being in the midst of so many of God’s “sheep” (plain, warm-hearted, loving, accepting folks), as opposed to what I could now honestly characterize as a seeming majority of independent, prideful, sometimes spiteful, clickish and judgmental “goats” up here. (Offering a generosity of “understanding,” I think some of their problems are deeply based in fear and personal inhibition, but they are still pretty difficult problems, nonetheless! And there ARE some great people here too, btw!)
In truth, only God can know and understand the “ins & outs” of all these things, but this is what it has felt like to me for a long time. But through it all — whatever it all signifies — God has been “more than Faithful.” Amen. And Praise His Holy Name!
Stories like yours confirm that one of the deep aches in our hearts is for the kind of community that fellowship with Christ’s brothers and sisters sometimes provides.
A pastor in Texas I once heard said some of his most beautiful and most painful moments in life have been among the Bride of Christ, the church.
God bless, Eugene
32 “All nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them [the people] from one another as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats;
33 “And He will cause the sheep to stand at His right hand, but the goats at His left.
34 “Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father [you favored of God and appointed to eternal salvation], inherit (receive as your own) the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ ”
I don’t know if the way I’ve had a feeling about “sheep and goats” in the Body of Christ could/would be linked exactly to this scripture or not, but in some cases it probably is. Only God can really know “who is who,” and our outer behavior, (conditioning and actions), may often cover over (or not) a very different story “on the inside” — and in either way: the proverbial grouch with the “heart of gold,” or the deceptive “good guy” veneer shellacked over dark, hidden secrets. And, after all, we are also warned to be careful about “wolves in sheep’s clothing:”
Matthew 7:15-23 [True and False Prophets]
15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. … 17 … every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. …
and [True and False Disciples]
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ ”
If I were to surmise — (which I obviously like doing in my “old age!”) — as to what are some of the “hidden” problems that lurk more deeply in the psyche, under the surface of the modern (alienated) individual trying to “fit in” with the godless demands, patterns and offerings of a godless, self-centered and neutered society, I would have to imagine great failure and great frustration. I think satan has been well able to “poison the well” in ways suggested above earlier and more so. A damaged society will inevitably damage its individuals, beginning in the earliest stages of vulnerability and continuing with its relentless assault. When it comes to this plan, the devil has no mercy:
1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
The threat to the respect, security, integrity and identity of Life in the womb, and how it is (or isn’t) properly viewed, nurtured and cared for upon emerging from the womb, and how the womb itself is blessed, respected and protected (or not), are very important issues that weigh in heavily on the future psychological make-up of those being born.
The sense of alienation, of separation, of being abandoned or lost or worthless, that may result, causes a desperation or emptiness inside, that the modern unfulfilling distractions will just make worse ultimately.
There is no drug or salve or permanent cure for this condition, outside of integration and healing reconciliation with God. The ultimate wound, being deep self-hatred and self-rejection, is lodged and concealed (in denial) deep within, but it unfailingly reflects outwardly in a negative stream projected on all those around. There may be efforts to cloak this situation and to substitute a false “successful” persona (until that also fails). In the process, all kinds of problems have usually “piled on,” compounding many issues that need repentance and sorting out.
The antidote? God’s Love, God’s Word and God’s Plan for your Life:
Psalm 139 (edited)
1 “O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. …
2 “… thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 “… and art acquainted with all my ways. …
6 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? …
13 “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
17 “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! …
23 “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
24 “And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
God, as the source of our Life and the Lover and Creator of our soul (in His righteous image), can be trusted to help us sort out our lives and problems:
1 John 1:9 “If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action].”
Amen and amen to a Good God who loves us all very much!,…much more than we can love others, or even ourselves!
How thankful I am for the friends that God has put in our lives. They have been our lifeline in so many circumstances.
Me too, Deeds and you are one of the best ones. Eugene
these friends are like family,…
well, thank YOU!,…without something to think on, I’d probably just be trying to think of something yummy to cook and eat, or taking a nap!,…I’m very convinced that it is important to ferret out “the Truth of the matter” in ALL things,…&,…IF we LEARN to be VERY VERY HONEST, it’s easier to do than you would think, because the Truth is fairly simple and obvious (if you’re old and grew up in a simpler and better time and place!),…AND it agrees with God’s Word,…
We run into problems these days, because so much distortion has entered into the culture and been assimilated by the people, and our minds have been warped and influenced by much that isn’t really true or even rational, even though “talking heads” would prefer to block your own thinking processes and impose theirs on you,…this is something that I really don’t care for — & I don’t like commercials for the same reasons,…
Any time we share honestly and from the heart, there will be truths in Scripture that will resonate with what we are saying, and that is all I’m trying to do,…Often I get to feeling a little pedantic, but that is not my intention,…I just want to be thorough enough to be cohesive in what I’m writing,…so, I appreciate your comment!,…TY again!,…g
Of course, I meant to include this Scripture:
John 8:32 “And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”
The Truth is something very powerful, and very essential to a successful and complete Spiritual walk.
7 “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
oh, yeah,…& obviously “politically correct” doesn’t cut it,…
Hebrews 4:12 “For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart.”
— Some great Scriptures regarding the power of The Word of God, which IS Truth, and is indispensable to our full walk with God —
10 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with TRUTH, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench ALL the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 “And take the helmet of salvation, and the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD:
18 “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints …”