CLEF Newsletter - November 2017

“Just as My Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:9-13)

A Pharisee who was an expert on the Mosaic Law asked Jesus a question about what he should do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked him what he thought the Scriptures said about that, and the lawyer answered it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and one’s neighbor as one’s self. Jesus affirmed this, and on another occasion stated “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Matt.22:40). The lawyer, not wanting to look thoughtless, followed up with “And just who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke10:30-37).

Jesus’ purpose was not to give a two point check list on how to get to heaven. Indeed the parable showed that not even the Priests kept the law perfectly. But these two commandments, one from the Torah’s “Shema,” a declaration central to the core of Jewish belief, and the other out of Levitical law, do form the basis of what is essential to life as God designed it to be, through earthly life and beyond. And whether one believes in a divine creator or not, it is axiomatic that human connectedness is both elemental and indispensable for living. Yet there is a difference between mere social contact, and the alchemy that makes us more human.

Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy is writing these days that loneliness and adverse emotional well-being is looming large now as a national health concern and has even become epidemic. He states “We live in the most technologically connected age in the history of civilization, yet rates of loneliness have doubled since the 1980’s.” This may sound rather incredible, what with the modern social media of text, Twitter, Snap-chat and Facebook giving us minute to minute contact and communication with almost any and everyone 24/7. Yet the loneliness factor in our society is being recognized now as a major risk in reducing life span. It is, Murthy states, “similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s greater than the impact of obesity on one’s life span… and is associated with a greater risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and dementia.” How can this be?

We have, as humans, a natural and inbred love/hate attitude about ourselves as well as each other. We know the ideal of what we believe we should and ought to be like, but are forever acting in ways which mitigate that. The how, why and what of the “me” I try to project often becomes the however, maybe not and whatever of a faulted, rationalizing mindset. As such, our need to be intimately connected to people often gets abused by a selfish misuse of our relationships, keeping others at a safe distance and engaging only when it’s convenient or necessary for something we need. We want to be close, but not too close. The comic strip “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephan Pastis portrayed this well in one strip where Pig was twittering that he felt so lonely all the time. Seven others answering him agreed, but took solace that at least they had social media in such a cold world, a community in the midst of impersonal and ignoring strangers, until they all realized they were twittering each other in the same cafĂ©. Busted.

Loneliness is far more than a deficiency of human contact and intimacy. We can, like Pig, be in the midst of those we care about and feel close to, but sense isolation and loneliness nonetheless. Fundamentally we are faulted human beings who long to be known but fear the rejection that might entail. And so we either limit our familiarity with others or project a misleading or disingenuous persona. But there’s no fooling our hearts. To be fully known and yet still loved is our heart’s cry, but it seems untenable, so fearful we are of rejection. The key is knowing we’re not alone in that delusion, and resolve to step out of our insecurity by drawing others in thru the candidness of our own shortcomings.

Real community is costly. It requires a relational commitment to be authentic and a willingness to be vulnerable; a disposition which doesn’t take yourself so seriously. It requires an expenditure of emotional and empathetic capital that often leads to a serious investment of time and talent, even treasure. Authentic face time is psychologically and emotionally taxing, and compels honesty. And honesty is, as Billy Joel sang, such a lonely (risky) word, but mostly what we need (from each other).

The holidays are upon us. Loneliness will be legion. But for those who extend to others the abiding grace of The One Who fully knows and yet still loves us, Who then calls upon us to reflect that same toward others, there will be no lack of the intimacy and connectedness this holy season begets.

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14a).