On Monday of this week (May 20, 2013), in the New York Times, Op-Ed columnist David Brooks wrote about two studies on word usage that have been conducted using Google’s database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008. Referencing two studies, Brook writes:
“Between 1960 and 2008 individualistic words and phrases increasingly overshadowed communal words and phrases. That is to say, over those 48 years, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “standout,” “unique,” “I come first” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently. Communal words and phrases like “community,” “collective,” “tribe,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good” receded.” The trend in the direction of individualism and away from community mirrors what sociologists, especially Robert Bellah, have been telling us, and what those of us affiliated with organized religion have been experiencing.
Which leads me to this…
If the best of our religious/spiritual impulse turns us in the direction of compassion and kindness and generosity and gratitude, all of which are words that lean in the direction of community, where do we turn to be reminded of those values and to have those them reinforced in our lives especially when those values are increasingly counter-cultural? Religious institutions – churches, synagogues, mosques, temples – are one place, but we also know fewer people affiliate with organized religion today than 50 years ago. So, what do we build in their place?
I don’t think doing nothing is a viable option.
Going against the grain;
Is almost impossible to do alone.
And, reflecting on my own life, to the extent that I am able my ability to be compassionate and kind and generous and grateful has be nurtured and deepened and sustained through my interaction with and my accountability to others. The African understanding of ubuntu is accurate. I am who I am because of who we are together.
So, if I am correct and doing nothing is not a viable option if we want to be and to become a compassionate people, what can we build together? It does not have to be or to look like what we know as church, but I do think it will require some intentionality and commitment and accountability and presence.