“The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.” – Joan Baez
David Brooks in his NY Times column titled “The Avalanche of Distrust” claims that in recent years a drop in social trust has led to loneliness in society. Since 1985 ten percent of citizens admitted they had no close friend with whom to reveal their deepest emotions. He states “By 2004, 25 percent had no such friend…Furthermore, fear is the enemy of intimacy. But the loss of intimacy makes society more isolated. Isolation leads to more fear. More fear leads to fear-mongering leaders. And before long you wind up in this death spiral.”
What if it is not natural to open up to close friends? What if we are born to reveal our most intimate sentiments with strangers? A neuroscience lab experiment which I have alluded to before revealed that an innate tendency to trust can be triggered between total strangers in an instant. Scientists suggest the risk to trust immediately is “probably augmenting an extremely rich model (we) come equipped with.” (New York Times 4/2/05” A Study of Social Interactions Starts with a Test of Trust,” by Henry Fountain).
I have also suggested that Jesus, St. Paul and John Wesley likely experienced intimacy with those whom they met on their travels. They were on the move most of their lives. Jesus on the road, Paul by his numerous moves and John, who managed to put 250,000 miles on his horse in the British Isles. Our Methodist leader obviously had a poor marriage. When and where did those spiritual front-runners have time to establish lengthy bonds with friends or family?
The famed trio left us with a model for running deep. The newborn church in the 1st century dealt with persecution and had to have distrusted outsiders, infidels and zealots. The worshippers had to rely upon communal in-house bonding.
What if trustworthiness continues to decline in our culture in the future? What if the intense divided voters in our country choose to stick together and the mistrust intensifies? What if road rage outbursts will continue to climb? What if the division over homosexuality in our Methodist denomination worsens? I have heard from two pastors who set up meetings to deal with the gay issue. They had fairly large meetings but approximately 95% were for gays and the 5% were against.
When church members are dealing with intense fear and anger over controversies they are seldom in the mood to sit in a meeting quietly to discuss the issues. They would do better to risk opening up to total strangers in the church. Many and maybe most members are estranged from each other in our temples. Here’s a half-jokingly true story. An elderly member was greeted by a woman who asked “Are you new to our church?”
The aging woman replied “I’ve been new to this church for 17 years!”
We might do well to pair up with strangers within our temples and risk bonding over explosive matters. Frankly, it would be easier to engage with outside strangers.