There is a serious downside to killing off all our low-level personal interaction. And I really think we’ve been killing it off. Take for example, the famous middle-class flight to the suburbs throughout the 20th C or the loss of geographical affiliation through the willingness to pursue employment opportunities to the ends of the earth. I think it is probably fair to claim that never in the history of any society have people known less than we do about the people with whom we live in close physical proximity.
I survive living in the center of this city through a carefully constructed, shared fiction that I am practically alone. And I’m not alone in playing that game. When we all walk to work in the morning there are probably several thousand people within shouting distance, and we act as though we are invisible to each other. Other than the magical choreography that ensures we don’t touch, there is no visible evidence that we are aware of each others presence.
Honestly, I’m not entirely critical of this situation, I don’t think we’d get very far into the day if we all stopped to say ‘hello’ and ask after each others families.
The downside to the loss of unimportant relationships, is that our important ones carry so much weight. The death of low-level interaction, the demise of ‘unimportant’ relationships, does not mean that we simply stop being in relationship. I don’t think our contemporaries are any less gregarious than were our Grandparents’. However, I think we find that more of our relationships are of the nature of ‘voluntary associations’. Unimportant relationships, as are family relationships, are determined by circumstances that lie outside control of the participants. I am a brother to my sister, whether I acknowledge this or not, no matter how I act, no matter what I choose. I am your neighbour by virtue of the fact that through various machinations we ended up living side by side. In neither case did we choose each other.
It is these relationships we did not choose, the ‘necessary’ relationships (in the philosophical sense), that are withering in the toxic fumes of our obsession with ‘Will’, or more properly ‘Desire’.
We have come to believe that our most important relationships are the ones we choose to be involved in, the people we do not have to see but choose to see.
Do we secretly value them precisely because they are an expression of choice? Could our offering of friendship to these chosen few truly be an idolatrous worship of our own freedom?
I suppose I should leave room to acknowledge that we may choose our friends because we actually like or even love them. Aargh, I’m too much a cynic.
I know that we love our friends, not for our own choice, but because in this one and that, we have found a pearl of great price, sometimes strangely overlooked by others. When I love them, I love Them, and am enriched and ennobled by having loved.
But I’ve got to say, it might be that the great value of true friendships has led to our neglect of acquaintances.
Bear with me a little longer, I’ve got more thinking to do. I’ve been wandering along this path because I think that it might help with understanding some of our contemporary struggles in evangelism, and might also help to reflect on what we expect from Church.