Being Alone, Together

Yesterday I wrote about running alone and how parkrun might give people like the chance to ‘run alone together’ (as Leo said in his comment).

John Orr took the thought and expanded it to church. I like when that happens. His question was ‘How can we create opportunities for people to join in without having to join up?’. I think that’s a great question and it strikes to the very heart of some of the conversations the church (almost all of them) is having.

I join in without joining up every day. I use Twitter and Facebook (and sometimes Google+ but it seems a bit too much like joining up) to see what my friends are up to. Sometimes I see that they are where I am and we arrange to have coffee. Sometimes we don’t. There is no pressure.

Today I’ve been attending the New York Times Schools for Tomorrow conference in New York… from my desk in Hamilton, Scotland. I’ve talked with people about the issues being discussed on Twitter and Facebook and over dinner with my wife. I’ll take some of those thoughts to ICC next Tuesday and share them with my class.

I don’t have to sign up for anything.

I didn’t have to pay anything.

No-one asked anything of me.

I was free to take part as much or as little as I wanted to.

When I ran the Great Scottish Run I eventually took my earphone out of one ear. I like music when I run, but felt like I was missing something of the experience. My iPhone doesn’t cheer you on like the people lining the streets did, it just told me I was running too slow. Music is great but doesn’t give you water or hose you down. My iPhone doesn’t reach out a hand for a hi-5 or take your photo or hug you and say ‘Well done’ even though you are soaking with sweat.

Running a race is about running alone together.

But so is life.

We seek out places where other people are. Beaches, parks, cinemas, shops and churches. We don’t need to speak to people when we are there but there are few feelings as unnerving as when you leave your house and don’t see a single living soul for 10 minutes. At times of tragedy and celebration people feel a need to join together, often with complete strangers.

I was at a church that had lunch after the service because it was a special Sunday, a celebration. I heard an elderly lady say that ‘This is great. It’s so much better than going home to eat alone.’

A sandwich lunch is an opportunity to be alone together. It costs nothing to do. People bring their own and you can sit in the corner if you like or speak to people if you want to.

Church services are a chance to be alone together. You can sit, not interact much and go home. But there is a sense of an underlying pressure to Join Up, not just Join In.

There are lots of issues that people coalesce around. Jubilee 2000 and the Make Poverty History campaign are great examples. I believe in that. Hold a protest and I’ll join in. It doesn’t matter that we disagree about other things, we agree about this so let’s work together.

Community is a good thing. Being connected to each other is important.

My wife has gone out to meet her friends. I’m pouring our my thoughts to a computer, alone. We are both building community.

I’m just doing it Alone, Together with you.