I used to shop occasionally at a local food exchange store in Delaware, the kind of place where you bring your own bottle to fill up olive oil and where you can buy barley in bulk if you wanted it. I had gotten to know the lady who ran it and she was cool, nice, and very community-minded. She ran workshops on making kombucha and soap and the like. She was on a first name basis with many of her customers. For people looking for the local-experience, this woman was doing her darndest to bring it back and provide it.
I stopped going after a while though, because honestly sometimes I just wanted to get my shopping done and not have to make a special trip, or maybe I was tired of paying a premium for the experience. Like I said, I'm a supporter of the local economy in theory, but in practice I'm not up to par and am probably contributing to the breakdown of the fabric of our society by where I spend my dollars. If I'm honest, I think I'm just a lot like many other people of my generation that are suckers for marketing.
When I see a big Wawa sign, I get brain signals of "comfort" "familiarity" "home." When I pull up to a Joe's Service Station, I get signals of "danger" "unknown" "too intimate." Why? I think it stems from a kind of comfortable impersonalism that is becoming commonplace in our interactions, our schools, and our churches. I can run in and get a coffee and be out in 30 seconds. I can accidentally clog the toilet and not be completely mortified that I will run into the owner in town somewhere. Etc.
I read an article recently that Millennials today engage more with their smartphones than actual human beings. They are having sex with each other less, don't know how to date, and as I see on campus, they may be sitting right next to one another in the lounge and text-exchanging instead of talking or interacting face-to-face. I'm young enough to be somewhat text-savy, but old-school enough that I still like to pick up the phone and call someone (a no-no for millennials) and get to know people in person (preferably over coffee). Most of us now, though, are bowling alone.
Where this impersonalism gets me is in church. Catholics have a kind of Wawa-mentality when it comes to our Sunday obligation, I think--most want to "get in, get out", anonymously if possible, and not engage too much. Churches used to be the hubs of the local community. You identified with which parish you went to, you met people you might eventually marry there, and you know where to go for help when you or someone you know needed it. I have tried on occasion smiling and saying, "hi, my name is Rob" to people at church after Mass, but it's usually seen as kind of weird and intrusive.
So, I'm both part of the problem in my big-box consumer mentality that is so easy to fall into, and also recognizing that the kind of impersonalism that is comfortable for us is not always healthy for a society or the church as a whole. We need connection, and connections happen when people let down their guard and get to know one another, even when it means being vulnerable (at the appropriate time). Families are so isolated today, it makes our lives raising children harder when we are so disconnected from other support networks.
What do you think? Is there a solution?