Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Isolation and Insulation


By Dennis Pollock

When my wife, Benedicta, came over to America from Nigeria, one of her great surprises about this country was just how little social interaction Americans experience. She marveled that the streets were nearly empty of pedestrians, save for an occasional jogger. In Africa people line the streets of the big cities from morning until evening. Even after dark many Africans are moving about while shopkeepers keep their shops and roadside stands open, hoping to make a little money from the late foot traffic. Often you can see little groups of men sitting around in chairs under a shade tree drinking soda and excitedly discussing the latest local news. And when office workers come home, after eating a meal they often come out of their homes and just “hang out” in the outdoors, enjoying the cooler temperatures the evening breeze brings. All over Africa there is human interaction. Sometimes they argue forcefully in loud voices, and often within a few minutes they are laughing loudly together, like the best of friends.

In the U. S. none of these things are common today. There was a day when much of this was true of us also. But times have changed, and technological advancement seems almost to have worked directly and uniformly to make us a nation of isolated and insulated people. One of the first major inventions which brought this about was the automobile. Until then we mostly walked or rode horses or buggies, which allowed us the time and opportunity to talk with the people we ran across on our way to our jobs or shopping markets. Cars have been around for over one hundred years today, but in those early days, driving in a car was an option, and was not considered a necessity. Rich people had them, the middle class and the poor did not. But even after they became available to Americans of more modest means, still we walked a lot, and young people almost never had access to the family car. Today, in many families in the U. S., there is one car for each family member. Dad and mom both have cars of their own, and the teens each have their own car as well. What this means is that whenever we want to go anyplace, whether it is to a local shop a half mile from home or a store twenty miles away, we get into our car, and drive at a good speed with windows raised, and no expectation to see anyone we know or talk to anyone while on our little outing.

Another factor which led to the isolation of Americans was the invention of air-conditioning. Before AC, people had large porches surrounding their houses, where they could sit in comfortable chairs after dinner and spend their evenings in conversation with each other and with those passing by the house. Once air-conditioning became a “necessity” in the 1970’s everything changed. Americans drove home from work, went into their cool houses, and never came out the rest of the evening. Why suffer and sweat on the porch when it was a cool 72 degrees inside? Home builders soon got the idea, and surrounding porches on new homes disappeared.

More Isolating Factors

The advent of television produced more isolation still. As a boy I can remember having only about four different TV channels to watch. And with no recording device, if there was no interesting program to watch, you were out of luck. You didn’t bother to turn the TV on and found something else to do. Today, there is never such a situation. We can record so many programs that interest us, that we could never watch them all. And these days we don’t have four or five channels; we have access to hundreds of channels and networks. As a result, we have no pressing need to go outside and converse with our neighbors. We stay inside our comfortable homes, turn on our large-screen televisions, and watch TV until we can no longer stay awake. Then we go to bed, get up the next morning, go to work, come home, and repeat the cycle.

If television weren’t enough to glue us in our homes, the dawning of the Internet cemented us in our homes even further. Now, even if we do happen to get bored of television, there is a nearly infinite supply of websites and YouTube videos which can intrigue and fascinate us. Our computers and cellphones lock us ever more tightly into our homes and living rooms and make us prisoners to our own interests. Why spend time with others when endless television programs, websites, and Internet information holds us fast?

The Camel-Breaking Straw

The final nail in the coffin of our isolation and insulation relates to Internet shopping in general, and Amazon in particular. One great tradition of American socialization is expiring right under our noses. Shopping malls are dying at an alarming rate. I can remember a huge mall from my youth, called the Northwest Plaza which opened in 1965. I was just entering adolescence at that time, and this mall became a favorite habitat for me and my good buddy, Tom Decaro. From our houses, across the street from each other, we could walk there in about fifteen minutes. We were around twelve or thirteen at the time, so we couldn’t yet drive anywhere, unless we got our moms to take us, but we could walk to the mall. It had a Sears store that was always full of customers, and even had a motorcycle section, where I spent time drooling over the small motorcycles and scooters, and dreaming of the day when I could buy one. Next to Sears was a huge Woolworth’s “dime store” which specialized in cheaper items. It even had a small restaurant. I can remember ordering a strawberry shortcake there one day and awkwardly trying to flirt with the “older woman” who worked behind the counter, who had just turned 16. I didn’t get anywhere with her, but it was fun trying.

There were all kinds of fascinating smaller stores, such as the Spencer Gifts store, which featured weird and usually cheap items. And one of my favorite places to go was the bookstore. Unlike most of my peers, I was a reader and loved to read in those days (still do). Time at the mall was a great way to enjoy an afternoon. I rarely bought much or spent much money on anything, but it was fun to look, and when I did find something within my meager budget, I carried it home proudly. I had bought something “at the mall.”

As an adult, with children of my own, my wife and I would usually visit this mall from the days of my youth before Christmas and shop for our kids. Even though the outdoor plaza had been enclosed and was now an indoor mall, it still carried such positive memories that Christmas just didn’t seem quite complete without a shopping trip there.

Texas Mall

After moving to Texas, I found another mall which we visited with our children frequently. Like the other mall, it was filled with life: people everywhere, lots of noise, good smells coming from the food court, and an endless parade of big and small stores, all beckoning to us to come in and enjoy their atmosphere and be tempted by their many products. We spent countless hours at this happy place, called the Collin Creek Mall, located in Plano, Texas. As our kids got older my wife and I would often allow the children to separate from us, so that they could go to their places of interest and we to ours. We would meet back at a designated time and drive home happily with our treasures. It was more than shopping, it was activity, it involved interacting with people and walking around, talking, and having meals together at the food court.

Today the malls are dying. In fact, the two malls I have just described to you are both dead. The mall of my youth died about ten years ago, and the other one died just last year. I visited it while it was in its death throes, and it was a sad spectacle. This familiar friend, which had once been filled with happy shoppers, boisterous teens, and crying babies, was now as quiet as a tomb. Only a handful of shoppers were there, and most of the stores were closed. I ate at the food court, and sat alone in a sea of empty chairs and tables. This mall, which held such beautiful memories for me, was clearly in its last days.

But it’s not just malls that are closing; retail stores of all kinds are dying. Sears is dead, K-Mart is gone, Macy’s is shutting stores, along with Dillards, desperately hoping to survive the purge. J C Penney’s, The Gap, Old Navy, American Eagle – all are either struggling to hold on or have died.

Online shopping in general, and amazon in particular, is doing them in. Today, rather than putting the whole family in the car and driving to the mall, we go to our computer or simply bring up amazon with our phones. We do a quick search, check out ten or twenty different models and brands of the item we want, read a few reviews, and then click and purchase. Within one or two days, that item is at our doorstep. It is ultra-convenient to be sure, but it involves no socialization at all. We do it quietly, saying nothing to anyone, having zero human interaction. Click, click – done! Here is yet one more force holding us like a powerful magnet in our homes, keeping us from socializing with or even talking to living, breathing human beings.

God is Pro-Relationship

Christianity is all about relationships. First and foremost, it is about a restored relationship with God through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Scriptures declare:

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation… (2 Corinthians 5:18).

But not only is God interested in reconciling us to Himself and restoring our fellowship, He also cares deeply about restored relationships with each other. Over and over we are admonished to relate to one another: “Love one another,” “serve one another,” “be kindly affectionate to one another,” “be of the same mind toward one another,” “accept one another,” “greet one another,” “bear one another’s burdens” and numerous other “one another’s.”

While our world is growing increasingly introverted, isolated, and insulated, Jesus Christ commands us to reject this trend and relate to people, talk to people, share Jesus with people, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sadly, even some Christians have given up attending church and home fellowships, and content themselves with watching online church services or TV preachers. They “get their dose” of Christianity by looking at a flat-screen television or a computer monitor or the tiny screen of their phones, and then go about their business.

Jesus declared, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). I don’t think He was referring to Internet chat groups. God likes His children to assemble together frequently, and in fact He commands us, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

In these days of a progressive movement toward isolation, let us determine to make our lives all about relationships. Let us draw near to God, and never move away from fellowship with people. We may not have a mall to go to, but we can go to church. We can assemble in home fellowships, we can attend our church’s pot-luck dinners, and we can invite Christian friends over to our houses for meals. The Bible says of the first-generation believers: “Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart… (Acts 2:46).

In Jesus’ days there was no Internet, of course. But Jesus could have stayed home, read books, meditated on deep subjects, thought deep thoughts, and written beautiful essays. He did not do this, but instead got out among the multitudes of Israel. He made disciples, argued with the Pharisees, healed the sick, befriended the sinners, and preached to thousands. Jesus lived publicly for us; let us live publicly for Him.



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