Being 'alone' has taken the reins of an emerging new cultural shift. I recently read an article which commented on the aesthetics of 'alone culture' by illustrating that there are those who eat alone in a restaurant, drink alone at a bar, play alone, sing alone, do make-up alone instead of at a beauty salon, and camp alone, among other things. Additionally, I feel that this 'alone culture' has something to do with the popularization of the smart phone. As we are in the smart phone age, it has become increasingly common to see a once conversation-based family resort to internet browsing or texting around the dinner table. When riding in the Korean subway trains, you will definitely experience a culture shock. Every single person on those trains is looking at his or her phone. It really has become an obsession as even I felt pressured to look at my phone at the risk of being labeled as weird. Eating alone used to be something that was awkward, but now with the smart phone in your hand, we are entering into an age where people can freely be alone and function. Following this recent trend, it has even been said that there are restaurants that allot space for parties of one to sit in an isolated area and eat while being sheltered within partitions that somewhat resemble individual studying tables in libraries. This is the new culture they say, but it sure is hard to get used to. If this trend seeps its way into the church, who knows? There may be a new trend of people who worship in isolation. The 'Canaanite' worshipers that get fed up with the irregularities within an organizational system might resort to a pick-and-choose system of browsing online to worship, while consequently becoming a cyber-worshiper.
As many sociologists worry, it has become increasingly self-evident that this continued trend of the 'alone culture' will result in the very breakdown of society itself. The family unit will breakdown where maintaining familial bonds becomes a headache. There is also the danger that this new anti-Christian culture puts on the church. An internet worship service is sufficient as a supplement or in order to share the good news. However, it can never be a substitute for the community.
In the collection of essays, "Everyone's a Flower," by Jong-Hwan Do, the author advises his readers to wave at the flowers alongside the road and even give the trees a good hug instead of going straight home after school. He says that we, as people, are living our lives in loneliness and that reaching out to other people or even a tree will have warm feelings become reciprocated back to us. The subtleties of being 'human' in waving at the flowers or giving the trees a hug are slowly fading away. I believe we are at a crossroads where it is more important to be 'together' than 'alone'. Togetherness is family. Togetherness is church. Togetherness is the value behind the God-made familial unit and the church. Let's do our quiet times and Scripture readings alone, but how about doing everything else together?
Rev. Bryan Kim is the lead pastor of Bethel Korean Church, located in Irvine, CA.