Across the Pastor’s Desk: Save America — from loneliness

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, January 31, 2019

Across the Pastor’s Desk by Kenneth Jensen

Kenneth Jensen


Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, was president of one of our ELCA universities in Nebraska before running for the U.S. Senate. His recent book “THEM — Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal” raises the question as to why individuals have a visceral reaction upon hearing names such as Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell. The assumption by many is not that such folks are incompetent but that they are evil.

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“It’s not about taxes or tweets; it’s not primarily politics or polarization; it’s neither an unpredictable President nor the #Resistance to impeach him,” he writes. “The real culprit has less to do with us as polity and everything to do with us as uprooted, wandering souls.”

Senator Sasse, who has a Ph.D. in American history from Yale, observes that our world is nudging us towards “rootlessness” when only a recovery of “rootedness” can heal us. What is wrong with America, he believes, starts with one uncomfortable word: loneliness.

Social media is a contributor to this sense of loneliness. “(It) shifts our focus away from family and neighbors and local spheres of actual influence and toward faraway spheres where we’re far more likely to be passive, and therefore conceive ourselves as victims of distant, malevolent actors.”

Social scientists have identified four primary drivers of happiness which can lead to rediscovering our “rootedness.” 

• Family you love and who love you

• Friends you trust and can confide in

• Work that matters — do you see your job as benefiting your neighbor?

• A worldview that can make sense of suffering and death.

The church is far from a perfect institution. The church has been compared to Noah’s ark. “The reason we can stand the stench on the inside is because of the raging storm on the outside.”

However, this “ark” is our source of hope. It is where the good news of God’s love for humanity is proclaimed and where individuals become “rooted” together in Christ.

Congregations can serve as a surrogate family, a place to find friends we can trust, an environment in which we realize our work does serve others, and where we can begin to make sense out of suffering and death. It may explain why people who engage in church life statistically live five years longer than those who do not.

Kenneth Jensen is a retired ELCA pastor living in Albert Lea.