The 'power' of one...a look into pervasive choices for singles

Originally uploaded by bobmendo.
In 1981 I worked in New York City, home of five million single adults. Just a few years earlier I had married my wife in the middle of the US in a religious ceremony. We left our quiet university town and moved to major cities in the US over the next 17 years before leaving for Sydney in 1998. And the life of singles continues to advance and become sealed as normative for adults in the 21st century, throughout the west. In fact it is increasing at significant rates.

Increasing loneness

According to the Australian Board of Statistics, 25% of households are home to only one person, and they predict that by 2030 the statistic will rise to 33%. Raw data? There are 1.8 million households where couples are living with children. However there are more than that-- 1.96 million-- with only one person residing. This drastically up from a low of 5.5% back in 1971.

Of course we can point to divorce and a few other social factors changing society, as we know it. There is an apparent and significant esteem assigned to people who choose to live alone, all without stigma.

In my neighborhood in Sydney’s north, only one household involves people living alone. Most are still Mom and Dad houses with children of varying ages or couples who choose to stay together, sometimes even after a divorce.

You would think that most people who are alone would live in the urban areas, rather than my section of suburbia. And you would be wrong, as more than 60% of singles live in houses rather than units or flats. Also according to the ABS, upwards of 85% of singles have at least two bedrooms where they live.

Eating out can heighten the loneliness of a lonely place, as restaurant greeters say “Just one?” to the solo diner on entrance. The greeter might well rethink the use of the diminutive ‘just.’ I remember in New York in the sit-down delis the tables were long rows of merged tables for two, separated by two centimeters. People would sit opposite one another at distinct albeit very proximate tables in a criss-cross fashion and have a sense of community, although with New York loneness.
In fact most cities can heighten the loneliness people feel. Social researcher Hugh Mackay is quoted in The Bulletin (10 April 2007, page 34) as saying “lone dwellers increasingly turn to their communities to create connections. There will be ‘development of human herds to replace the domestic herds.’ “

How did we get there?

I believe two major inventions helped shape this change in herding. They both launched in the middle of the last century. Of course, computers and the automobile were major inventions as well in the 20th Century, but the two on which I see major sea change and focus are the television and the air conditioner. Before the 1940s people would seek entertainment together, in sporting venues, in theaters or in movie houses, even in public parks. With the invention of the television, entertainment moved into the family home and eventually into private rooms for one person at a time to enjoy. The Internet with its accompanying You Tube or .mp4 videos has made this feature that much more exaggerated.

When I was a young boy neighbors would sit on their porches and speak to one another during the hot evening hours each summer. A slight breeze would be all we needed to find a bit of comfort. But with the advent of air conditioning, we could go inside and find what we needed inside, without anyone else knowing, in a more private manner.

So combine those two inventions, the air conditioning and the television and as a result, people could both go inside avoiding social intercourse and be privately entertained, all alone. This privatization saw its growth through individual TV dinners and later as earlier referenced in the Internet, iPods and the like.

Longing for relationships

Now although privatization is the natural result of the Enlightenment and individual ‘rights’ in the French Revolution and deistic theology, there is at the same time a longing within private ones for relationships. Hence Mackay’s citation of herding. As a result we have the ‘relationships’ formed on mySpace and Facebook, where people who have absolutely nothing in common find one another and are placed in ‘friends’ relationships. They chat, they instant message, they share photos, songs and videos, as if they actually cared.

The more we privatize, the more we long for relationships. It’s an odd thing as reported in anti-pornography tomes that those (mostly) men who invest themselves in the industry of self-satisfying are actually looking for relationships with those objects of lust on the pages of the magazines or in the dusty parlors of sexual addiction. The ambivalence of male anonymity is mixed with a longing for knowledge of the woman who is seeking to be anonymous or at least ‘first name’ only.

What people have always wanted and what we still desire is relationship. No wonder then when God punished the first couple in the Garden of Eden, he separated them from Himself and actually from each other. They who had been partners in honour and sanctification were now going to be in a struggle, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3.16)

Jane Hanson, international president of Aglow Ministries, speaks often about the last days and one of the clearest signs will be a restoration of the unity in the family, a reunion of man and woman into God’s design for healthy respect and devotion. In the same way I see Jews and Gentiles being ‘one’ in the Body of Christ as part of the signs of last days, so Jane sees men and women being ‘one’ as evidence of the end of days.

And it all boils down to relationships. God wants His people to love one another as He loved them. That after all was the ‘new commandment’ (John 13.34). When Jesus issued this new word, it wasn’t to get us to love each other as ourselves (Lev. 19.18). That would have not been new. Nor was it simply ‘love one another.’ Which would have been vague and hard to quantify and categorize. No, he told us to love each other AS HE LOVED US. In the same way that He loved, we should love. With the cross in the foreground, Jesus tells us to love each other-- to die for each other, to sacrifice ourselves, to emulate and to perform what He did…that’s the new commandment. Not only is there a model, but there is also a power to accomplish this. By His Spirit, Jesus will help us accomplish this “love one another” challenge.

Planted together

105 times in the Newer Testament (NASB) we read the phrase, “one another” and by this we learn that God is very interested in how we work out this religion in community. It’s fairly impossible to be a saint alone, although not impossible. The ordinary way God works is to give us one another with whom to walk. He makes people to grow in church, in home groups, in fellowship with one another. Yes, it’s possible to be a solo saint, but very hard. Don’t argue from the exception to the normal, rather argue the opposite.

Psalm 68.7 teaches that God camps the singles into houses.” (My translation) The entire verse in NASB says, “God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.” This seems to teach that individual religion, which is of such value here in Australia, is really a plan for a parched spiritual land. What God really wants is for people to be in families with one another.

Of course, there are exceptions and sometimes and for certain purposes God has people living alone in foreign lands, but the usual, the ordinary, the normal plan of God is to put individuals in people groups of His purpose.

As a missionary who speaks in over 100 churches each year, I find many individuals who attend my meetings who would do well to join the local church where they are visiting. There is such reluctance out there to ‘join’ due to fears or failures in the past. And yet, it’s God’s plan for the strengthening of the people of God.

What will the church look like in 2030? Will we be reflecting the society at large with 33% single households or will we be a counter-culture of fragmented people sharing God’s love together in houses. May it be that we welcome others into our lives, and they welcome us, and we all reflect God’s nature of community in these days and until He returns.


Clive said…
I really picked up on one comment: that we have ceased to make our entertainment ourselves.
As I have recently been sorting through my late father's papers, I have been quite taken by the richness of his life as a young man, in the 1950s. I read journalists from time to time decrying the Australia of pre immigration, before the richness of European restaurants, etc, saying how terribly dull life was. But no, my friends, the richness and delight of my parent's life: in musical groups (both were musicians), in sporting clubs and with family, all delightfully recorded by my keen photographer father: his life, without TV, without PCs was far richer and deeper in long lasting friendships . . . comradeships of unselfconscious joy, than I observe my life to be.
Have we lost something? Yes, I think we have; and I'd give up a truck load of fancy restaurants, TVs DVDs and the like for a circle of friends that came from my youth.
Bob said…
Spot on Clive. Life was simpler then and life, perhaps even my life, was better. Thanks for the memories.


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