Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Today I saw a church marquee that proclaimed, “Better to be alone than to be in bad company.” I posted the quote as is on my FB page; interesting comments have been made. But I want to expand on the idea behind the quote, if I may.

My “in-law cousin” Tim thinks: I agree. But on the other hand, bad company is so much more exciting, and you can live vicariously, and have better stories to tell 30 years from now.
And my dear friend Pastor Randy thinks: Interesting, but aren't those the sort of folks Jesus sought out?

I have comments in reaction to both of these, beyond what I just posted on my FB site in reply. The first is that there is a basic agreement with me and Tim on the issue, though not quite for the reasons (which Mark Twain would have loved) he gives. For me, the difficulty is precisely that “alone” for most of us equates to “loneliness,” and this is NOT a good. We have only to reach into Genesis 2 (an anticipation, by the way, of Aristotle’s Politics)—“It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18).  It is fundamental to the understanding of humanity that community is essential to meaningful life. And so, all too often, we choose bad community over no community at all (or what we are afraid will be, or become, no community). Think of teen-agers and peer pressure…

Still, I think it is a serious mis-apprehension to relegate all efforts of desert spirituality, including the desires of people to be hermits, to some kind of pathological anti-social sense. I have to spend time alone in order to come to know myself—and if I am not happy with myself, why should I think that the presence of anyone else need be a “magic wand” to make me happy? Relationships and communion are, after all, mutual gifts of one to another, not a parasitic dependency of one on another.

When I reflect on Pastor Randy’s comments, I agree wholeheartedly (almost): as I said to him, it all depends on what you mean by associating. Did Jesus “seek out” those who were, so to speak, fallen by the wayside? Of course He did. But He didn’t become a “fallen one” Himself in so doing; that is the key to understanding the message of the marquee. Jesus encountered “bad company,” but He didn’t become part and parcel of bad company: He called it to higher, better things. For so many of us, tragically, being “in” bad company usually means being absorbed by it.

Being alone, if we embrace it, might just be the context and opportunity we need to listen to the voice of the Lord to us. We long (rightfully) for community, but embracing too quickly the wrong kind of community can damage us for a lifetime. Which is really better in the long run?

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