Posts tagged ‘Community’

A Shrinking Design for COVID Times

First, a confession: I have not eaten at a Taco Bell in years – perhaps decades. But when I heard that the famed fast food chain was redesigning their dining areas, I was intrigued:

Starting next year, the restaurants will encompass 1,325 square feet (123 square meters) compared with an average 2,500 square feet for Taco Bell restaurants now. 

Two drive-through lanes will highlight the new restaurants, enabling faster service for eaters who order through the chain’s app. The new facilities will provide contactless curbside-pickup service.

This is in response, the designers explained, to a new reality – that fewer people are eating out since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, this is a trend that these designers believe will continue well into the future.

I think they could be right. Even as restaurants re-open, anxiety levels remain high. Many who once felt comfortable around strangers now prefer the company of a close group of friends.

In some ways, Taco Bell’s redesign is a return to the roots of the fast-food industry. When fast food restaurants first started dotting the American landscape, many of them did not have dining areas at all. They were drive-up and walk-up food stands. Indeed, the first Taco Bell had a walk-up window only and was no larger than a two-car garage. But a lack of a dining room does not mean that community around food no longer matters.

In college, my fast food haunt was a nearby Jack In The Box. Its two tacos for 99 cents was too good a deal for a college student to resist. Though I would never actually eat at the restaurant, I would also never eat from the restaurant alone. A buddy would always go with me to the drive-thru and we would bring a bag of tacos back to our dorm to share. The community was incredible, even if the food was not.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the importance of meals and community. The Atlantic summarized a few of these studies a few years back:

Using data from nearly three-quarters of the world’s countries, an analysis from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that students who do not regularly eat with their parents are significantly more likely to be truant at school…

Children who do not eat dinner with their parents at least twice a week also were 40 percent more likely to be overweight compared to those who do, as outlined in a research presentation given at the European Congress on Obesity in Bulgaria… On the contrary, children who do eat dinner with their parents five or more days a week have less trouble with drugs and alcohol, eat healthier, show better academic performance, and report being closer with their parents than children who eat dinner with their parents less often, according to a study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

With such pronounced sociological benefits, it’s no wonder that in the early Church:

They broke bread in their homes and ate together. (Acts 2:46)

COVID-19 has taken a lot from us, including, for many, a center of community in restaurants. Many restaurants remain shuttered. For those that are open, the experience is not the same. Half empty dining areas and blocked-off tables provide a strange – instead of friendly – experience. But community will outlast COVID. After all, we need each other. Whether in our homes, in a dorm room, or in a restaurant dining room, we will find ways to be together. The early Church did. And we still will.

For right now, eating out may be dangerous to our health. But figuring out ways to be together that don’t spread disease remains good for our souls.

August 24, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Deadliness of Loneliness

Loneliness is killing us – literally.  This is what a lengthy article in the National Post argues:

Studies suggest loneliness is more detrimental to health than obesity, physical inactivity or polluted air. Chronic loneliness, and not the transient kind that comes with a significant life disruption, such as moving cities for work, or the death of a partner, has been linked with an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary artery disease, stroke, elevated blood pressure, dementia and depressed immunity.

 A study published in May found lonely people have shorter telomeres, which are found at the end of chromosomes, like the tip of a shoelace. Telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides, and shorter telomeres are considered a sign of accelerated aging.

This is serious stuff.  So, what is the solution?  Some are arguing that the solution may be pharmacological:

Studies in animals suggest that a single injection of pregnenolone can reduce or “normalize” an exaggerated threat response in socially isolated lab mice, similar to the kind of hyper vigilance lonely people feel that makes them poor at reading other people’s intentions and feelings.

 The researchers have every hope the drug will work in lonely human brains, too…

 Loneliness increases both a desire to connect with others, and a gut instinct for self-preservation (“if I let you get close to me, you’ll only hurt me, too”). People become more wary, cautious and self-centered.  The idea is to help people see things as they are, “rather than being afraid of everyone,” [neuroscientist Stephanie] Cacioppo said.

This is all very interesting.  But I’m not sure that masking a problem medicinally is going to cure an ill socially.  The problem is not just that many of us are lonely – although that certainly is concerning.  The deeper problem, though, is that many of us are, quite literally, alone:

“Nearly 30 million Americans live alone, many not out of preference,” said Christophe Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness. In Canada, the proportion of the population living in one-person households has quadrupled over the past three generations in Canada to 28 percent in 2016, from seven percent in 1951.

 Life expectancy is growing, fertility rates are falling and the population is aging. We’re marrying later and having fewer children, if any at all. Technology means we can do almost all we need to do from home without physically interacting with a single human soul.

Solutions to problems like these cannot be solved by a pill. They can only be solved by other people.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God once said of the first man He had created (Genesis 2:18). So, God made for him a companion in Eve. And He’s been making companions ever since. We are called both to find companions and to be a companion. We simply cannot live – at least not well – any other way.

Community is critical for so many things. It is critical to hold us accountable in sin. It is critical to encourage us in dark times. It is critical to celebrate with us good times. It is critical to help us in tough times. There are too many things in life that we simply cannot face alone.

A feeling of loneliness may be able to be helped along by picking up a prescription. A state of aloneness, however, can only be solved by reaching out to another person. So, reach out and help wipe out aloneness. Together, we’re better.

August 26, 2019 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Midterms 2018

I read somewhere that there’s an election tomorrow.

Actually, unless you haven’t turned on any TV, scrolled through any social media feed, or driven anywhere and seen any billboards or yard signs for the past few months, it’s difficult not to know that there’s an election tomorrow.

For a midterm election, the rhetoric has been unusually hot.  The stakes feel unusually high.  And, if early voting reports are any indication from across my home state of Texas, people are turning out in record numbers because they are unusually engaged.

Sadly, though much of the voter turnout is surely driven by a sense of civic privilege and responsibility, at least some of it is driven by fear and anger.  The thought of having the “other party” or the “other candidate” in power – whichever or whoever the “other party” or the “other candidate” is for you – terrifies and enrages some folks.  Civic privilege and responsibility take a backseat to despising and disparaging one’s political enemies.

George Washington, in his farewell address of 1796, warned:

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.

Sound familiar?

Do we live in a political climate marked by “the alternate domination of one faction over another”?  Do we ever engage with and exhibit a “spirt of revenge”?  George Washington calls this kind of political fist fighting “a frightful despotism.”  Why?   Because rather than honestly and thoughtfully debating the ideas and principles necessary to maintain any robust republic, we begin to bludgeon and berate other people we see only as evil enemies.  We trade our humanity and humility for indignation and domination.

Early each Saturday, I go for a 5 am stroll, cup of coffee in hand, around my neighborhood.  This hour of the morning may seem crazy, especially since it is the weekend, but it can’t be that crazy – or, at least, that’s what I tell myself – because I’m not the only one out walking.  Each Saturday, my neighbors a couple doors down are also out, walking their dog.  We wish each other a good morning and, occasionally, we catch up on neighborhood news.

I noticed the other day that in my neighbors’ yard is a sign for the Senate candidate from Texas for whom I did not vote.  I have some deeply held principled differences with this candidate and I gladly voted for his opponent.  And yet somehow, despite our differing candidate preferences, my neighbors and I still manage to like each other and care for each other and talk to each other.  Why?  Because the same principles that lead me to vote in certain ways also remind me that it is “self-evident that all men are created equal” and are therefore worthy of my respect and care even if I disagree with their political positions.

I’m not averse to good political humor and satire.  Sometimes, it’s the only way to stay sane in what can often feel like a political circus.  I am also all for folks arguing forcibly and persuasively for positions, principles, and even particular politicians as they see fit.  And I think it is honorable to go out and vote.  And tomorrow, we’ll have the opportunity to do just that.  But remember, through every joke that is made, debate that is had, and vote that is cast, we are still called to love our neighbors.

I read that somewhere too.

November 5, 2018 at 6:15 am Leave a comment


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