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All around us is noise. Noisy politicians. Reports of crimes and arrests in the papers. Television news with an emphasis on the conflicts that surround us. Talking heads spouting their opinions. Then there is the internet, badgering emails, scams and more noise.

People have said to me that they’ve stopped reading the papers and listening to the news. It’s just too distressing. It gets them down and it works them up.

And, for icing on the cake, there is the isolation and disruption many of us have felt as a result of the COVID pandemic. It has not been good for us.

What helps us deal with all this noise? What protects us against becoming thoroughly wrapped up in the bad news and conflict? What keeps us from becoming isolated?

The sociologist Robert Putnam, some 30 years ago, wrote of the increasing loneliness of Americans in his book “Bowling Alone.” He saw a country in which people were isolated from supportive communities: churches, synagogues, clubs, teams and, in general, a sense of belonging to some group.

Where do we hear the comforting things? Where do we find the words of kindness and caring? Where do we consider the existential questions about our lives and the lives of others?

Sitting home, alone, watching the news or following online chat groups is not community building. If anything, many of the messages on social media and some of our so-called cable news channels are designed to make people upset and angry. The people who divide us derive power from destroying cohesive communities and societies.

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For me, for at least an hour each week, I go to church. Here I see a group of people who care about me, and I care about them. The messages I hear are generally positive and affirming. If the topic is a social problem, generally the discussion is about how to address that problem—not how it is unsolvable.

Going to religious services is not necessarily designed to make us happy. There’s the adage that a good sermon should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Vermont is one of the states with the lowest proportion of folks who are members of faith communities (right up there with Maine). Traditional faith communities are dying all over the place and the membership of national faith movements is plummeting.

There is a wide range of faith communities in Bennington — some conservative and some liberal. Some offer hope in a specific creed while others provide the opportunity to build one’s own understanding. But they all offer the chance to become part of a community that is bound together by common values, respect, and concern with the spiritual side of our lives.

For those who say “a walk in the woods” is their faith — that’s fine, and widely shared, but it’s not community. Trees are great, but they don’t give individuals the situational support we all need now and then. A walk in the woods, alone, is a lot like bowling alone.

Faith communities are not for everyone, and not everyone needs one, but if you’re feeling isolated, and are bothered by all the negative noise around you, come in from the cold and visit a faith community or two, or three.

Charles R. Putney is a long-time member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington.


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