“Not Bowling Alone”

First Parish Unitarian Universalist, Bridgewater, MA
“Not Bowling Alone”
New Member Sunday, April 17, 2016 – 10:30am
and on YouTube

Thought for Contemplation: “Just under half of all Americans [in a 2004
survey] either know no one or only one person with whom they can share
personal information.” ~Peter Morales

Sermon “Not Bowling Alone” Rev. Paul Sprecher
Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone fifteen years ago to alert us to the
decline of bonding social interactions in the form of bowling leagues, civic
organizations, and, in general, participation in public life. These voluntary
associations, he argued, create valuable social capital that in turn enriches and
strengthens our lives in community. His particular concern at the time he was
writing was that many of these organizations were in decline, including –
hence the title – bowling leagues. Here’s one story he tells about the value of
the social capital created by one such league:
Before October 29, 1997, John Lambert and Andy Boschma knew each
other only through their local bowling league … in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
Lambert, a 64-year-old retired employee of the University of Michigan
hospital, had been on a kidney transplant waiting list for three years when
Boschma, a thirty-three-year-old accountant learned casually of Lambert’s
need and unexpectedly approached him to offer to donate one of his own
“Andy saw something in me that others didn’t, “said Lambert. “When we
were in the hospital Andy said to me, ‘John, I really like you and have a lot
of respect for you. I wouldn’t hesitate to do this all over again.’ I got choked
up.” Boschma returned the feeling: “I obviously feel a kinship [with
Lambert]. I cared about him before, but now I’m really rooting for him.”
This moving story speaks for itself, but the photograph that accompanied
this report in the Ann Arbor News reveals that in addition to their difference
in profession and generation, Boschma is white and Lambert is AfricanAmerican.
That they bowled together made all the difference. In small ways
like this – and in larger ways, too – we Americans need to reconnect with
one another. That is the simple argument of this book.1
But bowling leagues were in decline as Putnam wrote, and the decline
continues, according to a recent report in the Leisure eNewsletter.
That’s not to say that no one is bowling, as Putnam makes clear; but bowling has become
a casual activity for families and acquaintances who already know each other
for other reasons, not a place where people meet and get to know one another
across lines of class, race and age as happens in bowling leagues. Nor is the
decline of bowling leagues the only example of voluntary associations whose
decline is troubling. Putnam gives examples of the decline and dissolution of
bridge clubs, chapters of the NAACP, VFW posts, Charity Leagues, alumni
groups, Rotary Clubs and many others.
These trends have of course continued since he wrote. An article in last
Sunday’s New York Times Style Magazine by Molly Young asked, “Is Staying
in the New Going Out?”3
and describes the decline of weekend socializing in
New York City. She quotes from word paintings from a series by the novelist
and artist Douglas Coupland called ‘‘Slogans for the 21st Century,’’ including
“Your sense of community is now someone you visit at 11:30 on a website,”
and “It’s probably for the best that everyone is online instead of being outside
wrecking things.” The resources available at our fingertips for electronic
interaction and the endless array of entertainment options can be just too
compelling as an alternative to the risks entailed in going out, according to Ms.
Putnam and Young point to the many pressures of work, alternative private
leisure time activities, and much busier lives for parents as among the reasons
for the decline of civic life and the resulting decline in social capital – those
ties that bind our communities across racial, social and political lines. The
decline of voluntary associations, I would argue, is also one of the factors
behind our recent political polarization. And, as other observers have pointed
out, citizens are increasingly segregating themselves into communities that are
homogeneous by income, education, and class, where the best schools and
homes are available only those with relatively high incomes.
One result is that “Just under half of all Americans[in a 2004 survey] either
know no one or only one person with whom they can share personal
information,” our Thought for Contemplation this morning by Peter Morales,
President of our Unitarian Universalist Association.
Hence the critical importance our congregation, bound as we are by
covenant to one another, and of so many others. Because the truth is that “we
need one another.” Actually, that’s your line; try it out: “We need one
When we mourn and would be comforted,
We need one another.
When we are in trouble and afraid,
We need one another.
So we greet our new members joyfully, because
We need one another.
And the particular genius of our Unitarian Universalist congregations is that
we recognize that our need for one another doesn’t require that we believe the
same things, that we recite a common creed which may comfort us but may
also offend our conscience and our integrity. As our Universalist forebears put
it so eloquently, “We need not think alike to love alike.” We are bound by our
First Parish covenant:
“To dwell together in peace,
to speak the truth in love,
and to help one another.
Sam Baumgarten, our president, has put up signs around First Parish to
remind us to live into our covenant all the time. Thus,
Living our Covenant: Keeping an Open Mind
Be True to Yourself …. Maintain Personal Integrity:
Honesty, Authenticity, Confidentiality
Listening: Sensitively and Patiently
And we are bound together by our seven Unitarian Universalist Principles,
especially the first and the last, which affirm “The inherent worth and dignity
of every person” and “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of
which we are a part.”
We think especially of our seventh principle today in anticipation of Earth
Day this coming Friday. Our earth needs our care and attention, and for this
[your line]:
We need one another.
When we would embody our “Respect for the interdependent web of all
existence of which we are a part.”
We need one another.
We need one another to continue the good work of embodying our
commitment to being a Green Sanctuary, of doing all that we can as a
community to reduce our impact on our earth. We will find ways to power our
church and many of our homes using only renewable energy. And we continue
to engage in public witness to remind others that we all need to make and
support changes – and sacrifices – to save our children from the ravages of
climate change that we humans are causing by our profligate ways.
Our First Principle project here at First Parish is one of the important ways
that we live out promoting “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”
A number of us gathered the last two Thursday nights with our friends at
Messiah Baptist in Brockton to discuss the book Just Mercy by Bryan
Stevenson, his account of working for justice and dignity as a lawyer on death
row and among young people incarcerated for life for offenses they committed
as juveniles. We will be working together with the Messiah congregation and
several other Unitarian Universalist congregations in the area to deepen our
commitment to standing against the scourge of mass incarceration that has
devastated communities of color around our nation. In the spirit of our Read to
Me program and other volunteer work at the Old Colony Correctional Center,
we will be hosting a workshop on mass incarceration here at First Parish next
September 23rd as part of the celebration of our 300th birthday as a
congregation. And we’re about to start a discussion about becoming a Black
Lives Matter congregation.
The thing is that to do this kind of vital work in our community,
We need one another.
We need one another. We need this beloved community of memory and
hope. We need to have friends and companions as we travel through life and
work to live into our own highest aspirations.
When we mourn and would be comforted,
We need one another.
When we are in trouble and afraid,
We need one another.
When we are in despair, in temptation, and need to be recalled to our best
selves again,
We need one another.
When we would accomplish some great purpose, and cannot do it alone,
We need one another.
In the hour of success, when we look for someone to share our triumphs,
We need one another.
In the hour of defeat, when with encouragement we might endure, and stand
We need one another.
When we come to die, and would have gentle hands prepare us for the journey,
We need one another.
All our lives we are in need, and others are in need of us.
We need one another.4
May we live into this reality and into the fullness of our lives that comes
when we live together in covenant.
We need one another to shine a light around the world and in our
communities. We started our time at Messiah last Thursday evening by
reminding ourselves of the light that needs shining all around us.
Let’s sing: This little light of mine…
Everywhere I go….
All Around the World….
Right here where we are….
Amen, and Blessed Be
1 Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000, p. 28.
2 Leisure eNewsletter, Vol. XII, No. 5, July 2012, “Bowling trends; the bad & good news”
3 Molly Young, “Is Staying In the New Going Out?” in Sign of the Times, T – The New York
Times Style Magazine, APRIL 12, 2016.
4 George E. Odell, “We Need One Another,” Singing the Living Tradition, Boston: Beacon
Press, #468.


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