This spring I am taking a personal blogging hiatus and have invited some folks to blog in my stead. It is my intention help share some new voices and perspectives with a larger audience and keep my blog active during my break. If you are interested in guest blogging, feel free to submit an idea. Today I welcome my friend, Kyle Walker, to the blogging crew. While Kyle’s DNA is Presbyterian, he is also adopted by the Disciples of Christ and United Church of Christ denominations as he has worked on the behalf of all three at Texas A&M University for the last twelve years as a campus minister. As an evangelical progressive, the peanut butter got into his chocolate a long time ago and I’m proud proponent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup worldview. Kyle loves watching sports, enjoying the outdoors, fishing, and social justice advocacy.
When Bruce invited me in January to say a few words about young adults on his blog, I read Emily Morgan’s comments on young adults in church. What a great insight into our young adults and our churches. Right on Emily!
Emily opens her post with this anecdote:
I once had a conversation with a woman old enough to be my grandmother who attended a church located on a university campus where she asked me how she could get more young adults (people college-aged until about thirty-five or forty) like me into their church. I replied, “There’s only one of me. Maybe you could go to the campus and meet some others or reconnect with the youth who grew up here.” She rolled her eyes and said, “We brought a guitar in one Sunday last year. No one came. Our doors are open whenever they want to come in.”
Let’s talk about those rolling eyes. Some would point to generational differences and others would point to some insensitivity or intrinsic distance of older adults toward younger adults (and vice versa). I think both of these takes are manufactured and perhaps self fulfilling prophecies.
In their book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069 (1991), William Straus and Neil Howe assert that every generation in human history can be categorized into four basic types; Awakening, Unraveling, Crisis, and High. These are defined by how they are situated between an Awakening and a Crisis. The authors, Baby Boomers themselves, have set the stage for almost all the generational studies that have been conducted since. We owe them a debt of gratitude but as with every study, there is a potential for going OCD on a paradigm and I think we as a culture have done so.
That book was published in 1991 and here we are in 2012. Have they helped or hurt us as a culture? In the larger world, generational descriptions have seemingly taken the place of horoscopes and fortune cookies telling us where our fate lies in the birth order of human existence. Baby Boomer grandmothers can no more understand a New Silent Generation than, say, I as a Capricorn am compatible with an Aries. And, herein lies the flaw. We’ve built our generational distinctions into excuses to avoid community.
A few years ago I became acquainted with a group called the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue which is an interfaith dialogue movement inspired by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Muslim influenced a great deal by the wisdom of Rumi. Their basic principle is that in the interest of peace, various faiths should be emphasizing in dialogue what they have in common instead of dwelling on differences yet preserving everyone’s right to believe differently.
In the same way, I would like to see the various generations put aside emphasizing distinctions in the interest of strengthening the bonds of family and community.
How many presbytery meetings still have the feel of that first Middle School dance when it comes to our generations of leaders talking to each other. Boomers are on one wall while the Xers, Millenials and New Silents are on the other with a lonely disco ball spinning in the middle. (Of course this isn’t the case with everyone) Do you get the sense that it is hard to communicate to colleagues across named generational boundaries?
I just traveled back from the Next Conference in Dallas, TX. I had an awesome experience. Next is basically a conversation in not getting stuck in old paradigms for no apparent reason and looking to ways to appreciate our heritage and embrace our future. This conference gave me great hope for the future of the Presbyterian Church yet it is still getting the wind under its wings and it will be interesting to truly see what is ‘Next’ when I travel to Charlotte after trying to implement some of the webs of ideas adjusting for my context.
One thing I noted in this conference was the intentionality with which the organizers created forums for dialogue. Power dynamics were leveled, Robert’s Rules were lovingly shelved for a bit, and glad handing and stakeholding gave way to more mutual appreciation of sacrificial mission. Also, generations were ‘dancing’ (so to speak) under that disco ball. It’s high time we get on the dance floor together and start enjoying each others music.
My grandmother has been in the eternal embrace of God since 1997. She was not just my grandmother, she was my friend. Something magical happened in her pushing through the generational divide and reaching out to me. I think that when someone two generations from us (older or younger) reaches out, the Holy Spirit moves in amazing ways. Age becomes a number, not a destiny. And, I believe, it empowers us to function in powerful community with others. The same has been true when I have entered into community with saints who happen to be Muslim, Jewish, LGBT, or fundamentalist Christian.
If we truly want young adults in the church, we have to be in community with them over coffee, in the board or session meeting, at the Habitat build, and on the dance floor. The same is true if young adults and youth want a place at the table. It’s time to stop hugging the walls.
Now get out there and ask each other to dance!