We just had our first meeting with mentors and youth in the Coming of Age program after church on Sunday, and we were all struck with how profound the experience was. Twelve youth and twelve adults came together in a room and shared our spiritual autobiographies with one another. Twelve youth and twelve adults were changed from the experience.
We aren’t used to starting up friendships with people that we have to work really hard to interact with. Interacting with someone who doesn’t seem much like you requires a lot of effort and translation and awkward silence and empathy and commitment. We all bring our own fears to making connection. “What if she doesn’t like me?” “What if he thinks I’m not cool?” Further, we need to try and understand a new language. The language of youth, the language of the upper class or the lower class, the language of the business or PhD world, the language of another country, the language of hip hop or the evangelical church or the greatest generation. We’ll definitely fail at learning these new languages a few times, and we’ll fumble around with the awkward way it sounds on our tongues, and so we’ll have to try again and again. It’s hard and vulnerable stuff, my siblings in spirit.
Cross-generational friendships are particularly hard to create and foster. Perhaps your potential new friend wasn’t alive when John Kennedy was shot, or has no concept of what it felt like to be a child when the Twin Towers fell. Perhaps he has dealt with dentures for years and you haven’t even lost all your baby teeth yet. Perhaps your potential new friend loves Justin Bieber and you don’t have any idea who that is. Perhaps you fear that all people over 30 are not to be trusted, or at least that they forget what it was like to be a teenager.
But these these brave and bold and counter-cultural friendships…these friendships are how we learn about what it means to be a human fully alive. These friendships are how we learn about death, and how it informs our living. These friendships are often our insight into the holy’s movement among us—into how divinity shows up in all people—from the baby to the octogenarian.
In a culture that seeks to divide us, instead we choose to come together in our church, choosing to make intentional, multi-generational family with people not in our biological family. This is radical stuff, and it is not something we should shrug our shoulders at. As a church, we are stewards of one of the last institutions left that seeks to foster these kinds of relationships, and we must do everything we can to hold up and celebrate the ways in which we do this. We need to shout from the rooftops why extrafamilial cross-generational relationships are so important and life-giving.
We are a community that seeks to practice what it means to love one another across difference, at our most unloveable, and in our deepest need so that we might be transformed, and can then go out and transform the world. We are practicing building what Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Beloved Community. We practice building this beloved community when we give grace to the restless toddler in the pew next to us, or put up with music in worship that isn’t our favorite because we know it matters deeply to someone else; or squirm through a long sermon that we know is really meeting someone where they are right now because we can see the tears in their eyes. We practice when we mentor a youth in the Coming of Age program, teach a Religious Education class, when we bake cookies to bring to our elders who are housebound, or when we offer to babysit for a young family so the parents can go out at night. We practice when we work to make sure our church is accessible to all, sometimes having to forgo our own comfort. We practice when we listen. We practice when we get to know one another as unique messengers of the divine; as storytellers that have a piece of our stories woven into theirs.
Antoine de St. Exupery reminds us that “in a house which becomes a home one hands down and another takes up the heritage of mind and heart, laughter and tears, musings and deeds. Love, like a carefully loaded ship, crosses the gulf between the generations.”
May we be like a carefully loaded ship, crossing the gulf that divides us with fear and misunderstanding to meet one another in unity and love on the other side.