October 2008 - Vol. 23

.This is the generation...

by Tadhg Lynch

Taping the vision
Anyone who has been involved in community circles will probably be familiar with the experience. There’s a little humming at the start of the recording as the sound on the microphone screeches, then the speaker taps the mic and says “Is this thing on? Can you hear me down  the back?” to which there are a couple of mutterings of assent or denial. Some smart-aleck cracks a joke you can’t hear and the sound of audience laughter ripples across the weeks, months and years to your ears listening in the future as you lie sick in bed or mopping the floor, digging your garden or driving your car along the highway. The “tape ministry” has been an important part of community life for generations – the recording of good teaching, of insight, and of advice passed along to those who missed out –  through the tape-deck, the walkman, the CD player, the mini-disc and the iPod. The very act of making a recording is prophetic – it suggests to us who attend that someone else will want to hear what we are part of today, will have interest in the things we learn, after we hear them. You speak down the years to those who come after. They have missed the meeting just because they didn’t make it that week or perhaps because they didn’t exist when you heard that teaching years ago. Perhaps they missed the meeting that week because they had something urgent to attend to, or perhaps they weren’t yet in existence to miss the meeting...

Generating the “trans”
To whom do we wish to pass on the vision of the Sword of the Spirit with most urgency? Is it to those who are not yet a part of our number but are part of the world, or is it to those who are part of our community world but not yet a part of our number? I am speaking, of course, of the phenomenon of the “community kid.” I know it experientially because I grew up in community. One of the most interesting things about the Sword of the Spirit is the emphasis which we place (with some success) upon the call of the Lord to be transgenerational in our life together as a people. This “trans” lingo is so different from the language of the world that my word processor keeps telling me that I have spelt it wrong – it literally doesn’t have the vocabulary to deal with the idea.  From parents who were baptized in the Spirit in the fervor of a first conversion have issued a race of children who have been raised in the Spirit, nurtured, taught and loved within “the bulwark” – our international network of communities. The “community kids” are surely some of the people we have copied all those tapes for.  How else would we seek to teach our children about the Lord, than through the format in which we ourselves came to know him?

Embracing the stereotype
Of course, if I had the correct answer to that question I would not be writing this article, I would be writing a manual and making a lot of money. Before your patience runs out and you switch back to reading Steve Clark (a prolific writer and founder of the Sword of the Spirit), let me indulge myself and sketch a few stereotypes. The community kid par excellence exhibits a number of common traits. S/He commonly comes from a big family (from now on I am going to use the male personal pronoun as it is the one with which I have some experience), has been part of a “youth group” in some format for most of his life, has probably sneaked away for a date or two with a member of the opposite sex with an undefined sense of guilt accompanying him, and harbors a nascent longing for the magical age of 18 when he can “leave all this stuff and decide what to do with my life.” In reply to the logical reasons his parents give him for attending the community meeting or the youth group, he will often reply with the timeless classic, as I once remember telling my parents, “I didn’t ask to be born into all this.” We worry about our children, we worry about their spiritual development, about their relationship to the Lord and to the Christian church which we, rightly, earnestly, desire they be a part of.  How do we help this group of people take a place within our life? There are three ways I believe we can make it easier for children raised within community to discern for our call. 

Re-wording your kids...
The language we use should change. I always feel an irritable and irrational sensation when I hear myself referred to as “Generation 2” or even as “a community kid.” My neck stiffens and I don’t really want to listen to what the speaker has to say next. These are all descriptive terms, but it is important to remember them for what they are – sociological nicknames which we put upon a group of people to help us define a concept. I would submit that these are not helpful when we are speaking to those to whom they refer – kids who have grown up in community. They imply exactly what the rebellious teenager shouts at his parents, “I didn’t ask to be born into this.” Every time we call someone a community kid, we remind them that they haven’t chosen for this way of life. Similarly, when we refer to our households as “the girls” or “the kids,” we encourage them to act that way – it implicitly tells them that this is all we expect of them. If you’re a community kid – when do you become a “community adult,” and how? When you make a full commitment? When your parents die? Never? I believe we should speak of our young people as we would wish them to become – “The men’s house,” “younger members,” “underway” or whatever we desire to call them on to. We do it for each other – “brother” and “sister” are aspirational, rather than grammatically correct forms of address, no matter how real we may make them in practice. In fact, nearly all of our names and monikers seek to inspire rather than coldly describe. Our community names – Work of Christ, Charis, Joy of the Lord, our songs – This is the Generation, People of God Shine Forth Like Lights, and our outreaches – Life in the Spirit, Pharos (lighthouse), Koinonia (community) to pick only a few examples.  Language shapes and forms a people whether we wish it to or not – if you define the words in which people think, you give shape to what they think. Show me a community whose name is a bald sociological description of the members and I’ll show you one which will fail as they grow older. We Happened to Live on the Same Street doesn’t have quite the right ring to it.

Re-ordering your kids...
Put your family first. If your family is part of the community, that is the relationship your child has to the group – because his family is part of the community, rather than that he is “part” of the youth group, the bible study or (horrors) a community kid. He attends those things because his parents decide that it is a good thing for him to do. To use another example, we never tell our children that the school “makes them go there” or “wants them to do their homework” – neither should we do so for community. When the family is the reason a child is part of the community, it avoids the temptation to answer your children’s many questions with “we do that because the community says so,” or, “everyone in the community does that.” As your children will soon find out, and let you know, everyone in the community does not do that. Difficulties, tantrums and rebellion take place in the context of being against the family and the parent, rather than against the community. I think this is of real importance – we have a duty to protect the bulwark in the eyes of our children as well as in the eyes of the world. We would surely never tell a friend from the secular world that the community group makes us tithe our income to it, or that we do so only because everyone else does so. Why should we treat our children differently? If we are strong parents and counsellors for our children, we will be able to tell them that we wish them to partake of this thing or that, because we believe that it is best for them, and because we care about them rather than because an entity to which they may have only a tenuous relationship, decrees it so.

Forgetting about your kids...
Evangelise. I truly believe the best thing we can do to encourage our children to hear the call of the Lord is to be seen by them to be active in spreading that call to others. Children who grow up within the community have lived among the committed members and often know the most intimate details of the working life of the group, but have yet to make a decision for or against it. If the dominant tenor of the group is to be outward in focus and seek to reach others, this is the prime impulse which will be passed on. If most of the talk and action is about the community kids and how to “get them to join,” we teach them introspection and stasis. The constant tension of our call to be a “community of disciples on mission” of course will make this a difficult balancing act, but the rewards will be great if we manage to teach our children that the most important mission of the community is to spread the gospel of Christ – its not them.

The generation
The word transgenerational is a clumsy one at best, but it implies something which is worthwhile. “Trans” is a prefix – it comes before something established, gives it nuance, and helps to transform it – to make it something new. It also implies a reaching across, a message through the generations which is surely what we wish to impart. The word, however, also has an impermanent aspect to it – it speaks of movement and cycle which is at least as important to us as the permanence of our message – we wish to be ready to listen and respond to the call of our Lord as we go forward, even as we discern it looking back.  We should apply the same care when we speak to, and call on, our children. The message comes from a place of solidity, but the call – a relationship with the Creator of the Universe – is anything but. God, as one of my youth leaders once told me, doesn’t have grandchildren. When people tell me about their conversion experience through, say, a fellow named Tony in London on the 16th of September 1982, I’m sometimes envious, but not wholly. God had a conversion experience for me too. He sent me to my parents – it was kind of a divine appointment. “Community kid” doesn’t quite manage it.
Tadhg Lynch was present in his mother’s arms at the original commitments of the Community of Nazareth in Dublin and, as such, considers himself first generation. He currently resides with the Servants of the Word in Lansing, Michigan, USA where he works for University Christian Outreach.

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