Youth Sunday – Across the Generations (Rev. Anthony David & UUCA Youth)
Introduction to “Across the Generations”
Rev. Anthony David
Listen to this story, from psychologist and Unitarian Universalist Mary Pipher, which comes from her book Another Country. It’ about Mrs. Van Cleve, “white-haired immigrant in her seventies.” Pipher says, “After school I’d stop by her house [to learn pottery making]. I was a big-boned, gawky adolescent who lived in a state of continual amazement at the cruelty and stupidity of many of the kids at school. Each afternoon around three, I’d reach Mrs. Van Cleve’s house, shell-shocked and so rattled that I could barely speak. She’d greet me with hot tea in a china cup and thin lemon cookies on a hand-painted plate. We’d walk to the quiet back room that was her pottery workshop. Side-by-side, we’d knead clay, glaze pots, and paint figurines. We rarely spoke, but in her studio smelling of banana oil, clay, and turpentine, I could forgive. My body went slack with relief.”
Was there ever a Mrs. Van Cleve in your own life? Life can be so cruel and stupid, and it can twist us up, we can find ourselves right back into big-boned gawky adolescence no matter what our chronological age happens to be. That’s exactly when we need people like Mrs. Van Cleve, old and wise enough to know that all they need to offer is a light touch: the hospitality of fine tea and cookies, a space in which time slows down, an opportunity to build personal skills and allow creative expression. Nothing too heavy, no earnest therapy sessions. Just a place where our bodies can go slack with relief and we can feel again the grace of life.
Our theme this morning is “across the generations.” Parents and grandparents and adult mentors on the one hand, and, on the other, children, youth, and protégés. Teaching and learning across the generations. It goes both ways. “All I ever really needed to know,” says Unitarian Universalist minister and beloved author Robert Fulghum, “I learned in kindergarten.” Just watching the children. “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.”
So much older and younger can learn from each other. About their grandchildren, grandparents might say, “The mess, the noise, the clutter – it’s wonderful!” Grandchildren, for their part, can receive a sense of belonging and roots that goes way down deep, as well as a kind of nurture that no one else can give. And if elder and younger are not related by blood, that’s OK too – in fact, this can be a source of peculiar power in the lessons learned there, lessons between two people related not by formal family ties but by intention and hospitality. Sometimes, this is all a person has if his or her family is broken and dysfunctional. And even if family is working fine, still, there can be times or situations when only someone on the outside can help.
So much potential here. So much power. Yet when we shift our focus to the here-and-now question of how you and I might reach across the generations to give the precious gifts we can give, suddenly things get complicated. So much conspires to keep the generations apart.
Part of this has to do with social forces and habits. Jobs that require people to move away from grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and cousins, until the meaning of that word “family” gets stripped down to its “nuclear” sense of the single person, or just partners, or just parents with kids. Life happens. And yet, as Mary Pipher points out, it can lead to “Grandparents feeling lonely and useless while a thousand miles away their grandchildren are not getting the love and attention they desperately need.” I know this is not always true. But it was precisely true for me, and perhaps for you as well.
Jobs and geographical distances separate us, and so can the institutions in our lives. Children and youth go off to school to be with people their own age, all day, and the same thing happens to adults, when they go off to work. We spend so much time with our peers, that we could legitimately describe ourselves as living in “age-peer ghettos,” and they become our comfort zones, places where we know how to be and how to act, unlike moments when we encounter people from other age-peer ghettos, and it feels so awkward.
Whatever the reasons happen to be, the generations stay apart, they don’t connect. And so, says Mary Pipher, “All over America we have children hungry for attention and ‘lap time’ and youth who need skills, nurturing, and moral instruction from their elders.” There’s an awful gap here. Leading to astonishing prejudice. A middle-aged adult saying that “Kids basically leave the human race at about age 11 and don’t return until they’re 18.” And teens get the message – they don’t feel competent, confident, and needed, and this lack of a sense of connection can lead to violence done to themselves or to others.
I’m talking generation gap. “Elderly people in retirement communities or even in their own homes who have no contact with anyone but other old people and their caretakers” (Pipher). Middle-aged adults feeling isolated and alone in the immense act of parenting and making a living, paying the bills. Adults who think they are empowering teens by just letting them alone. But this is not empowerment – this is abandonment.
The part that bothers me the most is that there are gifts to be given, across the generations. The gifts are there, and they are abundant. But will we dare go against all the forces that keep the generations apart? Will we go against that grain and do what is difficult?
It is a profoundly spiritual question I am asking, because we are our relationships. The quality of our relationships has everything to do with the quality of our lives and our spirits. Gaps in our outer world become inner gaps, gaps within. Just imagine how Mary Pipher’s life would have been diminished, without the graciousness of people like Ms. Van Cleve.
In our worship today, we are going to engage this theme of ‘across the generations” and ask ourselves, how are we doing with this in our personal lives, in our families, and in this larger community of faith? In this very worship, we model a working partnership across the generations, with Dana Poss and myself leading worship with Carla LaRotta and Alex Guyton. And then there are our two preachers for the morning – Camille Cassingham and Sophia Keys-David – both of whom will explore some aspect of the “across the generations” issue.
It’s a big conversation, so we can’t pretend to exhaust it here. But let it start somewhere, and let it continue on. In fact, right after services, this conversation will continue on, starting at 12:30: a Congregational Conversation on Youth Ministry. I’m going to be there, and I hope you will, too.
I dream of a congregation where people are like Mrs. Van Cleve to each other. Generations connecting, giving to each other the gifts that they have to give. The gifts are there to give, but will we give them? Will we receive? Let’s do both.
Homily by Sophia Keys-David
Dear Rev. David (or should I say Dad):
There are officially 57 days, 18 hours, 37 minutes, and 22 seconds left of senior year, my high school career. I can’t wait. Next year will be a gap year for me, where I’ll make money for college and also enjoy reading what I want to read, when I want to read it. And then, the following year-I’m going to St. Andrew’s in Scotland. You and I have talked about this a lot already.
But one thing we haven’t talked about is how you are going to cope with modern technology without me. Scotland is definitely somewhere where you won’t be able to just drive half an hour to see me! I’m just a little concerned about leaving you to face the ever-changing world of technology by yourself.
Remember when we got our first cell phones? We were in Chicago at the time. You were about to graduate from Meadville, I was about to become a surly middle schooler, and we were all moving back to Texas, where you would begin your first ministry. Getting these cell phones was like a burst of freedom in my eyes, but to you, it was like “great, another new thing to learn.”
I remember that one time when we were on the steps of The Field Museum in Chicago. I was sitting about 15 steps lower than you, to make sure that people didn’t know we were related. I was personalizing my phone, complete with the deck background and (as you put it) a totally tubular ringer. Well, once you saw that I knew what I was doing, you began to complain about the small buttons, how you couldn’t see the screen- I recall saying “come on dad, get with the decade”
Thankfully, over four years, you proved to be a fine student learning the ins-and outs of your phone. I m proud you learned how to text, email, take and send pics, but most of all proud that after three years, you finally learned how to change the ringtone I put on your phone to a more classy, dignified one. Remember? It used to be, [singing] “My milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard.” It took a while for you to change it, but you did…
Of course, when I when into high school, we all encountered a new technological difficulty. Tivo. Now, when we first got it, I was the one who installed it, and in a second, my favourite shows were being taped. We sat on our blue couches and I taught you what the coloured buttons meant and how to record things. I always left the instructions on top of the TV, just in case difficulties arose! When we moved to Atlanta, we switched to a different system. And Mum and I know you don’t like the new system we have, DVR-just give it some more time, be patient with new thing.
And just this year, you made me again so incredibly proud by making facebook-without my help. Now, sure, Mum still can’t load any pictures, and Dad, you are a little obsessed with the myfarm game, but you see how technology can connect you to the wider world. Just as the cell phone made the world a little smaller, facebook has reconnected you with friends from high school, College, Seminary, and will in the future keep us connect, not just on a daily basis with a “hi, are you still alive???!!” phone call, but with the pictures I post. Then you’ll be able to see my friends and my adventures on the other side of the world. And I, in turn, will take great comfort when homesickness sets in of being able to pull up your facebook page and see what’s on your mind. Or just play a game of virtual scrabble together.
So, as I leave home, I want to give you some advice. This would be the opportune moment to grab that notebook and pencil you almost always carry and jot down a few notes:
- Don’t be afraid of some change. Can you think of a hymn that could work here?
- When in doubt read the directions…slowly…patiently. Don’t get flustered when you don’t understand instantly. Breathe, which leads me to
- You are not alone-help is a phone call, txt message, IM, twitter, facebook status, or myspace post away.
- Do not grow rigid, be like the willow and bend. Be like a vene SWAY len: embrace new technologies and realize that they are here to help you.
- Finally, remember what your hero Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” With the technology, that is….
ILY lots, Dad-that means I love you 😀
Homily by Camille Cassingham
As a teenager, I experience the generation gap quite often–not always on a personal level, but nevertheless, I witness it daily. I see adults turn up their noses at teenagers, and eye us suspiciously in stores and on the streets. After thinking about this issue for some time, I decided to make it my mission to come to the root of this stigma that has been so callously placed upon adolescents.
As Anthony quoted a moment ago, a middle aged adult once said “Kids basically leave the human race at age 11 and don’t return until they’re 18.” I spoke with two adults about their opinions of this statement, and how they feel about teens in general. I followed by asking if they feel they have an inner teenager. The first adult I talked to about this was a young woman named Dani. As a 25-year-old, Dani says she despises teenagers. However, when I read her the quote, she said she felt it was a little harsh to call teens inhuman. “They have a lot to go through. Twelve to eighteen is tough. When you’re middle aged, you’re not really thinking about what it was like to be that age,” she said. She then went on to say that teenagers are loud, inconsiderate, rude, and “think they’re the best thing since sliced bread.” Dani described teens as “wanting to be adults, but without the responsibilities,” but admitted that she was that way as a teenager as well. When I asked her if she felt she possessed an inner teen, she said, “At times. I’m not all that removed from being a teenager. If I’ve had like a long week and I just want to sit at home or sleep in, but I can’t… I whine and complain and it sort of makes me feel like a teenager.” She added, “Plus, I also like to play video games. If that’s not a teenager activity, I don’t know what is.”
I feel that Dani made a valid point in saying that when adults judge teenagers, they aren’t thinking about what it was like to be a teen. She pointed out that teens have a lot to go through, and that twelve through eighteen is a difficult period in one’s life. When she followed this by saying that we are “loud, inconsiderate, and rude,” I couldn’t help but make a connection. It is probable that the changes we are going through (thank you, hormones) make us (or some teens) that way.
To get a true “across the generations” look at teenagers, I decided to talk to a younger youth at UUCA. I spoke with 9-year-old Maddie, who has a teenage sister. I asked her what she likes and dislikes about teenagers. She was very quick to answer, “They can be really mean, thinking they’re all that…and sometimes they ignore you and only talk to their friends.” Thinking of positive aspects of teens wasn’t quite as easy. After a pause, she said, “For me…my sister cooks breakfast sometimes,” and “Sometimes they’re nice to kids.” I asked Maddie what she thought she would be like as a teenager. She anticipates that she will start cleaning up the apartment or house she is living in at the time, take care of lots of animals and pay lots of attention to all of them, and be in a dancing class. When I heard this, my mind drifted to the image of my unkempt bedroom and my neglected goldfish. When Maddie said that sometimes teenagers ignore you and only talk to their friends, my first though was “Guilty.” It reminded me of Anthony’s mention of “age-peer ghettos.” I find that I, and most other teenagers, will ignore our parents and younger siblings to talk to our friends because our age group is our comfort zone.
Last, I spoke with my grandmother. Since she’s a family member, I was afraid that she might be a little biased. However, I was mistaken. After years of teaching high school, raising four boys, and seeing four of her six grandchildren blossom into adolescence, she is quite an authority on teenagers. I started by telling my grandma the quote about kids leaving the human race at age 11 and not returning till they’re 18. Her response was that while some kids might be that way, “you’re painting with too broad a brush if you want to include everyone.” “Overall,” she said, “I think most teenagers are okay. Some are more okay than others.” She compared it to a line from the book Animal Farm by George Orwell: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” When I asked my grandma if she feels she has an inner teen, she said, “You mean do I sometimes feel like I want to be rebellious and do it my way? Yes.” She went on to say, “Camille, I have trouble reconciling the way I feel with the person I see in the mirror. I don’t feel that old.” Well, grandma, I say you’re as old as you feel. And that goes for everybody.
Writer Madeleine L’Engle once said, “The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” I really like the idea that grown-ups are just babies and kids and teenagers and adults all woven into one person. I used to think that aging turned you into a completely different person, but now I feel that all the years of our existence pile up into the many layers that make us who we are. My message to adults — please remember that you have as much of a teenager in you as I do. My message to youth — don’t be afraid of getting older, you won’t lose yourself in the process, as I once thought. My message across the generations – live your life and forget about your age, and the ages of those around you.