We went to a “young adult” gathering in the Baton Rouge diocese last night, and it got me thinking. So I’m really just thinking out loud (as it were) here, most of this isn’t clearly formed yet, but it has been bothering me for a while. The meeting itself was fine, they had a change of plan since the speaker had to cancel, so we had dinner, discussed what we would like to see from the young adult ministry (they’re really just getting started) and then had a brief prayer service. But it was the assumptions underlying the conversation that interested me most.
One was that most “young adults” are too busy with school, family, and/or career to spend much time working on their relationship with God. They didn’t have extra time for prayer, or service, or learning more about their faith. They could, however, be counted on to make time for fellowship, if the opportunity were presented in a way that met their tastes. (They weren’t making this up, apparently it is based on well-researched and published fact about this age group in the Church.)
Which made sense to me, because I feel pretty busy most of the time, as did everyone there it seemed, until I thought about it more. They wanted things that would appeal to young adults, so fellowship came first, and (according to this research) service came last. But everyone who showed up for this night of fellowship (and learning, and prayer!) was also involved in some sort of service to the Church. Everyone, unless you don’t count me, since I only sort of tag along. There were teachers, diocesan workers, and a guy who plays cello at Mass. Now I grant that these are not a representative group of Catholic young adults, but they are the ones who are interested enough in Catholic young adult things to show up, and they were all doing service before they started worrying about building a young adult community. So. This assumption that what we young adults need (or want, maybe, because do we know what we really need?) is fellowship was my first concern. Craig was scribbling things about “being rather than doing”, but he’ll have to tell you about that.
Another problem is defining this “busy” which affords us hours to look at Facebook, but only minutes a day for prayer. I think you can see the problem here, so we’ll save that for another day. (Of course, again, convincing the phantom “young adults” who weren’t present for this discussion that this is a problem is a problem in itself. Hmm.)
Something else gave me pause when I stopped to think about it. We spent a lot of time dividing people into groups and discussing how we could minister to those groups. And I do not think this is necessarily negative – I want a group of families with young children to go to the park with. There is a special bond that can be found between people who are in the same sort of circumstances of life. I think this is a necessary sort of community to form.
But that seems to me most of what we talked about doing, and I wonder what (or better, who) is being excluded. And I wonder if this is partially a product of age-segregated schooling, and that we are just so used to being broken up in this way that we don’t question it. We think we need something for middle school students, then for high school students, then for college students, then for young adults, then “adults”, then golden-agers. And while I know perfectly well that high school kids don’t want to hang out with their middle-school-aged siblings, I wonder what we are losing by separating people into age groups.
One of the arguments for homeschooling is that it helps to break down this age segeragation a little. Rather than spending eight hours a day with children of the same age (and usually the same socio-economic status, and often the same race), kids spend their days with their family, who cover a range of ages, and then with the people they meet on a daily basis, very few of whom will be their age, and who will hopefully cover a much wider range of diversity than your average elementary school classroom. Why can’t a ten-year-old be friends with a seventy-year-old neighbor? Craig did this growing up, and the experience has served him very well.
But the concern all this raised for me on the long, quiet drive home last night, was really about how we are cutting ourselves off from each other with distinctions like “young adult”. It is hard to see the face of Christ in other people. Even people we love dearly make us angry, refuse to do things the way we would, or just are different from us in ways that make it a challenge to love them sometimes. And we know their good sides.
Multiply that challenge a hundred-fold for people we don’t know, don’t agree with, and don’t respect. How can we hope to see the face of Christ in an elderly woman holding up the grocery line by arguing about the price of ground beef, if we don’t know any elderly women struggling to make ends meet? How can she see Christ in us, despite our impatience, if no young person has every offered to help her get her groceries into the taxi that waits for her outside?
The further removed we are from a “type” of person, the harder it will be for us to love someone like that when we encounter him or her. And how else are we to show Christ to that person, than to love him as well as we can? If we are to live out the reality of the Mystical Body, no one can be excluded! Hands, feed, noses, belly buttons, are all necessary to make Christ whole. Even that ugly yellow toenail is part of Christ. It may not be excluded.
So what happens to our worship (and I mean that broadly, ranging from personal prayer, to Mass, to serving God by serving his people) when we segregate and separate ourselves from people who aren’t like us? What does our worship suffer when we discount the children because they are too distracting? What do we lose when we exclude the elderly who need assistance from a stranger to make it to Mass? When we give up on a baby before it is born because we know it will have Down Syndrome? What does our worship lose when we exclude the young, single, poor mother because we are ashamed? The homeless man because of his smell? The flamboyant gay-marriage activist? Whether we like it or not, all these people are part of Christ! How can we love Christ if we cannot bring ourselves to love them, and how can we love them if we cannot even bring ourselves to talk with them and listen to them?
So by now, almost twenty-four hours after the meeting, I am wondering, not what role the BR young adult ministry will play in my life in the near future (ok, I am wondering that, too), but I’m really wondering what we will have to do to break down some of the divisions and allow the Body of Christ to meet itself and learn to love itself again. I guess that was worth the three hours we spent in the car to go to this “fellowship” meeting.