Covenants

Today a friend and I were talking about The State of Young Adults, which makes me feel so old that I actually care and talk about things like that, and retirement plans, and how much milk costs.  Soon I’ll be staying up for my Friday night viewing of Wall Street Week in Review with my high-fiber, non-fat, low-sodium rice cakes, living into the party animal that I am.

At one point my friend referred to us as “bridges” between young adults and adults – able to speak to both, existing in both worlds, trying to help understanding on both sides.  Young adults seem to want to be adults, but different than the adults who exist; existing adults want to think that they’re still “hip” with young adults, and yet they don’t “get” why young adults do what they do (or don’t do what they don’t do).  I wondered when I would move from being a bridge to being firmly planted on the adult side of the fence:  I feel I’m getting closer day by day, sometimes pushed, as I find myself saying things I *swore* I’d never say, like “use your words”, “not so fast”, and “what is that crap on the radio?”

I wondered who will be the bridge between me and my kids when they reach young adults.  Will they be segregated into a removed-from-the-larger-body youth group experience?  Will their peers and youth leaders be as influential in their spiritual formation as mine were?  Will they drift off and find Church Life irrelevant?  Or will they lead me and our family/community to a new place to experience where God is already moving?

I got a bit angry.  Many of my friends who grew up in my faith community were dedicated to Christ in that very building.  Their parents dressed them up, brought them to the congregation, and on a blessed Sunday made a commitment in front of the community to raise this child in the ways of Christ.  The family entered into a covenant with the community and with God – sacred, holy, blessed.  In return the community covenanted to walk alongside the family, to train and equip them to raise this child into the ways of Christ.  And yet my friends and the community no longer walk together.  I wondered:  how long was that covenant called to last?

Yes, we live in a transitional society.  We also live in a very nuclear-family-oriented and busy society.  It’s easy for me to lose track of others because I’m focused on a) my family and 2) the things I want to do.  I think we’re called to do things as a larger congregation, but I so often hear, “We’re already so involved doing so many good things!”  Individually.  When am I called to lay things aside, even if they’re good things, because I’ve made a covenant to the larger community?

I want the covenant that I made before God and before Newberg Friends to last as long as God will allow.  If we happen to move, I hope that interest and love will still remain, even though the day-to-day walk will be transferred to a different faith community.  I don’t want this covenant to be passed off to the middle school pastor, and then the high school pastor, and then … ?  The slow fade into nothing, that is, until my boys get married and have children of their own, maybe still being involved in a faith community and now able to reenter as an Adult Parent, the “role” that seems most functional/understood in the evangelical Christian faith community.

My friend talked about a gal she connected with, a young single mother who is simply trying to get through one day at a time.  When my friend asked what her goals or dreams or gifts were, she had no answer.  She had no one walking alongside her, speaking that into her life; she felt completely disconnected to those in the faith community, the place where she was dedicated.  How has it reached this point?  Do we need to cast blame, or simply state it for what it is and then ask, “What is God calling us to do about it?”

How long do covenants last?  Do these covenants mean anything practical, or are they simply a ritual and a Sunday morning family photo opportunity?  What covenants is God asking us to renew, reclaim?  If they are called to last, I feel anger, remorse, and motivation to *do* something about it:  I don’t want my words to be meaningless, which they are until lived out in action.  I expect the same of my faith community.

Perhaps we need to talk as a community about what that means – define expectations.  Perhaps we need to evaluate where these practicalities are to be lived out – small groups versus larger congregation, etc.  And perhaps we need to repent, to apologize, to take a posture of humility and hospitality.  Or we can just let the slow fade continue, and our words can continue to lose their power; but this Mama Bear won’t live that way with her boys (not like they’re easy to ignore anyway; just *try* and forget about them :)).

4 thoughts on “Covenants

  1. Joel

    Right on, friend. I’ve seen the same thing among those I grew up with, and have received the same answers. Many times I hear those people speaking to the lack of action behind the words, and that it really is a formality, not to be taken as seriously as really living something out. In some ways it brings up the issue of functional atheism for me: folks who go to church to feel good, but their lives reflect no change and formation that revolves around listening to and following the Present Teacher. This is not to point fingers, but to state the facts. I’ve been a victim to this way of living as well. I appreciate you bringing this up, it feels like one of those issues that xians are too scared of, like money. No one talks about it, and not many ask why that is. I think you’re right, in that part of the issue is larger congregations where faces blur in the pews from service to service. I also think part of it is people’s fear of change. Following the example of Jesus is no easy task, especially when we are told up front to expect being persecuted (a nice way of saying slapped around). I’m sure there are many other facets to this issue, but it seems more and more pressing. Especially when you see so many of your own peers wander off from the “family” you thought you were. Not even speaking in terms of “losing the faith”, but simply giving up on the structure. This is why I appreciate Quaker’s perspective on calling churches meeting houses. It’s an intentional reminder that it is not about the structure, or the systems that we feel we have been led to in the past (and at the present), but that the Spirit of God is truly what is calling us. And I think this is more of what people (I know I am) are really wanting. The hard part is seeing many people throw it all out and start over. The continuity is lost and progression is slower without the networking of the family you once had. I struggle a lot with how we hold that tension of asking the harder questions of why we do what we do, but from within the frame work so that it will hopefully continue to transform and be present to God.
    Well, that’s a long comment. Thanks for bring this up.

  2. Cherice

    Amen again! This is obviously something Joel and I talk about a lot… What’s up with that gap after high school? Yes, some of it is because younger young adults move away, want to explore other congregations etc., but like you’re saying, it’s also because there is no place for young adults in the life of most communities. Some congregations try to remedy this by reaching out to ONLY young adults, but that just compartmentalizes age groups further. I think you’re right that we need each other to remind us of who we are, who we’re becoming, and what we’re about.

    I think one of the major things in our YM is that our youth program is so good at helping us listen to Christ and encouraging us to truly live our faith, and then we get into the “adult” stuff of YM and it seems (not saying it is this way always but it seems) like the “adults” have given up on their ideals and settled for less than radical discipleship. So what’s the point of going to worship? What’s the point in being involved in the community? All it is, is a social club–it seems. It’s not always that way, but I find myself slipping into such patterns all too easily now with a small child I to keep safe and fed and think about college and retirement so I don’t drive him nuts when he has to support his aged mother when she’s 96…of course by then he’ll be 70, but that’s beside the point…

    Anyway, agreed. So work needs to be done on both sides, and I like your sense of being a bridge. I hope we can start to bridge that gap a bit better all together, so it’s not just one more thing that some of us do individually, as you say.

  3. Judy

    AJ,
    You bring up some good questions. I’ve been mulling over my own experiences on several levels. I was dedicated in the Greenleaf Friends Church, but barely lived there. It was the Medford church, who did not have a formal commitment to me, who truly nurtured me from early childhood through college, and then later did the same for my children. (One of whom was dedicated in Eugene.) For many years I viewed the ceremony of baby dedication as a statement on the part of the parents that they recognized that their child is a gift from God, and they would need God’s help in raising him/her. The people of the church, in my view, were witnesses to that testimony, much as they were witnesses at my wedding. It was only later that I listened to the charge to the congregation, and became a participant in agreeing to be supportive of the dedicating parents. And you’re right. Perhaps many of us haven’t really thought about the extent of that commitment, and the tangible ways we could exercise it.
    In my case, many people did encourage me over the years, and others took a personal interest in me, and variously made me feel that my life was important to them in some way. Sometimes a college age class was provided, or some social activities that drew us into interaction with older adults. But what was meaningful to me was the casual conversation that would occasionally take place involving an adult asking me questions about my life. I know that happened also for my children. What I’m not sure about, is whether I have done much of that for the children of other families.
    One obstacle for me has been my determination to allow people their “personal space.” I am not a nosy person and probably give the impression that I am disinterested in other people’s lives, when really I’m just trying not to pry or make them feel uncomfortable.
    As for the question of staying connected with young adults post high school, that is one that has bothered me since I was a college student. I think one part of the issue is that many young people feel a sense of loneliness and disconnect during that stage of life, and we older adults keenly remember that. We didn’t know how to deal with it then, and we still don’t! It certainly does not mean that we don’t want to embrace our young friends and help them feel loved and included and needed. And so it is important for you and others to keep talking among yourselves and to us, (even if we seem to be deaf), and to encourage your younger friends to keep talking.

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