Category Archives: Intergenerational

Little Black Children, Little White Children

Martin Luther King Day provided our third annual opportunity for a “Munch” to honor the spirit and mission of Dr. King.  My friend Dr. Rob Owens confirmed that from his perspective all participants felt that spirit of unity in our gathering as his little black boys sat with my little white boys listening to Ms. Pam read stories from Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible.

20170116_120952-2A Munch is a lunch that intentionally brings together people who are not in the same place in life, typically due to their age.  As usual, we had participants from 18 months up to at least the 8th decade.  Munches remind us of Jesus’ gospel of reconciliation which stands in opposition to the spirit of division to which this world is prone to subscribe.  In a period of time when our nation is experiencing renewed racial tension, it was a blessing to experience the unbreakable bond of the Holy Spirit between brothers and sisters who may not worship in the same building every Sunday out of habit, but readily greet one another with warm smiles and endearing hugs–the kind only black and white grandmothers in Christ can give you.

20170116_120237-2I am thankful to Micah for sharing her prize-winning “Eyes of Diversity” speech that gave great insight to the pulls and tugs she experiences as a young black woman in a (nearly) all white community.  Often thoughtless words can bring to the surface those feelings of confusion one feels when they know they belong, yet they know they are different.

img_20170116_115404930-2It takes a committed core to pull off an event, and I am so thankful for the culture of community that has been cultivated by our Munch participants.  You could taste the teamwork in the crockpots that came from a half a dozen homes to feed our bellies.  I’ve been told that the church becomes the church at the table, and I believe it.

20170116_120016-2I learned a new Latin phrase today: “lex orandi, lex credendi”.  As we pray, so we believe.  We considered several of Dr. King’s famous quotes as we shared a time of discussion, but I want to leave you with a thought from a like-minded soul, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  This is a prayer we need to pray over and over until we truly believe it:

Good is stronger that evil.

Love is stronger than hate.

Light is stronger than darkness.

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is our through him who loves us.

AMEN

Thank you Dr. King for putting your life on the line to change the world.  You are evidence that the student will get no better treatment than the teacher.

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Teddy Bear Munch

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Cassie reading the story of how Teddy Bears were created in “honor” of a popular story about President Theodore Roosevelt.

We enjoyed our first Munch of the new school year on Monday.  Our theme was Teddy Bears, and we drew our inspiration from a neat little board book that arrived at our house via the “Imagination Library”.  The book by Olivier Dunrea, simply titled Little Cub, tells the story of a little cub growing up all alone in the woods with no one to teach or care for him.  Ultimately, little cub’s story becomes interwoven with a lonely old bear who is very capable, but lonely.  The two become a family and of course live happily ever after.  The book highlights an important truth that is at the heart of our “Munch Ministry.”  Younger generations need interaction with older generations so that they may glean from the wisdom of experience.  Older generations find fulfillment not just in being able, but in being able to teach and pay it forward.  http://www.amazon.com/Little-Cub-Olivier-Dunrea/dp/0399166831

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Mrs. Maxine reads the story of Little Cub to a rug full of children.

The program began with a show and tell time in which the children brought up their favorite teddy bear (or other stuffed animal) and introduced him or her.  A few shared precious stories about when or where they received the special friend, and some older children shared funny stories about things they had done with (or to) their toys.

After all of the children had shared, Cassie read the story about Theodore Roosevelt’s unwillingness to shoot a wild bear that had been tied to a tree.  His unwillingness to shoot the bear in such an unsportsmanlike manner became a legendary story that inspired a toy maker to create the “teddy bear” in his honor.  http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/site/c.elKSIdOWIiJ8H/b.8684621/k.6632/Real_Teddy_Bear_Story.htm

Following lunch, the children were gathered on a rug as three of our senior ladies shared stories with them.  Mrs. Harriet Sue told the story of the last teddy bear she received from her mother before she died.  She and her sisters sometimes exchange bears in honor of their mom’s memory.

Mrs. Maxine read the story of Little Cub to the children, reinforcing the beauty and great truth found in its pages.  I elbowed her husband Jim as she read the pages about the sometimes grumpy old bear. 🙂

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Mrs. Phyllis tells the tale of the teddy bear she and Mr. Bill have taken care of for 55 years.

Mrs. Phyllis stole the show with the story of the teddy bear she and Mr. Bill have taken care of together for 55 years.  The video of her bear living in the wild, and the story of finding him by a stream captivated the younger children, though a few wondered why the bear in the video had black fur, while the one in her lap was brown.  Nonetheless, the story of how her children and grandchildren took care of the bear was priceless.  As was her hope that someday  great-grandchildren would come play with her bear.

This was one of our sweetest munches.  It was such a blessing to witness three retired teachers, who no longer work in the Sunday school ministry, bless our children with their story telling ability.  Their charisma with the children reinforced the value of creating alternative settings for inter-generational activities.  It also displayed to the parents present the love our senior members have for our children.

The little cubs were blessed.  The old bears were blessed.  And the young and middle adult parents were blessed to be a part of this day that brought into fellowship a multi-generational cross-section of our church body.  May God continue to pour His blessings on us as one generation passes His love on to another.

In Him,

Wes

 

 

 

The Problem with the Past

“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing “In Christ there is no East or West” we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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The problem with telling our children how God has worked in the world in our lifetime is that, sometimes, in so doing, we come to recognize that he moved without our help.  In extreme cases he may have moved against our will.  Or, at the least, rather than leading the charge for right we were late boarders on the train that God was engineering toward a more Eden-ish and Heaven-like existence for his people on earth.

For many churches the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King is a time in history we would like to forget.  For example, in Nashville, the capital of our state many churches founded private schools in the 1960’s as a response to desegregation, thus delaying King’s dream of “little black children and little white children” playing hand in hand.

Yesterday I was gathered with a large group of children, parents and grandparent aged baby boomers for an observance of Dr. King’s holiday.  I was thrilled by the openness of the boomers who shared with the children the stories of their teen and college years.  Let me paraphrase a few below.

IMG_20150119_124443318“I was in high school the summer that schools were being desegregated in my hometown of Nashville.  There were rumors that some blacks had been visiting white churches and many adults were concerned.  Our eldership knew that it would “look bad” to turn people away, so they decided to kill two birds with one stone.

“They did not like all of us teenagers sitting in the balcony together, so they roped off the section where we liked to sit and put signs there that said reserved.   Throughout that summer the reserved signs stayed up, but no blacks visited our church.  I remember feeling that this action was so wrong as did the other teens.”

Another similar story from a man who was in his early 20’s living in northern Mississippi:

When our church discussed the possibility of black folks visiting a couple of the men committed to stand at the door and not let that happen.  I told them if they forced any blacks to leave I would leave with them.  None of our words were ever tested because no blacks ever tried to visit.

IMG_20150119_124801006Three African-American sisters shared their experiences of growing up  in Celina, TN, two counties north of Cookeville.

When we were growing up in Celina, schools were segregated.  The only high school for blacks in this area was in Cookeville, the Darwin School.  We were thankful that there was a man who would drive around “Freehill” and pickup all the children, when we got to Livingston a couple more would join us, and then in Algood a few more.  Roads were not as good as they are today, so it was an hour and a half drive one way to get to school.

IMG_20150119_124339949IMG_20150119_124421550Some stories were encouraging, and we learned that desegregation in our hometown of Cookeville was uneventful.

Growing up I lived just past the area known as “Bushtown”, and not knowing any different I often told people that was where I lived.  My best friends were two brothers, who happened to be black.  Years before the schools were desegregated I remember inviting one of them to spend the night.  My mom though it was a great idea.  It happened to be a Saturday night, so on Sunday morning my friend went to church with us.  I thought nothing of it at the time, nor did anyone in my church.  The could see that I loved my friend, so they loved him, too.

Though Cookeville’s  theater did have reserved seating for blacks in the balcony and for years a separate high school, the consensus of those in the room yesterday was that there was never a great feeling of hate in our community.  When the Darwin School burned (funny how school fires were so much more common in the 60’s and 70’s) there was a brief period of black students meeting in local churches, but quickly that gave way to integration.  Several present yesterday were in high school then.  The principal from Darwin High School transitioned into a teaching position at Cookeville High School and the students were accepted without much fanfare.

As scary as it is to look into our past, conversations like these are highly beneficial for those who were not alive when these events transpired, both children and younger adults.  We must learn from our history, or we will be doomed to repeat it.

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Yet, the fact of the matter is we do experience repeated cycles in the process of cultural progress.  That is why these lessons from the past will help us as parents, and even our children, to navigate the path ahead.  The church is called to faithfully discern cultural shifts and biblical interpretations.  Scripture does not change, but all interpretation must be transmitted through the culture in which it was written, and there must be a recognition of and IMG_20150119_105335003consideration given as to how the current cultural lens might be skewing our perception.

We need to know the past to help us move into God’s future.  That is why younger generations need older ones.  We need forgiveness for past mistakes, and we need to observe that progress has been made despite our own shortcomings.  That is why older generations need to spend time with younger ones.  May God bless us all as we learn to walk together in this age as the people of God.

 

Magical Relationships

**Note: This post was left unfinished in October, but this morning as I finally took a moment and had a new thought to blog about I found it in my draft box.  When I saw these pictures it brought back memories of this great moment.  We are preparing for another such moment at our church on Monday.  I promise to share reflections on our Martin Luther King Day Munch more quickly.***

 

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do.  Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children. – Alex Haley

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Do you believe in Magic?  I saw magic yesterday.  I saw children who we typically isolate into homogeneous age groupings making friends with people 10x their age.  I saw seniors reading books to captivated children.  On this day I saw God’s intention for the church: one generation bringing another along, telling them the stories of their life, incorporating them in to the community.  What a blessing.

Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being. – Margaret Meed

Community: The Transmitter of Faith

The question has been posed many times, “Why are some people more committed to spiritual matters and moral norms than others?”  This is an important question for me as a father, friend and Children’s Minister.  There are many factors that influence the outcomes in all of us from life experiences and our own natural bent, but let us never overlook the social factors.

Sunday school is important, but not just because of the curriculum.  Relationships matter.  Christianity is not an academic topic like math.  It is a way of life learned through years of discipleship.  Knowledge of God and his teachings are important, but it is no more important than a sense of belonging to a community that is committed to following the path of Jesus.

Think about it.  How much did the Apostles know when Jesus died?  A lot less than he had taught them!  The gospels record no less than three times that he told them he would die and be resurrected, yet the cross was a surprise and the empty tomb was beyond their wildest imagination.  It was their loving relationship with Jesus and their commitment to one another that allowed them to pick up the pieces and become a community filled and guided by the Holy Spirit.

One of the most famous researchers of child development is Erikson, whose psychosocial development theory is regarded to be of utmost importance in the training of school teachers.  We will explore his developmental stages in future posts.

For now the general heads up is this: the two social institutions that most greatly influence a child’s faith are the family and the church.  (For children who don’t have a worshiping family, a surrogate church family can be just as powerful an influence.)  From the church perspective that does not mean that being in the right church will save your children.  What is needed is deep meaningful relationships within your church.

Children need connection more than they need us to entertain them.  Those words convict me as I struggle to recall the names of 150 children whom I see regularly at church.  But learn their names I must.  I must show them that they matter to me, because they matter to God.  Any worship they are led in or truths they are told about will be tossed in the scrap pile if there isn’t a real connection with a faith filled parental figure and other children, teens, young-, middle-, and senior adults who are clearly walking by faith.

Faith, religiosity, spirituality and morality are all passed from person to person and generation to generation.  The congregation connects the child to generations of faithful followers across centuries of church history.  That connection is made strong by deep, meaningful, ongoing relationships.  So take time to relate with your own children and go out of your way, because that is what it takes in our culture, to help yourself and your child develop relationships across the generations of your local congregation as we all seek to grow together…

In Him,

Wes

On Our Hearts and Theirs

So, I fell off the blog wagon a month ago, but I’m trying again, or should I say I’ve finally settled on some shareable thoughts.  I’m trying to learn to speak more from my heart than my mind…but its a challenge for me.  Yet, it’s where my heart has been that has made it a challenge to write lately.

I am full of joy, excitement, ideas and vision like never before in my new role.  I’m thrilled and amazed at some of the developments that have come about in our church family over the past months.  But I know some aren’t so happy.  People I have respected and looked up to for years are concerned, as I would expect them to be…

These commandments I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them upon your children.  

I read recently that for any culture to have continuity in its customs at least three generations must be walking together.  Counting generations is tricky, but I would say that I am part of a church family with at least 4 generations: my children, my generation, my parent’s generation and my grandparent’s generation.  In our fellowship, I believe the greatest “generation gap” comes between the oldest two generations.  The life experiences of the baby boomers have altered their perspective and subsequent generations have followed.  Or, as is sometimes the case, my generation has come to different conclusions and our parents have followed.

The mantle of leadership in our body has only recently been put upon the shoulders of the boomers, and as was feared by the older generation (and hoped for by the younger generations) they are opening the door to a degree of change .  Most noticeably of late they have allowed, even publicly endorsed, freedom of expression in worship.  (For our purposes I’m not interested in entering the decades long worship debate here, I’ll simply state that worship is what we do in response to that which we find to be worthy of our love, devotion, awe and allegiance.  Responses are not scripted, they are provoked and evoked, in the case of Christian worship, by an awareness of the presence of God.)

I believe the “commandments” have been passed down and will continue to be passed down in tact.  However, we are at a crossroads when it comes to methods of impressing.  So here is the question we must consider.  Recognizing that how we have learned and taught the important things of the faith sometimes become as meaningful to us as the truths themselves, how do we navigate through an age of significant transition in methods and maintain loving relationships across the generations.

To the generation of my children, for the most part you have no idea that there is any transition in process.  Our prayer for you is that we will do nothing to come between you and God.  Your awareness of His presence is so much greater than ours, and we hope it stays that way for you.  Your young lives get so busy, but I pray that you slow down enough to get to know some of the people in all three of these prior generations.  You have the opportunity to hear first hand accounts from my grandparents of the Great Depression, World War II and the rapid progress our nation experienced in so many fields as our “greatest generation” came home from Europe and went to work.  By the time you retire the Great Depression will be a century and a half in the past, the same distance between us and the Civil War today, and you can tell stories you heard from those who experienced it.

To my generation, appreciate the faith and practice of the two generations before you.  Churches in America saw their greatest period of growth in the 50’s when our grandparents were our age, and our fellowship was one of the fastest growing at that time.  Yes, times have changed and sadly we are proud to be declining at a slower rate than some others, but never forget that there is wisdom and experience to be gleaned from those who go before.  Work to build relationships with those who are ahead of you in this walk.  They may not live in “your world” but they do have perspective to speak meaningful critique into it.  The world in which they reared children was different, but perhaps they can let us in on some secrets that today’s culture masks.  Also, remember they have had time to see the outcomes of their parenting and to reflect upon what they might have done differently.  Listen to those incites.

To my parent’s generation, we are all looking to you now to lead the body of Christ.  We commit to walk with you.  You have waited in the wings longer than most generations, but don’t rush now, on average you will stay healthy and active longer, so you will have plenty of time in the driver’s seat.  Be true to yourself and take the paths you believe to be best based upon your years of study and experience.  Continue doing so gracefully as I see you desiring to do.  Never stop saying the things that are on your hearts.  When you see us younger folks developing bad habits and attitudes, tell us so – you have earned the right to speak into our lives.  Express your love to those who disagree with you.  Even if your heartfelt expressions are rejected, it will help me know how to treat you a couple of decades from now 🙂

To my grandparent’s generation, we know you have led us diligently and faithfully.  You no longer lead in formal capacities, and that must be a strange feeling after so many years, three decades for some, of leading God’s people.  But your voices are still heard.  Today’s leadership is taking to heart the things you say now, even if they don’t make the decisions you wish they would.  Your legacy will always remain, because the generation that leads now has followed you for so long.  If they did not love and respect you they would have left a long time ago, when their peers did.  If I did not love and respect you I would have given up on our fellowship a long time ago like many of my most passionate friends did.

Seriously, I wish more of my generation could sit in on the meetings I’ve been in over the past decade and a half.  I’m privileged to see the bare hearts and hear the thoughts that have been refined by decades of study, prayer and life experience.  God meant for each generation to learn from the prior.  Yet, recognizing that the previous generations were faithful in their time, this generation must pave the way through each new day seeking the guidance of the Spirit of God to help us be faithful in our time.  May God bless us and be gracious unto us.

Always in Him,

Wes

PS.  You may wonder about the picture with this blog.  That’s my Uncle Bill holding his beloved granddaughter.  He made the most of the time he had and I will never forget the time my dad, brothers and I spent with him as we rang in 2010.  It has been just over a year now since he passed from this life, all too soon.  I thank God for the prior generations that have shaped me in so many ways.  I pray that I never lose focus and actually gain some intensity in developing the generations that are coming behind.