|From 1995 to 1998, before starting my career in Christian music, I taught tenth grade English at a high school in suburban Minneapolis. One of my units included a term project called an Oral History Paper. Students had to interview three people who had lived through an historical event. My favorite part was seeing the students return from their first fact-finding mission. They would say things like, "I never knew my grandparents were so cool." By simply engaging them, the students saw their grandparents as complex people, each with a life story. And when they heard that story, it became part of their own legacy.|
There are many things working against intergenerational relationships. Commercials aimed at youth depict cool, spiky-haired skateboarders rolling their eyes at tight-lipped, bun-headed, broach-wearing grandmas who shake their heads in disapproval. Such media stereotypes only widen the generation gap, making communication difficult. But as a teacher, I discovered that most teenagers are good people trying to do the right thing. They're generally polite. They want direction. (And they don't all own skateboards.)
As for my grandparents' peers, I've found them to be fascinating people. Many long for relationships with their grandchildren, but don't want to intrude on busy lives. All the more reason for the church to build bridges and encourage teens to connect with their elders.
Teens don't have to be writing term papers to interview their grandparents. The last time we had dinner with my husband's grandfather, I asked him questions about his parents. The stories were amazing. Extreme poverty in Sweden required his grandmother to bind her children's feet in strips of cloth and dip them in hot tar because they had no money for shoes. There was a near shipwreck while coming to America, a cabinet business built from nothing, and a brother who died in a motorcycle accident in his early twenties. I never even knew Papa had a brother. It gave me a whole new appreciation of him.
I believe the church faces a unique challenge in this area. Many youth pastors and music ministers hungry to reach the next generation are convinced that the old systems—from activities to music—won't fit today's youth. Leaders want to be "relevant," so they strike out to find something new. But does relevancy always have to be new? I can feel for the teenager who comes to church only to find an ancient world that has no tie to their real life. But I also feel for the senior citizen who comes to worship God only to find nothing familiar. A common solution is to hold a "contemporary" service and a "traditional" service, but that further separates the very people we should be trying to bring together.
It's sobering to think that every generation starts from scratch. Each newborn baby is a clean slate. I recently told my grandfather that I wish I could download all of his life experiences from his brain to mine, so I wouldn't have to relearn everything. But we weren't made that way. I think that's because God wants us to talk to each other. He wants us to see past the stereotypes and the cultural differences, to view one another as people with something valuable to share.
With a little effort, adolescents can discover a rich heritage and the deep roots that will help them thrive. Meanwhile, members of the older generation can enhance their history with a brand new song. We have an opportunity to demonstrate what God meant when He called us the Body. Finding a way to relate together on common, holy ground will foster more open communication and understanding between young and old. There is a time to be separate and to speak the language we are used to, but there should also be a time when we come together to learn a new language, broaden our perspectives and truly be a family.
Published September 2002