Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith
As much as I loathe putting people in boxes, and then drawing conclusions as though they might be speaking for the multitudes, I did have an occasion last week to be in conversation with a young adult from California. All right – let’s call him a millennial; it slipped out that he was born in late 1982, so he qualifies for that box. We stumbled onto the topic of religion. As the media keeps massaging the profile of millennials, he was pretty classic. Church affiliation was the furthest thing from his mind. He seemed to enjoy talking with a minister who didn’t seem judgmental. He didn’t know I had a total of five children who live contented lives away from a church community. (And the cobbler’s children have no shoes).
Our conversation actually began with a bit of braggadocio about his two children, then onto his successful career, and ending with a confession of utter exhaustion in keeping it all together. He was stretched as far as a 24-hour day would allow. But then he raised issues about how the world will be destroyed by the immoral values manifest in the current administration. He was concerned about the kind of world his children will inherit. He then shrugged and said there wasn’t much he could do about it.
A quiet moment followed; it felt like grief hung in the air.
I asked him what he did to restore his energy, hope, and (if he pardoned the word), spirit. He seemed more eager to discuss spirituality than I anticipated. He leaned forward and began rhapsodizing about hiking the woods. He said he restored his spirit by hiking. “That’s my God,” he smiled. “Alone in he woods, connecting with nature, and beauty, and peace.”
We swapped some stories about our favorite hikes: box canyons, slot canyons, moose on the path, unexpected storms, the joy of communing with nature.
“It feels pretty good,” I ventured. He agreed.
“And then what?” I asked.
“Back to the old grind,” he said. “But I need those breaks every so often to stay sane.”
“Does it help your children any?”
“Does it feel like you’re moving the world forward in terms of your values, or is it just a momentary escape before you return to your unending responsibilities?”
He conceded it was a mere break in the action that did nothing to relieve his concern about where the country/world was heading.
I introduced a new perspective. I asked him to compare the spiritual strength that comes from a lone experience in the woods, with what might conceivably happen in community with others who had children, and who felt the same dread.
“Gee, I don’t know how to answer that. What happens in a community?”
I told him of our myriad opportunities in church to work towards a just world. I told him about involving the children so they gained a sense of what it means to help others. (That’s pretty cool,” he conceded).
“And most of all,” I said, “don’t we feel more powerful to influence change when working in a community than by a lonely walk in the woods?”
He asked a good question: “Are the two mutually exclusive?”
“No,” I replied. In fact they are related. The moments of solitude feed the soul to become stronger in community. If you didn’t have time for reflection and self-examination, you would burnout while working to restore confidence in the future.”
He agreed, but I saw the wheels turning in his head: “Where will I find the time?”
Hands were shaken, even a hug. Smiles galore. He understood it all. Will it work? Will a millennial start attending church? I make no predictions. TRG