Uprisings

To Triumph Over Despair

It is often assumed that younger people have no respect for their elders and even less reverence for history. While people in their 20s now may be as suspicious of institutions as their baby boomer counterparts were 25 years ago, my experience has been that there is in fact a healthy respect for individuals who have lived more than we, particularly those who experienced the hardships of depression and war.

We know that the particular social and economic challenges of our times are different, but the basic emotional fortitude needed to survive is not. We are familiar with despair, and so we are grateful for generations that have shown us how to move through life gracefully, how to live for the good of future generations, how to persevere in the face of trouble, and how to live and die with dignity.

In my congregation of mostly younger people, we tend to focus more on the spiritual challenges of this life than the rewards of heaven. Promises of eternal bliss fall on deaf ears for those who think they have 50 or 60 years of misery until then. Nevertheless, we are not as disinterested in the hereafter as one might assume. In my senior year of college, no fewer than five classmates lost a parent. AIDS has been a reality as long as we've been adults, and cancer rates for younger people appear to be rising. Death is no stranger to us, even if few of us expect to meet it any time soon.

WHEN PEOPLE BEGIN TO share stories of death, we of course remember grandparents, uncles, and friends who lived full and productive lives. But there is another group of stories that inevitably come out—the stories of those whose deaths were untimely and ungraceful: the high school friend who ate so little that her heart gave out; the buddy who drank so much that his liver failed; the college classmate who thought it better to swallow a cabinet full of pills than to face the next day.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1999
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Now is the Time

For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this? - Esther 4:14

Mordecai's not so subtle advice to Esther was that she had been chosen to go to the king and plead for the lives of her people. It was her specific, God-given assignment that could have eventually been fulfilled by someone else, but was meant for her. The principle that everyone has a calling and purpose is just as true today as it was then.

Today, young adults in the church have unprecedented opportunities to make significant impact in the church and in society at large. Many already are heeding Christ's call on their lives to fulfill his purposes. However, in some cases what God calls us to do may not be easy, convenient, or conventional. It usually requires a substantial degree of commitment, sacrifice, and of course faith. Despite hearing the call to participate in a certain ministry, many young adults are paralyzed by doubts and never move from their comfort zones into areas where God can use their gifts and talents. Instead of maturing and putting their faith into action, they stop short of reaching their potential. Three factors often hinder people from achieving what God has for them: fear, inexperience, and procrastination.

Fear. Fear is a paralyzing force that has kept many ministries on the drawing board. Usually those things we most fear never actually occur. However, the longer we hesitate the more we ponder how we could fail. Taking action, whether or not it's successful at the outset, provides invaluable experience and courage.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1998
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The Death of a Young Activist

At midnight on May 21, I fell to the floor screaming when I learned that Krista Hunt Ausland, my best friend for 24 years, had plunged to her death in a bus accident in Bolivia. Her husband, Aaron, searched through the black of night to find her broken body in a mountain ravine. Six months earlier, the young couple had com-

mitted to a three-year volunteer project with the Mennonite Central Committee in a Bolivian village.

At 25, Krista had just begun her stewardship with the Mennonites, but her lifelong servanthood was exemplified in many unusual and creative ways. She was a high school student body president, honors student, and Save the Whales activist. Nominated as Spokane's Lilac Princess, she took the opportunity to deliver an untraditional pageant speech on justice for the people of Guatemala.

Krista defined the term "social justice"for me while standing in line at McDonald's in the ninth grade. She sounded like a cheerleader for the rainforests of Haiti. At 17, Krista and I cofounded Youth for World Awareness, and at 20 we traveled together on a Central America study-service tour. In college, she participated in the Christian Environmental Association.

But Krista's compassion was not limited to far-away lands. As our childhood friend Heather Koller battled years of cancer, Krista enthusiastically escorted her to summer cancer camp to ride horses and forget about the nightmarish bouts with chemotherapy. When Heather died at 21, Krista reminded us that Heather's life was not a tragedy, but a testimony to keep on living when things were at their worst.

As an inner-city high school teacher in Tacoma, Washington, Krista was honored for creating a peer-mentoring program. Struggling to save her students from delinquency, she valued the expressive energy of the kid who tried to break the world record for the largest afro. "He's just so creative!"she exclaimed.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1998
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The Passionate Nonviolence of Youth

Young people are the keystones of any culture. Youthful energy is needed to get work done in society. We provide new ideas, physical labor, laughter, the human connection to the future and the world community, and the push for reform and change in society.

So, in the United States, why are teen-agers considered nuisances? Why do we have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world? Why are we spending $267 billion on the military to train youth to kill, and $42 billion on all other education? How can our government claim to provide security when its priorities place young people near the bottom of an expendable pile?

This past January, 17 young adults of many faiths and nationalities came together at Kirkridge retreat center in Pennsylvania for Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Peacemaker Training Institute (PTI), a weeklong nonviolence training program to engage youth in exploring activism.

Our training provided us with the space to get to know other equally passionate young people. At Kirkridge, we met students who have started their own campus groups to address some of the root causes of violence and insecurity: poverty, homophobia, hunger, human rights abuses, and their college’s investments in the military. They have founded their own peer mediation programs, support groups for rape victims, magazines, and peace and justice radio shows.

WOULD THAT nonviolence training was required for all students, and that the way of nonviolence practiced by Jesus, Dorothy Day, Gandhi, Muriel Lester, and Martin Luther King Jr. would be as much a part of our culture as commercial advertising. During our training, we visited a community-supported agriculture project and a women’s shelter, as well as sheet-rocked for a day with Habitat for Humanity. Training like this helps young people realize that although so many of the problems in society seem overwhelming, each one of us has the power to take action to create change.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1998
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The Welcome at Spirit Garage

"What do you do?" It's taken me about nine months to come up with a short answer for that question. Nowadays, I usually answer as simply as possible: "I'm a pastor starting a new congregation in Uptown." For people familiar with the Twin Cities, the one word "Uptown" says a lot.

People here know Uptown as a neighborhood strewn with coffeehouses, ethnic restaurants, small art theaters, natural health stores, and eclectic gift shops. It is home to an upscale day spa as well as tattoo parlors. For at least 30 years, Uptown has been the area where young people settle when they first arrive in the Twin Cities.

There are more than 20,000 young adults in and around Uptown, and the vast majority of them do not have a faith community. Spirit Garage, the congregation I am developing, is a church with an alternative flavor intended to reach this population, but you won't find the term "Gen X" in any of our material. Although most "attenders" are under 40, it is attitude, not age, that defines us.

We call ourselves "The Church With the Really Big Door." We have found that many Spirit Garage people feel extremely uncomfortable in traditional churches, which tend to focus on the needs of middle-class homeowners with children. When you don't have children, a spouse, a permanent job, a house, or even a car, it's easy to feel a bit out of place in such churches.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1998
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The Stage Is Set

A small group of twentysomethings can change the world. A generation of them can reclaim the cities of America for the kingdom of God. This is our calling.

By popular perception then and now, Jesus’ band of soon-to-be leaders was anything but full of potential. A few rural fishermen, a cast-out tax collector, an alternative anarchist, all 12 of them twentysomethings. This was the community that would found the most significant movement the world has ever seen. Looking at these young people, Jesus didn’t see problems. He saw promise. The rest is history.

So-called Generation X, the group of people in America born after the early ’60s, has been much maligned and deemed a generation of little promise. Undoubtedly this first post-Christian generation has grown up in unprecedented family breakdown, technological advance, rapidity of change, moral decay, geographic transience, and global urbanization. But if we look with the eyes of Christ, we should see incredible potential for the kingdom and gain a great sense of hope for America’s inner cities. It is my conviction that God will use the challenging and changing environment of this generation for the redemption of North America’s cities and their people.

When one thinks of the problems of the city, what come to mind? They are myriad. The stories are different in each city, but the problems and the overwhelming need are the same. Our cities need the body of Christ to live out the values of the kingdom in their midst, for the values of the kingdom match perfectly the needs of the city.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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From Generation to Generation

"...and Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias...."

Bored yet? In honesty, many of us would say that passages such as this from Matthew (1:9-10) are among the most tedious in the Bible. Though these

passages are more often passed over than read, they show some of the great respect that the Bible gives to the fact that each passing generation contributes to the establishment of our faith.

Today, a new generation is experiencing God’s love and responding in ways that are challenging the status quo and initiating new ways of being church that herald how Christ’s church may look in the coming millennium. The participants in these "uprisings," though possibly more wary of traditional church structures than other generations, are no less serious about their commitment to serve God and find ways that best convey the gospel to those coming of age in today’s post-modern culture.

What is taking place among young adults today has the potential to revitalize the wider church, which is certainly something believers of all ages will benefit from. Contrary to the media’s "slacker" description of Generation X, young people today are challenging all of us to action with their allegiance to works and not just words. In doing so, they are reshaping society’s definition of what it is to "be church."

AMONG THE "UPRISINGS" of this new generation are initiatives such as the Emerging Urban Leaders Summit, which met last September in Washington, D.C. The conference brought together young Christian leaders from a variety of backgrounds for worship and a better understanding of God’s vision for their generation.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1998
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