Friday, September 27, 2019

Lying About Our Age

This Sunday, before I left my church office, I leafed through the always-useful Presbyterian planning calendar for the year. It reminds me what color stole I should wear, and keeps me apprised of key dates for the year. It's also filled with inspirational images that are meant to turn our hearts to doing mission, and I appreciate its intent.

But I couldn't help notice something this year: in the many images of earnest progressive Christians doing earnest Jesus-justice things, there was one...just one...person with white hair. And one older person, whose hair was in shadow. Its possible there were three. It's possible some of the folks were coloring their hair, and I just missed it. But the theme was significant and sustained. 

The images proclaimed a denomination bustin' out with young folk. If we look at the data, and then compare it with the story we are telling ourselves, it's, well, things are a little different. I am fifty years old, which...though my hair's mostly holding up so far...means I'm an older soul. I'm still on the younger side of the Presbyterian world. In that, there is dissonance.

I wonder at it because older folk were my mentors in service and mission. I learned the Way from amazingly active, caring, and dynamic human beings...who also had white hair and a lifetime of experience serving the needy, marching for justice, and showing the love of Jesus. "Mission" and "service" are things that older grownup Christians do, with passion and commitment and energy.

Beyond that, it goes deeper. When a church tells a story of itself that is fundamentally at odds with what it actually is, that says something about the state of its soul. A healthy church is open and straightforward about who it is. It feels it has nothing to hide, and is comfortable with itself. We are this way, and we love Jesus where we are, as we are.

Anxious communities, on the other hand, cast out a tale of themselves that misrepresents who they truly are. "We're welcoming," the website proclaims, only when you show up, there are furtive glances in worship and a circle of backs in the social hour. "We're active and connected," the Facebook page says, in the most recent post from four years ago. "We're growing," says the church that last added a member ten years before that Facebook page update.

In seminary, I was taught to watch for this in the communities I pastor. I inferred, from that teaching, that I was to be wary for it in my own soul, as my own ego and desire to tell a sweet lie about my own success or gloss over who I am.

Perhaps I am overthinking this. Perhaps it's nothing more than the tendency of older folks to prefer pictures of their grandkids and pictures of themselves when they were young. Maybe it's just random.

Then again, perhaps not.