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Thoughts on preparing for SUMYT Retreat


After my birthday, it came to mind that I might be the oldest person to be the speaker at the youth SUMYT Retreat. I have attended this retreat occasionally over the years between my two sons, and I don’t recall anyone my age as the speaker. One year two seminary students shared the role. I also recall two colleagues speaking and they weren’t “young” like the seminary students but they were younger than I am now. I was surprised to receive the invitation for this reason; how can someone so elderly relate to youth today? I know that the youth are the ones who choose the speaker, and two of the youth on the committee are youth at our church – that likely explains it. If adults were the one’s choosing, particularly clergy, I wouldn’t have been invited to speak. Bishop Hagiya once said that we cannot relate to anyone who is over 20 years different in age. I realize that in a changing world with all sorts of new technological devices it’s hard for people over 50 to keep up. Nonetheless, I have problems with assumptions that are made here.
First of all, it seems to me that in our culture what is new and young are valued rather than what is old. We are inculcated to wait in anxious anticipation for the newest version of a game, phone or device. Older versions of programs are insufficient and frowned upon. This is where I may be a little old, but I detest when the newer versions come out because it takes so long to adjust; I still don’t like Windows 10. In the church I hear constantly how important it is to reach out to millennia’s; we need to understand them and adapt to their generational needs and habits. This is why younger clergy are appointed to the larger churches where there a lot of younger families. (I am no longer in the pool of possible pastors for those churches.) I also perceive a superciliousness in some younger clergy as if they have the needed knowledge and I don’t. And the question arises: Why don’t we lean the other way and wonder about what wisdom older people have to share?
When I lived in Japan and was introduced to Japanese aesthetics I learned about the concept of wabi sabi. It is beauty found it what is old, rusty, slightly cracked and imperfect. This aesthetic was also a part of the culture; whether we know it or not, art is the life blood of a culture. There is far more respect for the wisdom of the aged. Graphically, I remember when a Zen Master visited our local Temple in Oasa where I lived. It was a gold carpet, but metaphorically it was a red one.
Every stage of life has gifts and liabilities. Watching my sons grow up there are things I miss and envy – not the least of which is physical prowess. I also see things I don’t miss – the anxiety of youth. It is a mistake to over emphasize any of these stages over others. While technology is changing things so fast that older people have trouble keeping up, younger people today live largely disconnected from animals (accepting pets), streams, forests and the glory of climbing a mountain. (I’m speaking generally and comparatively here.) There may be some truth to the belief that one cannot relate to a person over 20 years different in age, but I don’t find it to be a helpful idea. It isn’t something we want to accentuate or use as a reason not to appoint an old fogey to a younger church. The real benefit comes when we are able to learn from each other.
I don’t know how SUMYT will go. I feel the need to use some technology to show that I’m up to date. I also know that in the end it isn’t about what we know or don’t know – it’s about the heart. And I want to believe that heart knowledge reaches across generations. That the youth at the retreat deep down are more hungry for meaning than for the newest gadget. We will see. Pray for me. P.Jim


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