From shortly before the beginning of the Sabbath until this afternoon I have been camping with dozens (the max attendance we had was about 69 attendees on the Sabbath at the seminars and for Sabbath services) of men ranging in age from teens to 80+ year old elderly folks listening and talking and eating and fellowshipping together, generally enjoying each other’s company and wrestling with the thorny issue of what is required to pass and take the mantle of duty and responsibility and authority from one generation to the next. While my appreciation for the fellowship and the good food was unmixed, I had some mixed thoughts about the lectures and presentations given, even though I greatly enjoyed the passion for service in the men I was with of all ages, and the willingness of some of the ministers there to avoid taking offense at people who ask to serve as well as admitting the difficulties that sometimes result from differences in temperament as well as personal experience. There was one particularly emotional speech from one of the ministers that I would like to write about later tonight in a separate post, insofar as it relates to my own concerns about theodicy and why the last few years have resolved largely around a fairly small group of very important issues. That said, I would like to comment on the main themes that I picked up on during the event, which explain why I (and no doubt many others) found it so worthwhile.
One of the young people who spoke this morning, who is a slight acquaintance of mine, talked about the difficulty that young people have in terms of referring to adults. Now, although I am in my early 30’s, I am not really used to being called mister (although, technically, as an unmarried gentleman I should probably be called master if one is being truly polite and is knowledgeable about honorable salutations). I am used to calling people who would have been adults when I was a teenager Mister, even though they would also probably consider themselves my peer. I feel, at least as far as church culture goes, that I am in a zone in between the obviously young and the obviously respected, which has led to a great deal of awkwardness as far as my own general friendliness goes. I do not mind being called by my first name, as long as it does not imply any sort of inequality, but neither do I mind being called Mister (or Master) as well, at which point I would usually reciprocate (I am generally in the habit of calling young men, “young master” and young women or girls “miss”). It would be good if men in general clarified such matters when they were dealing with young adults (as well as making it clear at what age one could speak to middle-aged and older adults by their first name without being thought of as rude and disrespectful).
A lot of people quoted the story of Elijah passing on the mantle to Elisha in 1 Kings 19, which was the focal point of the men’s weekend, and a lot of very good points were bought out about this passage and what it means. At least one time the eagerness of Elisha to serve God on merely the word of Elijah was focused, several people brought out the fact that Elisha’s decision to burn his bridges to his past life after receiving the mantle was an act of significant faith, and one speaker brought out the fact that passing the mantle (or baton, as the process was referred to as well by at least a couple of speakers) is a multi-step process that involves both identifying the talents and skills and potential areas for people to serve, running with those people and helping them improve and become capable of the duties and responsibilities they are to take over, and then letting them take those responsibilities while others switch from an active role to a more advisory and instructor role. These concerns were mentioned by young people, many of them fresh out of ABC or college students (or both), as well as by the ministers themselves who were present.
One of my own concerns (and a concern that was shared by at least one other person) was that certain aspects of our past, real or reputed, has hindered our ability to serve others with credibility based on the talents that we have. I do not wish to go into more detail about those matters at this time. That said, my expression of those concerns did lead to a request that I help promote the event next year by doing some blogging, which I was very willing to do, and also a question of whether I would be willing to help out with Sabbath School (which I am willing to do, as I did in the past in Tampa, if there should be a need that I can fill, and at least a few semi-attentive children who would benefit from it). For a variety of reasons, I have not sought to force myself into situations that would require very close work with teens and children, not least because of the suspicion that I feel from some members of my congregation that I am seeking to forestall by showing restraint in such matters. Nevertheless, if such service is necessary or beneficial, and the unreasonable suspicions of some can be overcome, then I would be happy to serve in such a fashion, as well as other opportunities that may come up. I was told that there was a serious need for speakers and songleaders and others to serve in Eureka, California, but at present I have no way of getting anywhere close to there on a regular basis.
A great deal of time and effort was spent in pointing out the need to overcome fears when it came to serving. In many cases, though, as some people did point out, the fear lies not in the person who wants to serve (most of the time, especially among the young, and this is even true for me, there are concerns about being thought to be presumptuous and overly pushy) but in those who are too afraid to train others, too uninterested in the future to pass along skills and opportunities to serve, even given their advancing age and declining health, and who simply do not trust the youth. I will have much to say about trust in an entry soon-to-come (probably tonight), but for now I simply would like to comment that fear cuts many ways, and is largely an imaginary mental construct of no useful value whatsoever. A sound recognition of threat and danger is useful, but all too often people are governed by their fears. What I saw, at least, was not a group of men who were afraid to serve. What I saw was a group of men that wanted some practical ways to serve others, lead their families and congregations, and do what God put us on this earth to do.
This brings up the last sort of point I would like to bring up, and that is the concern about theory and practice. Many of the presentations and lectures took a very theoretical and informative tone, including one rather awkward message about pornography and the general need for openness and honesty about our struggles (perhaps not with the whole world, but at least with a few trusted people). That said, a great deal of the concerns of mine (as well as those concerns expressed by many of the other men, particularly the younger ones) was about practical steps on how to accomplish matters. From what I could see, and admittedly I am probably a little biased in this because of my own perspective, there are a lot of young men who are well-educated, articulate, of godly and honorable character, who are looking for opportunities to serve their congregations and communities and who feel a bit stymied by the monopolization of responsibilities by older folks. Without any sort of disrespect for these people, they want opportunities to show themselves worthy of honor and respect themselves even as they learn to take the reins of power and authority in a culture that has tended to see the young over the past several decades (once the AC wunderkids filled up the available slots in the field ministry) as mainly a source of often-unappreciated congregational labor. We need to start showing some appreciation and providing a chance for people to show their character and their capabilities in serving God and others. Perhaps this weekend can, at least in our small area of the world, be a step in the right direction in making this happen, not least by showing which people (especially young people) are willing and able to serve.