It’s actually here – The Gathering. That thing on the calendar that felt like it would never get here for Madeleine, our 15-year-old. Her dream of soaking up New Orleans in the cradle of jazz (at least to her mind) in the company of friends filled her with anticipation.
At the same time that corresponding trip for us has been a series of meetings, emails, fundraisers, a bit of anxiety – for me, it came up fast. Like life itself the young sense that time is dragging while the old(er) feel time accelerating.
Still, at the appointed time, the day came and now the adventure. Exactly what is this Gathering? The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) Youth Gathering for 2012 is appropriately themed “Citizens with the Saints,” blending the rich faith history, diverse cultures and arts of New Orleans with the convention’s mission to service the city’s public education system, shrinking wetlands and housing. Right now 35,000 Lutheran teens have converged on Louisiana’s Big Easy to collaborate with nearly 50 different organizations during its outreach efforts, including the New Orleans Recreation Department, New Orleans Community and Schools Organization, United Saints, St. Bernard Project, UNITY New Orleans, Beacon of Hope, Second Harvest Food Bank and Common Ground Relief to use their hands to embody the three core practices the youth will be exposed to: Discipleship, Peacemaking and Justice.
We saw off Madeleine, seven other church youth and two chaperones two days ago. Already we have word that they have been working on rehabilitating a home in one of the Katrina-affected parishes (still damaged and rotting after seven years) followed by a come-together gathering at the Superdome with all the attendees with community music and prayer.
What else will they encounter as individuals, a small group and as a sea of youth? Possibly life-changing, certainly memorable, Madeleine will have tales to tell and much to process. Will she experience the dream she had in her head, or not? We pray that it will it exceed her expectations or change her in positive ways. Armed with still camera and video camera, she hoped to come home with a visual record of the five-day trip.
Improvising with skill, like the jazz city playing host, the adolescents will be sharing a multitude of viewpoints of faith, God, belief, spiritualism, and their own journeys and then blend that with their own internal faith. The hope is that the sharing of faith and working together in community will enable each participant to acquire those skills and use them to broaden their own stories as caring Christians for decades to come. And as Donald Miller says in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned While Editing My Life:
“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.”
In Ephesians Chapter 2 we read: “Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together.”
My fervent hope is that we all get that – that Madeleine receive it now at The Gathering and/or through other experiences and many other times in her life. But more expansively, that we all use our life as a positive story that has meaning, glee, playfulness, justice, peace, connectedness and LOVE in Christ.