catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 12 :: 2011.06.24 — 2011.07.07


Playing well with others

Respect old things. Experience those old things. But take the old outer shell away and create something new from it. This is the true nature of “tradition.”

Takuo Kato

A friend sent me this quote a few weeks ago because of its connection to the work I and others have been doing here in Three Rivers, Michigan, to revive an historic elementary school property as an imaginative educational space.  It’s been just about two years now since we ran a whirlwind campaign to fund the down payment on four-acres and a 27,000 square foot building.  Built in 1918, the school is a life-sized artifact of the stories and memories of several generations that we hope to respect, even as we seek to create something new.

In reflecting on this issue’s topic of generational identity, I recalled writing excitedly during the 2009 Imagining space campaign about how the project in Three Rivers might just be an endeavor for “my generation.”  Even though progress has been slow, in many ways, that progress really has been the work of folks in their teens, twenties and thirties.  My husband Rob and I, in our early thirties, have only been able to move forward because we’ve had the participation of student volunteers, interns and co-working friends.  Side by side, we’ve proceeded with the conviction that anything is possible and, even though the day-to-day realities are hard, we’ve chosen to be enlivened by the potential, rather than paralyzed by the challenges.  I think it’s fair to say that many older friends and mentors have been inspired and encouraged by the creative, youthful collaboration that’s formed around this vision.

And yet: it’s not ultimately that helpful to stake too bold a claim on the Imagining Space project as one belonging to my generation.  In fact, it’s not accurate.  Plenty of kindred spirits in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies…and even some who haven’t quite hit the teens yet have already participated.  Beyond Imagining Space, as many articles in this issue explore, generational identity and ownership is much more complicated than just drawing boundary lines around birth dates. Adding another important angle to the discussion, Matthew Lee Anderson has rightfully critiques the tendency of racial and economic privilege to distort our understanding of generational identity.  Of various attempts to define the character of evangelical 20-somethings, he writes:

Any attempt to describe a movement as diverse, complex, and broad as evangelicalism (of any age) will suffer inevitably suffer from oversimplification — but not to acknowledge these limitations of our perspective exacerbates the temptation to see only what we were looking for to begin with. Tunnel vision is part of the peculiarly human problem known as “self-deception.”

That tunnel vision has led many cultural analysts to predict the future of Christianity and other religions and institutions based on a white, Western experience (read: normal).  It’s the cultivated privilege of such folks, myself included, to do things like define movements and generations without the input of those who were trampled by the revolution or who grew up on the underside of economic progress.  From within the tunnel, such voices are too muffled to be of great concern.

However, as we continue to develop the mission, physical space and programming for Huss School, I hope I can be conscious of who exactly is included and excluded every time the first person plural is invoked with words like “us” and “we.”  I hope that self-deception and oversimplification can be displaced by humility and embrace.  The radical generosity we seek applies not just to tangible things like food and space, but also to things like ideas, input and dreams.  It takes a lot of work to get outside of ourselves in that way, and yet taking the first step might be as simple as just breathing.

I recently saw the film I Am, which is director Tom Shadyac’s post-trauma exploration of two questions: “What is wrong with the world?” and “What can we do about it?”  In it, he makes a case for cooperation over competition as the fundamental quality of human nature, citing argon as an example.  Argon is an inert gas that we breathe in and out, and humans have been breathing the same unchanged molecules for countless generations.  It’s an interesting way to think about what’s gone before, along with the Kato quote above.  Along with argon, we take in oxygen and we don’t just breathe it back out again; we fundamentally change it.  And then plants change it back, in an interminable volley of exchanges that are both entirely predictable and utterly unique.

Within this eighty or ninety years that I’m given, if I’m lucky, I hope to learn how to volley well not only with my breath, but with all of my culture making.  How can I go back and forth with diverse partners who will challenge my habits and assumptions?  How can I play a beautiful, collaborative game that embodies compassion over competition?  Argon and oxygen, old and new, Boomer and Gen X and Millenial, people of every shade and culture — we live in a world of infinite diversity and possibility, where we do well to listen and imagine and play within the particulars of each new day.  Time and place are gracious limitations, and within them are such treasures as four acres, 27,000 square feet and good friends of all kinds who remind us of the things that matter.

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