Being Present and Closing the Distance

I read a great article yesterday in TIME by Joel Stein about the Millennial generation. I’ve done some study about generational cohorts and I find all of this stuff very interesting.

However, I also find the ongoing micro-cohorting to be somewhat distressing. The more strictly we define generational cohorts (Builders, Silent Generation, Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, etc.) the more we separate from one another. We already find it natural to separate through technology (isn’t it amazing how someone appearing as a text on your phone is of greater interest than the person sitting across the table from you?), and generational separations increase the distance.

Of course, I shouldn’t talk. I’m a Baby Boomer, and it was my generation that celebrated the “Generation Gap,” claiming that we couldn’t relate to anyone older than us. Nevertheless, the separations continue and the distances increase.

Churches have suffered because of this separation, and not because they are victims of such cultural movement; it’s because they have organized around it. Many churches (particularly Evangelical Protestant churches) separate everyone by age and generation as soon as they walk in the door. It is not uncommon for young people, once they graduate from high school and are no longer able to be in the youth group, to walk away from church because they see no place for them there. No place in what we call The Body of Christ, where diversity is assumed. Wow.

I remember reading in Margaret Wheatley’s book, Leadership and the New Science, that organizational leadership of the future will be about finding new ways to be together. That will be challenging in a world that is struggling to figure out what it really means to be anywhere with anyone, now that space and time have lost their power over us.

I had a long and happy conversation with my mother yesterday (yes, over the telephone, which is unhindered by the distance of miles between us), and I found myself thinking about how the days race past us and we don’t remember much about where we’ve been or what we’ve done. Over time, what will we all remember? Will it be the zillions of text messages we’ve sent and received? Will it be the last minute meet-ups that caused us to leave someone after a few minutes of conversation in order to see if something better is going on elsewhere?

Or will we remember extended conversations with people we love, watching them face-to-face, recalling their laughter, their words, their ideas, hopes and dreams, and how we also found space to share ourselves in those encounters? It’s true that we can do some of that via the Internet (I confess that I love Google Hangout), but I wonder if our memories are imprinted on our brains as effectively when we limit our encounters with others to only certain senses. When proximity, touch, and even smell are eliminated, does our capacity to remember diminish? I don’t know. But maybe.

I think I’ll invite some folks over for dinner at my house. We’ll cook up some good food, share some wine, and talk and laugh late into the evening. Maybe we won’t even look at our phones, because nothing better will be going on except what is happening in those moments in time, when we are present to one another, allowing the experience to be burned into our mental circuitry. Perhaps one day in the future we will call that memory up and cherish it.

It is interesting to me that the Eucharist is always shared in person. We stand or kneel with others, we take bread and wine, and in that experiential moment, Jesus says,

“Remember me.”

Mike McNichols