Along with my blog, I know some of you are reading the daily selections from Sister Joan Chittister's book, The Gift of Years, (they provide the catalyst for daily reflections). If so, you may have been struck as I was by her thoughts on "Outreach." The chapter was longer than usual and there was, more than any previous chapter, a critical edge in her tone. A sustained indictment of our society.
"Age, in a youth-oriented culture," she writes, "can become a very depressing thing....A culture built on creating needs in children and then catering to them bodes little good for the age to come. It leaves an older generation at the mercy of a world whose agendas are now totally out of touch with their own....Silently but steadily, that kind of culture and environment isolates an older population on an island of its own." Her depressing description goes on for a few more pages...she indicts the video-game culture, the overwhelming access to trivializing information, the inevitable drift to isolated living conditions, the anonymity and alienation of public life.
I don't think she is overstating it. If we acquiesce to these currents, we will drift into isolation. More than ever, I feel these currents are strengthening. It is impacting all of us. Church life always pushes against these currents. But it is getting more difficult to sustain that push. I resonate with Sister Joan's indictment of our situation. It cuts across the generations. The elderly feel more directly the consequences of our drift towards isolation. But they are not alone.
Finally, on the next to last page, Sister Joan makes a constructive turn: "Outreach is at the kernel of getting older. We need to go out to meet the rest of the world, rather than wait for the world to come to us." And she picks up another word: "Generativity--the act of giving ourselves to the needs of the rest of the world--is the single most important function of old age."
This past Sunday, Skip Coggin (a good friend who happens to be a couple of decades older than me) gave me a wonderful image of what this looks like. He led a group of 80 or so of his peers from The Mather (where he and Liz live) on the "March for Our Lives" this past Saturday. They marched in Evanston in concert with thousands and thousands all across Chicago, the country, and the world. It was a march organized by the youngest among us to call for an end to gun violence and laws that assure almost unlimited access to guns. That's what generativity looks like....across the ages.
Resist the drift! In all its forms. Resist the drift! We can become isolated in our families just as easily as we can as individuals. Resist the drift!