By Rachel Bauer, an incoming student at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Admittedly, I have a phobia of youth.
This is not an overt thing, but rather comes from feeling like I don’t know how to speak to them. I have not yet bridged that gap in communication, and when I think of the compounding factor of internet-based social media, I’m really out of my league. That’s one of the things I liked about Andrew Zirschky’s book Beyond the Screen, it took an approach to the youth thing that made it digestible and applicable to me. He does this in several ways, but most specifically I’m going to focus on the concept of the Body of Christ that weaves throughout his writing. That grounded me in a common faith, and brought me to the table to sit with him and the youth alike. He explores the experience of communion, which he says is a “radical equality not secured by one’s usefulness or desirability, but by the interpenetrating love of Christ in whom all share equally” (112).
Truthfully, Zirschky’s book reaches beyond the skin. By which I mean to say beyond the baggage and biases we carry with us. In this way, Zirschky’s book is a book that is about all of us who seek the love of God, and the youth is just his lens. He brings attention to the tendency of the church to bring in the existing social hierarchy as it pertains to youth and cross-pollinate it with youth ministry (128). I offer that this is not just something that affects the youth, but affects everyone. The Body of Christ is not a structure that adopts the existing social structure, but a structure that profoundly challenges, rearranges, and even threatens the existing social structure with the idea that in Christ we are all one.
I find that what I so crave in going to church is that unity, that equality, that sense of communion where we exist with each other. This is the capital-C Church, the on-going and continuous work of God in our lives, the on-going and continuous communion of all people into the living bread of Christ (139). At first, I was not interested in what he had to say, and I felt the writing did not lend itself to the type of discussion I was craving. However, through his writing, I was able to name this in myself. Through his writing, I was also called into action. This is not a book meant to simply be absorbed, it is a book that drew me to the table and actively involved me in his discussion. He held me accountable to be a participant. I feel I have dropped some of my barriers about youth, and am able to acknowledge what it is they have to teach me.
The youth are a generation immersed in a sea of constant and continuous connection. Zirschky posits that what the youth need is what we all need: intimate and lasting relationship. This longing he names in the youth to seek enduring relationships that answer more than usefulness or desirability, is holding everyone else accountable for their own social interactions. In order to bridge the gap between us and the youth, we need to be willing to provide a life boat of communion in the raging sea of connection. This speaks to my own growing sense of ministry by starting a conversation about being open to giving and receiving God’s grace, a radical kind of love that functions by “repeatedly and continually giving others what they do not deserve”(107-8). Grace, to me, is the bridge. Zirschky goes to some length to spell out the importance of building relationships that are loving and grounded in an equality that is beyond what society can give. That is why the Church is relevant, it provides for everyone, because in Christ we are one. No one human being can provide that oneness, and Zirschky does not call for us to do that, rather he calls for us to be fully relational with one another, to show compassion, to do for others, and to love. He calls for self-giving, self-emptying, and presence (94-101). He even suggests that we can direct energy and love over social media, and thus build deeper relationships there too (145-6). We can not experience the Body of Christ unless we are present in all ways to it. So just as the youth hold us accountable, Zirschky seems to be saying that we should hold them accountable too, accountable to build relationships and direct energy into another human being, for it is in these relationships that God works through us.