A person's favorite teaching of Jesus is, "So the first will be last, and the last will be first" (Matthew 20:16). S/he wants to know when it will happen. When will she get to "revel in the luxuries that [the 1 percent] take for granted." Apparently s/he thinks the 1 percent are "the first."
Responding to his/her inquiry, the wise teacher wonders if the inquirer is missing Jesus' point. In Jesus' kingdom there are no firsts and lasts, no winners or losers, no chosen and not chosen, no true believer and infidel. "[God's] kingdom," the wise teacher says, "is not a zero-sum, winner-take-all game of 'us against them,' but a non-zero celebration of all of us together." The wise teacher goes on to suggest that the inquirer choose to stop playing his/her game and start playing Jesus' game.
"A few [weeks] ago we were dispersed; we did not know each other. Now we are together; we belong to each other." This is part of a longer quote from a book by Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche community, that describes for me one of the beauties of the ELCA Youth Gathering.
The dispersed will come together in Detroit this summer. They’ll leave knowing that God brought them together for a purpose, and God sends them back out with a message for the world: Jesus is good news! Youth will be sent home with a mission to rise up together as followers of Jesus Christ who build bridges, bear burdens, break chains and bring hope.
You can track almost anything these days—patterns of food intake, fatigue, mood, number of steps you’ve taken, heart rate, and even how much REM sleep you got last night. This phenomenon is part of a rapidly growing movement of fitness buffs, techno-geeks, and people with chronic conditions who obsessively monitor various personal metrics. It has been called the quantified-self movement. I was surprised to learn that there are quantified-self communities worldwide that produce international meetings, conferences and expositions, community forums, web content and services to help people get meaning out of their personal data.
Rising up does not mean having power over but, rather, having power with. Mary Parker Follett, a social worker who in the early 20th century became a management theorist and consultant, helps us understand the difference: "Power over is a traditional relationship in which one person has power over another person, or one group over another group, or one nation over another nation." Having power over involves dominance and coercion, and it usually means the most powerful get their way whether it is best for the other or not. This kind of traditional scenario is marked by polarities — winner/loser, good/bad, right/wrong. In contrast, power with is relational and mutual, says Follett. "It creates new possibilities from the very differences that might exist in a group." Within this posture is the potential for co-creative power where something new can be generated to benefit both, and hopefully all of creation.
We are either baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection or, as the Rev. Richard Rohr says in his book "Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi," "Christianity is largely a mere belonging system, not a transformational system that will change the world." The ELCA Youth Gathering has been and will always be a ministry that transforms the lives of teenagers, and transformed people of God transform the world.
I promise that youth and adults who attend the ELCA Youth Gathering will know the opening line of Mark’s Gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) And, they will know that they are the ones who carry the good news of Jesus into the world.