Humor me. Some of you my age will remember the singer, Kenny Rogers. If so, surely, you then will recall his song, “The Gambler.” You know the refrain, “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away.” They don’t sing songs like that anymore. Such wisdom.
This is where I believe James and Kenny Rogers walk together. Wisdom. Trust me, not all paths are the same. Kenny sings a good song. But James … is not by playing cards or gambling. He is doing the word. James is the one who writes to us, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
That is wisdom. His words speak to our day and age. Take listening for example. Many people think of listening as a skill and something that can be taught. In fact, early on in my ministry, when engaged in conversation I was encouraged to “actively listen” which meant I was to repeat verbatim what the person had just said to me. Not only did the conversation go around in circles but it was often unproductive and off-putting.
Then I was taught to identify with the other person and say something like “I know what you are going through.” Imagine me, a 25-year-old freshly ordained minister saying to an elderly person “I know how you feel.” Seriously?!
There are times empathy doesn’t cut it but listening does. And it is clear we really need to listen to this next generation. I am preparing to release a new book entitled, A Letter to the Church and the Next Generation: Spiritual Growth Through the Witness of James. It is not a how-to book. It is a call for intergenerational relationships and for parishioners who have important lived experiences to consider being mentors.
Being a mentor does not mean we are called to give answers, to offer solutions, or to fix problems. A mentor, first and foremost, is being called to listen. Sure, it is fair game to ask questions. Wouldn’t it be nice if we gained trust and could then share our experience? Take it one step further and think what might happen if dialogue around matters of faith entered the picture and we could share not only our beliefs but also the way God worked in our lives and why we have become Jesus followers. The discussion possibilities are endless.
One reason for my passion is Mary and I have children and grandchildren. We enjoy listening to them. Barna Research (the church Gallup poll) has found a large number of young people “feel valued by the people in my life who are older than me.”
Sure, Kenny Rogers can sing. But it is time for our generation to listen to the next generation. It is what James refers to as “doing the Word.” And within the Word lies the wisdom.