This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Powell: Elders help youth find their voice

I asked a friend how he understood the current assault on civil and human rights. He replied, “Same song, different concert hall. Ghost of Colonialism in A Minor.”

John Powell

This began an interesting conversation about the times we live in. The societal climate is not new to marginalized people. The difference is that acts of vengeance are happening beyond the margins. The perceived superiority of white folks is being upended. They are feeling what it’s like to be oppressed.

Recently I talked with friends about retirement plans. One said he planned to deal with some “trumped up” charges. Then he winked. His statement confirmed we are encountering issues beyond partisan politics. It’s the politics of survival. We need workers for justice that move beyond left or right agendas.

My friend lamented that he didn’t have the energy for frontline work, but he planned to teach others how to be front-line workers. Retirement is a good time to reflect on the future and prepare others for the change yet to come.

If you’re retired, or drawing near to it, or simply have time available, what are your plans?

In a prior column, I said young people are ready to become midwives for a reborn society. But they need you. They want to access your knowledge, wisdom and skills. Retirement or leisure time offers an opportunity to engage in new, life-giving, creative actions.

Addressing her contemporary elders’ responsibility to young people, Bethune-Cookman College founder Mary McLeod Bethune said, “The world around us really belongs to youth, for youth will take over its future management.”

This was her hope, and others followed her — equipping youth to take their place of leadership for a better society. We are facing a fierce urgency now.

Are you called to be an elder for justice? You might feel ill-prepared or consider the task too hard. Being an elder for young justice seekers can be difficult if you are perceived as unwilling to relinquish unholy alliances and beliefs that are counter to God’s preferred future. But your faith in the radical call of Jesus will help you overcome negative thoughts.

The oak tree is a symbol of strength and perseverance. We are oaks of righteousness, a planting of God’s favor (Luke 4:19; Isaiah 61:2-4). An oak’s endurance emanates from its root system, nurtured and anchored in the depths. As elders, we have been rooted. We have been tried and found able. We have been granted the wisdom that can provide an anchor for front-line operatives working for an inclusive society. We are the root system for the humane and just community that young people are seeking.

Toward the end of our conversation, my friend said, “It’s time for us to find our voice. If we are afraid to speak up, help those who are willing.”

If you are an elder, I have a request and a challenge. Help young people find their voice. Join me in forming councils of elders in our communities. Gather likeminded wise people who can see new societies unhampered by hate and exclusion. Band together to share your wisdom and expertise with future leaders. Commit to support, in word and action, young folks who are ready to engage the powers of our communities.

Spread the news that God is in our land!

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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