The Wisdom of Generations by Nicholas Hagens
I arrived at Agape on the Feast Day of St. Francis, October 4th, fresh from four years at L’Arche in Tacoma, WA, an international federation of communities for people with and without disabilities. I expected to spend a month learning about sustainability. I have indeed learned a lot about care of the earth; yet, it is the wisdom I have unexpectedly learned from so many people of so many different generations that stuck with me the most.
During my time at Agape, I have been able to share life with many younger people of the Millennial Generat ion (ages 18-35). At 35, I am technically on the oldest cusp of this generation. Many millennials come to Agape to work the land, including group members from Holy Cross and St. Anselm Colleges. I have been impressed by how these young people have already grasped many essential truths of social justice.
Almost upon arrival, the Holy Cross students started an intelligent discussion about whether their college should divest its endowment from all investments in fossil fuels. I would not have dreamt of thinking about such advanced ideas when I was their age! When the St. Anselm group arrived, they brought a spirit of serene prayer. It was a delight to talk with them about the vocations they are choosing. Time with students groups at Agape can actually make one optimistic about the future, just when you thought that that wasn’t possible.
Baby Boomer Wisdom
I have also shared life with people of the baby boomer generation who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and the Vietnam War and through whom I have learned about the peace movement. For example, right after my experience with the Holy Cross group, I heard that a bunch of “tax resisters” were coming to Agape for the weekend. I didn’t know what to expect. I was used to discussion on taxes, of Republicans talking about lowering taxes and Democrats about raising them for the wealthiest citizens. I learned that our guests were people who refused to pay taxes because they did not want their money to contribute to war, a new idea for me.
Any confusion or anxiety I had about sharing a weekend with these “radicals” dissolved quickly as I got to meet engaging, good-humored, kind people. In a culture that values people based on what they earn, they actually chose to make LESS money, living out of their own hard work and ingenuity. Why would anyone want to live this way?
I think the answer came as we talked about the disasters of the wars launched by American Presidents and the bloodshed, suffering and torture that followed. At these times, our guests would shake their heads and say: “I can’t imagine how I would manage if I had contributed money to these wars.” While groups like these receive little press, the sacrifice and witness that they have held for decades is more powerful than a world of political ads. I left the weekend feeling personally challenged to see how my own actions contribute to a system of violence and to reflect on how I can make changes in my life.
The Urgency of Now
Today, with the repercussions of the 2016 election, the profound question is: “What do we do now?” We find ourselves facing the forces of hatred head on and different groups are forming strategies to speak for love, justice and peace. Students are walking out of classes to protest and are talking about on-campus sanctuaries for the undocumented. I hope we all gather people of different races, genders, cultures and generations because what I have learned at Agape is that there are many people out there of different ages who are strong, wise and ready for action. Let’s get together. I hope to see you out there.
Nicholas came at peak work time, contributing to all aspects of community life. Thanks Nick.