When I was a kid I loved M*A*S*H. I would spend the evening with Father Mulcahy as he dispensed divine wisdom to an audience surrounded by the ravages of war. My buddies Trapper, Hot Lips, Winchester, Hawkeye, Radar, Klinger and Colonel Potter made me laugh hysterically. My dad would begin it all with a chuckle that would cue the rest of us to join in the laughter song. As a child M*A*S*H was an escape from my mundane little world full of finger painting, addition, foursquare and cooties. M*A*S*H was an oasis full of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The war that raged on behind the antics of Hawkeye & Trapper was a vehicle for the laughs. I had no real understanding of what was going on in the show.
I began watching M*A*S*H as an adult and something happened; I realized there was more there than I remembered as a kid. The folks of the 4077 were fighting a war in Korea in a time gone by. Those enemies were now sort of our friends and the combat was just stories. What I understood now was that they were really engaging the issues and critique of their times.
The war in Vietnam raged around the actors and producers of M*A*S*H as they tackled the hurt, confusion, anger and fear of the times. The beauty of M*A*S*H was that they created a space for that hurt and fear to be dealt with. They opened up a geography that was safe and conversation could emerge from behind the social rocks.
The anti-war sentiment could be replaced with a common laughter at the silly antics of Hawkeye and Trapper. We could relax and laugh at the pranks pulled on Winchester, our favorite bourgeois maroon. We could laugh at the gender bending antics of Klinger as he sported his Sunday best. We could love that adorable people pleaser, Radar, as we were endeared to everyone’s loving grandfatherly figure, Colonel Potter. M*A*S*H created a national home for us to deal with the trying times of today. We could escape the harsh reality of “What’s Going On” around us.
Much like the Vietnam era we are experiencing some tumultuous times. We are in the worst economic meltdown since The Great Depression. We are in two wars. We watch helplessly as the worst environmental disaster of our times steadily flows from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The divide between the have’s and have not’s is increasing. The soul of America seems to have decentralized and gone underground to some mysterious, mystical spiritual club.
We are in a place in time where a cultural paradigm shift has become visible. The signs many of us have been aware of over the last 15 years have clarified. The symptoms of our emerging sickness have manifest into a case of “What do we do?!?”
The Millennials and Generation X are in a world of hurt. We are facing a world of uncertainty and dread. We will be the first generation to have a lower standard of living than our parents and grandparents. The world we have been promised, dreamed of and worked toward no longer exists.
A college education no longer guarantees you a job in which you will earn a sustainable wage. The prospect of job security, pension or upward mobility does not have the same flair of reality it once had. The divide between “us” and “them” grows as scarce resources with which to journey toward the American dream dwindle.
What it once took to “make it” in this world is no longer sufficient. I know of countless philosophers, theologians, engineers, writers, pastors and teachers, MBA’s, social workers and artists that fill the rank and file service industry. Our social systems are broken. They are taxed beyond repair for many.
We are surrounded by the answers that pop up in the meetings and conversations in our older, graying congregations. The youth have fled a system that does not always know how to welcome them, and have therefore forged communities of faith on their own. Those communities many not look like the churches of yesterday but they are there. When you drive down the street and see a group of 20 something’s laughing around a table full of smoke and pub grub—this is church. These “young people” will flock to ideas and mission to love on others. They will not come so that they may prop up a building not matter how long it has been there. Let those who have ears, hear.
Hopelessness creeps into the hearts and minds of these emerging generations. We fight to stay alive. We return home to those empty nests. We grow desperate to go in to the world and make a difference. We scorn the institutions that now reject us and look for ways to be in community with others. We hunger for relationships that take us beyond the surface and hope to locate a community that holds faith because we no longer have that option. We are looking for our M*A*S*H.
I hear an awful lot of talk that we need “young people” in our churches. That we must figure out a way to reach out to “young people.” As a “young person” I agree with y’all saying we need “young people” in our churches. We need them not to fill our pews and hopefully refill the coffers. We need them cause Jesus called the church to be a place of love, joy, faith and compassion. We need “young people” because Jesus called us to be in the margins healing folks with our faith and walking with and praying for folks that can no longer find the faith or hope to pray and walk themselves.
My generation, my tribe is looking for our M*A*S*H. The “church” can be our M*A*S*H. Imagine faith communities emerging from the hurt and isolation of scattered “young people” looking for families to replace the ones they have been forced to leave. Imagine faith communities that embrace the leadership of these emerging young leaders and the creativity they can offer to a church that is still motoring along in 1960’s gear.
By Ryan Kemp-Pappan
Ryan is a minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at Douglass Blvd. Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a B.A. in Religious Studies from California State University, Northridge and a M.Div. from Austin Seminary (TX). He chairs the Faith Leaders for Fairness fighting for equal rights for all in the State of Kentucky. He delivers mad Esoteric Piracy. He likes to think of himself as a Royal Pain in the south end of a north bound donkey, Master of 3 of the 5 logical oceans, Beloved creation, 1985 Beer Chug Champion, Amateur Sock Puppeteer, Buckaroo, Reclaimer of lost treasures, Seeker of truth, Tamer of lions, Pugilist of toothless circus bears, Servant, & Tinker of convoluted ideas…
He blogs at The Fettered Heart. He is a host with HCX. He dreams of one day fighting for lost souls in the dark, smoke filled rings of Mexico City as a luchador por Jesus Cristo or ministering to the knife fighting monkeys of San Sebastian.