By Colton Lott[i]
Due to the generosity of friends, I was able to attend the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) 2015 held in Columbus, Ohio. It was, in many ways, much like the other four Assemblies that I have attended. There was singing, praying, preaching, boothing, dining, friendship, complaining, moderate discomfort, dizziness, and nausea. There was also God and the presence of something Holy in the midst of a convention hall—a feat to be sure.
But this Assembly will always be special to me for a personal reason: my traveling companions. 2015 is an awkward year for me. I graduated from a Disciples college to be heading to a Disciples-affiliated divinity house. But in the meantime, no one wants the old guy or the new dude to help run the booth in the Higher Education and Leadership Ministries corner of the Exhibit Hall, so I was off the hook for booth work and lacking in prearranged flights and hotel rooms.
This alignment of the stars, or educational sequence, allowed me to be part of the contingent from my home congregation. The three amigos were myself, Pastor Vicki, and Steve. It is a weird experience to travel with a group of people who are not your family, but it is possibly weirder to travel with a group of people that you’ve traveled with more than your family.
Pastor Vicki was my first bible study teacher at the bright age of six when I first stumbled into the First Christian Church. Steve is older than dirt and consequently has always been around. They, along with some others, took me on my first service-learning trip, and the second and fourth. Vicki or Steve had helped me attend my first, second, and third General Assembly. In my life, I have mostly traveled through and for the church, which means that I was going with, or to, Steve and Vicki many times.[ii]
Traveling together as often as we have over the last decade, there is a nice pattern. Steve will be inappropriately early; Vicki will be slightly late; I will be very lost. Steve will say something rude; Vicki will kindly and quietly chastise him (“Now Steven….”); I will laugh. Steve is outgoing and talks to everyone; Vicki is shy and talks to the friends she knows; I hunt down specific people and hide from the rest. Like I said, we have patterns.
But what was special about this time was that I was an adult player who actually helped and wasn’t allowed to merely think I was helping. Most of this is because I am technologically literate and can work an iPhone, manage Southwest Airline’s app, and get Google Maps to work more quickly than the average seventy-two year old. My skills are a consequence of when I was born and little else.
When you travel with people who are almost-family, you’re able to get away with things, like calling your companions “dinosaurs,” which is an affectionate term, I assure you. They can tell stories of “Little Colton, when he was only this tall, and had the cutest face with blonde hair…”[iii] Or recollect, “The angriest Colton ever made me was one day down in Mexico….”[iv]
But throughout the week I kept thinking, “What a privilege to help those who helped me.”
Naturally, there is some self-aggrandizement here. They didn’t need me. But I wasn’t unhelpful. Driving in Columbus traffic was a bit of a feat to do alongside a disembodied navigator coming out of a hand-held brick (the “swami box”). I was able to find the bright notes of the yuppie, Midwestern paradise that is Columbus and gladly shared them with my beloved dinosaurs. But through it all, I remember how, as a little boy, learning the bible, God’s love, the meaning of generosity, and neighborliness I constantly looked to Vicki and Steve. Over and over we were able to laugh together. We talked about the Black Lives Matter movement, we dissected the musical selections of the Assembly, we earnestly agreed that the way we conceive of “ministry” in Oklahoma needed to change and perhaps we could bottle some of the fountain that we were drinking from for the folks back home.
This is the way of the church when it is working well. We are able to build connections across that which separates us to experience the something that is new. Crossing the generational divide, and some agism, and maintaining friendships with those whom are significantly older is not a common quality of a person my age. Perhaps if having friends of a different generation were an important goal of our society, the church would have a different feel, one where those in a generational minority felt more comfortable. But, sadly, society seemingly doesn’t value this type of interaction except at a superficial level. Nevertheless, I enjoy every minute with these folks who helped raise me, these special people who became my friends. Instead of getting hung up on how ‘weird’ I am to have some of my best friends be forty and fifty years my senior, I continue on. I lead my dinosaurs by the hand, even to the places they don’t want to go, like that very urban restaurant with all the lines and the seating upstairs and the choices of food that no one even likes and the….
[i] The title is a cheesy allusion to John 21:18 [CEB].
[ii]It should be noted that Steve is a missionary through Disciples Volunteering, so a couple of times I have traveled to him to “assist” him with disaster relief.
[iii] A standard opening line for Vicki.
[iv] A standard opening for Steve’s favorite story.