When we went to Assisi, I booked a hotel that looked like it might be on the outskirts of town—it had a place for a car unlike the medieval streets closer to the shrine. I was nervous when we first went in, thinking I might have made a mistake that would blunt the joy of being in the hometown of my much-loved Francis. We explored the room and finally opened up a mysterious door. Light poured in as we discovered our private balcony! It overlooked the valley and the road to Perugia. Amazing! It was so breathtaking I can still remember the moment. I felt like singing my Francis song. Maybe I did; I can’t remember.
Francis of Assisi was one of the world’s best twentysomethings. He inspired me to be the best twentysomething I could be. So in honor of St. Francis Day, tomorrow, I officially loathe the term “millennial.” And in the spirit of Paul the Apostle, I again proclaim, “In Christ there are no millennials or boomers, wages slaves or one percent, tech savvy or organic luddites—all are one in Christ. Let no one label your youth!”
I bring Francis into this outburst because he demonstrates how every cohort of twentysomethings has the opportunity to either bear the sins of the past generation or slough them off in search of an alternative. Francis searched out and lived an alternative brilliantly. He left the dead, unjust church/state mess to itself and splendidly followed Jesus.
Because of his audacious courage, I have been a Francis fan my whole life. When I was a twentysomething he was my main inspiration for doing what I thought was best: simple, joyful, relational, spiritual, expressive faith in Jesus. I have been living in a Franciscan-like community in one way or another ever since. Circle of Hope is probably the best one—an amazing rendition of life in Christ that blesses me. Periodically I open a new door and see our church spreading across Philadelphia and feel like singing a Circle of Hope song.
We were moved to design our church to welcome each cohort of twentysomethings into the possibilities of their own era. I am delighted that this generation is so good at defying the labels of the past and inventing ways to live in love. They make great church partners. Some of them are beat up, some are deluded and addicted, but each generation comes installed with a unique chance to meet God in their own way and time and be the next flowering of faith. We are flowering and so-called millennials are leading us.
Francis escaped war, the new commerce of the rising towns of Italy in the late 1100’s and the dead, hierarchical church, to find Jesus in the Umbrian countryside, in ruined church structures and in searching friends. Nothing is new under brother sun for twentysomethings, is it?—maybe in 2016 it is just moreso: more war, more ruined structures, more desperately searching friends (Syria, the school district, OK Cupid, for example). But there is always a Francis. Someone is going to say no to dying and yes to living the alternative with Jesus. I think many of us are among them.