One way to reform theology is to simply bring together those who are usually kept apart. Why not create inter-generational theological discussions that matter? One of my students, Elisa Berndt, is a spiritual intern at Touchmark At All Saints—a Senior Retirement Residence—in Sioux Falls, SD. What she is discovering is that some college students and senior citizens hold something in common that is very important: a deep longing and desire to find ways to make God-talk relevant to their lives.
Once a week Elisa Berndt meets with several women (who are in their 80s and 90s) to discuss the theology of Rob Bell’s book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God. College students are not the only ones in our “youth-driven” culture who often assume that “senior citizens” have their minds made up already and that new ideas are not welcome, particularly ones about their religious convictions. Many of us assume that the concerns of one generation have nothing in common with the other. Contrary to these stereotypes, Elisa has spoken with me about the profound and very meaningful theological conversations she is having with these women from week to week. Their long lives have been marked by deep joy and profound tragedies. They want to think and talk about how the paradoxes of their lives meet up with the concepts and beliefs of their Christian faith. Many of the women are tired of the same sort of question-answer Bible studies that their denominations send their way. Their questions can’t be met with answers, but often require more questions and lengthy discussion. Elisa and I are hoping that at some point this semester my 24 students in the “God” class can invite these women over to Augustana College to all talk about God. We hope that this is one way new discussions will emerge about God, life, and how we are all connected as theologians.