Dear Class of ’98 (on our 20th)

Dear MWHS Class of ’98,

Our 20th high school class reunion has arrived! In a few hours the class of ’98 will be strapping on our Birkenstock sandals, donning our baggy button down shirts over cargo Khaki’s from Gap, and driving to Lord Fletcher’s with Green Day’s “Good Riddance/Time of Your Life’ or “Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe cranked from our modified subwoofers and 20 disc player inside our trunk (I’m thinking of Spaulding right now).  

Many of us will arrive with trepidation, doing our best to mask all our insecurities. We’re dragging our mom and dad bodies around, nursing aching muscles from just getting the mail or sleeping wrong. We come bent over carrying the invisible weight of 20 years of flawed living on our backs. We’re the walking wounded, trying to bandage ourselves up to look better than we might feel. We’re staring 40 in the face, but most of us will feel like middle schoolers in the cafeteria tonight looking for a table and dreading rejection.

We’re just old enough to have avoided all the stereotypes of the millennial generation, but we last of the Gen Xers have also been absorbed into the brave new image-conscious world of social media. We sort of keep tabs on each other’s lives via Facebook and Instagram, but we know this is really just our public image we’ve airbrushed and polished, carefully displaying the happy times and burying the bad. We’re rehearsing our two minute script, picking out clothes that make us look our best, and putting our best brag photos in a handy place in our phones. 

But let me just say what we’re all thinking. This isn’t where many of us thought we’d be 20 years ago. The career ladder ended up being shorter than expected, or we fell off altogether and are just trying to pay the bills. The joyous sound of wedding bells ended in the silent tears of divorce. Some have yet to marry and have children, and look with longing envy and undesired resentment at other’s Facebook lives as people like me complain about how exhausting kids are, when they’d give anything to have their own. 

Behold, a different kind of Grand March tomorrow night as we enter the doors. Here we come, not in expensive prom dresses and cheap rented tuxedos, but dressed in our authentic, flawed, mixed-bag selves. We are the married, divorced, remarried or single; the wealthy and “successful”, the unemployed and just scraping by; proud parents and at-the-end-of-their rope single parents; driving rusty beaters and cabin cruisers; from million dollar lake homes and 1 bedroom apartments; the class clowns and class screw-ups; the fit and healthy, the out of shape and overweight; jokers, smokers and midnight tokers; full heads of hair, gray hairs and balding heads; dog lovers and borderline ‘I think you might have issues’ cat people; and, yes, conservatives and liberals. Here we come, marching all out of step (but still somehow connected), the class of ’98 in a glamorous procession of ordinariness.

I share all of this from a very personal place. As you may know, eight years ago started a new faith community in Mound whose chief goal has been creating a safe and honest place to be broken and flawed. We take off the masks and embrace the messiness real life. We choose to believe there’s new beginnings on the other side of pain and failure. As pastor of MainStreet Church I have had the privilege of meeting people at their highest and lowest points: exchanging wedding vows, walking with people through divorce, helping addicts get treatment, celebrating new babies, sitting by the hospital beds of the dying, and grieving at the grave. There are Mound grads as a part of our church community, which has been a very special highlight of this journey. 

I felt led to share this today because my heart is heavy for those who may be struggling with feelings of shame and inadequacy as we mark this milestone. For some, these feelings will prevent you from even showing up. Others are just weary and disillusioned, finding ourselves thinking about mortality and trying to evade an encroaching mid-life crisis. 

As I look through my closet for something to wear tonight, I’m finding too many shirts that go back 20 years! (Fashion has never been my thing.) So, I think I’ll try to clothe myself with compassion and humility and friendly openness as we gather tonight. I’m stripping off pride and superficiality and bringing pockets full of grace and sympathy. I want to celebrate your successes, gawk at your brag photos, and exchange war stories from the front lines of life. 

I am looking forward to enjoying a drink with many of you (I’m not the Ned Flanders kind of pastor). I’m bringing my real, flawed (but still taller than ya’ll) self. I hope you find the courage to do the same. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned the past 20 years, it’s that the light shines brightest through cracked pots. So let’s be ourselves tonight, embrace our common humanity, and let the light shine and laughter and tears flow. Borrowing from 90s punk-philosopher Billy Joe, tonight is just

Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road

Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go

So make the best of this test, and don’t ask why

It’s not a question, but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right

I hope you all have the time of your life tonight!

Peace,

Jeremy Berg

 

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