In May 2021, 17-year old Adrian Lopez put out an invitation for his birthday party – Adrian’s Kickback: “Slide tru this Saturday we finna turn up!!!!” The invitation found its way onto Snapchat, and then on to TikTok. By the weekend of the party, Tiktok videos with the hashtag #adrianskickback had drawn more than 280 million views. It became the talk of the internet: ‘is it real?’ ‘Are we going?’ ‘What are we wearing?’. On the evening of the party, more than 2,500 young people descended onto Huntington Beach, California. It began innocently enough, with music and dancing and pizza but soon descended into chaos with people climbing traffic lights and flagpoles and running into traffic, and then perhaps predictably it descended into a riot after someone shot fireworks into a police cordon, who then returned fire with non-lethal rounds. In the end, thousands of dollars of damage was done to local businesses, and 178 people were arrested.
For an elder millennial like myself, this sounds like a nightmare. But if you listen to and read the testimonials of the people who were there, it was magic. One person talks about crowd-surfing while fireworks erupted in the sky and time seemed to stand still – like the end of a summer teen movie. Another speaks about the excitement and exhilaration of running into an alley as police were bearing down and finding another mini party happening behind a dumpster. They laughed and danced with these strangers until law enforcement found them and moved them again. For all of the anarchy and danger, for these people, it felt like a moment. It felt like something special.
In order to understand this, we have to remember the social context of the American Spring of 2021.
After more than a year of lockdowns and distancing, vaccination rates were increasing, and social restrictions were easing. For young people, and especially those whose final year of high school had been destroyed by Covid, Adrian’s Kickback seemed like an opportunity to take back all of those moments that had been missed. All of the memories that could never happen, all of the summer romances that never eventuated, all of the significant moments in a young person’s life that were seemingly lost forever. They wanted to find these moments, and they wanted to be with others when they were found. I have a lot of sympathy for these kids. I understand that they had missed out on something important, and they wanted their chance to have it. I appreciate that after year of being locked in, they wanted to find a meaningful connection with another human being. But, unfortunately, those moments and relationships at Adrian’s Kickback were not real. At least not in the way they wanted them to be.
We often hear in the Church that young people are searching for community. That’s only partly true. What young people are actually searching for is communion. Community is just a group of people who gather for a particular reason. Communion is a relationship that is rooted in, and reflective of Trinitarian love. Your school or your workplace is a community. The relationship that you have with those closest to you is a communion. The three persons of the Trinity is a communion of self-giving and self-reflecting love, and by our own relationships we are invited to share in that love – in fact, we were made to share in it. This is what St Augustine means when he says, ‘our hearts are restless until they rest in You.’ We need real and deep relationships, the kinds of relationships that are self-giving and self-reflecting. Relationships that are embodied. Relationships that are ruled by love; and this is why Adrian’s Kickback failed – even with the best intentions, it was a community with a broken communion, and it was doomed to fail.
On the day that I learned about Adrian’s Kickback, a young man in my religious community lost his father in a farming accident. The shock and surprise of the news left him desolate and broken, and as a community, we gathered around him to share in his loss and grief. That evening we said a special Mass for the dead, praying with and for our brother and his family. I served the Mass that evening, and as I looked at the altar crucifix, I recalled Christ’s final words to us: “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). Jesus is with us in a real way, in all of our moments of pain and suffering but also in our joys and triumphs. It is difficult to watch someone who is close to you endure such a profound loss, but the knowledge that we have a God who knows and cares is real consolation. This is what we mean by communion – entering into and being part of one another’s lives in the way Jesus is with us. I think we all know the difference between our superficial and deep relationships, but perhaps we never realised that in our deepest friendships, there is something of the Divine.
And Adrian from Adrian’s Kickback? He wasn’t at Huntington Beach that night. Instead, he was at another beach party with his closest friends. He realised that he didn’t want a community of thousands, but rather a small communion of loved ones. I think there is a lot of wisdom in that.