Thursday, February 26, 2009
Boomers, and Xers and Y's - And Lent!
Note: There anxiety level over at HOB/D has finally collided with the approach of Lent, giving a perfect excuse for some to lob their last insult before blaming everyone else for the tension and walking off as "a Lenten Discipline." Cowards! Others are just saying, "I'm going to remove myself for Lent" and, for them, it's probably a Very Good Thing. But it was the whiny of one especially whiny GenXer who, who LOVES to blame everything on The Boomers, which pulled my nerve. Which was not necessarily a bad thing. It got me to re-examine a few things through the lens of Lent. Here's what I posted over there last night, before I went to bed.
After three Ash Wednesday Services at church, a few home visits, a staff birthday luncheon and a blur of last minute but very important liturgical decisions for The First Sunday in Lent, I still find myself struck by the ironies and paradox that abound on the first day of Lent.
They always do, it seems.
I suppose the gospel sets us up for it. Matthew’s gospel reports some very clear instruction from Jesus about how not to disfigure our faces when we fast and other injunctions against public acts of piety. I dutifully read the gospel and then, off I go – smudging ashes on everyone’s foreheads in a big, unmistakable cross of rich black.
I have something I want to say about one of the ironies I’ve noticed on the HOB/D list before I try to keep quiet – well, quieter – as a Lenten discipline. I’m not signing off, but I am making a Lenten discipline of sorts, which is prompted by the following observations.
There is a delightful if not apocryphal, story about Pompeii, which was buried during a catastrophic eruption of the volcano of Mount Vesuvius. It is reported that graffiti on a bathhouse wall said, “What is happening to the younger generation?” It makes no difference whether this story is true or not. Every generation seems puzzled and bemused by subsequent generations.
Relations among the generations seem to be at a low point right now - and especially on this list. Anxiety over the fragile economic climate and the wars in Iraq and, Afghanistan, the continued civil unrest in the Gaza Strip and genocide, tribal war and epidemics in parts of Africa make that understandable.
Gen Y (defined as people born after 1982) thinks Gen X (born between 1961 and 1981) is a bunch of whiners. Gen X sees Gen Y as arrogant and entitled. And everyone thinks the Baby Boomers (1943 to 1960) are self-absorbed workaholics.
Actually, I’ve never really felt this tension as much as I have in the church. During one session at General Convention 2003, I actually heard one Gen Xer say to a Boomer, “You know, I can’t wait till all you Boomers retire or die off. You are ruining the church.”
Nice kid. Actually thinks of himself as a devout, practicing Christian.
To our defense, I must say that while Boomers are certainly far from perfect, we didn’t exactly inherit a perfect world, which came to us post Depression and post WWII. We were spawned from a group Tom Brokaw has named, “The Greatest Generation.”
And, so they were – even though we Boomers rebelled against them in our own way: The Civil Rights, Environmental and Women’s Movements were all initiated on our watch.
We participated in political unrest, protested the Viet Nam War, and saw the assassination of JFK, RFK and MLK, Jr. We also saw a man walk on - and a woman travel to - the Moon. Our generation initiated social and drug experimentation, and defined individualism with transistor radios. And yet we are passionate about our distinct orientation toward social causes.
We were shaped and formed and influenced by music we heard from such disparate sources as the Big Band Sound, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Elvis, The Beatles, Motown and Jimi Hendrix. Actually, that last sentence says more about our generation than most anything else I could write.
Gen Xers have much to live up to and to some degree, have always lived in our shadow. Which is why, I suppose, Gen Yers see them as whiners.
To be fair, while Gen Xers inherited a world absent of a World War, they did grow up under the dangerous cloud of nuclear proliferation. Their world shrunk dramatically from living in “The Greatest Nation in the Free World” to being part of a “Global Village.” And, their generation was severely, negatively impacted by the rising rate of divorce.
Which is why, I have no doubt, those GenXers who have come into, or back to or, perhaps, found The Episcopal Church carry their anxiety about ‘broken homes’ into our current troubles. The threat or reality (depending on your point of view) of schism, is a corporate reflection of what many of them experienced in the divorce of their parents.
So, I get the bitterness. I do. I still experience it as whining, but that’s just the ‘Hey, do something about it, get out there and change the world, individualism with a social conscious’ rant of the Boomer that I am.
The irony for me is that I can usually trust a GenXer to be the first to state loudly and clearly that traditional labels don’t work – political, religious, social, etc. And yet, they are among the first to complain about what’s wrong with the church or the world in terms of the label of this social demographic.
Ask any Gen Xer what’s wrong with TEC, and 80% will include The Boomers at the top of the list. Not difference in scriptural interpretation. Not power and authority. Not the ordination of LGBT people or women. Oh, these are on the list, but make no mistake: it’s predominantly the fault of The Boomers.
To add to the irony, it’s the Boomers on this list, for the most part, who know the power of language and words that hurt, who are the first ones to complain about the tone and tenor of our discussions on this list. We are often the very ones who are least aware of and most resistant to the need for expansive, inclusive language in our liturgies.
Boomers are, most often, also the first ones out the door when the conversation needs less heat and more light. But, I suppose that has to do with all that divorce stuff, right?
Well, this is one Boomer who is not leaving the building. I am, however, going to take the suggestion of one Gen Xer to post no more than once a week. Less that that, if I work at it.
I’m going to do more listening and considering and pondering and wondering. I hope I’ll discover more things about more people. And, in the process, learn more about my self (You knew it would come down to that. Just like a Boomer, right?).
I hope someone will contact those who have left and encourage them to come back. We need each other now more than ever. This is the time to embrace community, not divide with unhelpful labels of shame and blame, even if they are valid sociological terms that describe existing demographics.
I’ll stop with the ‘orthodite’ if you’ll stop with the ‘reappraiser’ vs. ‘reasserter’ and ‘orthodox’, already.
And, I'll throw in dropping the "whiny GenXer" if you'll drop the "Hopeless Boomer."
I’m not saying, “Can’t we all just get along.” I am saying, this is Lent.
Let us discipline ourselves that we might become better disciples.
Lower the setting on our ‘snark-o-meter’.
Exorcise the demons of the need to be ‘right’ (or, ‘orthodox’).
Resist the impulse to categorize, label or dismiss because of our own preconceived notions of that particular demographic.
Banish our base of knowledge to the wilderness of unknowing that we might learn something new.
Turn down the hermeneutic of suspicion in exchange for healthy curiosity.
Lavishly nourish and feed our spirit of curiosity and wonder, our generosity, kindness and compassion, that they may begin to function at an even higher capacity.
As my grandmother always advised, “You never make yourself look good by trying to make others look bad.”
Right - and it occurs to me, ironically, that that's exactly what I do on Ash Wednesday.
Ah we daughters of Eve and sons of Adam are such complex creatures! Why does God, the ultimate 'Pan-Millennialist', even put up with us?
Must be because, even with all of our "human wretchedness" - we are gloriously loved.