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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.


IT said...

The census bureau considers the baby boom to have lasted until 1964 or even 1966, though the cultural aspects of the Baby Boom are thought to have cncluded in 1960 or even earlier.

Certainly, I have always considered myself (b. '62) to have more in common with the workaholic generation than the whiners that followed in Gen X. But then, I was born old in many respects.

Wikipedia defines X'ers as "pragmatic and perceptive, savvy but amoral, more focused on money than on art". Yeah, not me. Out of step with the times as usual. i don't fit anywhere and never have.

But as a college professor and step-parent, I admit I have no patience at all with Gen. Y.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think these demographics are about as interesting and useful as horoscopes or Myers-Brings thingy's. At times, they can even be fun. They start to get annoying and even dangerous in the hands of people who want to use them as a wedge or, worse, a weapon. Worse, still, is those who use it to whine.

I'd love to have a GenXer tell me just want they want - what their goals, hopes, dreams are, and how others can help them achieve them - instead of constantly talking about how Boomers have completely destroyed any chance of happiness or success for the rest of the entire planet and even, perhaps, the galaxy, if not the whole cosmos.

JCF said...

As IT says, the Baby Boom is traditionally listed as 1946-64 (emphatically a post-WWII generation. I've recently heard 1933-45 called "the Fortunate Few", because there were comparatively few of them. 1918-33 is "the Greatest Generation").

Douglas Coupland, who coined the term (book) "Generation X" didn't define its date parameters . . . but since he was born in 1961, that's an obvious starting date.

Born in 1962, myself, I've therefore considered myself (since Coupland's book) a member of both . . . and therefore, tried to be a peacemaker [Natch', I like to ID w/ each cohort's best aspects, and avoid each's worst! ;-p]

I'd love to have a GenXer tell me just want they want

Simple enough, Elizabeth: I WANT A JOB!!!! >:-0

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Fair enough, JCF. Fair enough.

it's margaret said...

And the worst part about it all Elizabeth, is you are a female boomer --the worst kind....!

In seminary, there was a tribe of Xers who despised anyone over 40... we ruined the grade point average, sat in the front of the class, and always --well, you can figure it out.

Anyway, one very sad comment from one young man was --"if I hear one more thing about JFK's assasination I'm going to vomit. I'm sick and tired of hearing about it--where you were, what happened next."

Two days later, it was September 11, 2001. I have often wondered if this young man has been able to re-think defining moments.

I hope so.... the alternative is a rather awful thought.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The GenXers have been awfully quiet.

Frair John said...

I have had the same blasted headache for the past 6 or seven weeks. It has made me unbelevably cranky. I say this as a preface to what I am about to write in order that you take it with a grain of salt. I am taking what I'm trying to say with anti-ansitiy drugs, tea and advil. If I am a bit indistinct, forgive me.

One thing that we would love, and gen Y types are adimate about: Drop the condesention. I have to admit that I get tired of hearing about the JFK asasination, in particular since it is used to define the "in" and the "out" in a group. If you don't remeber it, your opinion is of less import because you don't have the "experience" to know anything.
The expectation that we conform to your collective expectations of opinion, or that we express ourselves in the same way you all do. For example: what you call "Individuality" we inherited as alienation. Some of what you see as "liberation" we see as destructive ripping down of institutions and traditions and replacment with what is now dated and (particularly in the Church) kinda tacky. That it seems to be disconnected from us is projected as our fault.
We're highly sick of the seeming connection between "informal," "sloppy," and "authentic".
The ease with which many Boomers transitioned from social radicals into comfortable middle class consumers brought forth cynacism, some of which you see as whining. We inherited your materialism and it's not made us any more happy. The serial monogamy practiced by so many Boomers has left around a half to 5/8's of us realy unsure of what "family" is. The rest of us spent at least some time terrified that our parents were going to break up. We watched you all work youselves into early graves - often putting off retirment as a way to try and stave off mortality.
Sex became equatable with death.

What many of us want is stability. We would like the Church to reflect a contious connection to the past, and to be allowed to define the future in our own way.

That we not be called reactionary and/or silly would be a bonus.

We would be exstatic if we were allowed to like what we lkike, without being told what we like.

Boomers have done their damnedest to keep us out of the Clergy with processes that are cartered for people who are second or third carier. Again, the condisention of being told that we didn't have enough "experience" to be leaders of consiquience when you all started out *at* our age. We would like to make our way in the church with out the endless talking and processing.

Am I making some sence?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Sorry about your headache, FJ. It does explain that you have more complaints than a clear vision of how you want the world to be. Read it again, FJ. It's mostly reaction rather than response and vision.

In terms of feeling "condescension" - you know, I still feel that from those who are of "The Silent Generation". I'm willing to bet that GenYers have the same complaint about GenYers. In fact, I know they do. It's part of the human experience - not just a Boomer thing. Yeah, I'm saying, as gently and as firmly as I know how, "Get over it." If you don't, you'll just sound like you're whining. Even Boomers can sound like that with some Silent Generation folk.

Same thing with the expectation of conformity. Some. Some, FJ, not all. I certainly don't. Lots of Boomers don't. That's something about GenXers that pulls my last nerve - the penchant to paint us all with the same brush. It's not only true, it's not fair. It's a socio-cultural term, which can be helpful. It stops being helpful and becomes hurtful when it becomes a stereotype.

In terms of the ordination process, I would make the case that while, for the most part, it is not a gentle and kind process (and, it could be argued, ought not to be), it has been particularly brutal to Boomer women. I don't have the statistics, but I would bet solid money that the stats would bear this out.

Stability? That's what you want? Work for it. Enlist those of us who helped to bring about the social change we now enjoy to help bring the pendulum back in the other direction. We'll be happy to help. But, it can't happen, FJ, when hurtful, insulting stereotypes are being lobbed at us constantly.

Let's work together to make the world a better place - beyond the mutually percieved stereotypes and insults.

Frair John said...

I was working for a Reason then want outline.

Part of the problem is that you aren't typical of the Boomer churchpeople I know. You are far less likely to be all jargony and, TBTG, you LISTEN. You don't fill in the blanks.

I'm convinced that there needs to be a face to face type meeting of poeple to talk, not "process" but to talk. If you weren;t so far away I'd invite you to dinner and subject you to my cooking. I'm not all that great at expression while writing, and I think I'm better in person. I'm also writing somthing over on my place that should be ready by tommorrow.

I get to go home early today (AYAY!) and I'm gonna lay down before going out for my B-day dinner.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, FJ, I'm not unusual among Boomers. Really. I'm not sure where you live, but I've been known to travel for a good meal ;~). I'd love to meet you. And, happy birthday, dear man. May God bless you with many more years.

Muthah+ said...

Being of the "Fortunate Few" and emphatically NOT a Boomer, I get grumpy about the Boomers who feel that the Civil Rights movement was THEIR movement. It was really ours--the so-called 'silent generation.' The Boomers were really too young for Selma.

I have felt chased by the Boomers all my life. But I have never had their values.

But all of this generation gap stuff are the barkings of people who have never had to live multigenerationally. This began with the Boomers because they were such a large group that they did not have to acknowledge the generations that went before them or came after them.

What you are seeing from the Gen Xers is what Boomers have bred. But I do find in both Boomers and GenXers a penchent for whining. Of course MY generation NEVER EVER whined AHEM!

I do think that a moritorium on whining is a good Lenten discipline. But more importantly we need to figure out how to live respecting each others experiences.

Does anyone remember where you were when Stalin died? Does anyone remember Pearl Harbor Day? ( Ye gods, it sounds like Paul or Apollos!) We are all part of the Church and we all have different experiences of her. Let us listen to them rather than take exceptions to them!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Muthah+, I was always taught to be respectful to my elders, so I won't whine about what you've said about Boomers ;~). I think a permanent moratorium on intergenerational bashing would be a good thing. It simply serves no good purpose, does it? Let's just get to what we agree on and work together for that, shall we?

Paul Powers said...

According to Wikipedia, there are some who divide the baby boom into two groups: 1. the original baby boomers: Those born between 1945 and 1955 (give or take a couple of years) and 2. "Generation Jones": those people born between 1955 and 1965 (again give or take a couple of years). That makes sense to me. Someone born in 1945 and someone born in 1955 would both remember JFK's assasination, but one of them would have been 18 at the time and the other 8, so they would not have experienced it in exactly the same way.

I can sympathize with the GenX'ers who complain about Boomers talking about the JFK assasination. We went through the same thing listening to our parents talk about what they were doing when they first heard about Pearl Harbor. Listening to previous generations talking about these key events in their lives is one of the ways that newer generations pay their dues.

Actually, wouldn't it be an even greater cause for concern if these inter-generational conflicts didn't exist?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely, Paul, which is why I think this whole social demographic thing is about as useful - or not - as horoscopes. For goodness sake, we are more than the color of our skin or our gender or, for that matter, our birth date! I'm sooooo weary of this conversation, which is why I'm trying to hold it up for the ridiculous waste of time it really is.

gerry said...

As a former lurker on HOBD (not a delegate but only a guest) I never realized so much of the snarking was a generational issue.

I read for a while; but signed off when the discussion began to sound more like political discord than a group of followers of Christ trying to find a way to live into their Baptismal covenants.

On a personal note; I'm a boomer born in 1947 and I restrict discussion of the dayz to my wife and our 15 yo daughter.

Eleanor's and her friends consider us historic resources, but anyone older treats us like anachronisms.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

A wise man, Gerry. It's been awfully quiet on HOB/D of late - after an embarrassing display of Christian snarkiness and ever since the generational issues have been raised. I, for one, am grateful for the quiet, although, I'm not holding my breath.

Christopher said...

My GenX response can be found here.

Indie said...

Call me whiney, but this phrase bothers me: "That's something about GenXers that pulls my last nerve - the penchant to paint us all with the same brush." Umm, aren't you painting GenXers with the same brush too by saying this?

I admit that I have often been frustrated with the Boomers. I wouldn't say it to their faces or hope that they die, but many times I've been told smuggly by a boomer that I don't have enough experience. How exactly is one supposed to get experience when one is constantly pushed aside and discounted? This is a gross generalization for sure, but it often seems that the many people in my generation that I know who have been full of dreams, ideas and goals have found that when they try to share them with the preceding generation that their ideas are snubbed not because they lack potential, but because they come from someone of the wrong age. I have had a boomer in the church tell me, "We don't know what to do with young people with ideas." Hmm, maybe nurture and mentor them? Is it really that hard?

Although I can definitely see the dividing line between me and gen Y, I don't feel the same sort of resentment towards them. I have at times tried to get some boomers to listen to the ideas coming from gen Y but it seems from my perspective that they are almost as disinterested in gen Y's ideas as they are gen X's.

That's just my experience. In some ways though I find that I can identify with boomer women in the church because my experience growing up with the limits for girls in a fundamentalist church and working my tail off to create opportunities for myself more closely mirrors their experience than that of my female peers who are cradle Episcopalians.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Indie - I don't think the impulse to tell a younger generation that they don't have enough experience is limited to Boomers. It has ever been thus. That's my point. It's not limited to a particular generation. Being able to "name" a generation complicates things. As I've said, it's as helpful - or not - as any other label. Let's just get clear about our goals and enlist everyone to work together to achieve them.

That's what I'm talking about.

Indie said...

I sometimes feel that the Boomers have us Gen Xers so outnumbered just by the hugeness of their generation that they can easily miss that fact that their way of seeing things is not resonating with others and they can easily block out the voices of other generations because they are the majority and can make a louder rumble.

renzmqt said...

Hmmmm, Elizabeth, my first question is whether you felt my e-mail made me a whiny GenXer? :)

Born in 1963 and very much a GenX here. There has been articles written about how this divide plays out in the nursing profession. From my perspective, Boomer nurses are not good at taking care of themselves, they are the ones who are not able to say "no" - if the census is high and staffing is low, they'll work 17 days in a row, picking up extra. They'll bitch about it, but they'll do it. GenXers are better about self care. They will state, I've done my share and I need a break. They work overtime if it's their turn. This creates tension because neither generation seems to understand the other. We are accused of not being dedicated enough, the boomers are often just called names because they end up burned out and crabby. Ironically this has played out at my church congregation as well. The aging boomers of a very small congregation still want to do it all - every outreach program that comes are way is seen as equally important and must be accomplished some how and the same handful of boomers squeeze another set of meetings and events onto their schedule. The Greatest Generation folks, who lead the congregation in more flush times, financially and in numbers, like to say, "When I was your age we did..." As one of a decidedly smaller group of GenXers who also was still working full time had to be the one to keep trying to put the brakes on and have been often overruled. It's helped lead to my leave of absence from the church (among other things).

Anonymous said...

Indie said...

I heard on NPR the other day that the boomers aren't retiring because of the economy and all of the jobs that us Xers have been patiently waiting for (with a little whining on the side) will continue to be out of our reach. This "long awaited baby boomer die-off" may be our only hope.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Although I can't see it, Indie, I trust that was said with your tongue firmly implanted in the side of your cheek.

Indie said...

Considering that I was responding to an Onion article, I figured that would go without saying. But we should never underestimate the power of the internet to distort our intentions.

There is some truth in it though. I have heard all of my life that certain jobs would be opening up for us soon due to boomers retiring. Now with the economy we're finding that those predictions are not coming to pass. That's neither a good thing for those who want to retire but can't or a good thing for those of us who are taking jobs away from teens because that's all we can get.