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Friday, February 17, 2012

Youngbloods and Old Farts

I was away for Clergy Day in the Diocese of Newark on Wednesday. It was a fairly intense but highly productive day which was made enjoyable by the fact that it is always good to see dear friends and colleagues and meet and make new ones.

It's fascinating for me to see the Youngbloods coming up the ranks. They are, by and large, bright, well educated people in their mid-30's and 40's who are passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and eager to make their own mark on the church.

You know. The way I was - and, perhaps, you were, once - more than two decades ago.

It's not that we old farts are any less educated or passionate, but what we learned in seminary has been tempered by experience. We've picked up a few skill sets over the years which makes us even more passionate about the Gospel. And, while we've either made our mark on the church or missed it despite our best efforts (however it is one measures leaving a 'mark' on the church), we still feel we have something to contribute to the work of mission and ministry.

There were two young, white males who stood up to speak who gave me pause. I've been considering their words carefully over the past few days, and find myself becoming more and more deeply disturbed.

The first was a young, white, heterosexual male, married and the father of two, who framed his remarks within the context of the "generation gap".

Have I mentioned how much I hate that? It is sooOOoo annoying to hear a thinly-veiled reference to the fact that what I am and what I have stood for and all the years of ministry I've done in the church are not only passe and irrelevant, but, in fact, I've had it All.Wrong.

Have you noticed that it's mostly Gen-Xers who do this? When its a white, straight male Gen-Xer, who has benefited from all the work of all the previous generations, well, there's something about that kind of arrogance and privilege that just sets my teeth on edge.

Yes, yes, I know. All generations do that. There's something, however, about hiding behind the quasi-social science language of "Baby Boomers", "Gen-X", "Gen-Y" and "Millennials" (Shades of "What's your sign, baby? You look like a Arius with a moon in Uranus.") to take your ageist pot shot that is especially annoying.

I mean, let us not forget that it was MY generation that said, "Never trust anyone over (the age of) 35". There's something clean and honest about that kind of prejudice, you know?

Anyway, he said that "Baby Boomers" care too much about The Institution and that Gen-Xers don't.

I have no idea where he got this information, but apparently, I've been wrong all these years about myself and many of my colleagues.  We've been fighting The Institution for as long as I can remember.  We've changed lots of things about The Institution in all of its many incarnations that it's no longer recognizable to our parents.

Well, he said, he doesn't give too hoots about The Institution. He said it with just a modicum of humility - which I suppose he wanted to convey lest he sound - oh, I don't know - too arrogant, even to his own ears.

He didn't care, he said, about the institutional church. He just wanted to be a priest and serve God and the people of God and had no interest What.So.Ever. in talking about anything pertaining to the institutional church.

How noble, right? Pure. Untainted. And, poor soul, woefully naive.

Indeed, the only consolation I got from his arrogance was the image of him, a few short years from now, landing smack-dab against the hard, cold floor of reality.

Happens to the best of us.

The one who really pulled my chain, however, was the other Youngblood who stood up to speak. White. No, actually, he was Very White. And, young. Looked like he was twelve. 

He actually said that - wait, let me get my notes so I can tell you what I wrote down - here it is: "The Diocese of Newark has been known for Social Justice. Maybe it's time to be known for something else. I mean, social justice was then. The question is: What's ahead for us now?"

Mind you, he said this with a straight face and in very reasonable, confident tones.

My friends had to hold me down so I wouldn't get up from my seat, walk across the room, and slap some sense into him with my bare hands.

Social justice, you see, is so.....so...."yesterday". It's all about doing something 'new' so we can be 'known' for that. It's all about 'brand' and 'marketing'.

God help us.

I know. I know. God will. God always does. Because the Gospel of Social Justice is God's "brand" not ours. It's timeless and ageless and doesn't need to be "marketed". It needs to be done.

What this poor, earnest young man doesn't understand is that justice isn't something you work for, achieve, and then go onto something else. It requires constant vigilance and persistence. It's a life-long struggle.

Case in point: Have you seen the picture of the religious people who were invited to testify before Congress about birth control and religious freedom?

Actually, the correct title of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is, "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State: Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?"

Here's the picture which I nicked from Associated Press.

So, what's wrong with this picture?

Anybody? Beuler? Anybody?

Remember: the topic was birth control and religious freedom.

You may have, perchance, noticed that there are no women in the group. Not. One. Especially, not one who was either ordained or of childbearing age.

Republican Chairman Darrell Issa had refused to let the Democrats call any witnesses. All of Issa's witnesses are opposed to the contraception coverage requirement and are testifying about Issa's framing of the hearing: that it's about religious freedom, not health care.

Democratic Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia and Carolyn Maloney of New York walked out in protest.

Maloney, before she left the hearing, took on Issa in her statement: "What I want to know is, where are the women? I look at this panel, and I don't see one single individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive health care services, including family planning. Where are the women?"

Atta girl.

Gee, now that Marriage Equality is becoming less and less debatable and is becoming, more and more, the law of more and more of the land, do you think there's any connection between that and the fact that - in 2012, for God's sake!! - we are talking about birth control?

Actually, we are talking about control - and power. Or, the sense of loss thereof. And, it's no coincidence that the people invited to testify about reproductive rights and religious freedom are all "men of the cloth".

See also: The Gospel of Social Justice and the need for constant, continual vigilance and persistence.

The first time I went to Lambeth in 1998, I took an afternoon off to spend some time with Bishop Derek Rawcliffe, a marvelous little imp of a man from Wales who served as Anglican Bishop of the New Hebrides and Episcopal Bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, and was, for a time, honorary bishop in Ripon and Leeds Diocese.

He was the first bishop in the Church of England to be honest about his sexuality.

Actually, he came out on television in 1995. He was dismissed the following year for conducting blessings of same-sex couples

Bishop Derek died last February. He was 89 years old.

When we were together in 1998, Derek took me on a special tour of Canterbury Cathedral. We went way, way down in the Undercroft (that's fancy-schmancy Anglican talk for basement) where there was a room filled with about 10 or 12 different stone altars - all side-by-each.

Seems that, in the ancient, medieval church, priests were under orders to preside at Eucharist daily. Sometimes, there would be several masses going on simultaneously.

It was all about them, you see. The clergy. The (of course) all male order of clergy. Didn't really matter whether or not people actually came to receive the Body of Christ. It just mattered that priests "performed their duties". As if they had all the power to make Christ truly present - whether or not the rest of the people were there.

Anyway, Bishop Derick took me behind the altars where "kids' had carved graffiti into the back of the stone columns and altars. Except, this graffiti was in Latin.

There were carvings that read "Claudius et Sylvia" in a heart.

Bishop Derick pointed out about six or seven of these before he pointed to his favorite. There, in a heart was "Marcus et Romulus".

"See?" he said, "People really don't change. People have always fallen in love. People have always wanted to proclaim their love publicly. And, the church has always tried to deny them blessing. But, we will not be denied by the institutional church what God has given us by bringing us together in the first place."

He scratched his head and rubbed his chin as he became quiet and pensive. Then, he said, "It's always amazed me that an institution like the church, which gathers itself around the incarnation of God's love should be so miserly in showing it."

That's because institutional memory is so short and the human craving for personal power and authority is so strong. Using cute little gimmicks like the quasi-social science of studying the difference in generations is about as helpful as Astrological signs.

Oh, it's sort of fun in its own way, and some of it actually has a ring of truth to it, but there are so many variables as to render it to the realm of parlor games - and, certainly not serious discussions about the church and politics.

As for the gospel of social justice, well, if you don't understand that as central to the mission of Jesus - along with repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, compassion and service - you just haven't been reading the Gospels. You simply don't get it.

What you've got, actually, is ego. Your own. In blindingly, consuming, copious ways.

It was ever thus with Youngbloods.

The good news is that Youngbloods grow up - eventually and inevitably - and all-too-soon become old farts like me.

When I begin yelling at them to "Get off my damn lawn," I'll know it's time to take my leave.

The other bit of good news is that you also learn to have patience. Well, some of us learn that better than others. I'm not exactly flunking but, in all honesty, I'd have to give myself a solid 'D'.

I have to remember that it takes maturity to finally 'get' that if you want 'peace' you have to work for 'justice'. And, and, AND....if you want justice, you have to work for peace.

The Youngbloods will get that. Eventually. Just like I did. And, perhaps, some of you, too.

Some of them already have.

We need both - justice and peace.

Just like we need Youngbloods and Old Farts.

God help us, every one.

20 comments:

Turtle AXE said...

Love the photo of the all male panel testifying about the evils of birth control. Kind of reminds me of what it took for all the women to get angry and launch political campaigns after Anita Hill. Good news, is that the dumb boys are tipping their hand arrogantly, thinking that all the hetero women are THAT out of it, that they'll elect creeps like Gingrich, Santorum or even wishy washy Romney... that we won't go for every congressional district we can get, that we don't have more and more women in congress... beyond the 17%-- I want women to run the whole damn government for 100 years.
And as for young white straight men, well, I never sit and listen to any straight white man lecture anything at all. They've used up their time in the pulpit or podium. Time is up guys, you have nothing to say to me anymore -- it doesn't matter if you are 59 years old 32 years old or 63 and a half years old, I don't want to hear what you have to say. I do want to hear what women have to say, and I do want a country that women run top to bottom inside and out... the men, they can sit in the dugout, or they can serve me a fine glass of wine or clean the toilets... time's up boys.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I can always count on you, Turtle AXE to be on the outer, cutting edge of feminist politics.

J. Brent Bates said...

CI feel like you have mischaracterized what I said at Clergy Day. Mine, of course, is merely the perspective of a “young, white, heterosexual male, married and the father of two” and can be dismissed as that. Or in an effort toward dialogue, I can attempt to more precisely articulate what I was trying to say.

I was trying to preface my remarks not in a way to further a generation gap, but to acknowledge that people of different generations do have different perspectives—and that that was relevant in the matter under discussion—whether or not you want to dismiss them as quasi-social science. And I was also very clear that I respected the life and ministry experience of those whom I have served alongside. I don't believe I claimed that older generations of priests are not passionate about the gospel, have nothing left to contribute to mission and ministry, or that what they "have stood for all the years of ministry done in the church are … passe and irrelevant.” In fact, I believe the exact opposite. I believe the work that you and others of your generation have done was and is quite important work, and necessary for what you inherited from previous generations.

Further, I was not trying to say that "Baby Boomers" care too much about The Institution. I was saying that generations previous to “Baby Boomers” cared too much about The Institution. I agree that "Baby Boomers" have tried to fight the institution. But this “fighting” against the institution is nonetheless a reaction against the institution. The difference of perspective I was trying to highlight, flawed and quasi-social scientific as it may be, was that many people of my age neither worship nor want to undermine the institution. Rather, we accept its necessity, acknowledge its limitations, but really don't care that much about it. We aren't trying to uphold it and we aren't trying to undo it. Our energy is elsewhere. Does that mean I or others are not interested in social justice? Absolutely not. Is there still some more just work left to do? Absolutely. But many people of my age don't want to spend so much time around undoing the institution, nor trying to build back up a dying institution. We want something else. We don’t think the main way toward justice is the undoing of the institution.

Maybe it is frustrating that there aren’t many clergy in their 30s that aren’t more outspoken about distrust of the institution and aren’t more critical about the clergy insurance cost-sharing fiasco. But it doesn’t mean our perspectives are completely na├»ve or arrogant.

J. Brent Bates
Rector of Grace Church in Newark
rector@gracechurchinnewark.org

Unknown said...

Elizabeth, thank you as always for your thoughtful observations. I am of an age when I can remember radical feminist speakers on college campuses telling well-meaning males that the best thing they can contribute to the women's liberation movement is to get off the planet. And who could blame them?
As an aging white gay male priest, I have a lot of empathy with Turtle AXE. This past week my inner being has been insulted with the utter nonsense of leaving women off the congressional panel in dealing with the public side of women's health issues. And with all the NY media coverage of Timothy Dolan joining the increasingly First World Red Dress Boys Club...well, yes, I would love to let women have at it. And it would be justifiable for the men to have to clean the toilets and serve the wine to the female leaders as they try to clean up the mess.
The best of all worlds would be for open-minded, sexually secure, nothing-to-prove, women AND men to share mutually in the councils of the Church. But until then, I would gladly hand it over to women to sort out.
As for young freshly minted priests and their limited experience within and without the "Institution," well, as you say, we were all there once. Thank God time grants us wisdom and patience if we are willing to accept it. May they learn their allotted lessons well.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, Brent, I was hoping to eventually have a conversation with you about this - perhaps in June at Special Convention - over a cup of coffee or tea.

Most of the readers of my blog wouldn't know you from Adam so I find it curious that you have chosen to 'out' yourself in this way. But, now that you have, I will respond to you directly.

You'll have to work very hard to convince me that framing a discussion in terms of Baby Boomers vs. Gen X is not only enormously unhelpful, it's incredibly disrespectful of the achievements of my generation.

I'm fascinated by the fact that your generation uses this tool over and over and over again - and, mostly against the so-called Boomers. I wonder why that is.

Furthermore, this tools presumes that you may speak for an entire generation of people ('we" / "our" vs. "I") which is no more true of me and my generation. In that way, it smacks of an arrogance that can be forgiven because it will inevitably be tempered by time.

Happens to the best of us, Brent.

Which is why I'm not going to give this much energy, answering you point by point. I'll just hope for that cup of coffee or tea and conversation in June. I still prefer face to face conversations in real time.

I suppose that certifies me as an Old Fart. I'd like to think it's evidence of my Christianity.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear Unknown - Thank you for your comments. Please, next time, leave your name or some way to identify yourself.

I am especially grateful for your comments because the young man, whose words I set up as a straw man to make my point, has chosen to identify himself and has taken great umbrage to my remarks.

Unfortunately, he feels personally attacked - even though I didn't identify him - so he's drawn his sword to me.

Poor child doesn't yet understand that he makes my point with every point of his argument.

Not to worry. He'll learn. We all did. Once.

I'm sure that will sound matronizing to his and other young ears. Good thing I'm of an age not to care anymore about things like that.

Jane Ellen+ said...

My seminary class was made up of students from 22 to 57 years old; the whole age thing was a HUGE issue, largely due to the determined voices of a couple of the younger students (the oldest two declared themselves "Geezers for Jesus" and laughed their way through 3 years). Now, this is not to say that young adults do not have to work to be taken seriously, and are sometimes unreasonably patronized; but dismissing older colleagues simply because they are older is not the answer. Pot, meet kettle.

OTOH, I recently attended a continuing ed adventure offered by and for clergy women of many denominations. While I was there I was privileged to sit at a table with a remarkable group of Episcopal priests. Bright, articulate, clear about their call to the Gospel in all its messy glory. Priests in their 20s and in their 60s. Ordained for 2 years, and for more than 30. And those at each end of the age spectrum were purely delighted to be sharing time and space and learning and ministry with the other.

More of that, and less of the other, would make the world-- and the church-- a better place.

Drew Downs said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I feel an incredible amount of empathy for both you and Brent. One of the parts of the generational conversation (and a particular hangup for many of us GenXers) is not simply the character (or astrological nature, right?) of the generations, but the simple economics. Boomers are an out-of-proportion generation and grew up as the first youth generation to be marketed. It also has been the primary engine of growth for decades. My own generation is smaller than average. We have grown up, not only with the usual "when we get our turn, we'll show them" sort of hang-ups, but the wonder if we will ever get a chance. I know I felt that way through college and my own vocational discernment.

That's the baggage I know many of us carry into the conversation. But there is something important to recognize, not just in how Boomers and GenXers are different from the previous generations, but the Barna studies point out some really important data about Millenials. David Kinnaman (You Lost Me and unChristian) is forced to conclude that there are real differences between today's youth and young adults from the midlife and senior crowds.

Drew Downs

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Absolutely, Jane Ellen. I agree. What I don't understand is why Gen-Xers persist on bringing this issue up over and over and over again. And, I don't think I'm being paranoid when I say that it is almost always Gen-Xers taking aim at Boomers. It's simply not helpful.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Drew. I appreciate your words and your empathy. I understand the position of the Gen-Xer feeling out numbered and, more than you know, I understand the anxiety in the question, "Will I ever get my chance?" Believe it or not, Boomers - and all previous generations - struggle with that question.

What I don't understand is what purpose it serves to attack Boomers over and over again and in most inappropriate ways. It's not helpful. In fact, it's destructive.

And, since I'm being attacked on Brent's FB page and he's not taking any leadership to dispel the untruths that are being spoken there, let me just say this:

(1) The covenant of our agreement on that Clergy Day was that we could repeat what had been said but not tell who said it. I did not break that covenant. Brent did.

(2) The content and context of the remarks of which were in the midst of a very intense conversation which sprang up about health insurance cost-sharing for clergy. The issues of trust and support were on the table. Essentially, the remarks made about generational differences only served to 'triangulate' the conversation. See? Gen-Xers don't care about cost-sharing. Boomers do. We're good. They're selfish.

I know that's not what was intended. That was, however, the impact.

That's consistent with my experience of what happens when Gen-Xers persist on bringing up generational issues. It always seems to be more about how selfish and awful Boomers are.

Frankly, I'm so tired of it. And, so are many of my colleagues. It's old. And, not only ineffective, it backfires.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Actually, if the Gen X'ers would actually listen to the tail-end Boomers, in particular, they would find far more similarities than differences.

As a tail-end Boomer, I had to suffer through that whole business of going to school in the trailer out back behind the mortar and bricks school, or class in a remodeled closet, or class separated by partitions--because they weren't going to build more space since the numbers behind us were smaller.

I am pretty sure when it's time to go to the nursing home, I will be in the trailer out behind the real nursing home building while Elizabeth gets a bed inside. LOL

I understand the feelings of Gen X'ers with that "The Boomers take up so much space" bit, but as a tail end Boomer, who had some of the same issues, I just roll my eyes and think, "Y'all are NOT special. Let's just all get over that one together."

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You know, Kirke, I think you've put your finger on something: It's the undertone of "We're special, too, damn it!" that I hear in Gen-Xer attacks that are the most annoying.

I never said or claimed that Boomers are perfect. We've made lots of messes of lots of things. So unlike the generations before us and the ones that will follow us.

So, what's the point? Put on your big-girl or big-boy pants (appropriately) and get on with it. Just do it!

Oh wait. Is that like a totally Boomer thing to say? I mean, it did come from people of the Boomer generation but it sounds like what I'm hearing Gen-Xers say.

See what I mean? It's so pointless. Let's just do the work. Together. Okay?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, and where did we hear "put on your big person panties and get over it?" From the Greatest Generation. The generation who lived through the Depression and WWII. When we were annoying YOUNG Boomers and must have looked to the Greatest Generation like the biggest spoiled brats known to humankind. That generation suffered silently via too much alcohol and too many pills and too many beatings and silently suffered through it...and where I personally see the pony in the giant pile of pony ca-ca is in the recognition for me, that guess what? Ain't none of us special and guess what else? We're ALL special in God's eyes.

You know why "young whiners" are annoying to every preceding generation since the dawn of time? Because we have not yet fixed the broken world. We have not yet brought the realm of Now in line with the realm of Heaven. In the whining and in the annoyance is the recognition of the world's brokenness--and, maybe, JUST MAYBE, some day, we will all look UNDER the whining and see something to fix that will make Jesus smile broadly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Kirke. You make some wonderful points. I wish everyone could hear what you have to say.

It really is about gettin' 'er done. Let each one do that in the best way they can, even if it's annoying to someone else.

Brother David said...

Sorry to be late to the party Madre, I was on the road last week.

I started two different master's degrees before I went to seminary and finished a four year Master of Theology. So I have an introductory year of a Master of Science in Education and an introductory year of a Master of Arts in Communication. Six years of graduate level education tied up in my MTh.

Brent, you learn in the first semester of communications theory that what you said, is what folks heard you say. It is too late to come along later and say, "What I meant was..."

I recently picked this up from my online friend;

Lord deliver us from those who claim to speak for a group solely on the basis of their membership in the group. Unless one is appointed or elected to do so, it is better to speak for oneself; perhaps even then.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Brother David said...

OK, I am back from having visited Mr. Bates' parish website and his Facebook page. I am all the more saddened by it all.

Also very disappointed in the behavior of the young musician from Mr. Bates' parish. I used to have great respect for Joseph Arndt. That just went out the window when I was able to view him in this different light as a brown nosing, bitchy queen! But I should have had a hint from other things that I have seen on line.

Bateau Master said...

Woah ... that was an internet adventure ...

But how does one become ordained in a Church where belief in "One Holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church" is a major tenet, not care about institution? Maybe I'm wrong, but the Creed seems to be in each Rite and I've never seen the words omitted in an Episcopal service. Plus for a pastor of a church, in diocese, in a province, in the Communion ... institution determines much.

Now Rick Warren, Joel Olsten, even Tim Tebow [;)] can say they don't care about the institution, but an Episcopal Priest? What a Noob! But what the heck, I'm a Baby-Boomer.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brother David - God knows, not all Gen-Xers are whinny and speak for their entire generation or seem to want to take cheap pot shots at Boomers, but when it happens it pulls my last, poor tired nerve.

And, you're right. There is a huge difference between "intent" and "impact".

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Br. David - I am so disappointed in Joseph.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Bateau - I really don't believe that relationship vs. not relationship with the institutional church is a generation issue. I know many, many clergy and laity of Brent's age who are concerned about the institutional church for precisely the reason you cite - The Creed. And, I know lots of clergy of my age who have never been interested At.All. in the institutional church - not because they don't believe the words they say in The Creed but because they have learned how to "get along" to "get ahead".

I'm convinced that this was an unconscious attempt at triangulation - which is always about relieving anxiety - to set up the "good clergy" (to go along with the bishop) the "bad clergy" (who oppose what they perceive as the bishop's plan - because he hasn't 'taken a position' and is still 'listening'). I don't know that the young clergy who spoke will ever recognize it as that but it was pretty clear to me.

Then again, I may be an old fart but I've been around Mulligan's Barn enough times to recognize patterns of behavior when I see it.