Friday, February 17, 2012
Youngbloods and Old Farts
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.