Training The Next Greatest Generation… And Beyond
(An excerpt, slightly modified, from the sermon I preached last Sunday at Clarksville Presbyterian Church in Clarksville, VA. It is based on the sociological theories of Strauss and Howe as presented in their book Generations. Although the strict categories have since been called into question, their theory is still a useful tool and a jumping off point for a more nuanced analysis of the current situation.)
As we sit in the sanctuary this morning to worship God and to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we come as a diverse body – and as a conflicted body. This conflict is nothing new.
In the 1960’s, we fought over Civil Rights. In the 70’s, it was divorce and the ordination of women. The 80’s brought a different kind of fight over the reunion of the northern and southern branches of the denomination – a mere 118 years after the Civil War had ended.
Then, in the 1990’s, the struggle over the ordination of homosexuals began. And we’re still fighting it today. For some reason, this current conflict – which has fallen along the same liberal vs. conservative battle lines that have plagued the church since the 1700’s – has not resolved itself as quickly as most. We go to presbytery meetings today and hear, almost verbatim, the same debates that we have been hearing for twenty years.
Much to the detriment of our denomination’s health, we’ve gotten stuck on this issue. The heels are dug in as deep (or perhaps even deeper) than they were in the turbulent 60’s. But I have a hope that this reality – which is a reflection of the highly polarized political state of our nation in general – that this reality is about to change. And it’s the difference in our generations that gives me this hope.
Right now, as we prepare to celebrate Communion together, we have representatives present from of each of the six living generations:
(1) The oldest is the WWII generation, also called the “Builders.” They are currently in their 80’s and 90’s. The Builders defeated the threat of Nazism and then came home to construct some of the greatest institutions the world has ever known. Tom Brokaw wrote a famous book about them, calling them “The Greatest Generation” – and rightly so. Their contribution to our nation and to our world cannot be overstated.
(2) Next come the “Silents,” who are now between 65 and their early 80’s. They have always lived in the shadow of the dominant generations on either side of them – for instance, the Silents never had a president (we went straight from George H.W. Bush, a Builder, to Bill Clinton, the first Boomer president.) Nonetheless, the Silents have made many behind-the scenes contributions, one of them in being the parents of most of Generation X – which we’ll get to in a minute.
(3) The Baby Boomers, for the most part, are the children of the Builders. They are roughly 45 to 65 years old. Somewhat unfairly, the Boomers have been described as spoiled and narcissistic. It is true that they have enjoyed an unprecedented level of affluence and attention throughout their life. But despite a measure of self-absorption, the Boomers have made a tremendous contribution to society. Think of the advances that have been made in both society and technology during their extended time in the spotlight.
(4) Next is Generation X – my generation. We’re about 27 to 45 years old, and we’ve been called the “Lost Generation” or the “latch-key kids.” Forever overshadowed by the Boomers, we’re often mischaracterized as lazy or apathetic. What we really have is a healthy level of skepticism and a very strong “BS detector.” We love nothing more than to poke holes in the rigid institutions and the consumerist lifestyle that have been developed by the Builders and the Boomers. As our music reflects, we have an acute awareness that something is not right in the world, but we have no idea what to do about it. As many of us in Gen X are finally coming to realize, we have the souls of prophets – determined to tear down the old structures and call forth a new reality. And we are called to speak to:
(5) The Millenials, who are between 7 and 27 and are now coming into adulthood. As the children of the Boomers, they have strength in numbers, but their temperament is more like the Builders. In fact, they could be called “The Next Greatest Generation” or perhaps “The New Builders.” Since their context in the post-911 world is so much different than the WWII era, we should not draw too many comparisons between them and the Greatest Generation – other than to say that they will affect the world in just as profound a manner. Our role as the older generations (and especially for Gen X) is to teach the Millenials well, and then to step aside and let them amaze us.
(6) Which brings us to the sixth generation. They are the youngest children, under 7 years old – so young that they don’t even have a name yet. But I caught a glimpse of their potential this morning. When I woke up, I noticed that my two boys, who are 4 and 5, were sitting on the same bed, facing each other and holding hands. I asked them what they were doing, and the eldest turned and said, “We’re sharing the dreams that we had last night.” Then, he turned back to his brother, making it clear that I was not invited into the conversation.
As we learned in our recent study of the Book of Genesis, dreams are not just random collections of leftover thoughts rumbling through our brains. They are one of the ways in which God communicates. I have a feeling that God is already speaking to this youngest generation, and they are going to be an incredibly spiritual generation – probably in a way that we will never understand.
After all, the generations never do understand each other. That has become painfully clear in this conflict over homosexuality. We cannot draw strict lines, of course, but it is obvious that the majority of the older generations think it is morally wrong, while the majority of the younger generations accept it as a normal part of life. And once this issue is resolved, another one will pop up to take its place. One of the great mysteries of our life together is how we can be so different as generations, yet so intimately connected and influential on one another – an influence which flows in both directions.
And that is what this table that we share is all about.
(to be continued…)