Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Being an X'er in a "Boomer's World"

At 34, I'm part of what got labeled "Generation-X." A lot of ink has been spilled trying to figure out this generation of people, a good portion of which has been negative - and I think perhaps wrongly so. Many people used to consider "Gen-Xers" as slackers because large numbers of my contemporaries tended to spend a good portion of their time on the edges of events rather then jumping in with both feet (which is what our Boomer parents tended to do). My generation has never been very good at "signing-up."

My question to our critics is, however, "Signing up for what?" It's true that a lot of X'ers (and our younger cousins in the Mosaic/Y/Millenial generation as well) tend not to run right out and sign up to keep institutions running at peak efficiency. When people ask us to join a bureaucracy we spend a lot of time asking, "Why?" Our failure to jump into actions isn't so much laziness as it is a testing, we want to see how authentic something is before we attach ourselves to it. This approach has a lot going for it, as we tend not to accept the first thing that people say to us in order to get us "on board." It's also got some pit-falls, in that we can lapse into a constrictive cynicism that prevents us from doing anything (that's not laziness, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference).

What's interesting is that groups that were previously populated by, and run by, Boomers and their Depression-Generation progenitors are now seeing an influx of X'ers that don't accept a lot of the presuppositions that people had before us. This, in my opinion, is what makes pastoring a congregation largely populated by Boomers and a shrinking number of Depression-Generation folk so interesting. While Boomers tended to want to break into their own thing out from the shadow of their parents - they also tended to value individualism, autonomy, and individualism with all but a few close friends. It's not a surprise, then, that mega Churches are made up largely of Boomers who have the flash, anonymity, and small intimate circle of friends provided for them in that world (Boomers in small churches gave up the flash to be in a small church but not the other two). Depression-Generation folks want stability (is it any wonder given the world they grew up in?), and stability means locking everything down and double-bolting the doors.

Into this mix come the X'ers and our cousins. We're OK with confusion (which drives the Depression-Generation folks nuts), but we also tend to think that anonymity in relationships is a lot like being inauthentic (which drives Boomers a little batty). We throw our most intimate details out onto the vastness of the web, and while we have no trouble making plans we also have no trouble shifting gears at a moments notice if we don't get a good enough response to "Why are we doing this again?"

Yet, we also value community without anonymity. When we work-out this value of community, we tend to have no problem submitting to a community that we feel is "authentic" (even if they are making, in our eyes, "Stupid decisions"). Submission, however, doesn't mean we're simply being servile - while we'll submit to a community, we're too aware of our own frailty to hold leaders in awe (we're pretty sure they're screwed up too). What it does mean is that even if we're not going nuts for the latest program handed to us by our Boomer parents, we're happy to experience it and see what comes from it.

I'm not sure that you can make these three groups "happy" when you get them together (and when you add in the Millenials and their gizmos the tension gets worse), but I think that X'ers are in a unique place to show people how to make space for each other without having to have everything like the same things. After all, X'ers value authentic community above most other things. Our communities tend to be dynamic and non-uniform (though as we get older I'm seeing us talk about being non-uniform with other people look like us, and that's worrisome), as opposed to static (Depression-Generation) and uniform (Boomer) - and while that may make our parents and grand-parents scratch their heads it also makes us ideally suited to say, "You know, that's not my favorite, but hey I think we should all be willing to give it a shot and see where God takes it - and if we have to open the doors a bit wider, that's cool."

Eh, just some ramblings from the world of allergy induced mental haze...


Dr. Qohelet said...

Personally, I've done better with "the Greatest Generation" than the Boomers.

Having lived through the Great Depression, they grew up trusting neither business nor government. While the crave stability, most know it is really a chimera and cynicism seems to be the norm.

I can relate much more to the Greatest Generation's outlook than to the happy individualism and naivety concerning resources that I find in most Boomers.

wezlo said...

Note: Yea, a comment at last!

Yes, I remember when I was having a conversation with a member of the church in Westborough. He said, "So, has being a pastor ruined your view of people yet?"

I thought for a moment and then replied, "Oh no, not at all. It's you Boomers who thought that everyone was happy and normal, I'm Gen-X we expect people to be screwed up."

I get along fine with many Depression-Generation folk. What I've found in congregations, though, is that lack of trust means that no one is allowed to actually do anything. That's wrong - their stability comes from making sure that anyone who gets to energetic about the Gospel gets smacked down. Partly because they don't like change, but also because they frankly don't trust anyone as far as they can throw them.

X-ers are learning to trust in communities, but we also don't think anyone is "untouchable" either. I think that's healthier. I mean, with a lot of the Depression-Generation folks the pastor is too lofty to be confronted directly, but isn't actually trusted to do anything. That's a mess.

I agree about the Boomers, though. I blame them for most of the e-mail forwards I get.

MrsQ said...

Boomer email forwards are eeeeeevil...

particularly the 'spritual' ones. having had too much 'Christian EduMaCation' for my own good, I exegete those awful things into the unitarian morality plays they most often are and end up getting more discouraged than uplifted.

Anywho, you postulate whether we can truly worship together at all: I'd love to say "Can't we all just get along???"

But at the moment, I really just want to go outside and pray with people my own age.

kinda sad, really.

jesuit spy said...

I wonder if the adoption of sociological categories over a true ecclessiology is part of our failure.That there are generational differences is readily apparent. That they become a self-segregating is (ahem) sin and shows how the church has succumbed to generational conflict.
I find it hard to think of Moses setting up alternative tabernacles to reach a niche population - or the apostles constructing different programming venues for the body that's supposed to be one.
Personally, I find Boomers a pain in the arse (though I is one). But then I am an old fart!

wezlo said...

As I'm an X-er pastor in a largely Boomer (and previously largely Depression-Generation) Church, I understand both the appeal and pitfalls of niche Churches - but I'm not sure what your point posting it here is, as I'm not advocating either of the problems you seem to be venting against (if anything, I'm talking about one body, many members which cover each other's weaknesses).
I'm also not sure I can agree with this quote without throwing up some flags:

I find it hard to think of Moses setting up alternative tabernacles to reach a niche population - or the apostles constructing different programming venues for the body that's supposed to be one.

It's really easy to go from your desire to see "one body" to restricting any form of contextualization because it has the potential for "splintering the body." Heck, we can use the same logic to go back to having everyone use Latin as a worship language because then everyone would be doing the same thing and therefor we'd be "one."

My point with X-ers vs. Boomers and Depression-Generation is that, at our best, X-ers can actually be a bridge not just between Boomers and Depression-Generation folks (who, when hanging out together, seem to want settle old scores than proclaim the Gospel) - but also be a bridge with the generation which immediately comes after us.

Here's what I do to make this sociological reality become theological wrestling. When end up in a discussion where Boomers and Depression-Generation folk are getting ready to duke it out (again), I hold up my hand and say, "OK, here's the deal, you're all attempting to base this decision on what you like - that's absolutely no help to me whatsoever. Let's talk first about our mission, and make our decision on what will currently help us fulfill it."

At this point I have some ground to stand on that keeps folks from being able to keep sniping each other - and I can critique people based on an actually theology rather than, "You don't like what I like, get out."

jesuit spy said...

My mistake for posting - I thought you wanted comments & discussion. And I don't think I'm ranting.
The one body I speak of is a spiritual reality created by the Trinity in the midst of a myriad of generations because God incorporates and transcends our generational limitations.
That gives me hope.

wezlo said...

My mistake for posting - I thought you wanted comments & discussion.

Don't be snarky, I do - it just didn't seem like you were responding to the post I actually wrote.