Friday, August 17, 2012

Many Generations, One Body

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body we think less honorable we bestow greater honor... - 1 Corinthians 12:21-23

We live in a world that seeks to divide us at every turn. From our political affiliations to our preferences of music and computer hardware, we are encouraged to lump ourselves into a myriad of mutually unintelligable sub-cultures. We have become a society that does not know how to have a real conversation, a culture in which public discourse has increasingly become a place of symbolic violence, rather than (com)passionate debate. And in a society as fundamentally divided as ours, it is a small leap from the world of soundbites and images to the concrete expression of that violence.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, it is my experience that there is a power capable of breaking down the walls that divide us, bringing true reconciliation. Through the amazing power of Jesus' self-giving love, I am being healed of the brokenness of this present age, and gathered into a Body that is greater than any human divisions.

One division that I have explored a lot in recent years is that of generational divides. There are real differences between us, depending on when each of us was born. For example, Baby Boomers (Americans born between roughly 1943 and 1960) have a huge amount of shared experience that bonds them together as a unique cultural group. The same is true of Generation X (Americans born roughly between 1961-1981) and Millennials (1982-2002?). While each of these generations is comprised of tens of millions of individuals with a huge array of experiences, personalities and individual life choices, we exist within a broader generational context.

As a rising Millenial, it was empowering to realize that I was part of a new generation which had a distinct way of doing things from our Boomer parents and our Xer mentors. I saw that our differences weren't simply a rebellion against "the way things are"; rather, we as a generation share a unique set of experiences and assumptions, a special perspective that is just as legitimate as those of prior generations.

Yet, the spirit of division did what it always does: It took hold of these places of aliveness and difference and twisted them into something that divides us. Rather than understanding our generational differences as a source of mutual empowerment and respect, there are many forces in our society that have pitted one generation against another. Whether a "Pepsi Generation" or a "Joshua Generation," marketers and ideologues work night and day to make our generational differences grounds for division and hatred rather than the basis of strength and cooperation. Instead of recognizing our differences as a gift from God, we have often been lured into a false narrative of generational competition.

This fits with what our consumerist culture tells us about everything else. We are taught from an early age that other people exist to be used and exploited, that life is a battle to be won and that our fellow human beings are our opponents. We have been seduced by a worldview that sees domination as the prerogative of the strong and grinding poverty the rightful fate of the weak. No wonder we live in such a violent, divided society! How can we trust anyone if the purpose of life is to maximize personal profit and minimize personal pain, regardless of the consequences to those around us?

There is a Spirit that I feel, inviting us into something more life-giving and true than this twisted vision of the cosmic order. There is a Life and Power that is grounded in indescribable love, a Love that lays down his own life for the benefit of his friends rather than seeking his own narrow pleasure. It is this Truth that binds us together, breaking down the dividing wall and making one where there were once many.

What if we understood our different generations as being vital and necessary members of the same body? What would happen if we saw our generational differences as gifts to be used for blessing all generations? What if Xers offered up their hard-minded expertise and common sense for the good of our whole society? How might the world change if Boomers put forth their deep spirituality and vision as a gift to those who follow in their footsteps? What if we Millennials demonstrated our love to older generations by exercising our emerging gifts of collaboration and team-building? How might we all be transformed if we embraced God's gifts to our generations and were made one in the Holy Spirit?

7 comments:

Marcus said...

What a great opportunity to express my appreciation of and love for older people. That's one of the big reasons I got such a big kick out of University Friends Meeting in Wichita; there was enough silver in the hair to stock a treasury, and enough sense of fulfillment to fill heaven.

Eeels said...

My original meeting, Midcoast MM in Maine, was constantly replenished by tides of elders the way some groups have a never-ending stream of young folks keeping them green.

The coast of Maine tends to attract the kind of retirees who have the vitality to survive Maine winters and a generally self-reliant living style. Some of them are Quakers, or decide they want to be. We had a continuous flow of new blood into our meeting -- but new blood that had already lived long into wisdom. At the same time, we had younger families with children -- some year-round and some mostly in summer.

I was in my mid-30s when I arrived there, so a relative whippersnapper. A lot of whatever maturity I have now I learned from hanging out with all these wise heads and playing with children at the same time.

songeveryday said...

My study partner and I (both in our fifties and not Quakers) were just talking today about how generations use to interact more and differently.... everything from TV -- in OUR day, if you had a TV at all, there was no cable or internet and just barely VCR, so if you watched at all you all watched together. My whole family saw All in the Family and M*A*S*H, e.g., back in the 70s and then TALKED ABOUT IT, while my kids and I NEVER watched a prime time show together to the best of my recollection.

Also, I fear that my synagogue and many others sometimes treat "youth" and "20-somethings" as akin to another species that has to be approached and managed with care. Instead of, as Micah suggests, parts of one whole community.

Part of this divide, I think, is fueled by digital stuff: after all, "'Youth' have those blogs and twits and all that." While us old folks, of course, are simply not capable of connecting that way, right?

It's a real issue, and I'm delighted to see it brought to light and Light.

Wayne Anson - Micah 6:8 said...

I have prayed for for years,and preached, this message. So glad you have moved beyond negative assumption and statements into this living way. If your charcterization of your generation is true,then that character is also an answer to a long held prayer related to the church.

James Breiling said...

Stimulating post.

For this and other matters, how would a focus on emulating the conduct of Jesus and implementing his teachings change our conduct, our values, our cognitions and our spiritual life?
Start with the Sermon on the Mount and continue with a focus on the conduct and teaching of Jesus as set forth elsewhere in the four gospels.

Susan said...

We need to stop stereotyping people, for example, with terms like millenials, generation xers, or baby boomers. Yes, it is true that our generational experiences help shape our personalities, but the effect is minimal compared to our unique personal backgrounds and our biological and genetic make up,etc. We are all unique human beings and should not be judged by our ages. Please approach each person as a unique individual and don't try to pigeon hole people. You may be surprised with what you find!

Susan said...

"The other" Susan has spoken my mind, too.