(Note: I should begin this by saying that I’m not a sociologist nor do I speak for all twenty-somethings in this new “Millennial” generation, but what follows is my own experience. Do not treat the following as if it were either from a sociologist or a spokesperson, please. Most of this first post echoes the work of Phyllis Tickle on culture. I will divert from her conclusions, however, in the subsequent posts. Also, I would appreciate comments from others about what they are seeing on the ground in their own lives and in their churches.)
The Episcopal Cafe recently linked to an article on CNN about how the first of the Baby Boomers will be eligible for retirement this year. According to the article, 2011 signifies the beginning for the end of Baby Boomer control on politics and the world and also marks the rise of the Millennials’ influence (twenty-somethings). The Cafe specifically asked the question, “What does this mean for the Church?” I suppose the answer to that has yet to be seen. Perhaps our House of Bishops will discern the answer to the Young Adult question as they discuss it at their meeting in North Carolina.
This Baby Boomer/Millennial Divide is going on in more than just the Episcopal Church. For one example out of many, over at The Ship of Fools, there is a conversation about the current front of the ole’ “worship wars” in Australia. I believe conversations like this are taking place all over the Church. As one commenter put it:
“It is almost always middle aged people and above in who what praise bands, at least in liturgical churches. And liturgical churches are usually ape the mega churches very badly. I’ve seen some cases where the octogenarians and twentysomethings are hand in hand against the middle and early old age crowd who keep foisting Rite II down peoples throats. But in TEC, Rite II is the stodgy default service now.”
As a “young person” (a twenty-something, myself), I have noticed this generational divide happens with some frequency. There is a definite gulf between Baby Boomers and Millennials and it is showing more and more as Millennials start to share more of the decision making. What is extremely surprising to most Baby Boomers is that Millennials usually don’t like what you’d expect them to like or think how you might want them to think.
I believe this, because for most of my life, the Baby Boomers have been speaking for my generation. They have been putting words in our mouths for so long that it is shocking when a Millennial speaks for herself. Ever since I was young, Baby Boomers have been saying things like, “We have to do x to get the young people in” or “the young people like x.” X, of course, was many things: it could be anything from contemporary worship (in whatever form they liked) to The Purpose Driven Church. X could also be some form of inclusive liturgy or some kind of ultra-liberal, politically-correct and interfaith prayer that had no meaning whatsoever – other than that it sounded nice. This is all because Baby Boomers have almost given themselves cardiac arrest for the last thirty years with their obsession about what “the young people” want.
This obsession is warranted, however, because the Church in the West has been dying since the Baby Boomers came into power. Mainline to Evangelical to Roman Churches have been anemic for sometime and some are in the throws of death. If you follow any conservative blog – especially those manipled gadflies over at The New Liturgical Movement – they might say from time to time that this is because Baby Boomers watered down the gospel so much that they lost any sort of prophetic voice to the world. I don’t know if I believe that. But, the fact remains that several parts of the Church have been dying on their watch: numerically, financially and, perhaps, even spiritually.
I don’t want to be too hard on the Baby Boomers, though. My generation needs to realize, that even though we have been subverted and falsely spoken for for years, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. This twenty-something is proud of the Baby Boomers who worked for racial equality, gender equality and towards equality for LGBT persons. I stand with them (and protest with them) on greater equality for all people in the church and in the world. Also, the fact that most Millennials are graduates of college is a testament to the Boomer’s ingenuity and understanding of the importance of education. We should be thankful for the Baby Boomer’s by just comparing the worlds of 2011 with 1991 and 1971! We’d be at a loss if we didn’t recognize and celebrate that they are truly a revolutionary generation who have set the tone and conversation for the next century.
What they must realize though us, though, is that being a twenty-something in 2011 is different then what it was being a twenty-something in the sixties. For me, I think a major difference is that Millennials do not share the boundless optimism that the Baby Boomers had. In fact, I think the world of Millennials is marked by lots of chaos and disillusionment. Let me explain:
- Chaos. We are the generation that was raised on twenty-four-hour cable news. We’ve seen Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq (again) and, now Libya bombed before our eyes. We stood breathless in High School as we watched the twin towers fall in a single day and smoke rise from the Pentagon. We are the generation of technological chaos so chaotic that we don’t even notice it anymore (it is like white noise to us). We’ve lived in the upheaval caused by those revolutionary Baby Boomers and it is normal life to us. We never knew the Norman Rockwell or the Lake Wobegon childhood that you all wax nostalgic about so often and we never had the stifling childhood of the fifties that you all complain so much about. We have lived in some form of chaos or another our entire lives.
- Disillusionment. We were raised and fed on the idea that if you just work hard enough, you’ll succeed. We had to start planning for College when we were Sixth Graders. In High School, we were promised that if we got good grades and participated in several different extracurricular activities (along with practicing safe sex and staying away from drugs) we would get into a good College. Once you got into College, we were promised that if we just made the Dean’s List or had a good GPA, we’d land really good jobs right out of College.Literally, I remember being promised these things; they were told to us as if they were just like the laws of gravity.The problem is that by the time most of us graduated from College, the economy crashed and we entered into a recession. I’m quite sure that this generation probably has the most educated waitresses and minimum-wage earners out of any in the past seventy years. Even though Millennials were already apathetic compared to the Baby Boomers, this was made even more so by the recession and this crumbling of the trajectory of our lives that we had been aiming for since Middle School. I think the importance of this cannot be downplayed! I’m quite sure that my generation’s novel will be much closer in tone to The Grapes of Wrath than The Catcher in the Rye and is probably being written somewhere right now.
These are just two things that I’ve noticed in my own twenty-something life and what I share with many of my twenty-something friends. Please note that this is not to say that there wasn’t any chaos or disillusionment in the 1960’s (!) but I think my generation’s response to it is vastly different. Namely, I think the Baby Boomers responded to chaos and disillusionment by fighting against the system (or “the man”, if you will), whereas Millennials are more likely to circle the wagons and quietly return to the center. On the large part, we are not fighters.
I think that it shows in how we approach liturgy. And I think this might be one of the first places that Millennials’ voice is felt more and more in the upcoming years. This completely different response to the world and how it shows in liturgy is what I’m going to focus on in Part II.
(More to come in Part II.)