(Note: The same disclaimer that I had for Part I still applies. Also, please know that I am a firm believer in the complexity of humanity and I do believe that it is a dangerous thing to paint people in such broad strokes. Yes, not every Baby Boomer is a revolutionary, nor is every Millennial a holy-smoke inhalin’ liberal. But, this trend has been noticed by most Sociologists and to ignore it would be to ignore a shift going on right now in the Church, as it will be seen more and more in the years to come. To allay your concerns, I will return to the complexity of humanity in the finale, where I will address how Boomers and Millennials can get along.)
There was a famous study done some time ago of children and their playground habits that reveals a great deal about the divide between Baby Boomers and Millennials. Psychologists noted that when a fence surrounds a playground, children will play all over the playground — even right up to the fence. When that fence is taken away, however, they no longer play at the edge of the playground but stay near the playground equipment and each other. If I am remembering correctly, this conservative shift due to the lack of the fence surprised the researchers. One might assume that without the defined boundary, the kids would run free to explore where they previous were not able to go. But, no, without the fence, they huddled together.
As I understand it, the Boomers are like children who played in the playground with a fence — and what fences they had! Racial segregation, gender inequality, LGBT oppression were just a few of the major constraints that they had growing up in the post-war era. Mad Men gives us an authentic glimpse (or so Boomers tell me) into what life was like growing up in the late fifties/early sixties. Of course, their reaction to such unethical and immoral fences was to tear them down. Thankfully, as I pointed out in my last post, they have torn down the majority of them. They are the proud generation of revolutionaries like +Spong, among several others. This desire to play near the fence is strong with Baby Boomers.
Look at the liturgies that have come out during their tenure. While still very conservative and Anglo-Catholic,the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was still an iconoclastic work compared to the 1928: traditional language was reserved to only the Daily Office and the Mass, whereas everything else (including the Psalter) was put into modern language. The order for the Mass diverted greatly from the pattern set down in previous Prayer Books and shared many of the reforms of the Post-Vatican II Roman Mass (eg the placement of the Gloria, the restoration of the peace, etc.). But, this was a relatively small change compared to the Enriching Our Worship series that is a supplement the BCP. It rendered everything in a diluted language and gave us so many Canticle options that it boggled the mind. It lacked any sense of linguistic beauty that is the fine inheritance of the Episcopal/Anglican Liturgies. Here, in two ways, we can see the influence of the Baby Boomers pushing past that rigid liturgical fence that had been set up by previous generations.
But, these are two relatively conservative changes that I mention above, they were also the generation that gave us The Clown Mass, Folk music in Churches (the genesis of Contemporary Christian), “the spirit of Vatican II” and many other kind of iconoclastic ideas. Here they are, again and again, pushing against the fences that they grew up with: instead of the formal, they’ve given us the casual; instead of cold and impersonal services, they’ve given us warmth and a colloquial tone; and instead of funeral dirges, they have given us delightful ditties.
Like the children of the playground with fences, they are comfortable at the edge, they are comfortable to push the boundaries. Please understand that I am very thankful for what a lot of the Baby Boomers did, but this revolutionary desire is not strong with almost all the Millennials that I know. This is because we are like the children who play on the playground without fences.
In large part, I did not grow up with gender inequality: few in my generation would walk into a room and think that the women in that room could not have an informed opinion. For heaven’s sake, look at the conservative backing of Sarah Palin! Regardless what you think of that vapid woman, if the good ole’ boys of northeast Tennessee can back her – then perhaps we’ve made strides in the woman question. Now, this is not to say that gender inequality doesn’t exist anymore (because it does) but thanks to the boomers, that fence is being torn down. The idea that a woman can’t or shouldn’t go to College probably only crosses the mind of a scant few Millennials. But, in the large part, gender inequality is not part of Millennials’ lives within our own peer group like it was in the sixties (or even the eighties).
In large part, I also did not grow up with a lot of racial inequality and if there was inequality, it is seen as morally wrong (like the almost-segregation of Latino’s in my childhood school district for concern over “neighborhood schools”). This is not to say that racial inequality doesn’t exist anymore, but Millennials helped propel Barack Obama in the Presidency (as pointed out in the CNN article about us). That fence is being torn down. While there is still much work to do, racial inequality is considered an evil within our own peer group.
As I said in Part I, we did not have the Norman Rockwell childhood that the Boomers had. Because of their work, we grew up in a world with relatively few fences. This lack of fences definitely shows itself in the liturgical life of the Church. We grew up in the carefree-and-casual Church of the Boomers that tried very hard to keep up with the world: the folk masses of the ’60s gave rise to Contemporary Christian (eg. Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, etc.) as we know it today. Few of us think social justice is evil. We have never known the Priest having her “back to us”. But, here we are, having the same conservative reaction that the those kids on the playground without the fence had. We don’t do exploring for the sake of exploring. We huddle together. We are huddling together and rediscovering tradition.
The Thuribles that were hidden away in the Sacristy by the Boomers (“who actually wants this anymore?”) have been cleaned and used by the Millennials. Gregorian Chant is appreciated by the Millennials who grew up with bestselling album by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos and its wide use in Electronica. It is the de facto sound of holiness to us. Even Anglican Chant has its own Facebook fan-page! This twenty-something actually prefers Rite I and other traditional forms of prayer mainly for the beauty that is sorely lacking in more modern ways of praying (I’m looking at you, Enriching Our Worship). Most of us run from the use of Power-Point in Church and run from Churches that do not look like Churches.
Phyllis Tickle is writing extensively about this return to tradition with the rise of the Emergent Movement. As has Colleen Carroll Campbell in The New Faithful. If you look at the pictures of most of the manipled gadflies over at The New Liturgical Movement, you’ll see predominately younger faces. And this is an ultra-traditional blog about the Latin Mass, Pontifical Dalmatics and the like! The Compline services at St. Mark’s, Seattle and Christ Church, Savannah are all filled with Millennials, as are the late night Young Adult Solemn High Masses popping up throughout the country. The Taize community continues to draw Millennials from throughout the world with their contemplative and contemporary form of chanting. Consider this reaction of a Millennial to St. Thomas the Apostle, Hollywood:
The rector, the Rev. Ian Elliott Davies, restored the altar to an eastward-facing position and celebrates Mass with his back to the congregation in lieu of “the bartending position.” Ensign recalls UCLA students fascinated by the celebration — as opposed to “‘that old hippy crap our parents like.’ One guy had never seen a pipe organ,” Ensign said. “For us baby boomers what was so meaningful, relevant, and rebellious is so old hat. What’s old is new again.”
By in large, most Millennial Episcopalians are socially liberal: we’re fine with women priests and gay bishops, but we are liturgically conservative. We don’t want “the old hippy crap our parents like”. And frankly, that blows most Baby Boomers’ minds: they just don’t understand how we can be both pro-Solemn High Mass (or whatever) and be for Gay Marriage (which I am, by the way). I would like the Boomers to know that we don’t want to rebuild those fences that were torn down, but we do find their constant rebellion tedious. “The times they are a’changing” may be true but Baby Boomers must realize that they have been “the man” for several decades, now and your call for revolution looks a little funny because of it.
I do want Boomers to know that while you’re out there on the fence – that may or may not exist anymore – Millennials are in the center, huddled together, trying to etch out a living. Perhaps this little metaphor about the playground is why tradition appeals so much to us and you find it so repugnant. And we find your revolutionary tendencies to be tiring. We’re approaching the Church (and liturgy) for two completely different angles. We’re living and operating from two different spots on the playground.
We’re not looking for revolution. We’re not looking to change the world. We’re looking for a way to live and we are using the old ways to do it. We’re using tradition because we’re in the search for transcendence from this life of chaos and disillusionment. And this sense of transcendence is very important for us.
(More to come in Part III)