August 15, 2010
Now there are two main groups responsible for my generation’s lack of preparedness; my own generation, also called the “millennials”, as we came of age around the new millennium, and the Baby Boomers. To understand both of these generations’ roles and places it is important to take one step further back and look at the very aptly named “Greatest Generation”. The Greatest Generation as most of you know came of age and prominence during what were probably the most trying and defining years of this nation’s history, certainly of the 20th century. The great depression and then the Second World War shaped the Greatest Generation into a decidedly resilient and forward looking population. They made it through the worst economic turmoil that the United States had ever known and won the most horrific and largest war that the world had ever seen. They came out on the other side with an attitude that their generation could do anything that they set their minds to. And they did. They brought the United States from the brink of financial disaster to the best economic times it had ever experienced. The Greatest Generation transformed the U.S. a world super power. They sent men into space and then to the moon. They were steadfast in their goal that their children would live easier lives than the ones they had led. And they did.
The Baby Boomers exploded onto the scene in the decades following WWII along with the advent of the suburbs, the beat poet movement, and a little thing called Rock and Roll. Their world was one dichotomy. There was of course the cold war, ruskies versus the U.S. of A.; there was the civil rights movement, reformers versus the steadfast segregationists; and most importantly, the whole counter culture movement versus “the man”. No this last form of opposition could be seen in another light as well; Baby Boomers v. the Greatest Generation. “Son against father, daughter against mother.” Tell me if I’m wrong: they (the greatest generation, i.e. your parents, my grandparents), didn’t like your risqué music, they didn’t like your ultra liberal politics, they didn’t like your pretty boy political leaders and man oh man did they hate your long hair. But the Baby Boomer generation thrived off of this opposition. Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg, Angela Davis, Bobby Kennedy, Bobby Seal, The Beatles, Abby Hoffman, and so many more Icons of that time period and that generation drew their energy from the fact that their whole generation, or at least a critical mass of their generation, was focused and radicalized against “the man”. And the Baby Boomers where tested by their times and they came out of it with an attitude that the world was controlled by dangerous people but that love and peace would prevail and that they had the power to do something about it. And they tried and sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they failed. But they were steadfast in their goal that their children would live in a better world than the one they had lived in.
And that leads to me and my generation, the millennials. Well almost. There was generation X or Y or whatever the term is for the generation that were the children of the early boomers. They had MTV, the 80’s, big hair, but they are caught in limbo between two generations with dramatically different global outlooks. If you are from generation X or Y, I apologize. I mean no offense it’s just that the real action for your generation took place over in the soviet bloc. Perestroika and Glasnost, those where some serious generational happenings.
Back to my Generation, the millennials. We are still in the development stages in many ways however there are a few key facets of my generation which seem abundantly clear. One, we have the most unprecedented access to information that has ever been. The leaps and bounds from year to year in terms of the speed and convenience at which information can be obtained leaves any other technological advancement of the past century in the dust. Never before has technology advanced at such a breakneck speed. Recent studies have shown that the way that children of my age and those younger than me attain knowledge is a dramatically different way due to our increased access to faster sources of information. Two, we are a generation that has become accustomed to comfort. Whether it is watching any movie we want without leaving the couch, being allowed to gorge ourselves in a society which accepts the obese, or knowing, no matter how poorly we play and how badly we get beaten, at the end of the day we still get a trophy. This level of comfort has begun to manifest itself as entitlement. I’m sure you have noticed the young people on the metro who talk too loud about too private matters and who take up too much space with too little consideration for others. It because we (my generation) think that it’s owed to us just because we get everything else we want no matter the time, place or social acceptability. Three, September 11th 2001. This showed that the United States was not invincible, that our perfect little bubble was not so perfect and could be popped. It showed us that there is another world outside our air conditioned homes they is not ready to give us a trophy or a hug or a pat on the back. You can ask anyone my age, give a take a few years, what their first real memory of a national issue is and 8 out of 10 will say 9/11, those same 8 teens might also tell you that’s when my generation was born.
In Luke, Jesus speaks to a crowd of followers, there assembled to hear him give an uplifting sermon or maybe just partake of some of the miracle bread and wine which was reported to have appeared on occasion at events lead by this carpenter from Galilee. What the crowd got however was not bread and wine, at least that we know of, and it wasn’t one of the light upbeat metaphor filled speeches that had been heard time and time again previously. Instead, those standing on the hill or in the olive grove that day heard a fiery impassioned sermon from a young man fueled by years of witnessing acts of violence, oppression, and hate against his generation and his people. Jesus was after all trying to start a revolution, talk of wheat and mustard seeds only go so far. At some point the hard words of pain and suffering need to be said, “Dear Friends” he begins in Luke 12 verse 4, “Do not be afraid of those who want to murder you. They can only kill the body; they have no power over your souls”. Jesus understood that even though he was the prince of peace his revolution would be one wrought with violence, blood, and hardship. But no matter what the Pharisees or Romans did to their bodies their souls, their ideas would survive. It would be hard work, filled with pain and suffering, planting his radical ideas and dreams into the minds and hearts of his people. It would take time and care and others willing to fulfill his role of nurturing the idea after he was gone; “there is a terrible baptism ahead of me, and how I am pent up until it is accomplished”. Peace, love, and salvation; not in spite of the adversity, suffering, and pain, but because of it.
My generation of Americans shies away from adversity, we have little patience for even the slightest suffering, and we are quick to give way to pain. What hope do we have for victories, peace, or salvation? Now our wimpishness is not entirely our fault. In fact I would argue that much of it is a result of the overreaction of our Baby Boomer parents to the way their parents oppressed their growth and freedom of expression. The result is this, and the neighborhood of Takoma Park behind me here is a perfect example, a generation of kids, my generation, whose rebellions against “the man” are full heartedly supported by their parents. How un-cool. Or supremely cool depending how you look at it. Again I’ll use Takoma Park where I spent many of my weekends during high school hanging out, talking with, and enjoying the company of kids who where politically like minded to me. We all had a great passion for social justice, we could speak at length about any number of global political issues, we listened to our parents’ music, talked about our parents’ heroes, and dreamed about making a movement like the one our parents made. Our generation, I realized, was becoming an echo of our parents. This again is not necessarily a problem. I have been extremely fortunate to have parents who support my views and who took pride in my early attempts at civic involvement. As a member of this church I have participated in protests side by side with people who have been protesting since protesting was first a hip thing to do. My generation has all the gifts, all the privileges, all the resources, and all the support we need to make a colossal difference in the world. What we drastically lack is a common cause to fight for and a common leader to rally behind.
The Greatest Generation had the depression, fascism, and the fireside chats of FDR, the Baby Boomers had segregation, the Vietnam War, and the songs of John Lennon. At my high school I had friends who committed themselves to the causes of Rwanda, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, homelessness, hunger, human trafficking, ect. They listen to the Kanye West, Thich Nhat Hanh, J.K. Rowling, and Sublime: we thought that Barack Obama, a generation Xer, might be the voice we had been waiting for, and for a time he was, but Washington and reality has a way of making heroes seem mortal. So we are back to wandering headlong in a million different directions following a million different voices. This seems like it could be a good thing. Passionate people doing what they are passionate about, and to an extent it is. However, I fear that when my generation 15 to 20 years down the road is faced with an issue we are not prepared to overcome we will not have the focus to choose a course of action, the leadership to motivate our action, nor a common consensus that action needs to be taken. And in the end will do what we have been doing our whole lives; ask our parents’ generation to bail us out just one more time. We will be incapable to meet our challenges because while we were young we didn’t have to suffer the pain of a great depression, the sting of war, the injustice of racism, or the senselessness of being drafted. We’ve been blessed with ignorance to such things and we are going to suffer because of it.
At the core of Buddhist Philosophy is the idea that, “Life is suffering,” that in order to achieve the middle way one must accept that as part of life. Jesus was trying to spread this same idea to the masses huddled in to hear his words, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?” he asks. I can only imagine the crowd jumping up in celebration ‘Yes! Yes! Peace! Peace!’ “No!” Jesus replies, “Rather strife and division.” I have come to bring suffering and only in that way can we achieve peace. Too commonly I fear that the Christian religion or at least, American Christians skate over the importance of suffering in the Bible. Not suffering for the sinners and the wicked but suffering for the good, the so called saved. From beginning to end the Bible and the Talmud, and the Quran for that matter, are all filled with tales of pain, anguish and suffering by those who are “just”. Adam and Eve got evicted, Able got murdered, Noah sees his world destroyed, Abraham almost kills his son, Isaac is almost killed by his father, Joseph is tossed into a pit, the Israelites are enslaved by pharaoh, Moses does alright but the Egyptians certainly feel the scorch of God, Samson is betrayed then crushed, the house of David rises and falls more times than can be counted. Do I need to even mention Job? And that’s just the Old Testament. Jumping ahead, Herod kills a bunch of babies, John the Baptist is executed, Jesus is crucified, and then there is the whole book of Revelations, happy stuff right? But without it, what’s the point? The bible needs the suffering in order to have the salvation. Noah needs the flood to see the rainbow, the Israelites need enslavement to be free, and Jesus needs to die in order to rise from the tomb.
Later in his sermon there in Luke, a member of the crowd cries out to Jesus about how to get into the kingdom of heaven to which Jesus replies, “The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard….”
So what do we do? Well for starters my generation needs to suffer a bit. So listen up. Millennials, our parents and grandparents weren’t just being obnoxious when they said raking leaves, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, digging holes, painting fences, and any other number of manual tasks builds character. They do. It sucks while you’re doing them but the satisfaction of a sore back, blistered hands, and a job well done, is something my generation, myself included needs to go through more often. Parents, let your kids get hurt. Let them get muddy and bruised and cut up and don’t go running for the Neosporin every time. In addition to actually boosting their immune systems, the dirt, grime, scars are essential to helping kids learn. If a kid falls in a mud puddle once and has to walk around in wet, stinky, smelly cloths for the rest of the day, I can guarantee they won’t fall in again, at least on purpose.
Finally culture, not everyone deserves a trophy, competition is what this world thrives upon, do not make winner and loser bad words, and dodge ball and tag are ok. Every time I look at the pile of recreation league “Participation” trophies I have lying around in my house the Edmond Burke in me just screams, if we celebrate everyone for insignificant achievements or just for showing up we dull the importance of true achievement. Likewise if we continue to eliminate winning from our nation’s vernacular then we are doomed to be labeled as losers by the rest of the world. And for Pete’s sake let kids play dodge ball and tag in school. Yes at times it seems cruel and mean and no I was never the last kid picked, but if you don’t let kids play dodge ball and tag how long will kids have to wait to see who are the leaders amongst them, who are the unlikely hero’s? It’s all about letting the younger generations get banged up a bit, build up some calluses, make mistakes and suffer the consequences while there is still a safety net to support them just in case they go too far off the deep end. It’s about having limits so they can be tested and broken. Nothing is a stronger motivator for a confident teen than the word no every once in a while. Imagine all the good that could be done if each person here today goes out and finds a teenager and says, “You won’t change the world for the better”. I can already tell you what that teen will be thinking, what will be burning like a fire inside them, “Oh yeah… Watch Me!”. Son against Father, Daughter against Mother. It’s not going to be pretty but then again change never is. So watch out.