Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Bethany Benz-Whittington is curating a series that will explore the idea of different generations in ministry, and what gifts each generation particularly have to offer the church. We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.
by Melissa Tidwell
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth saving
Then you better start swimming
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
I was born in the tail end of the Baby Boom, the year Bill Hailey’s “Rock Around the Clock” hit the charts. The music of my generation was our clarion, our common language. But even before we knew what the music was calling us to do, the sound of the guitar and drum were the sounds that called us to look at our world with a sense of critical idealism, the feeling that we needed to challenge the systems around us to be as democratic or spiritual as they claimed.
We would tend to identify with the words of Amos 5: “I hate, I despise your festivals and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. . . But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Over the span of my years I have watched as my generation’s existence was described as the incarnation of post-war optimism, an odd sociological blip, an over-hyped narcissistic market segment, and the epitome of aged fecklessness. Okay!
We didn’t bring shalom to dwell on earth, but we made some contributions, large and small, to the pursuit of shalom. And we can continue to let our idealism be a gift, as unwelcome or ridiculed as it often has been, to point toward the places where the work of justice continues.
We arrived at a time that made us witnesses to history. The space race, the civil rights movement, wars and peace, feminism, so many political and social revolutions have played out in front of us as we tried to find the deeper meanings we could learn from the upheavals of our time.
One thing I have been thinking about lately in the church and the wider world is how change seems so slow at first, a tiny trickle, a thin and fragile idea, followed by a groaning push. And then, there are those invisible tipping points, followed by an explosion. During the war on Vietnam, I noticed how the protests against the war were met with scolding and disgust at the idea of not supporting our president’s foreign policy, followed by a slow erosion of support for the war among intellectuals and liberal politicians, followed by statements from people in what was then called the Silent Majority.
I was pretty sure the antiwar faction was going to succeed when I watched late-night television with my Dad, and noticed guests on the Tonight Show denouncing the war. These were not political leaders, they were the comedians and lounge singers Johnny Carson favored and for some reason they needed to use their five minutes in the interview chair to talk about peace. What was happening was a signal to the country that the tide had turned. The end of the war would come when ordinary Americans, people who watched the Tonight Show, began to say they no longer supported a war no one understood.
In those days I would sometimes be drawn into political conversations with older people who counseled me to be patient and wait for their generation to die out along with the racist, sexist ideas they could not imagining changing. Now I sometimes wonder if my younger dialogue partners are also wondering how much better things will be when my generation’s worst attitudes no longer roam the earth.
But the message I would hope to share from my experience is not, be patient, change is slow, and we’ll die out eventually. Rather, I mean to say, add your holy impatience to the rising tide of change. Look for the moments when people are ready to step out of the their outward forms and examine what lies beneath and around us all: the irresistible flow of the waters of life, pulsing with hope.
Melissa Tidwell has written about metaphor, music, maps, and zombies. The former editor of Alive Now magazine, and the author of Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on Incarnation, she contributed to the Companions in Christ small group formation series and to the Upper Room Disciplines. For the last three year, Melissa has been the pastor of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Xenia, Ohio, a church joining with their sister congregation, Memorial United Presbyterian, at the beginning of the new year, and she is seeking a new call in transitional ministry.