We’re the Boomers and We’re Okay

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’.
—Bob Dylan

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.”

Christian Vietnam War protesters in July 1972

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.

Listening and Looking

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 abby mohaupt

More than twelve years ago, I was being examined by my home presbytery to move from inquirer to candidate for ordination. I talked about how I found God most clearly in the natural world and that I felt called to care for the earth as an extension of care for God’s people.

A man stood up and asked how my call to environmental ministry had anything to do with Jesus and the church.

I was flummoxed. Partly because I could not separate my call to ministry from my call to love God’s beloved earth.

Partly too because I felt powerless. I was twenty-three and staring into the faces of members of my presbytery… people who were supposed to mentor and guide and hear me.
They did not hear me then.

Now I’ve been ordained for 6 years. Most of that time has been spent in calls to organize people of faith to respond to climate change and food injustice. Everything about my call is about God’s beloved earth and God’s beloved people. All of God’s good creation is groaning.

As creation groans, our church makes money off of the fossil fuel industry, the industry most responsible for climate change. For the last 6 years, I’ve worked alongside of hundreds of Presbyterians calling on our denomination to divest from that industry. A critique I often hear is that we cannot “just” divest. We have to do more.

It’s true. We as a denomination have to do more to respond justly and faithfully to the devastating reality of climate change.

And whenever that critique emerges, I look at my church, wondering how many people know that we as a denomination have been faithfully responding to climate change with our heads and hearts and souls and strength for decades.

I wonder to whom and to what we have paid attention.

As a millennial serving a church that often does not listen to or empower my generation of pastors, I’m committed to listening to voices that are often left unheard.

And so, in our divestment movement, we have tried to do our work in ways that are feminist, antiracist, inclusive, and nonviolent. Indeed, our work for all of God’s beloved creation must also work toward the dismantling of white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, and violence, or it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ that means the liberation for all. We have sometimes failed, and we have been rightly called out when we have failed to live into that intersectional identity. We try to do better.

In less than twelve years from now, we will have lost our window of opportunity to respond to and mitigate climate change. I’m still looking at my church as we listen to children and young adults who call all of us to understand that we face an urgent climate emergency.

I’m looking at my church as I listen to this next generation—most of whom are younger than I was when I told the church about my call to love the earth. This younger generation is saying: we cannot do business as usual. We cannot sit at the table with people who have funded the escalation of climate change and still expect to be welcomed to the table with people who are suffering already.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. It is a love that demands we hear our collective call to love creation with all that we are as part of our ministry of the Church. May we be brave enough to do it.

abby mohaupt is a Teaching Elder in San Francisco Presbytery, PhD student at Drew University in New Jersey, and a farmer in rural North Texas. She is also the senior advisor for education and training for GreenFaith.

abby’s heart work is devoted to living with integrity at the intersections of eco-feminisms, social justice, and spirituality. abby is a long distance runner, yoga teacher, mixed media artist, and climate justice activist. She brings each of these pieces of herself into everything she creates, with a commitment to disrupting systems of oppression through the radical reclamation of our bodies. she regularly guest lectures on religion and ecology, with emphasis on the intersections of race and gender.

She semi-regularly blogs at www.featheology.org, and her writing on earth care has appeared in Sojourners, the Presbyterian Church USA’s Unbound, and Ecclesio. She can usually be found with at least one crayon in hand.

Gen-Xers’ Cynicism Might Make Them the Church’s Last Great Hope

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 Amy Morgan

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

         – Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care
I don’t care

        – Kurt Cobain, Breed

The Ecclesiastes Generation

If Generation X had a Biblical mascot, it would be Ecclesiastes. That cynical, sullen, discontent, disenchanted preacher is our hero. Rich Cohen wrote in Vanity Fair that Gen-Xers understand “History is big and we are small; grand projects end in ruin; sometimes the best you can do is have a drink—that’s what we know. And that we’re all going to die anyway.” But those very qualities and attitudes might just make us the church’s last great hope. 

Core Theological Truth: People are Terrible, and There’s Nothing We Can Do About It

Call it Total Depravity if you want, but X-ers have a firm grasp of the power and sin and evil in the world and our helplessness in the face of it. We’ve watched corporate greed undo America with booms and busts and recessions all through our careers. We had nuclear bomb drills in elementary school, and our parents were both at work when we watched Operation Desert Storm get underway on TV after school. The divorce rate tripled in our childhood. We know, better than most, that the whole creation is in crap shape, “groaning for its redemption,” as Paul said. And we know that fixing it isn’t our bailiwick. If anybody is going to set things strait in this screwed-up situation, it’ll have to be God. 

We Get Sh*t Done and Then We Go Home

X-ers are an efficient generation. There’s a scene in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead when the kids are told by their evil babysitter to do the dishes. Teenage Kenny and his friends take the dishes up to the roof and skeet shoot them. Then Kenny declares proudly, “The dishes are done, man!”  

X-ers are not going to work the long hours of the Boomers or aim for the optimization of the Millennials. We are going to get the job done. And enjoy it. And then we’ll go home. 

And that’s good for the church. The church needs pastors who can prioritize what’s most important, who can creatively find ways to make our work less taxing, who can “take pleasure in their toil,” as Ecclesiastes says. There are enough pastors out there who are stressed out, maxed out, and resent their congregations. X-ers have the best potential for being able to say, “Good enough,” and go be whole people. 

We Aren’t Trying to Fix the Church, We’re Trying to Save It

We entered ministry with the same cynical pessimism we apply to everything else. We knew about the abuse and scandal and dysfunction that awaited us in ministry. And we went into ministry anyway. 

Because we get dysfunction. Most of us came from dysfunctional families. And we loved them anyway. The church is just one more dysfunctional family that we love like hell, and we’ll kick you in the teeth if you say anything bad about it. 

For us, the church is like the Goon Docks in that essentially Gen-X movie The Goonies. It’s a place that is past its prime. Newer, better things could take its place, and certainly will, unless something incredible happens. We don’t have the resources to change the course. 

But when an opportunity arises to save the Goon Docks, I mean, the church, we will stand up, like Mikey, and declare, “This is OUR TIME!”

Unlike the Millennials, we’re not innovating new forms of ministry, opening coffeehouses and bike shops and calling them churches. Nor are we getting the “big steeple” pulpits because the Boomers either won’t leave them or are driving them into the ground. We aren’t ambitious, and the church isn’t our pet project. 

What we are interested in is what God is doing in the big, fat, messy church to transform the big, fat, messy world around us. We are up for risking it all to follow God’s lead, like One-Eyed Willie’s treasure map, to save the dysfunctional, irrelevant church. Even though we may be pessimistic about the church’s future, we know it’s worth saving. Because it’s ours. And we love it. For no good reason. Just like God loves us.

Rev. Amy Morgan, MDiv., is the pastor of First United Presbyterian Church in Loveland, CO. She is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and also holds a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in Drama from New York University.  She co-authored “The Girlfriends’ Clergy Companion,” about young women learning to survive and thrive in ministry, and contributed to the second edition of  “Friendship and Faith,” a collection of women’s stories about crossing religious and cultural divides to form friendships. She currently serves as Vice-President of the board of Yucatan Peninsula Missions and on the Committee on Preparation for Ministry for the Presbytery of Plains and Peaks.  She is a past board member of WISDOM (Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit) and has a strong commitment to interfaith dialogue. Amy and her husband, Jason, have a son, Dean. They love hiking in the mountains and biking around town.

My Generation…in ministry

by Bethany Benz-Whittington

People try to put us down
Just because we get around
Things they do look awful cold
I hope I die before I get old
This is my generation
This is my generation, baby

– The Who

When I was in college I took a medical ethics class with about two hundred other people. On the first day, our professor walked in and asked how many of us were afraid we would live too long. I was one of about four people with a hand up.

As Millennials begin turning 40, Gen X is getting into their 50s, and Boomers are 70 and retiring. And while, hopefully, we don’t currently consider that anyone is living for too long, we do still tend to look at one another with skepticism and some anger, and lament how generations before or after us are making things harder for us.

This isn’t new, though, or even that interesting. Generations above and below have always blamed each other for the ills of the world. And if you have spent any time in generational theory, you can certainly understand this.

In seminary, Rodger Nishioka taught my Christian Ed class, and taught us that generations go in cycles of four. There are the Builders, the Maintainers, the Complainers, and the Destroyers. I taught this in a Sunday school class a while back and one of my Gen X’ers complained about being a Complainer. At length. And blamed me for this widespread, fairly well-known generational theory. As a Millennial, I was hell-bent on destroying his worldview, along with Applebee’s, plastic straws, and top sheets.

While we certainly can poke fun at each of these characteristics in a given generation if you really want to, I wonder if it might be more productive, and fun, to hear from Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial ministers about how their birth year affects their ministry in positive and exciting ways.

For instance, I am a Millennial. I’m not a a digital native, but I might as well be. Boy bands and Britney Spears give me life, and a dance party is never far off when Bye Bye Bye plays. I love a gourmet cup of coffee as much as I love my avocado toast, and don’t intend to buy a house anytime soon. What does all this mean for my ministry? Well, I’m incredibly mobile. I have friends all over the country whom I’ve never actually met. And I have a lot of energy for the actual next iteration of Church, which I doubt will pay very well, but will likely have good coffee and lots of dance parties.

In the meantime, my bread and butter is tearing down the systems that keep us from living into that bright, shiny new Church. After all, I’m a destroyer, and have no inherent drive to keep what isn’t working anymore. I don’t necessarily have a plan for rebuilding, but whatever, that’s on the next generation to do that work.

This month, we’ll hear from Boomers, X’ers, and Millennials in ministry, and find out why their particular generation is a boon to their work. They’ll share with us some of the stereotypes they fit into, some they don’t, and how all of that is at play in the good work they do for God’s kin-dom. It’ll be fun!

Bethany is a traveling preacher living in Northern Colorado with her husband, Matthew, and tiny baby, Leo. She enjoys consignment shopping, lots of snuggles, and every episode of The Good Place.