If you don’t already know, I work with the youth group at my church and I’m always on the lookout for anything that will help me in that endeavor. Earlier this week, I saw where Beloit College had published it’s annual Mindset List. Started in 1998, it looks at the cultural touchstones of each group of incoming freshmen and serves to remind teachers and professors at the school that references that seem current to them might possibly fly right over the heads of their students. The list has such information as:
- Few in the class know how to write in cursive. I know how, but I don’t do it.
- Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail. I’ll agree that snail mail is an appropriate name, but email is too slow???
- Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive. I find this interesting since I not only remember the first PC’s with their two 5.25″ floppy drives, I remember when any computer at all seemed like something out of a science fiction novel. I knew what they were and that they existed, but never thought I’d see one in person. Much less be sitting here with one on my lap.
- Nirvana is on the classic oldies station. This just makes me feel old.
As I was reading the list, the differences in generations jumped out at me. I’m 49 years old (born in 1961), caught between the Baby Boomers and Gen X and, depending on what defintion you look at, I could belong to either group. I was discussing this with a friend of the same age the other day and she was adamant that we were boomers, not Xers. But, as I looked the things that defined Generation X, the era they grew up in, and I was right in the middle of it. I came of age after the Vietnam War and my perspectives were shaped by the Cold War (I was a rabid Cold Warrior in my teens and 20’s) and the political upheavals of the 70’s. Even though I grew up in an era of relative peace and prosperity, there was always an undercurrent of uncertainty about money and security. But, at the same time, I got a healthy dose of Baby Boom idealism. I was caught between generations, neither fish nor fowl. But, it’s worked to my advantage over the years. It gave me a flexibility in dealing with both groups that many people never understood.
That flexibility has also helped me in my work with youth. I’ve tried to remember what it’s like to be teen-ager and temper my interactions with that knowledge. Some times, it works; sometimes it doesn’t. But, I always try. Partly, because I don’t want to become that old fart who chases the neighborhood kids out of his yard all the time. I still don’t understand some their choices, no matter how hard I try. Teens listening to country music blows me away. No self-respecting teen-ager of my time would ever listen to anything their parents would.
Sometimes, I hear older people wondering what the kids coming up now are going to do with the world they inherit. And, some of them aren’t very hopeful. I am, though. After spending almost 5 years working a church youth group, I can say the young people of the church are dedicated, caring Christians. They believe in the Gospel and that it’s good news for everyone. They actively work in bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to earth. They don’t, however, necessarily believe that the way we’ve been going about it is the best way. That’s why you’re seeing Emergent ideas gain more traction in the mainline church. It’s why people like Rob Bell and Shane Claiborne are finding a ready audience for their message. Things like the Big Tent Christianity meeting in Raleigh in September would’ve fallen flat 15 years ago, but not today. There is a change taking place in the big C church and no amount how hard we dig in our heels, no matter how loudly we cry “HERESY!”, it’s not going to stop. And, that’s not a bad thing.