I seem to be hearing a lot of talk at the moment about the generational divides – baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, millennials – usually involving one group sounding off at the other’s expense. In one way this is nothing new – older people have been berating the idleness of youth from time immemorial, while younger men and women have always loved to point out the ways that their elders have messed up society. What worries me is that these new generational titles seem to give a semblance of intellectual respectability to this way of talking. In other areas of life we seem increasingly aware of nuance – that we can’t, for example, make sweeping statements of ‘how women behave’ or ‘what men want’ without bringing into the conversation factors of race, class, sexuality, and individual psychology. But we seem comfortable making statements that ‘baby boomers behave like this’ and ‘Gen Y don’t do that’ which seem to get in the way of real engagement with one another.
Church is one of the few places in our society which is truly and intentionally inter-generational – it would be great if we could avoid the labels and hear the variety of voices with which each generation speaks. Then we might have our best chance of learning from the wisdom of all age groups, and know that the Spirit is at work in all of us, as Joel put it: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28)
(I write this as one who, back in Europe where the pace of social change has been different from North America, was an old Gen X-er and who in Canada is a young baby boomer. )