April 27, 2016

The Little Generation that Could

Remember Generation X

If you Google us, here’s what you may get as the first response:

Gen·er·a·tion X
1. The generation born after that of the baby boomers (roughly from the early 1960s to mid 1970s), often perceived to be disaffected and directionless.

For a hot minute, we were all the rage. People were getting a little tired of the Baby Boomers, and their monstrously large generation of offspring had not yet come of age. Then we kind of...disappeared.

I heard that the millennials had recently (2015) become the largest generation in the US workforce. I went to Google to find out when they had surpassed us. Turns out it was the Baby Boomers they surpassed. Gen X’s great moment in the workforce sun was a distant second place.

I was born at the height of the baby bust, right smack in the middle of Gen X. We claim President Obama as our most famous member. He may have been born right at the tail end of the Baby Boom by some definitions, but that “Bucket List” speech? Only a true Gen-Xer would have come up with that (or thought it was that funny!).

For all our smallness, Gen X is moving into our prime leadership years in the church, which as always is slightly behind the rest of the world. A seminary friend commented on the proximity of our 50th birthdays, just five years off in my case. She said, “I guess there is very little we can say we aren't old or experienced enough for anymore.”

Gen X is a bridge generation. We were shaped by stories of the 1950s and 1960s, but weren’t around to see them firsthand. The Cold War ended along with our childhoods. The civil rights movement was fresh with us. We were bused around and generally experimented with much more than the millennials have been. We saw our country grapple with its racial wounds in a pretty serious way, then beat a hasty retreat. 

Gen X has lived pre- and post- digital. We get what is funny about my daughter’s comment when she found out we didn’t have home computers when I was a kid: “Then...how did you check your email?” We remember making friends and dating without the help of social media. 

Gen X remembers the tail end of the last heyday of the US church, and we are pretty sure we know some of what went wrong. We came into ministry at a time when the downward trends were pretty clear, but have also ministered to and witnessed both the gifts and the stubbornness of the last generation that committed itself wholeheartedly to building the church as an institution.

Now we’re turning 45, even 50. Pretty soon (if the Baby Boomers ever retire), we are going have our moment as your bishops and your senior wardens and your rectors and vicars in significant numbers. Then the millennials will take over, and we will again be forgotten. But in the meantime, we bring a unique ability to bridge old and new; to see forward with eyes that have some perspective from both sides of several huge cultural divides, in the church and in the world that the church inhabits.

Here’s to the little generation that could, to our coming moment in the church, to the church’s ability to receive our strange gifts of between-ness.

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