Generation X

The Thing: Who Do You Say That I Am?

So, here's the thing. I just met Rev. Alfred Williams. He's a retired UCC pastor. At 81, he's still preaching and teaching. He's still asking great questions and pushing congregations to do the same. When I am his age, I hope to be as passionate. Hell, I wish I were as passionate now. With that introduction, I want to share this sermon that he preached on Aug.18 of at Ladera Community Church. 

I think this sermon serves to blow apart some of our assumptions about generational differences within church leadership. He preached on Mark 8:27-33.

A Gen-X Spiritual-But-Not-Religious Creed?

Photo: Man looking for something, © Lord_Ghost / Shutterstock.coml
Photo: Man looking for something, © Lord_Ghost / Shutterstock.com

There are a lot of emergent folk who shun creeds. They have let go of much of their free-range evangelicalism, but the anti-creedal posture still holds a principal place. Still, I am thinking about music and liturgy, spiritual formation (that troublesome word again, formation), and the creeds we keep in our hearts though no agency has "approved them for community use." Instead these creeds are "sanctified by use," if you will. Here's mine. 

It's the Real Thing

Responding to the tragedy at Columbine High School, educator Thomas de Zengotita wrote in a recent issue of Harper’s that a "hybrid entity with a structuring life of its own has emerged on the planet." This "entity" is identified as a new public culture that blurs the borders between reality and simulation. Littleton’s Eric

Harris and Dylan Klebold became caught up in this limbo, as have countless other teen-agers and adults—though the vast majority with consequences that are less destructive, yet not completely harmless.

This illusory culture, which De Zengotita calls an "entity" but the Apostle Paul might call a "principality and power," is able to consume those who haven’t established their own sense of who they are—especially, but not exclusively, young people. For young Christians and those who walk along beside them, the call to engage this invasion of illusion is especially critical.

For nearly 2,000 years, the power of God has kept the onslaught of such principalities and powers at bay through baptism, confirmation, holy communion, and the other sacraments of Christianity. Spiritual direction, discipleship, and biblical teaching also have proven themselves to be effective in guiding people into maturity and freedom. Though the gospel has always been about the discerning of truth from deception, the new paradigms and tools at the end of this century create a context that is dramatically different than ever before. Will the church of the new millennium be as successful in creating safe space for young people and at helping them distinguish the simulated warfare on a computer screen from the spiritual warfare of the heart?

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A Resurrection of Campus Activism

This was supposed to be the apathetic generation. Tell that to H. Scott Althouse, a recent graduate of Eastern College in Pennsylvania, who started an "Earthkeepers" club to promote environmentalism and global stewardship.

Or mention it to Dennis Markatos, whose organization "SURGE" at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is taking on issues from closing the Army’s School of the Americas to stopping sanctions against Iraq to protesting the working conditions of manufacturers of college logo apparel.

Or talk to Stephanie Wyatt, who just completed a yearlong internship at Virginia Tech’s Baptist Student Union, where she came at social justice from a biblical point of view.

Contrary to the generally held view that today’s college students are isolated, individualistic, and concerned only with their Internet passwords and resumes, social justice activism is thriving on campuses around the country.

But this is not their parents’ Vietnam War protests, civil rights sit-ins, or mass demonstrations. Instead, it’s e-mail list serves, internships, volunteerism, and letter-writing.

Instead of the cohesive, radical national movement of their parents, today’s student activists are straddling the line between global and local problems, trying to discover where their generation fits in the struggle for justice and peace. Many of them are coming to activism from the perspective of their religious faith—and others are not—but all have a sense of urgency that for the first time in decades, some say, is causing U.S. college students to mobilize, organize, and act together.

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Four Spiritual Laws of Gen X

Little Calumet Christian Fellowship is the first Mennonite church in North America to intentionally form a Generation X congregation with pastoral leadership from within that generation. As Anabaptists, we have many of the same concerns as other young people. The Mennonite church upholds the needs of the poor. We advocate racial and gender equality, as well as environmental stewardship. We are also staunch advocates of nonviolence and reconciliation. These characteristics have been crucial in overcoming cynicism, which is the chief obstacle we have faced in building our community.

As pastor and church-planter of this multicultural, urban congregation, I have learned some valuable lessons about ministering to people of my generation. There are four key areas that need re-engineering to be fruitful in reaching my generation: leadership, worship, preaching, and discipleship.

Leadership. We are happy that the church of the baby boomers has a heart for young people. We have a lot of gifts to bring to the table. However, new wine requires new wineskins. By elevating aspiring Gen Xers to positions of leadership, the church will help members of our generation mature into responsible adulthood and use our gifts and resources to share the love and grace of Christ to a broken world.

Worship is the church's most important tool for evangelism and for keeping Gen Xers as active participants in the corporate body. In our church we have received very positive responses to the use of alternative Christian music during our worship. Perhaps this is because so many of us identify with the rage and melancholy present in today's rock music. As we worship to music by groups such as Jars of Clay and Seven Day Jesus, we encourage personal and expressive participation from the congregation. We also are not afraid to use applicable secular music that speaks to us theologically and spiritually.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1999
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The Stage Is Set

A small group of twentysomethings can change the world. A generation of them can reclaim the cities of America for the kingdom of God. This is our calling.

By popular perception then and now, Jesus’ band of soon-to-be leaders was anything but full of potential. A few rural fishermen, a cast-out tax collector, an alternative anarchist, all 12 of them twentysomethings. This was the community that would found the most significant movement the world has ever seen. Looking at these young people, Jesus didn’t see problems. He saw promise. The rest is history.

So-called Generation X, the group of people in America born after the early ’60s, has been much maligned and deemed a generation of little promise. Undoubtedly this first post-Christian generation has grown up in unprecedented family breakdown, technological advance, rapidity of change, moral decay, geographic transience, and global urbanization. But if we look with the eyes of Christ, we should see incredible potential for the kingdom and gain a great sense of hope for America’s inner cities. It is my conviction that God will use the challenging and changing environment of this generation for the redemption of North America’s cities and their people.

When one thinks of the problems of the city, what come to mind? They are myriad. The stories are different in each city, but the problems and the overwhelming need are the same. Our cities need the body of Christ to live out the values of the kingdom in their midst, for the values of the kingdom match perfectly the needs of the city.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1998
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Back to the Future

Hoping to broaden my perspective on my generation, I helped launch a new local magazine called Generation Next. Its purpose is to provide a public forum for 20-to-30-year-olds to express thoughts and opinions. It is my first regular interaction with secular peers since college. And it is also a way of continuing with the broader generational issues that had been raised for me while working on the November 1994 issue of Sojourners("A Generation's Faith").

Recently I met author Paul Rogat Loeb at a reception for his new book, Generation At the Crossroads. During his talk I quickly picked up on his enthusiasm and genuine interest for the people of my stereotyped generation. I felt hopeful and excited to be in my 20s, and I gained a little more understanding of my peers.

For other Xers who don't have the opportunity to meet Paul Loeb, or the time or resources to seek out new groups, Generation At the Crossroads is an excellent short course. While most profiles adopt simple stereotypes, Loeb's book avoids that, offering something about the "20-something" generation that doesn't insult or patronize.

From 1987 through 1993, Loeb conducted extensive interviews with students on more than 100 campuses in 30 states. He explored the beliefs and values that made some students become activists, while others became complacent adapters. Loeb observes, "I found false the images of a generation almost innately deficient, as if missing some key gene for concern." Loeb's discoveries-the complex myriad of beliefs, attitudes, and actions-are derived from direct encounters with real people. His presentation is unpretentious, if not always objective, and his use of anecdotes, references, and statistics are insightful, sensitive, and personal.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1995
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