Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”
The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse, and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.
This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering on full-blown alarm.
Like a true Millennial, I don’t think things are all that bad (heck, I wouldn’t know where the panic button is even if I wanted to press it). Actually, as a Christian, I think there is a lot to be excited about in the generation that’s poised to inherit the world … after we move out of our parents’ houses, that is.
We're all exploring and asking, "What's next?" This particular question serves us well when we ask where our young people are.
"What's next?" and the related, "Who will take us there?"
So, this morning I was primed and ready to read "What Millennials don’t want from the church" by Rachel Sloan. It's a quick and worthy missive in which she says, "The most frustrating part of being a Millennial is that my church does not understand me." What specifically doesn't the church understand? Well, "Millennials (despite the terrible things you are told to believe about us) want real authentic, worship and real, authentic churches. We want churches that want to have a relationship with us."
Having made the same mistake many, many times, this time I decided to get my Millennial friends to chime in on the post. Some rightly reminded me that speaking on behalf of any one generation is an impossible task and presents certain rhetorical problems.
Yesterday on Facebook I referred to my daughters, who are in their early forties, as middle-aged. One of their friends, who is 43, wrote, "Middle-aged???"
"For sure," I wrote back. "I know it hurts." But then I Googled middle age and discovered that its borders seem to be shifting. Once defined as ages 40 to 60, it is now often defined as ages 45 to 64 (though Merriam-Webster wants to have it both ways).
When I turned 40, everyone was talking about the midlife crisis, that scary feeling when people in the workforce fear their careers may have peaked and when caregivers at home notice their nests are practically empty (except for all that stuff in the basement). Midlife hit at age 40 back then — a bit optimistic, perhaps, considering that U.S. life expectancy in 1988 was 74.9 years. Columnist Bob Greene may have been closer to the truth when he wrote that "middle age starts at 36."
Out of nowhere, I felt an urge to listen to Willie Nelson’s epic album Stardust, a collection of pop standards that went platinum when it was released in 1978.
As I listened to “Blue Skies” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” I remembered buying this album for my father. I thought he would enjoy a fresh take on these songs of his youth, his travails during the Great Depression, and the war that defined his generation.
I don’t think he ever listened to it a second time. He loved the songs, but he couldn’t bear the fresh take. He wanted Gertrude Lawrence, the original voices of Tin Pan Alley and Depression-era hopefulness, the crooners that carried his generation to war and back home again.
I understand. The music we hear at our first dreaming, first love, first dance becomes the soundtrack of our lives.
For many people, the same is true of faith. Our images of God, songs of worship and language of prayer tend to be those we acquired at first awareness. Many more images, songs and words will come later, but none might resonate so deeply as those that were imprinted on us early on.
During the week leading up to the “Summer Heat” demonstrations — protesting the Keystone XL pipeline and urging for action on climate change — about 25 people started a hike from Camp David to Washington, D.C. Midway through the 100-mile hike, they were joined by another 50 people at Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. They called their journey the “Walk for Our Grandchildren.”
The name gives away the motivation — the walker’s sense of duty to future generations to leave a healthy planet. When they reached DC, many were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the offices of Environmental Resources Management, a consulting firm given the task of writing the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline — a firm which also works for TransCanada, the energy company seeking to build the pipeline. Many others spent that Friday night at a church, and joined the Summer Heat demonstrations at the White House the next day.
I’m a senior. And I’m mad. In fact, I am resigning from the AARP.
The America Association of Retired People has about 38 million members and is one of the biggest, most influential lobbies in Washington. It has done many good things for older Americans, but in some important ways it is just plain wrong — selfish and guilty of intergenerational injustice.
As Fareed Zakaria pointed out is a 2011 column in Time, the federal government spends about $4 on every senior over 65 and only $1 on every child under 18. “That is a statement about our priorities,” Zakaria rightly says, “favoring consumption over investment, the present over the future, ourselves over our children.” Partly as a result the poverty rate for children (22 percent) is much higher than that for seniors (9.7 percent).
Hear my teaching, O my people;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forebears have told us,
we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.
He gave his decrees to Jacob
and established a law for Israel,
which he commanded them to teach their children;
That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn;
that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
So that they might put their trust in God,
and not forget the deeds of God,
but keep his commandments;
And not be like their forebears,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
and whose spirit was not faithful to God.
I'm pondering the first few lines of this Psalm. They strike me as remarkably different from much of what we're saying these days about generations and faithfulness. It is, it seems, always the younger generations who fail us, who are stubborn and do not recognize the gifts of God. Every so often someone will throw the Baby Boomers (I mean, that's fun, right?) under the bus, but the majority of our attention has been on the future generations or those who are simply young now. We who analyze religious trends are practitioners of religious prognostication.
On his radio show last week, Glenn Beck read a vow of nonviolence, which he said he'd been working on for about a year, and pleaded his followers to take it as well. The pledge itself is actually quite good, and even Gandhian, at parts. Here is an excerpt:
Today, quarters of the Earth are endangered by tyranny, discrimination, barbarism, and subjugation by fellow man. With an understanding of basic rights and equal justice, we must remain loyal to God and deliver the rights which [God's] benevolence has bestowed upon us to those who have been denied the blessings of liberty, justice, and equality. More importantly, we must protect them from being robbed in the future, so that forever the world may be safe, and her people free from malevolence. Together, we must be prepared to do our duty no matter the cost and we must do so inexorably. We must march forth steadfast and unconquerable and defeat the forces of evil not by sword, but through our love for mankind and his creator.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a surprising addition to the typical summer blockbuster canon -- for one thing, it manages to entertain and challenge, without resorting to gratuitous violence to make its point. But there's a deeper subtext that is even more unexpected -- for this is a story in which we start to lose.
It was fashionable in the late 1960s and early '70s for science fiction films to attempt to out-dystopia each other -- see for example the notion in Soylent Green that post-industrial humanity snacks on itself to survive, the suggestion that only robots can be trusted to look after creation in Silent Running, and the climactic revelation in the original Planet of the Apes that a few generations from now, the nuclear arms race will end in mutually assured destruction. All these point to a simple philosophical idea: that humans cannot be trusted to care for ourselves or the planet we steward.
The Public Religion Research Institute recently released the results of their newest survey, "Committed to Availability, Conflicted About Morality," which shined new light on the complexity of opinions on abortion between different religious groups and age demographics. The study results were presented two weeks ago at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
The most intriguing age group in the study are Millenials, ages 18 to 29. In the introduction to the survey results, the authors claim that given Millenials' self-described characteristics of being "confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and open to change," they have a "peculiar profile" when it comes to their views on abortion. And this is especially "peculiar" when viewed alongside their strong support for gender equality and rights for gay and lesbian people. Millenials' complex, label-defying views of abortion make them "conflicted about morality," the report states. But are Millenials really, actually conflicted about morality?