Talkin' 'bout My Generation
My household now contains two teenagers. Well, maybe three since Mimi, our pet ferret, is four-years-old and I have no idea how old that is in ferret years. But with our second, and youngest, child turning thirteen this month and our oldest holding steady at 14 1/2, we have two teenage boys in our domestic stable.
Maybe it was the death of famed folk singer Peter Seeger last week or the reality that my wife and I are now officially graduates of the “tween” years, but I’ve been thinking a lot about generations.
Generation is the one designation in life that transcends race, culture, nationality, religion, ethnicity, and any other label you could possibly come up with. You can’t control when you’re born, of course, and so your birth year determines your generation. As much as I might admire those in what we call the Greatest Generation -- people who grew up during the Depression and fought in World War II -- I can’t become a convert from my own Generation X. And I could take computer classes and play XBox until my eyes fell out but I’d still never be a Millennial, as we call the first generation born into our hyper-connected world.
Generationally, we’re stuck which is generally not a problem because we all think our generation is the best generation. The generation before us is full of out of touch dinosaurs and the generation after us is populated by entitled young whipper snappers. It’s the generational circle of life.
There’s nothing like having a couple of teenagers around to remind you of your incompetence, poor fashion sense, lousy cooking, inability to help with homework, and general cluelessness. Such is this stage of intergenerational living, which is all perfectly normal, of course. It’s part of the teenage “job description” as they grow, mature, and start seeking their own identity in the world. Fortunately, my entire self-worth isn’t based on their teenaged perception of me -- if so I’d be spending most of my time on a therapist’s couch.
What’s too bad, though, is that in many ways we live in a generationally segregated society. Multiple generations used to live under the same roof but advances in transportation changed this as families scattered all over the country. Today, there are very few truly intergenerational places left. For instance if you live in a retirement community you may not see a child running around for days at a time and if you’re a young stay-at-home mom you may go all week without interacting with anyone over the age of 55.
One of the things I love about the Church in general and my own parish in particular is that it’s one of the last places in society where different generations gather and interact on a regular basis. I love looking out on a Sunday morning and seeing every generation imaginable out in the congregation. It’s a sign of the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth as we all gather to pray and sing and give thanks to our Creator before mixing it up over coffee and conversation afterward.
I also love watching the whole congregation come up to receive communion with outstretched hands. There are small hands still awash in colorful paint from the latest Church School project; arthritic, wrinkled hands; rough hands that have worked hard all week; lotion-smooth hands adorned with rings; nondescript middle-aged hands that might have a paper cut from shuffling papers; hands I recognize and hands of visitors and newcomers. Yet everyone is reaching out to receive the same thing: divine relationship through Jesus Christ.
I encourage you to be intentional about reaching over the generational divide in your own life -- you’ll be richer for it. And in the meantime, for any parents of teenagers out there, maybe introduce them to the Pete Seeger song “Be Kind to Your Parents.” It ends with these words: “So treat them with patience and kind understanding, in spite of the foolish things they do. Some day you might wake up and find you’re a parent too.”
Our Trinity Catherdal, Omaha, also has multiple generations. Most Sundays, the congregants range in age from a few months to 94 years. All meet at the altar and all mix and converse over the eight sacrament afterwards. Should any reader pass through Omaha, please join our mix. We would love to see meet you!
Good to know, John. Thanks! Though I'm curious whether anyone still goes to Omaha after Peyton's performance last week.
Lovely post, Fr. Tim - thanks.
Tim, I truly enjoy your comments on parenting. Being a parent has made me so much more sympathetic toward God. Our five children are now ages 39, 37, 35, 30 and 24, and I am still sane after about 25 years straight of one or more of them thinking I’m stupid. When they become young adults you’ll begin to hear “You were right,” which is not gratifying as it’s usually the result of a situation in which your child is suffering the consequences of a mistake: no fun to watch. But hang in there! Eventually your children will have children, and there will be music to your ears, as you hear your words come out of your adult child’s mouth. And the sweetest sound of all: “Go ask your grandmother. She knows a lot.” –
Ann Elizabeth Bishop
Being a millennial, I have to say I prefer the generation before me. They seem more...level, somehow.
But then, that may be because I'm on the outside edge of my generation and have no idea what we young whippersnappers are actually doing.
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