As any cynic knows, the easiest targets are previous generations. It’s simple for millennials to be cynical toward people who are older than us:
- They’ve already had a shot at running the world. That means all remaining problems must be the result of them screwing up.
- They have different views of morality and propriety. This obviously means they’re prudish, bigoted, narrow-minded, and generally wicked.
- They’re, well, old. So we can point to hilarious examples of why they’re silly–look at those old people with their sagging skin and high pants and McDonalds coffee! They can’t even use Facebook right!
When cynics look further into the past, things get even easier. We can make whatever sarcastic joke we want. It could be unfair, and even untrue (Victorians were afraid of sex! Puritans hated fun! The Middle Ages were full of ignorant superstition!). It still sticks.
This is all part of a millennial conviction that because we’re young, we’re both smarter and purer than all previous generations. That sounds cool and edgy. But it’s nothing new. It’s a rite of passage for every generation. Whenever young people reach a certain age, they believe that–by crushing all who preceded them– they have reached the pinnacle of wisdom. By the brilliance of their newness, they’ll (finally) fix the mistakes that old people made by the dullness of their oldness.
An example of this thinking was a slogan bouncing around my Twitter feed a while back. It was for some new downtown church, and said:
“We’re not your Grandma’s church.”
The cynic in me nodded approval. It brought images of decrepit scowls and wrinkled faces curved in frowns, disapproving of the young people because we dared to question their sacred cows. It also patted my millennial conceit that every generation that came before mine was stupid.
But the more I thought, the less I liked it. You see, I’ve actually been to my Grandma Pat’s church.
She goes to an evangelical church in the retirement suburb of Sun City, Arizona. The congregation is entirely old people. Until his death this past year, Grandpa Sid sang in their choir—an avalanche of snowy hair reaching rows above the pastor. And judging from my last visit, Grandma Pat is best friends with every parishioner.
There’s plenty of fodder for hip millennials. The church is fervently pro-America and pro-Israel. Their musical tastes seem frozen in 1972. And a couple parishioners made comments about immigration that made me cringe. That new downtown church probably had this kind of stuff in mind.
But that ignores the bigger picture. Like how the congregation is still bringing their octogenarian neighbors to Jesus. Or how the parishioners cope with death and serious illness with calm resilience and confidence in the promises of God. Or how they showered my Grandma with attention and support after my Grandpa died.
I don’t know how that new church ended up, but they’d be lucky to be my Grandma’s church.
It’s easy for generations to develop a clan attitude–our group is right about everything, and every other group is wrong! For young people, it’s the belief that all old people are narrow-minded bigots. Generational change is a sign of progress–out with the old, and in with the new. For old people, it’s the belief that all young people are selfish, lazy bums 1. Generational change is a sign of decay–things were so different in my day!
Both attitudes are wrong. They’re also self-destructive. Whether you’re eighty or eighteen, before you make a snide remark about some other generation, keep these things in mind:
- All young people will be old some day. And all old people used to be young.
- Don’t assume a couple moral blind spots makes a whole generation worthless. Every generation has them–including yours. Be honest, but also be charitable.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to ranting about how much better music was in my day. Just kidding. But it really was…
1 That’s right, old people–I’m not letting you off the hook!
Photo courtesy of Grace Bible Church