Sunday, March 18, 2007

Baby boomers: can we repent & repair the damage we did by our excesses?

In the film "Children of Men", Michael Caine gives us a portrait of a character type that my sister Marguerite believes we will see increasingly in the movies as our boomer generation ages -- the aging hippie. I have been watching old rockers on the tube and noticing how underneath the long hair and the denim, cotton and leather are the faces of old men. We are getting old. We are fading into insignificance.

For some, the dying out of my generation cannot come too soon. We are The Establishment now. Many of the folks in their 20's, 30's and 40's chafe under the wreck of values we have left in our wake. Along with some good, we did a powerful lot of bad in the world. And for the most part we are unrepentant -- the boomers who hold power at the University of Delaware where I work, for example, continue to think of themselves as cutting edge rebels. They continue to fight for "the revolution" although the cultural overthrow of traditional values has left our country in a nihilist chaos, without any common moral compass whatsoever to help us form public policy.

Barbara Nicolosi has some good stuff to say about the passing of the baby boomers. She suggests that we might begin to give back to the world some of the beauty, truth and goodness that we destroyed in our mad haste to bring about the Age of Aquarius through a self-righteous hedonism and pursuit of limitless freedom.

In "Children of Men", the aging hippie is a benevolent but powerless figure. He has withdrawn completely from the world he helped to form by tearing down the old without building a solid foundation for the new. Nicolosi is interested in just one aspect of the aging boomers -- what they did to ecclesiastical structures, ie. how they hurt the Church. She writes:

In the course of our conversation, I proposed to them a thought I have been brooding over quite a bit lately, which I guess we could call “An Appeal to the 60’s Generation: Towards Saving Something from the Wreckage.” (I don’t mean every Boomer of course. There have been lots of good ones. But they aren’t the ones who have defined their generation. The ones who have been so problematic have been the ones whose life has been dedicated to tearing down, sneering at the past, ruthlessly being hypocritical and unjust in the pursuit of some large overall good, and then maintaining stunning denial that they have actually done much more harm than the evils they were trying to uproot.)

Now, clearly, there is a tremendous amount of stored up resentment in Gen Xers and the Millenials towards the Boomers. I know I’ve been simmering for years under the intolerant tolerance of the grim socially activist but individual people-despising folks who have dismantled every social and ecclesial framework in the last forty years, not to mention making taboo the idea of anything ever actually being taboo.

I’m just wanting to talk in an ecclesial sense here, though.

I see in the generations now wresting power from the Boomers, the inclination to set back the clock to before all the insanity started. I think this inclination is only going to gather momentum in the next few years. Some of this is fueled by rage at having so many things jammed down our throats – like, for example, the way my boomer pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Church is grimly determined to wreckovate our beautiful church despite the fact that nobody in the parish wants it. He keeps bloviating in the Sunday bulletin and from the altar that “we can no longer do worship according to the current mind of the Church in this worship space.” There has been picketing and people fleeing the parish and parishioner rebellions, but the grey-haired Crusader continues grimly on. He will drag us all into the revolution and rip apart our gorgeous sanctuary whether we want it or not, damnit!

The lesson that the Rebellious Generation has never learned is that, just because people fall silent, does not mean you have won them over. It just means that they are waiting for their moment. Knowing that eventually all tyrants fall.

History tends to move in pendulums swings. I am afraid that when the Boomers pass, the pendulum will swing away from everything they advocated. It will no doubt be enough to win an argument in a few years to be able to say, “Well, that was one of those stupid things they used to say in the 70’s.”

It seems to me that there must be something good that has come from the last forty years in terms of ecclesial development. I am just hard pressed to say what.


….. I know I must be missing some really positive great things that have come from all the Boomer’s innovations in the Church. But I don’t think we are going to be able to save those unless we have a real, real, real serious “Come to Jesus Moment” on the part of the grey-haired revolutionaries. I think, the Baby Boomer Crusaders need to shake off the self-righeous denial and help us out here by admitting where they went wrong. They need to say, “We over-stepped here.” “We lost a value there.” “This was a big mistake. HUGE.”

See, if they do that, they will give subsequent generations permission to forgive them, and perhaps then, a complete resetting of the clock can be averted. And we need their help. Their job now is to be the voices of wisdom in our midst…as startlingly unprepared for that mantle as they may be, that is the job of the elders in any society. The Boomers are the ones with the perspective. They have seen the way things were (before they destroyed things in the guise of reform). They have seen things now. They can tell us what was good that was lost, and what is better now. But will they?

It could be a big moment of grace for the Boomers in the Church to own up, take responsibility and apologise. If they don’t, they will no doubt die in their disappointment and bitterness, which will only exponentially increase as they watch their lives’ works dismantled.

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