Calling a Truce on the Generation Wars

In a recent viral YouTube video, Four twenty-somethings look deeply into the camera. One by one, they apologize. Their voices drip with irony. “We’re Millennials. We suck, and we know it. We’re self-centered, entitled, narcissistic, lazy and immature.”

This is the latest lob in a series of media wars that includes a viral Ted Talk by Clinical Psychologist Meg Jay and a parenting book by Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett called When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult. Alternately compassionate and disparaging, baby boomers harp on young adults to get with it, move out of home, commit and settle down.

Various Millennials publicly push back by leaving their well-paid jobs and eschewing “the myth of consumerism.” In 2011, journalistic wonderchild Kai Nagata made a huge to-do in the blogosphere, leaving a stable job in a big media outlet to strike it out on his own as an independent journalist. The Minimalists, two Millennial bloggers, did the same, trading in six-figure salaries for minimum wage earnings in order to champion simple and meaningful living.


Gen Xers sit in the middle. They swing either a bit less or a bit more sympathetically for their Gen Y cousins. Last year, Mark Driscoll mirthfully tweeted “A hipster guy is one who kept his grandpa’s clothes but lost his grandpa’s work ethic.” In some ways, we do gravitate to vintage sweaters, beards, pseudo-nerdy glasses, mid-century modern decor and DIY gardening. Perhaps we’re staging an understated rejection of the myth of economic progress. Our four young YouTube spokesmen ask, “Can you blame us for our tastes?” Indeed, cultural and societal tectonic plates shift beneath our feet.

By 2042, the USA will be a majority-minority culture. Scientific climate change predictions warn that by 2047, most U.S. cities will be unbearably hot. A retirement and health crisis also looms—baby boomers aren’t saving enough to sustain retirement. In 20 years, boomer pensions will rest heavily on our generation’s shoulders. Have boomers broken the “Intergenerational Pact”? Controversial historian Niall Ferguson thinks so. He argues that boomers have broken the unwritten agreement between generations to account honestly for public and private finances and to build the future.

So a rift is forming; we navigate a cultural landmine. And while we are individually powerless to shift societal tides, Christ doesn’t ask us to singlehandedly change the world as much as He asks us to obey Him step by step in our own little contexts.

Larger tensions actually radiate from chains of smaller, private tensions, don’t they?

This story was partly birthed from my private pain. Generational divides have seriously altered my life and career choices. It’s been an agonizing journey, yet one that I think many Christian Millennials will have to walk through in the coming years. I’ve had to learn to extend grace and forgiveness and walk forward in humility and trust.

As I’ve wandered through “no man’s land” in the generation wars, here are three biblical nuggets that I’ve picked up along the journey:

1. Honor your father and mother

Even when you know your parents are flat-out wrong, honor them. Yup. We’re kickin’ it old school, revisiting good old number five in the 10 Commandments. I’m also not saying that you should do whatever your parents tell you to do, ethics aside.

What does Scripture mean, “honoring your father and mother”? Does God ask adult children to kow-tow? I think the answer is actually simple and applicable for life: love your parents towards God. Pray for them. Keep them in the loop, even if it requires oodles of extra patience. Seek their input, their experience.

You’ll be surprised how much healing occurs when you take the time to hear them out, even if you think they are hopelessly irrelevant and outdated—or sadly immature and out of touch.

2. Be in intentional intergenerational relationships

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Really, this should read “Hang out with people who aren’t like you.” Have old friends, young friends, large friends, small friends, medium-sized friends. Make multi-colored friends, black and white friends, striped friends and polka-dot friends.

Oh the effort! Sitting with people who look different, smell funny, listen to weird music or worse, text at a snail’s pace! Social Psychologist Christena Cleveland spells out the importance of fraternizing with weirdness in her new book. “When we meet Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. Like iron sharpens iron.”

3. Hold your ideals with an open palm instead of a clenched fist


Ultimately, it comes down to focusing on Christ rather than on our ideals. I’ll admit it. I value social justice, environmental integrity, authentic spirituality, aesthetic beauty—and organic produce. I believe these are values that the God of Scripture has etched in my heart. I haven’t come by them lightly. And sometimes those older folks who hold social and financial power might not let me pursue my high-minded goals. It really sucks.

But I’m also willing to bet that my very same high-minded values have also been shaped by forces to which I’m blind — forces like culture, social context and my unconscious interpretations of my own life experience.

As much as I like to think my values are a pure distillation of Scripture, they’re probably not. They’re probably tainted because I’m human. We won’t have 20/20 vision until we’re on the other side. Not all of our choices will be dazzling, ethical and judicious.

But our God is all these things and more. Rest in that truth, my dear Millennial friends. Rest and do not fret.

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