So, my blogging son and I are trying a conversation (or is that a blogversation?!) on David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith. Ben’s led off last week with the post, Generation Gap. I’m going to pick up on that with exploring three characteristics Kinnamen highlights that distinguish, for him, “Mosaics” (his term for Millenials) from other generations.
The first is the idea of “access”. He observes that Mosaics have grown up with unprecedented access to knowledge and the world because of the internet and related technologies. I think Ben makes a perceptive observation that early and later “Mosaics” may have different experiences here. However, I would agree with Kinnaman that this has a profoundly shaping quality, particularly in the idea that access doesn’t come in the context of one’s physical community where we gained knowledge through parents, ministers, school teachers, librarians and others who were all embedded in the same physical community, but rather in a placeless virtual community that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time and is not curated by trusted adults in our lives but is wide open and un-vetted. Social interaction is also changed. Direct dial long distance calls became available while I was growing up–even so this was costly and mostly limited to the US and Canada. We could not have imagined instant contact with someone halfway across the world via tweets or Skype. Mosaics cannot imagine the world any other way. This is a real difference.
The second was a discussion of alienation, and here I wonder if this is a point of contact between Boomers and Mosaics, if we can remember being the age of Mosaics. Growing up in the Vietnam era, many of us felt alienated from a government and educational structures that we felt had lied to us. Many of us had workaholic parents pursuing the American dream (although in many more cases, those parents were still together). Some of us experienced alienation from churches as well that seemed out of touch with concerns about the war, civil rights, and the other issues we were facing. Were it not for a few powerful counter-examples in my own life, I probably would have ditched the faith. For some of us, the experience of re-connecting with God and other people in the context of Christian community powerfully addressed our sense of alienation. I wonder if in the intervening years we’ve forgotten that journey and the painfulness of the alienation we experienced.
The third characteristic Kinnaman noted was a skepticism of authority. Once again, I think there are real points of contact. Our mantra was “don’t trust anyone over thirty”. It is funny how you forget that when those of your generation become “the authorities” or you yourself occupy such positions. I do think the issue of the authority of the Bible among Christians has changed. We certainly had a number of people in our own day who were skeptical of the Bible. But that was not true inside the Christian communities we were part of. We not only spoke of biblical authority but did try to live it, if imperfectly and sometimes selectively. And that last may be the problem–where we were blind to our own failings while being critical of the failings of others. I also wonder if “personal interpretation” where people defended divergent and idiosyncratic readings of scripture contributed to our current generation’s dismissal of biblical authority altogether. Too often, Christians just turned scripture to their own ends without recognizing the larger problem they were creating in tolerating such divergent and individualistic interpretive approaches.
In sum, I find that Kinnaman’s first distinctive, that of access, is indeed a genuine distinctive. The issues of alienation and skepticism of authority are not new, although the nuances of this generation’s experience need to be understood. That last word, “understood” leads me to two things that I think are critically important if my generation is to re-connect with my son’s generation and those who are saying, “you lost me”. One is understanding that genuinely tries to enter this “brave new world”. Perhaps here it is not, in Crosby, Stills, and Nash terms a matter of “teach your children”, but rather to be taught by them and to make the effort to really learn the new technology and the new world mediated by that technology, even if it is bewildering. It also means understanding from their perspective the pain of alienation and why one might be so skeptical of authority. The second thing for me is remembering–particularly our own experiences of alienation and skepticism of authority. While no two journeys of people are alike, it might be that we each might learn from the other’s journey if we are willing to honestly remember them with all their warts and struggles–not the sanitized, all worked out versions we may be tempted to present.