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Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

9 replies
  1. Jeanne DeBenedictis
    Jeanne DeBenedictis says:

    Amen Miles, God created us for fellowship with Him and other human beings. As I consider bringing my 85 year old mom home to care for her, I’m well aware how counter-culture it is, but it is the right and loving thing to do. I know it may cost me time and energy and some of my highly valued freedom, but I cost her those things and so much more when she raised and cared for me, as a single parent.
    May the Lord help to transition into whatever seems best to Him and find the joy and contentment of yielding to Him and His culture of love. “love wasn’t put in your heart to stay, love isn’t love, till you give it away.”
    Good article!

    Reply
  2. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Wow, do I connect with this post, Miles. My mom (84/5) will move back in with us in Feb. I will be looking for a job when we get back from the Philippines at the end of Jan. All of our kids live very near us, including our grandkids. And we’re involved with a new church plant full of Millennials (& younger!).
    More than ever I see the need for genuine community & connecting with it. And the need for the church to be more of a community itself, and connected & relating in a relevant way to the community around it.

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Trip,

      I’ve met so many people in the same boat… Most, however, seem to be fighting against it. I think it’s awesome and needs to be embraced.

      Jeff J. preached for me several weeks ago. Every time he comes out here he drops major bombs on the church :) I guess that’s why we have him. He made a comment in his teaching that God has taken people’s retirements away because He doesn’t like the way we’ve been using our latter years.

      Challenging, but GREAT message. Not for the fainthearted.

      Reply
  3. Leslie Salazar-Carrillo
    Leslie Salazar-Carrillo says:

    Totally connect with this. My mom is 80, Tom’s dad is 78. For the last few years we have talked frequently about the time when we are going to have to take over the care of one or both of our parents. It’s funny because in the Mexican culture that used to be a no brainer. It’s what you did. Now, we have become such individualist needing, almost demanding our own space that we have strayed from this. In doing so I think we have lost out on so much history. I also believe that how our kids see us treat our parents is really going to affect how they treat us as we age. If we look at other cultures how do they survive such catastrophic hardships?? They band together. I don’t see it as socialism….I call it family.

    Reply
  4. Kelly Kierstead
    Kelly Kierstead says:

    Great article Miles. Couldn’t agree more. God will have His way. Just perhaps, all that He is allowing to happen in our culture and economy is meant to make us uncomfortable, to change us, to drive us to a new level of reliance on Him. He did this often enough in the lives of the children of Israel. What is so comforting is that it is for our good and for His glory. “Have thine own way Lord, have thine own way”

    Reply
  5. Josh Olson
    Josh Olson says:

    Good post, Miles.
    Kinda tips the hat to my post on Tuesday, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”

    My wife and I are always talking with my In-Laws desiring to have the ability now to set up something in the near future where we share expenses, etc. planning for the future where we won’t be taken by surprise when it comes.

    Reply
  6. Jon Langley
    Jon Langley says:

    Miles — I was similarly impacted by a class Jeff taught at CCBC that I heard on mp3 several years ago.

    “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” I always chuckle when I hear that idiom. It’s so true and the reason I chuckle is that I always picture a moment in time where I’ve witnessed the near-outrage of an American — clueless of culture — being introduced to that unrecognized reality. Some of the funny instances are my own!

    I’m excited to see a recognition of these underlying — and yet often unrecognized — truths and a realization that preparations for cultural shifts make it so much smoother for those involved. And as we learn more about God’s worldview and “Kingdom culture” through knowing Him and His word, may we actually be “ahead of the curve*” 😉 — changed by the Spirit inwardly to have His worldview so that the world will recognize we are His and not just another sub-culture of the age that is.

    (*yes, that was a wink to Daniel)

    Reply

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