Sabbatical Blog

...chronicling some of my projects and learnings during this time apart from parish ministry

Monday, May 29, 2006

Boomer/GenX Ministers

A month or so back, one UU blogger was concerned that GenX ministers were not getting good positions in the search process and there was a bit of a debate about the relative qualities of the two generations, with stereotypes being thrown around which wouldn't have passed P.C. muster over a racial or sexual divide but have just enough validity over a generational divide. But not enough validity for my tastes, especially as it was my generation that was being dissed in the discussion.

I commented, and one of my favorite UU Bloggers responded a few days later, and I only just found it. The whole debate was so long ago that I thought I'd try to resurrect it here. After a comment in which I had called "nonesense" the notion that it takes a young minister to minister to young people, Peacebang, a Gen X minister, said this:

've been thinking a lot about what Christine says, and it's taken me a few days to articulate why I think she makes a valid point but not an entirely persuasive one. The issue, as I see it, is not whether or not Boomers can minister to younger people (or, for that matter, whether or not Gen Xers can minister to elders!). It's more about whether or not a specific generation has the ability to bring a fresh perspective to institutional leadership, not pastoral ministry.
Some of the questions I have for Boomer ministers are,
(1) when can we stop hearkening to the 60's as the great era of social change, when it's so long ago and there's still so much change necessary? (2) When are we going to accept that the things that were spiritually thrilling for your generation are now being questioned as cultural appropriation, ahistorical and often just not my generation's cup of tea? (3)Why are UU women my age still accused of not "understanding" feminism when we reject goddess thealogies as our primary religious orientation, and "selling out to the patriarchy" when we become Theists or Christians who embrace a Father God (and this is more linguistic than conceptual: we just aren't that hot under the collar about inclusive language)? (4)
How can we all do better at realizing that when we talk about economic justice for the poor, there is an entire population of 20-somethings graduating from college with crippling amounts of educational debt unbeknownst to previous generations, astronomical housing costs unknown to us when we were that age, and the prospect of never being able to retire? How should that change our institutional leadership styles and our class assumptions? (5) Are Boomer leaders ready to hear that young adults hunger for religious *experience* rather than Conversations About Religious Experience? And that ritual, religious language and spiritual practices that an older generation(s) still vehemently reject (unless its something exotic and Eastern) are not so anathema to our young adults?

There are many more, and of course I realize that I'm making generational generalizations, but they're based on a lifetime in UUism and a fairly broad geographic experience, as well as attention to latest studies. I say this not to throw down the gauntlet but to encourage conversation.

To this, I replied:

Well, Peacebang, as a mid-boomer, I have to say that I've experienced most of what you have as a gen-x'er. I'm actually too young to have experienced the heady successful days of the 60's and am more aware of the painful and dissipated end to that era. I came to understand some of the issues of cultural appropriation some years ago and cringe at Goddess fundamentalism just as much as to any other kind. (including cultural appropriation fundamentalism which would leave every faith isolated in history and culture.) I've spent most of my career (and it's a long one, as I was a very young whippersnapper in my early ministry) trying to help spiritually skittish UU's come to embrace and speak about their spiritual experiences. And I don't think that I'm alone in many of these things in my boomer colleagues. Isolated out here as I am, I only know a few gen x ministers well, but I'm not really sure that their approaches to these issues are fundamentally different from mine.

I certainly agree with your list in the sense of the issues facing our denomination as a whole, but believe me, these issues pre-date the boomer generation. Frankly, but I think your real "adversary" in these things is not a generation of ministers but the UU Establishment Mindset, which comes in all generations. And revolutionaries (or more accurately in my case, slow and steady change agents) come in all ages, too.

And now, on reflection, I want to add two things. Firstly, that Peacebang's and my similarities from our life-long UU affiliation might outweigh our generational difference and secondly, that if there's a generational change here, perhaps it is from the ethos of the Silent Generation (which grew up during WWII), which the boomers began and the x'ers will continue, and the y's and Millenials will rail against in their middle and old age.

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