But I didn’t always know this.
I remember learning about Baby Boomers and Generation X in social studies, even as long ago as junior high. I also remember wondering where I fit in with these generations. My parents were boomers, I could do the math knowing they were born in the late 40’s. But the Millennials didn’t have their name yet. Was I Gen X? I had heard of Kurt Cobain but he died when I was in fifth grade. I was still in high school when the Dot Com bubble burst, not a new computer science grad out of work. I was barely in grade school when the Gulf war started, not of enlisting age. So of my friends have divorced parents, but we were not latch key kids, we were the beginning of everyone gets a trophy sports. Being a member of Generation X sounded cool… but I never quite fit in.
The first time I really realized that people born at different times have different experiences happened when I was 20. I was working at a bible camp. My best friend/camp director, and I had been away at a church youth event over the weekend. We came back to camp after a storm had knocked down trees. One large birch tree had fallen onto some live power lines running between buildings. We immediately began thinking of the people we needed to call: the county power company, an arborist, an electrician…and we went to get the phone book. On the way we met a volunteer. A man in his 70s who had been a life long farmer… probably a member of the GI generation or Silent generation. He scoffed at our idea to phone the experts. He set out solve the problem himself!
The next thing we knew he had the camp tractor, a small open cab John Deere, and a chainsaw. He drove the tractor right up to the tree, which was precariously leaning on a thin power line. He lifted the bucket so that it propped up the tree. We had no idea where this was going, but we knew it wasn’t going to be good. Then this old farmer started the chainsaw and started climbing up the tractor, up onto the engine, up the arms of the bucket and then stood in the bucket. Chainsaw running. No one else to run the tractor.
Having used the tractor myself several times, for more mundane things like mowing the lawn, pulling trailers and moving picnic tables, I knew that the bucket had several clear warning labels on it. One in particular had a stickman standing in the bucket with a big red circle with line through it stamped on the picture.
So 100 yards away my friend and I stood, covering our eyes as this old farmer leaned out of the bucket and had a leg dangling in the air 20 feet off the ground. Then he began to cut the tree, and off came the top, enough for him to use the tractor to guide the rest of the trunk down.
And the tree was off the power lines. The problem was solved. The old farmer was the hero of the day. And the whole time he acted like this was the most normal thing in world.
I looked over at my friend and said, “No wonder his generation got a lot more done than ours.”
With that statement I had articulated for the first time, how the experiences of different generations lead us to different ways of seeing and approaching the world.
Over the last few years, as the world has begun to get a clearer picture of “our” generation, I have gotten a clearer picture of myself. Like all millennials, I share an experience of the world different than the generations before me.
I wasn’t 18 until after Y2K, the worst (or best) thing that was going to happen to me on the millennium was that I might get to miss a few days of the 11th grade in the new year. I was in the second week of my first year of university when planes started crashing into buildings on 9/11. If I lived in the US, there might have been pressure on me to enlist for the 2nd Iraq war, a hot topic in my 20th century American History class. I took most of my class notes on a laptop, I could submit papers by email and professors were making websites with course material.
By the time I was finishing my MDiv in my mid-twenties, I had been on Facebook for years, I was building world wide communities on online discussion forums, I was using a smartphone as my only phone line, and I had started and given up on several blogs. My adult life has been defined by global terror crisis, global financial crisis, and the internet.
Mostly, the internet.
And in one important way my life has been defined by another characteristic – one that separates me from most of millennial peers. I have been a Lutheran Christian my whole life. I have been called to serve Jesus, to even be an authority within a religious institution. For most of my Boomer and older parishioners, the abnormality was being a non-believer. For most of my grade school friends, going to church was unusual thing to do.
This small distinction makes a world of difference. And in 4+ years of ordained ministry, this little fact has been changing everything. The grief that so many older church goers bear, wondering why society stopped sending people to church, is simply not an experience that I can share. I sometimes feel like I am at a funeral for a person I didn’t know. Everyone is mourning, but I can’t. Oh, I am also the pastor leading the funeral.
I suspect that it is going to be the reality of my vocation for a long time. Giving my people glimpses of this new world, being a glimpse in ways that I don’t know. I have been preaching, teaching, and talking about how the world is different than it was 50 years ago since I started ministry.
But that seems to be the life of a Millennial Pastor. For now.