Look at Me!

I often hear people my age complaining about older Gen Z and younger Gen Y – people 15-30 – in disturbingly grumpy and judgmental language. “They party too much – they’re lazy – they are self-centered – they use too many drugs” – etc. In other words, people my age talk about them the way people my age 40 years ago talked about me and my generation. And the way people 50 and 60 years ago talked about that age group then. It seems endemic to the generational gaps that The Who sang about in the 1960’s (talkin’ bout my generation), and their answer was stark; “Hope I die before I get old.” They didn’t, and they are still rocking hard on the road.

I just spent 5 days with thousands of people who were at least half my age, and I have to say that the vast majority of my interactions were pleasant and intelligent and often profound. I tend to talk about God a lot, and this generation is known to not care for religion much, so I expected to be stared at blankly; but I wasn’t. I found that people in this age group are very willing to talk about God as long as you aren’t a jerk about it (more on that tomorrow). Think about the state of American religion over the last 40 years: pedophile priests getting away with evil – money-hungry TV evangelists promising miracle cures – old-fashioned worship that hasn’t been relevant for decades – judgmental stares from elders; the state of the church is so bad largely because we in the church haven’t been doing our job. We haven’t been seeing people as children of God, but as a commodity that we need to survive. They, like everyone else, want to be seen. We keep shaking our fists, telling them to get off our lawns.

Yes – the outfits at Firefly ranged from goofy to perverse. I saw more skin in the last 5 days than I see at the beach on a Saturday afternoon. Yes – there are lots of tattoos and piercings and feathers all over the place – so what? Yes – some of the music will make your ears bleed, and there are lots of drugs and alcohol in use. Is this so different from every generation that has come before them? We have such a problem with the legalization of marijuana in this country, and yet, how different is it from alcohol? And yes, there are drugs that are dangerous and need to be kept illegal, but how many people on Wall Street use cocaine like it’s candy? The finger-pointing of judgment is hypocritical, and the more we do it, the more we will alienate them.

What I believe is that everyone wants to be seen. We want to be seen for who we are on the inside and not for the masks and costumes we wear on the outside. Are you and I any different from them? How often have you been misunderstood or judged or had assumptions made about you because you look a certain way or are from a certain place? And while comedians make a living making fun of stereotypes (which are usually somewhat true), we in the church can’t go there. This generation is screaming “Look at me!” because they want to be seen. They want to be known. They want to be liked and loved. Just like you and me. If we don’t look at them and love them and welcome them and care for them, they will leave us behind. And we will be the ones who will lose out.

Prayer – Holy God, cure us of our crankiness. Heal us of our judgmental natures. Help us to see each other for who we really are. Amen.