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Sarx:GenX Someplace between 40 and Death
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Those Crazy Kids.

Originally from July of 2006: but I just stumbled across it and thought it good - including especially the discussion that followed.

A FRIEND & Reader of these pages (who may identify himself if he wishes) asked about reaching 20-somethings with the Gospel. Apart from any experience I have with my current clients, I'm clueless in this department. All the 20-somethings I worked with in the Episcopal Church are now 30 or 40 somethings.

So I started by asking one of my coworkers, himself a recent 20-something although now in the next grouping. He also is a very active member of what might be called the "Em-Church" movement here in town. We had an interesting discussion last night (from about Midnight until 2:30). Forgive us for using sex as shorthand for everything else, but as my generation invented the TV show, "Friends", that should be understood. Here's the conversation in condensed form:

The seed of the discussion, in addition to my friend's question, was my reply to him: I noted that the 20 somethings known to me seem to function without moral boundaries (I was specifically thinking about sex). This point was made all the more explicit when I got to work and heard from our staff the story of one 20-something client, who accepted a label implying same-sex attraction, making out with a member of the opposite sex.

So from the specific area of sexual boundaries and identity we began a discussion.

First my coworker agreed. We had enough anecdotal evidence to agree on the following statement and caveat:

In contrast to earlier generations (including "GenX" and "GenY") the current crop of teens and early 20s had nearly no self-imposed or cultur-imposed sexual identity. Where previous generations rather liked labels like "Straight", "Gay" and "Bi", these kids seem to think of themselves as "sexual" and, given a proper situation, pretty much anything is possible. In the area of friends, sex is a nice thing to get out of the way early on just to lighten up the tension.

The caveat: some parts of the USA are not yet involved with this culture. What might be called "GenX" morals didn't seem to catch on in rural North Carolina until the late 90s. The sexual morals we were discussing are not yet "everywhere" because pockets of American culture change at differing rates.

From the topic of sex we branched out into other areas: as we surfed across theology, church and salvation we came to first some interesting commonalities:

(I should note here we came up with a division. "GenX" is seen as a demographicincluding those born in the years from 1964 to 1982. My coworker and I agreed that was too wide and so thought that there are two generations: those who remember the Watergate Crisis and those who remember only the Iran Hostage Crisis. We split those into two differing generations, X and Y or, if you want to think of it that way, X1 and X2)

Boomers seem to like labels - which have unchanging meanings - and they stick with them. I am X and that is immutable. More, they apply the labels based on actions: one's actions defines who one is and thus one may predict the actions based on the labels. "As a radical lesbian feminist, you will only X, Y, or Z." "As a member of our country club, you will vote Republican." "Since you smoke pot and wear tie-die you must be a hippie and vote socialist." It goes without saying that many of these labels are assessed as "good" or "bad" in different cultural contexts.

GenX (GenX1) seems to like labels - which have unchanging meanings - but they seem to like to switch labels every once in a while. Futher, even though they assume certain lables imply certain actions, the mutability of labels means that a person you thought was X yesterday may be Y today, so her actions are not always predictable. Who we are defines our actions - although we may change who we are so our actions do don't define who we are. While some of the labels are still assessed as "good" or "bad" many more of them are seen simply as interchangeable. I added to this my own experience that while certain actions are implied by certain labels, they seem to com after the fact. I do X because I label myself Y. My actions do not define my being but rather are evidence of my being.

GenY (GenX2) seems to exult in stripping down the labels to a person. It is possible to do X without being labled X. It is possible to do Y while identifying as X or Y. It is possible to do X and Y without ever calling yourself anything.

The current crop has no labels nor actions linked to labels. It seems they apply labels only as a shorthand as needed for conversation with members of the other generations. Actions do not define being. Being is not, largely, revealed by actions nor do actions have an effect on being. If you will, essence and energies are unrelated classes.

The teenage client in our story above took the same-sex label because it was offered. It was offered by a staff member who assumed that actions define being. As the client's most recent sexual partner (and only long-term one) had been of the same sex, it was assumed the client was living with same-sex attraction. When asked "are you a same-sex-attracted?" the client accept the label as a way of foreshortening any possible conversations on "who are you?"

Discovery of the client in an opposite-sex situation required of the boomers (clinical team) a reassignment of labels - along with the assumption of misleading statements around sexuality early in their clinical relationship with the client - the client is not X BUT really Y; of the GenX1 and 2 (sub-clinical team) an additional label was required: the client is X AND Y; while from the peer-age group among the clients there was no concern one way or another: the Client is still the Client that we all know.

Such a situation opens a discussion of religion and evangelism with an interesting context.

My coworker suggested it's not enough to meet that person and invite that person to church. You don't just evangelise 20-somethings by expounding the logical doctrines of the faith or the businessy-upside of believing. You have to reach out and get to know them. Invest. The example given was as follows: you meet someone hith whom you share a common interest in cars. You begin to share with him you greater (because of age) experience with cars.

Eventually that young person may find himself being your friend and desiring to share other parts of friendship with you - which may eventually come to include Church. Let your light shine... If that person never comes to Church by your influence, will you at lelast leave his or her life in a better place than when you found it? When that person moves on will she take a part of you - and may that be Christ! - that is worth actually passing on to her future contacts?

If that sounds uncomfortably like dating, it is - in fact, just like dating. The issue is not that the relationship *is* a relationship. The issue is in learning to hold your boundaries - even if they are not shared with the 20-something.

Huw Raphael | 2007.02.27:2118 (@179) | Orthodoxy
17 comments | link


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From: Ernesto M. Obregon | 2006.07.25:2229 (@187)

Wow, the differences between the groups are huge! (I am now taking off my skull and trying to untwist my brain.) I will admit to being the one who asked Huw the question. We had several 20 somethings in the parish, all converts. Not one is left. So, the obvious questions in my mind is what did we miss. It reads like we missed a lot!

I am one of those tedious baby boomers with words that have stable meanings. What has truly helped me is the fact that my wife and I have lived in several countries. Thus, though my mind is baby boomer, it is not as cemented in place as it could be.

However, if any others have ideas, please give a shout!

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From: Marjorie | 2006.07.26:0021 (@265)

Well... as an 18 year old, I would have to say that the way of describing my generation as labelless is (ironically) too much of a label for how I see it. It's more complicated than that... I know it's an oversimplification but I would say that most people my age do utilize labels, and I have only met a few people as sexualized as you described. In fact, most people I know fit into the "sex is only for deeply committed relationships" category (though most don't fit into the "only marriage" category). As for labels of sexuality, most people do like the gay/bi/straight labels, but do see that these aren't perfect and tend to think of it more as a spectrum. I would say in general people my age do tend to see things in categories, but with an understanding that categories aren't perfect and reality is more complex than blanket terms. And I tend to agree with that...

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From: Huw Raphael | 2006.07.26:0131 (@313)

Marjorie - thank you for your input: certainly I value it more than mine in this discussion! I guess I would modify my experience added to your experience to say "some of this generation function this way". It seems most you have met function the way you have described. With the exception of teens raised in Church, everyone I've met functions the way I've described. A further caveat: I only know what people have felt comfortable sharing with an old man like myself.

As to "deeply committed relationship" I would agree - but have found that the definition of that has downgraded through the generations: "hookups" used to be what happened in a certain population. "Friends with benefits" is rather a bit too common for me now.

I like the idea that "without labels" is too much of a label :-)

Now, forget our differences, how do you feel about my conclusions: relationship as evangelism?

From: Matt | 2006.07.26:0207 (@338)


When you talked to these converts, what did they say about their lapse? Was their falling away before or after baptism/chrismation?


Hmm. I 've never thought of myself as Gen X. As I seem to recall from my late teen and early 20's (when I first heard the term GenX), it seemed to me that Gen-X people liked "Grunge" and didn't bathe every day. (was that just MTV trying to shape the image?) Whereas, from even a very young age I thought David Niven was the height of cool. And then there was the day when I noticed how amazingly fabulous oxblood wingtips looked when paired with grey flannel trousers.

The Gen-X stereo-type was all about having fun and getting stoned (ala River Phoenix and Curt Cobain) because there was nothing else to do (The boomers had done everything important.). But I was in the 101st Airborne Division doing amazingly dangerous things that required a very clear head and a comitment to people other than yourself.

Granted, what you said about pockets is true (I'm in the SF Bay Area), but I was at a party in 1992 with a bunch of people my own age (but with silly made up nams like Raven, Slither, Hex, Slate, etc.) when all of a sudden it dawned on me that not only was I the only man in a tie, but I was the only person in the house who was limiting himself to flirting with one sex. (And after talking with many of the people in the house, I began to suspect that I was the only one in the house who rejected silopsim.) So, there was a whole house full of people who seem to be more like yout X2 demographic, yet they were my approximate contemporaries, all aged 19-24.

But about the same time I was active in the Republican Party and hung out with a lot of people my age who wore ties, knew what to do with with a bottle of Campari, and knew to keep their clothes on until at least until they knew each others last names.

Then there were the people from my church. It was gently Calvinist, and softly fundamentalist. The group called 20-something was huge (200-300) and full of frighteningly virtuous young women.

There is too much diversty in a generation. I don't really care for labeling generations. It isn't informative enough.

But as for friendship evangelism, well, yeah! It works.

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From: Huw Raphael | 2006.07.26:0221 (@348)

Regarding GenX(1) when I read "Generation X" by Coupland I thought the man lived with me in my NYC house so well did he know my friends and myself!

But there ya go - difference.

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From: Marjorie | 2006.07.26:0239 (@360)

Oh I agreed with that part... as long as it wasn't meant in the sense of "become friends with people in order to evangelize them". I think we should just try to be friends to humanity and sooner or later Christ will shine through. And it's not like we're there to do a favor to non-Christian friends; they're just friends like any others and if we're really Christians (which I don't act like most of the time) we will spread the gospel by being open about that and by living as one. But that's not the purpose of our friendships... the purpose is just loving others. I'm reminded of something Paul Evdokimov wrote, about how there is always a temptation to say "I will love you in order to save you," when an apostolic soul really should say, "I will save you because I love you..." and there is a tangible difference.

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From: Huw Raphael | 2006.07.26:0242 (@362)

True: friendship is not a replacement for the Four Spiritual Laws.

Howabout "I pray our love will save us."

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From: Julio C. Gurrea, Jr. | 2006.07.26:2320 (@222)

Hmmm... I'm 22 and I was baptized the day after my 21st birthday, and I think I see what you mean... problem is, *I've* never felt that way. But then again, I'm a freak of nature- I've looked and acted like an old man ever since I was in highschool.

This gives me a new perspective. Perhaps I've not been able to reach people because I've been trying to reach them as a target for my evangelism and not as just, well, a friend.

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From: Robert Thomas Llizo | 2007.02.28:0017 (@303)

"I've looked and acted like an old man ever since I was in highschool. "

I too was, and have always been, a "young fogey" (too bad Sergei beat me to it as a blogosphere identity).

Of course, I guess I must now call myself a "middle-aged fogey," given that I'm 41. But still, I am now what I've always been: a traditionalist Christian with slightly monarchist leanings. My heroes from the time I was 18: The Prophet Isaiah, the Apostle Paul, St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Gregory the Great, Edmund Burke, C.S. Lewis and Russell Kirk (aka the Sage of Mecosta)

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From: Huw Raphael | 2007.02.28:0037 (@317)

I have nearly never acted my age. I have no clue what that means and I am aware that when I do manage to convince people of it, that I am only exactly *acting* my age as if it is a mask I wear.

I've not yet been able to convince myself that what I'm doing is more than acting a role.


I love formal dinner parties where we go black-tie.
I love looking up in a festival Eucharist and seeing an entire church filled with Hawaiian shirts.
I make (and wear) Amish clothing from decidedly non-Amish colours and patterns and cloth.
I felt most myself in a Utilikilt, wearing a white shirt and vest, along with Doc Marten Boots.
I like hats.
I've been known to wear too much leather to work.
I've been known to freak people out in a three piece suit.
Someplace there is a Halloween picture of me as one of "Robin's Merry Men". Robin is being played by my friend Elaine, a tiny, amazingly beautiful Asian woman. Little John is being played by her husband, Steve: and he fits the role very well. I'm dressed as Maid Marion.

Almost all of the masks I've ever worn have been drag: in exactly the definition of it, i.e. dressing up as something I'm not in part to make fun of/shed more light on what I am.

Someday I may find myself in a place of knowing who I am and acting as if that is real.

But, I confess, that until that time, I'm rather convinced most of the rest of us are doing the same thing: acting a role, poorly or well - and conscious of the fact of doing so.

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From: Matt | 2007.02.28:0127 (@352)

I'm surprized I didn't notice this when you originally posted it: by dividing x1 and x2 you are taking the generative function out of a gneration. I don't know if the definition social scientists use is still the one I was taught in the 4th grade, but back then the two definitions of a generation I had to learn when we were studying Genesis were these 3:
1) Within a family a generation is counted as sequence begatings: Grand parent, parent with his siblings, child with siblings and first cousins being in three different generations.
2) A unit of time required for one person to mature from birth to adulthood, produce one offspring and for that offspring to mature to reproductive age, that is, roughly 35 to 40 years.
3) Within societies a generation is composed of those people burn during 1 half of the preiod in definition 2.

You mentioned that Gen X is defined as those persons born between 1964 and 1982. It seems that the demographers are using the second and third definitions I learned in the 4th grade. Both of which are tied to reproduction.

What you and your friend are proposing is not a generation but a teeveeation. Since I am coining the word I will invent a definition: A Teeveeation is a group of people who watched the same teevee shows during thier teens and early 20s.

Those who saw the Giligan's Island during prime time are one teeveeation. Those who watched Giligan's Island on weekday afternoons are another teeveeation. Those who have seen bits of Giligan's Island while flipping from MTV to the SciFi Channel but have never seen an entire episode are a third teeveeation.

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From: Huw Raphael | 2007.02.28:0140 (@361)

While I know what the genetics are, for culture I had used the 20 year definition (which I was taught in HS)
But here's the wiki talking about it...

Seems most folks (who talk about Xers) draw the cultural definition even tighter than I, although if you look in the right hand sidebar, you'll see a distinctive overlap pattern that makes far more sense. Thus, since I was born in 1964, I am in GenX+Jones Generation+Consciousness Revolution which makes a bit more sense than trying to pick a slice - either too big or too small.

In defence of my original conversation, however, I do tend to agree that culturally I have *very* little in common with those born in 1981 or 2 who are, mathematically, part of my generation but, really, young enough to be my children. By some demographics they are "GenX" but I can't imagine it to be so. However, I feel *less* in common with those folks born in the late 70s who barely remember the Carter Administration.

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From: Matt | 2007.02.28:0239 (@402)

I think you are right about the overlap being useful. It makes more sense than just saying someone is a certain generation. I've often thought that talking about the characteristics of the Baby Boomers of the theXrs was just silly was just a tool of marketers: :ets get people to think of themselves as part of a generation that is defined in part by using our product. Hmmm. Pepsi comes to mind. But so do PCs and cassette tapes and angelflight pants.

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From: Huw Raphael | 2007.02.28:0251 (@411)

PCs? Very boomer. Apple is GenX :-)

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From: Larry | 2007.02.28:1102 (@751)

hmm this is all very interesting, though I have always been skeptical about all this "generational" stuff. It allways already only applies sort of kind of maybe.
I am Gen X somewhere between X1 and X2 (I sort of remember Watergate). And I have always found labels to be convenient (oh and interesting) but somehow always unable to capture who I was. I use lables in part to mess with people, and partly to express myself but there is always a taking labels lightly (thus Priestly Goth)
However what I found most interesting was the conclusion of how to reach the current 20 somethings: As far as i have observed and experienced that has always been the way to go. Seems Jesus kind of did that when wandering around Galillee and Judea. Also sounds alot like the stories I have heard of St Innocent of Alaska.
My advice is that we forget about trying to reach people and start simply seeking to allow Christ to be in us, then maybe people will actually notice whatever their generation. Well of course it means not hidding away insome enclave of whatever type of Christian you identify with, it means being in the world, but not of the world.
But I have noticed most christians like the comfort of piety to the muddy streets of the world.

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From: Huw Raphael | 2007.02.28:1129 (@770)

Larry I agree it has what has always been done by the wiser folks... but the rest of us like to try preaching every now and then. :-)

I'm with you on the piety front, tho...

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From: Larry | 2007.02.28:1757 (@039)

Preachings good don't get me wrong (I do it every third Sunday ;-} ) It might be good to make sure their at least willing to listen. (I of course have a captive audience ;-} )
Of course the Orthodox I know have all used the un-preachy be with you silent witness method, and I have yet to make the plunge. So.... who knows... I write icons though! ;-)

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