When I heard that Chuck Klosterman was writing a book about the Nineties I couldn’t believe it. Klosterman is on my Mt. Rushmore of living writers and the 1990s are my most formative years (from 8 years old till my freshman year of college). This felt like Peter Jackson making a movie about my hometown.
Klosterman’s book is about the decade of the 90s, rather than being about the people who grew up in the 90s. So, this isn’t just another book trying to explain millennials. Instead he tries to appreciate the events, themes, and ethos that shaped the pop culture of the era. He argues that while Vietnam was the first war for television, the Gulf War was the first war where the actual fighting felt like television/video games because of the changes in warfare. The 90s were the era where rich people dressed like they were poor and huge bands were criticized for being popular. It was the decade where we knew the future was changing but most people still didn’t have a mobile phone and the internet was still mysterious.
Each of us has a decade that we associate with growing up. Our teenage years are the years of our life we are probably most in touch with popular culture. Further, those are the years of our lives when we are most impressionable and have the most free time (especially for kids like me who didn’t, as the parents say, “apply themselves”). Research suggests that the music of those years becomes the music of our heart. Sure, some of the fashion looks odd in retrospect, but pictures from high school clearly place us in that era, whereas what we wear in our 30s becomes a little less date-specific—and men in their 70s dress in a way that places them in no time period whatsoever (I dare you to walk into 3 Little Pigs on a Tuesday morning and tell me it’s not 1997). The clothes we wore in high school reflect one of the last times in our life when we bought new clothes to start the school year, thereby giving us a wardrobe that matched the times. That doesn’t last long. At some point during the middle of the next decade we are sitting at home on Friday night watching reruns of Blue Bloods in a sweatsuit and asking if Ben and Jerry’s pints are smaller than they used to be.
The Super Bowl halftime show is the microcosm of the generational debate. No performer feels relevant for all audiences. A hip hop act leaves anyone who grew up before hip hop asking “What?” A reunion show from The Who leaves younger audiences asking “Who?” I watched the 2022 show, fully recognizing Snoop Dogg and Mary J. Blige, and others. But I couldn’t remember who performed in 2021. My 12-year-old told me it was The Weeknd. I asked if they were good. She said they were a he who chose a plural name for his individual act. I decided not to ask why h chos to remov on “e” from his nam but not th othr two. As a parent looking down the barrel of his 40th birthday, I’m quite clear that the 2020s are not my decade.
At White Station we have a vision to be multicultural in terms of race, ethnicity, and age. While it is more common to discuss differences in race and ethnicity, we are as divided by age as we are by those things. Younger people and older people often have different tastes, values, and politics. They watch different shows and read different books. Sure, all generalizations break down at some point. But if we are being honest, we know that we often have more in common with someone our age of a different race or ethnicity than we do with someone who is 40 years younger or older than us.
And this can make church life very challenging.
God’s vision for the church is multicultural in terms of age. Paul encourages Titus to “ teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:3-4). He tells Titus to teach young men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6). But it doesn’t just go from older to younger. In his Pentecost address, Peter cites Joel’s prophecy that “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). The New Testament epistles assume that the community is intergenerational. We cannot seek the next generation and disregard the last. We cannot seek the next and then privilege the tastes of those who’ve been around the longest.
There are three questions we should ask whenever we sense that there might be a generational difference that is driving a larger discussion in church:
- In what ways have my definitions of good, normal, or biblical been shaped by age?
- Am I eager to celebrate the ways that other generations find meaning, joy, and community, even when I don’t really understand why they do?
- For the younger, am I willing to follow the leadership of those who have learned from the past? For the older, am I willing to trust the leadership of those with stronger instincts for the future?
So next time we find ourselves in a situation where our norms are challenged, let’s be more loyal to God’s dream for intergenerational understanding and less devoted to the year on our birth certificate.