tensions of my gen-x experience

I’ve been thinking lately of writing a little bit (which makes me think a little bit more) about the three terms in the title of my blog… Gen-X, Missional, Wesleyan. Each of these says something about my experience of Christianity and the Church.

I’ll begin with some tension I experience that seem to me related to my being a member of “Generation X.”

1. Idealism vs. Pragmatism. I find that I have these two conflicting ism’s duking it out inside me. On the one hand, I’m fiercely idealistic. I strive for purity of motive and action in the public sphere. I crave idealism in politics, religion, etc. and want to see authenticity in leaders of every arena. On the other hand, I find myself with a pragmatic streak when the chips are down and I want my idealistic vision to be realized. These two strains that live in tension are probably what produces the sense of angst (that quintessential Gen-X feeling) about politics, movements, and activism. I become pragmatic regarding process at the last minute when the idealistic result is on the line, but when part of my idealism includes idealizing the process…doesn’t take much to see the angst welling up on that one.

2. Community vs. Individuality. I desire community. That is an ideal for me (see above!). That said, I’m not terribly good at practicing it in real life. I’m not good at handling vulnerability, which is one of the basic building blocks of community. Better to conceptualitze it in the abstract… but live it? Are you crazy? So, though idealizing and desiring and dabbling in community, I find individuality a more comfortable, natural state. Mind you, I whole-heartedly consider individualism the artificial state and community the natural one, but in practice… ok, you see where this is going, right?

3. Optimism vs. Angst. I can be incredibly optimistic. I see a world of possibilities. Part of that is within my temperament, but I think there is something within my generational experience that also colludes with my personality on this score. I dream. I envision. At one and the same time, however, I wrestle with angst over my own and the world’s lack of inertia in moving meaningfully toward the optimistic dream. Perhaps the pace is too slow.

4. Movement vs. Institution. Typical of Gen-Xers, I have some built-in distrust of large, lumbering, vertical (that is, hierarchical and top-down) bureaucratic institutions. I’m more attracted to the organic and more horizontal (that is, less hierarchical and flatter) nature of a movement. This one relates strongly to my experience as a United Methodist, in particular as a pastor in the UMC. Methodism began as a movement. That is a part of the Wesleyan/Methodist narrative. But at present, the United Methodist Church is not a movement; it is a large, lumbering, vertical bureaucratic institution. But it is my theological and ecclesiological home, so in a sense, I’m stuck with it.

Any other Gen-Xers out there hearing me on this? What about you?

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5 thoughts on “tensions of my gen-x experience

  1. Oddly enough, I don’t think I have thought much about your first point. I will have to think about that – I have the idealism, but not so much the pragmatic side. 3 and 4, I believe I am there with you. But it’s your second point that jumps out at me and the one I identify the most with. I preach community, I try to put into practice for my churches, but personally, I have trouble handling vulnerability, too. I think this is aggravated by being a pastor and wanting keep boundaries (I share a wall with two church members and I am surrounded by others on the estate, which make things interesting). I think it’s difficult finding a community as a pastor, but do find my natural inclination to privacy hinders the community project!

  2. Though I’m usually sarcastic & cynical (mostly on the inside) I think, strangely enough, that I’m fairly good at being vulnerable (for an introvert). I do it because I see it as a Christian value, not because I’ve experienced the pragmatic benefit of it- quite the contrary. I find that I keep trusting people over and over and so often find my trust misplaced.

    I’m sure that in at least some situations, the “failure” is more mine than theirs. While open, I’m not open about enough, thinking (a feature of being an iNtp?) that they already know something because they’re so OBVIOUS. But they’re not obvious to everyone.

    I’m not much on institutions, though I can admit their value in some situations. Institutions are those things which allow things to be done without constant focused attention. Unfortunately, some things really need constant focused attention and having an institution do it for us becomes unhealthy.

  3. Guy –

    Great post. I really resonate with your comments about community. I think the technological trends – which obviously affect Gen X’ers and Millennials the most – are the chief impediments to real community. Our experience is one of interaction with screens – on our computers, iPods, TVs, cell phones, PDAs, etc. I don’t have the answer for how to overcome that, but maybe identifying the chief problem is a first step.

    Also, your comments on angst made me smile. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Douglas Coupland’s book, “Generation X,” but the very experience of reading it will give you angst.

  4. Another interesting thought – start combining the tensions. For example, under point 1, I too strive for idealistic tendencies. In certain arenas, like religion, I am incredibly optimistic (point 3) about these tendencies.

    But my experience in other arenas, like politics, has crushed my idealistic optimism and forced me to have only faint optimism about a pragmatic reality.

    I think I just made my head hurt.

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