written by Rev Gary Heard

The idea of a ‘Generation Gap’ emerged most prominently in the 1960s as the Baby Boomers began one of the most radical cultural shifts experienced by the West. The reasons for its significance might be found in the size of the generation, as well as its reaction against war and towards the hope which economic prosperity has brought, but its most significant contribution has been to create a culture where succeeding generations are seen as pitted against its immediate predecessor. Unlike Eastern and Asian cultures, where older generations are for the most part treated with deep respect, the West has tended to look upon the older generations with suspicion, if not a degree of contempt. This has been often countered with disappointment from the older generations, and a culture war of sorts emerged.

Whilst the generational division which characterised much of the 60s and 70s has diminished somewhat, new manifestations of the division continue to manifest, particularly in relation to work patterns, climate change and care for the world generally. The Baby Boomers ironically find themselves in the position of disappointment at the succeeding generations, even as they continue to provide the fuel for our economic boom.

Is there an alternate way of viewing this generational shift, apart from the combative form in which it is most prevalent? It is a given that each succeeding generation will critique and criticise aspects of those who went before, but does it need to be viewed as a ‘gap’ or a ‘war’ between the generations?

The early church managed significant and spectacular growth through the early centuries, requiring an investment in the future generations by the old, and a respect for those who bring experience. Although we find evidence of suspicion of the new in the New Testament (witness the difficulty Paul faced in being accepted), new leaders continued to emerge and work in partnership with the old, continuing to shape the distinctive character of Christian community.

We are bearers of an ancient tradition, one which each generation inherits, and which each succeeding generation shapes. We dare not lock it to the perspective of our own generation. After all, the story which we share has been radically shaped by Joseph, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, and the infant Jesus. The people of God have oft been lead by a little child.
For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

August 26, 2007
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