I just returned from a wonderful intergenerational gathering of creatives: film makers, poets, studio artists, dancers and choreographers, novelists, essayists, apologists, working stage actors and directors, pastors and even some theologians in the mix. People were at turns extroverted to nominally passionate, distantly to distinctly vintage and pseudo to suburbanly Christian trending from high to low to no church. During the week together new friendships were forged, people who ‘liked’ status updates on FB for a year met face-to-face, and people found new ways to fund their deep calling with spiritual discernment, insights, collaborations, laughter and sorrow. As you can imagination, it was a spiritually full time and many of us came away blessed in ways we did not expect nor could have planned – it was grace abounding in ways that were as far reaching as the Cascade Mountains are high, tearing the spiritual clouds of mourning in two so that dappled sunlight of promise can fall freely into the valleys of our lives.
And yet in the aftermath of this rich time I was also keenly aware that things are changing in ways that I have sensed for quite a while but had not put my finger on. As I spoke with many of the people as we parted ways, it was clear that for some “younger creatives” at the gathering that there was some disappointment. There was an expectation and longing for something that just wasn’t filled in this rich time and after some reflection and prayer I am wondering if perhaps they understand the weight that is now fully upon them as leaders and culture makers.
For me it was watching the dawn of the Third Verse Generation.
More on this in a second…
First of all, this summer marks an interesting series of shifts within evangelicalism – this week marked the death of John Stott, the British pastor/theologian who shaped faith after WWII for so many Christians. Also, this September will mark the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 which coupled with the Columbine shootings is arguably the largest global culture shifter for Western culture. Coupled with the move toward a more robust understanding of identity construction in regard to race, economics, sexuality and ethnicity, we are standing truly at the breaking point of the way things have been and the dawn of the new way of faith for the West. The heralds of ‘emergent‘ and ‘progressive‘ forms have been clamoring at the Bastille gates for the past few years, shaking the walls and throwing flowered stones throw the windows – love notes tied to granite. The response is that these attempts have been to change the system, to set free the captive, to give voice to the marginalized, to truly open the Gospel after years of captivity. The motives are said to be pure and the gatherings have been anything but boring. And yet the brand that sold the books is waning, the leaders have that have become brands unto themselves are seeking a broad enough audience to fund the ministries that they are starting, and this means constantly looking for issues to take on rather than just ‘being’ and dwelling in community – “It is for the sake of love that we gather”… ”It is to give voice to the margins that we speak” is a refrain you will hear. And yet the notes are still tied to rocks, perfumed and kissed to be sure, and yet hurled at sources of power so that the voices of praise are drowned out in the irony, the tribalism, the sheer noise and movement that moves and moves and moves but never settles and grows and offers deep roots.
There have been the attempts to rehabilitate the mainlines as well - to gather in conference after conference after conference. The promise of stemming the torrent of departing members, the lack of new baptisms, the failure to find a form that makes sense to the generations. The clergy shake their heads in private and wonder what is happening and why the tried and true rigor they forged in their seminaries and divinity schools isn’t working to secure a meaningful passing of the faith to the next generation.
And yet something is still happening and it is moving forth in our midst… despite the brand focused personalities and the mainline scrambling…
With the bursting forth of the apostolic witness after the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the First Verse Generation took hold of the faith and ran headlong into martyrdom. For the first centuries these followers of the Way prayed, shared, disagreed, became discouraged, fled to the wilderness, rose to power and pulled the fire of Pentecost into the forges of culture from which the tools of the first millennium were fired and perfected. Through to the Reformation and into the Twentieth century this first verse – protecting the Scriptures, establishing and reinforcing the liturgy, retelling the acts of faith found in the witness of the generations – moved on and was sung. Yet with two world wars and the atrocities of the Holocaust that rippled into the fragmentation of Western culture, the humility of humanity at the brink of intellectual arrogance saw the recession of the First Verse Generation and the arising of the Second Verse Generation: these are the voices of reality whose dreams of the Second Coming were replaced with the all-too-realist portrait of sin, brokenness, and lack of faith in paradox. Here the captains of theological industry moved into the shaking tectonic plates of culture and offered stability – firm doctrine, a scientific approach that would hold up in all contexts not merely for the faithful, a sense of “us and them” to help define identity. This corrective, albeit fairly recent in the scheme of things, is what I see as the receding tide that the next generation – Third Wave Generation – was watching from the shoreline.
The Third Wave Generation is more than merely emergent, progressive, liturgical, Eucharistic, charismatically-charged, well-read and artistic, socially minded and spiritually awakened individuals. What the last twenty years of scrambling to nail down the movements of the Third Wave Generation has amounted to little more than landfills of quickly written books without substantive change. There is something more going on here and the movement is both exciting and deeply uncertain.
The reason I say uncertain?
Because the Third Wave Generation is the future and I am not.
It is not the Third Wave Generation that is retreating from the Church that Christ called us to. No, in many ways my generation is the one that is being pulled back in the undertow of the culture we have sold our proverbial souls to. The angry academic rants, the posturing of personalities seeking to draw attention to their brand, the publishing houses seeking a piece of the action, the marketing attempts to gather this generation like they were merely butterflies on a summer’s day.
The game of the Second Verse Generation is about to play its final hand and cash out.
The tide is pulling us away from the shoreline and the Third Verse Generation is standing ready to take up the leadership that is theirs to take up.
I am excited by this and hope to get out of the way as this new generation arises and speaks fully into the brokenness and woundedness of this world. I need their wisdom and hope to be a good listener in the years to come.