Saturday, May 15, 2021

A message to the Christians of Generation X

 

What I'm about to share, has been a long while percolating. It's not going to be taken well by too many people. Especially by those around my age and fellow Christians. But it's time that it be said. Maybe there can yet be some salvaging what has come of us.

A few weeks ago I came upon some music. It was a collection of MP3s. I was the one who made them, all the way back in 1999. They're MP3s of a night of singing from Elon's chapter of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Real, home-grown and heart-felt praise and worship from a young people with their entire lives ahead of them.
 
I listened to them and wept tears of remembrance at how FRESH it sounded. I will never claim to have been fully immersed in the IV culture, it seems more like I was playing on the edges. That, despite my having become a Christian in no small part because of the ministries of friends there.
 
But I recognize the purity of the motivation for that singing well enough. I heard voices that to this day, I can recognize and put a name to. A friend from Florida. A quartet of ladies. My discipleship partner, who opened my eyes more than he knew and maybe someday I’ll get to tell him that.
 
I couldn’t help but listen to the singing, and wonder about what has become of us through the crucible of time. Many of us of course got married, had children of our own. Some didn’t. Some, like me, were married and then one day saw it come crashing down. Some of us crossed America to find a place where God might want us to be, and others held firm to their roots.
 
I envy those. It means that they found real love and affection without having to go searching for it. They had stability. Others, did not and may never know stability other than as some far-off dream. I think of all the wacky things that happened in my life. Some of them aroused a bit of notoriety. Those aren’t things that happen when you’re stable.
 
I don’t think one is necessarily better than the other. They are instead what God calls for each of us as individuals. It is left to each of us to seek the path God would have for us to be on, and to adhere to that path, trusting in Him.
 
So, my old friends, I love them and always have and always will.
 
And I wonder where it was that we… that ALL of us… failed. And I mean as Christians.
 
To understand what I mean, we have to go back to another time. Roughly a quarter century. To the Christianity of America and the “civilized” west. I emphasize that because it’s been impressed upon me that the Christianity of our culture is far removed from that of other places. Such as North Korea. And communist China. And regions of Africa, where it seems not a week goes by that an atrocity against born-again Christians doesn’t transpire. Weirdly, we don’t seem to listen to news about that. We don’t stop to consider our brethren in distant lands where Christ is met with hostility and persecution.
 

If that had registered at all with us it was only in a peripheral sense. We were too busy doing “the God thing” in our own way.
 
We wore the scripture-festooned t-shirts. We tied on the “WWJD” bracelets. We listened to DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline and the other Christian music acts at events like Winter Jam. We patterned our relationships on I Kissed Dating Goodbye. We engorged ourselves on apocalyptic pulp fiction like the Left Behind series, so very sure that ours would be the generation swept up in the Rapture.
 
Well, here it is, well over twenty years later. There has been no Rapture. The books and clothing are food for rats and roaches. Relationships were destroyed by I Kissed Dating Goodbye, not built up. The music stopped.
 
And then there was “the prize”. What we wanted most: to lead others to Christ. To win even one person over to God. To give the angels of Heaven reason to rejoice.
 
I wonder now: how much was that for God, and how much was for ourselves. “Converting to Christ” to some became like a notch on the belt. Something to boast of, when boasting was the LAST thing we should have done. Rejoice, yes… but never to have pride in.
 
And what came of it? How many of those we led, still clung to Christ?
 
The “mighty generation of prayer warriors” we were told we were, ended up a generation as mundane as any other.
 
It seems that all that is left is an archive of MP3s, listened to by someone who tried to hold fast to his faith only to see it buckle and break and now is left wondering:
 
“What happened to me? Come to think of it: What happened to *us*?”
Granted, some escaped total blame. Again I sense envy in myself. But as an entire generation of young Christians… we messed up.
 
The world is no better for the enthusiasm we had. Indeed some will argue that the world is much worse. I don’t care to tick off in how many ways, that’s not what this essay is about. Except that the number of people in America claiming to be Christian has ebbed significantly.
 
I believe it can readily be said: things are not better compared to what they were two and three decades ago. Or perhaps I’m wistfully reminiscing about the way things were before we stopped looking to God and began gluing our pupils to all of those screens we surround ourselves with.
 
Our generation of Christians – at least the Christianity of the “civilized” world – had its chance to leave behind it a legacy like none other. With great abandon we threw our lot in with the cause of Christ. Ours was love for one another utterly. We were the edge of the sword of the Word. That is what we thought of ourselves.
 
But we failed.
 
Maybe it’s not entirely our fault. What most threw shade on our righteous ambitions was 9/11. That act rattled us to our core. It taught us that we were NOT invulnerable. Also too, we have come to acknowledge that from the top of mortal authority on down, there was a lack of real leadership. We put too much of our faith in “leaders” who glorified themselves, instead of truly serving others.
 
Our eyes were shaken off of the eternal, and made to rest on the things of this temporal realm. And that was one of the tests we had to endure. Can it sincerely be said that we passed it?
 
Because, we didn’t.
 
My work in the field of mental health involves interacting with a lot of different people. About a month ago one of my clients lent me a book about the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. Reading it has brought back memories of watching its aftermath unfold.
 
The first victim was a seventeen-year old girl who with a gun aimed at her head answered “You know I do” when asked if she believed in God. And then someone else – it was unclear at the time who exactly – in the library told the assailants “yes” when she was asked if she was a Christian.
 
One thing that was reported in the book that has been lingering on the edges of my mind these last few weeks. It’s about how despite the tragedy, the Christian community of Littleton, Colorado coalesced and grew. The blood of Rachel Scott, Cassie Bernall, and others killed at Columbine were like seeds let to fall to the ground, bringing forth new spiritual life to a generation most in need of it.
 
That was the effect, for a while. The churches were packed, especially with young people. Commitments were made. Wavering hearts became more steadfast.
 
God had brought some of our own to the point of martyrdom. And what should have been a clarion call for us to abandon our pretenses and throw in that much more behind the Throne… well…
 
What happened to that? According to Dave Cullen’s Columbine ten years after the tragedy, the swelling of the churches in the Littleton area had subsided. More than an extra decade since then has likely not made the situation any better. It’s almost enough to ask: “What did they die for?”
 
The Christians of Generation X had everything going for them. We had our own culture and were making an impact on the larger world. We *mattered*.
 
But we blew it. And in doing so we let *them* – the ones who have come before and have come since – down.
 
We were proud. We were arrogant. We were the furthest thing from humble. And if there is any one thing that God will not abide, it is pride in our own works.
We could have still mattered. We really could have been the generation that God used in a mighty way. 
 
But we didn’t have humility enough.
 
We were going to change the world for Christ. Instead the world changed us. Our temerity and zeal for Christ was beaten upon and worn down.
 
In short: we were defeated, in great part.
 
I don’t believe that it necessarily must be a failure we are damned to.
 
Look, I’m NOT saying that we have to go back to “the way things were”. Those days are behind us. We have grown up. That’s not who we are anymore singing those songs in a fellowship group of college kids.
 
We have lost much of our innocence. But that doesn’t mean that all has been taken from us. The parts that matter most.
 
Because right now, there are few who are as poised to change things more than Generation X. We are still plenty young enough to have a spirit of fire. Wedded to that is a maturity that comes with age and experience.
 
Maybe we *had* to blow it. Perhaps the flaming metal of youth needed a tempering quench.
 
I have to believe that even the worst things in life, if given over to God, can bear precious fruit.
We can still be used by God. IF we let Him.
 
But if we do not learn from our missteps, our generation really *will* have failed. Failed those who have come after us especially.
 
It wasn’t “our time” then. But it certainly is now.
 
And it’s time we made good on what we promised God.
 
 

5 comments:

Nevan Illick said...

Gen Z'er commenting in: I think the disease of temporality is claiming us all, especially in the political realm. I hope in my generation to see a church not focused on the self, but focused on Christ... and I have yet to find that which I'm looking for.

Gen X is far from the only to blame. I think we've all (generations prior, and since) just followed the same patterns for far too long, as the world is ever quickly catching up to us.

KyleK said...

Hey Chris, is it possible to upload the music you referenced? I'd love to check it out.

Chris Knight said...

Here is Elon's Intervarsity Christian Fellowship singing in beautiful MP3 format (three ZIP files) :-)

Stacy said...

Thank you for writing this, Christopher. I think you and I are around the same age and I've felt similar about the Christianity we grew up with. We had every advantage given us to witness about Christ to others. What did we do with it all? We squandered what God gave us. And we are still squandering. Maybe others will read this. I hope so.

Juan Vasquez said...

I've been trolling Chris about this for a while (see Proverbs 9:8-9 /Proverbs 27:5 / 1 Timothy 5:20 1 Corinthians 5:12) Back in the day when Chris was not a Christian I personally reached out to him to "soul win" as it were. So this is partially my fault. But I didn't do it so he could hate Gays, women who want to control their family planning decisions, or judge poor people as being morally deficient. Maybe that's partially my fault for not checking in with him over the years while he went off the rails. But honestly Evangelical Christianity as a movement is and at its core has always fundamentally heretical. The focus on the individual is not something people in the Jesus movement would have understood. Calvin's concentration on the elect has added a materialism to Western Christianity that is toxic and unbiblical. There is treatment of the Bible that is nothing short of idolatry. It has cast its lot in politically with racist bigots. People don't like Evangelical Christians not because we are sinners or don't have morals but because of the insufferable open hypocrisy that which stands in sharp relief against what we know Jesus's teachings actually were. I should have invited him to a mainline Church but I wasn't attending one at the time.