In episode 18 of The B/S Show we talked about dealing with criticism. One of the things that came up was a conversation that B had with some of the seniors in his church in California. It was a very encouraging conversation because everyone from the young to the old listened to each other and as a result, mutual understanding and respect was achieved. This is what lies at the heart of our thoughts on criticism. If there is an issue, or something you feel needs to be addressed are you doing it in such a way that real, two-way communication can happen and understanding achieved, or are you just scattering your opinionated seeds with no regard as to where they land and whether or not they will bear fruit (this is what I am always asking myself).
When B talked with his seniors, the main point that they expressed that was the root of all their criticism in the past was simply that what was happening in the church and, specifically, in the congregational practice of worship was so different from what they knew in their youth and, therefore, unfamiliar.
This experience of older generations wrestling with unfamiliarity isn’t exclusive to the church, but it is arguably exclusive to life in the last couple hundred years.
Scott Bakker (working off of the work of a conceptual historian named Reinhart Koselleck), recently talked a bit about this on his blog (albeit in a slightly different context). According to Bakker, Koselleck defines Modernity “as the changing relationship between what he called the ‘space of experience’ and the ‘horizon of expectation.’”
“The example I always like to give is that of a medieval yeoman chewing his callouses in some German field. Not only can he assume that his son will by and large share his experience, but that his grandson will, and his great-grandson, and so on. His space of experience, thanks to social immobility and a creeping rate of technological change, possessed an almost preposterously deep horizon of expectation.”
In other words, there was a time that life, due to “social immobility and a creeping rate of technological change” was predictable and the wisdom and experience of the elderly was invaluable because what they lived and experienced was consistent with what the younger generations were experiencing. However, that is becoming less and less the case as our world continues to experience sweeping social and technological change.
There was a time not that long ago when racial segregation was a societal norm and gay marriage was inconceivable. Information on any given subject was harder to come by and as a result what you were taught was limited to what was known in your immediate familial and social circle.
The world is different now. Racial segregation, while still around in various forms, is generally intolerable, gay marriage is an increasingly achievable option, and we have instant access to an almost embarrassingly vast wealth of global knowledge, perspective and experience (just yesterday I was reading about how nuclear power works. Think about that… I was able to read about nuclear power on a whim!).
As Bakker says, “We can’t even reliably predict what our own lives will look like in twenty years time, let alone the ‘experiential space’ our children will some day inhabit… the reason why the respect once accorded to the elderly seems to have all but evaporated in contemporary consumer society: their experiences no longer apply the way they once did.”
The question of whether or not this is a right or good thing is almost inconsequential because whether we like it or not, culture and technology continue to barrel on with an ever increasing momentum. The world is changing faster and faster and the age with which we are naturally losing touch with the world our kids are growing up in is becoming younger and younger.
What does this mean for the church? What does this mean for society and the world my kid(s) are growing up in? How do we as christians and church leaders respond to this, or do we not “respond” and instead embrace these realities?
I don’t know. But I know that understanding the “why” will take a lot of work from both the young and the old, and understanding the “why” is important if we hope to move past the conflicts that this kind of tension brings about. But then again, maybe these conflicts are not “problems to be solved” but rather “tensions to be managed*”? Argh! It’s all too much for my mind to wrap around!
Well, regardless, hats off to B and his seniors for setting the example and working towards understanding.
Pastors, worship leaders, parents, children, young, old, what say you? Does any of this (for better or worse) resonate in you? How do we respond?
*Andy Stanley talks about this difference in his podcast “Maintaining Healthy Tension”.