X Saves My Summer Reading

Just finished X Saves The World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking by Jeff Gordinier, editor-at-large of Details magazine.  It does not suck. In fact is the complete opposite of suckiness.

I was a sucker, uh sucked in right from the beginning.  I mean anybody that quotes the Mats’ (if have to explain to you that’s the Replacements, well…) Paul Westerberg on the overleaf to chapter one has me from the get go:

How young are you?

How old am I?

Let’s count the rings around my eyes?

Yes, when you start off quoting I Will Dare from Let It Be (no, not that Let It Be you hordes of baby boomers – my God I’ve picked up his parlance), you have me from “hello.” And it gets better.

Are YOU a member of Generation X? Take the GXAT – The Generation X Aptitude Test.  There is only one question. Those scoring highest on it were born between 1960 and 1977.  Here it is, I’ll reprint for you in its entirety.

1. Do you want to save the world?

A. Yes, and I’m proud to say we did it, man.  We changed the world. Just look around you!

B. Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as interest rates return to where they’re supposed to be.

C. Omigod, omigod, omigod, changing the world and helping people is, like totally important to me! I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!

D. The way you phrase that question is so f-ing cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.

Gordinier writes, “If you chose d, accept it, you’re an Xer. X is more a sensibility than rigidly defined demographic.”

Gordinier spends a good deal of time outlining the demographic sinkhole that swallowed those born between, roughly 1960 and 1980.  70+ million Baby Boomers came before us Xers and their kids, the millenials, another 70 million or so strong followed us.  Xers were the pathetic dip in the graph. 46 million. A runt generation.  Over-looked, under appreciated.  Less movement-ish, more curmdugeon-y, we got tagged as slackers, but we’re out there actually providing innovation and leadership to a seemingly rudderless ship of a homogenized monoculture; a culture that the baby boomers gave up on once it was evident saving the world was complicated.  Yes, it’s full of generalizations and Gordinier admits it up front, but the book doesn’t lack for it.  We don’t live in a globalized, Americanized monoculture? We dont’ fight wars to try and keep it that way?

People from Generation X are responsible for – get ready, the list is impressive for a generation, generally labeled as slackers – Google, Wikipedia, Dave Eggers, Architecture for Humanity, Craig’s list, Lauryn Hill, Nirvana, Beck, Barack Obama (sorry Hillary and Bill and W are all Baby Boomers), Quentin Tarantino, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert- one he doesn’t mention is Markos Moulitsas of dailyKos.

Some of Gordinier’s more interesting observations of our generation

In spite of the way of enterprise and creativity (as noted by the examples above), Generation X is defined more by lasts than first.  X is the last generation to:

produce and hold on to recordings on vinyl.

read newspapers

remember televisions with a 13-station manual dial

express any resistance to corporate servitutde

to care about the culture part of popular culture

And here’s and interesting one I am going to add, grow up in a household where it was an expected norm that you go to church.

Gordinier ends the book with this call to action:

I’m writing this and I’m forty and my two kids are downstairs screaming at the top of their lungs, and there are moments when I’m f-ing exhausted and paralyzed and the very idea of working harder, of delivering more, of saving the world, strikes me the way it probably strikes you when it’s late and you finally just got the kids into bed and there are smeared dishes tottering in the sink. Ridiculous, right? Nuts. But the price of inaction is too high. We’ve waited long enough. We’re staring down problems – environmental, cultural, spiritual – that could bury everything we love. We’ve got the raw materials to do something about hat. We’re equipped. We’re wary enough to see through delusional movements, we’re old enough to feel a connection to the past (and yet we’re unsentimental enough not to get all gooey about it); we’re young enough to be wired, we’re snotty enough not to settle for crap; we’re resourceful enough to turn crap into gold; we’re quiet enough to endure our labors on the margins; we’re experienced enough to know that change begins on the margins. Beyond that we’re all we’ve got. Nobody else is going to do it. All we’ve got to be willing to do is drop to our knees over and over again like the godfather of soul-over and over again, until we no longer wince, until we no longer notice the scars.

I will Dare.  There it is right? A way to keep things from sucking. Dare. (170)

So, what’s this go to do with growing congregations. Well first of all, most church growth happens among the age group starting young families and that would be us Xers.  As Gordinier points out, one of the defining films of the X generation is Slacker and in a key scene from that film there is the line, “Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy.” And I wonder if many people in my generation have not withdrawn in disgust from institutionalized religion?  That’s a difference from being apathetic about church. A cool new approach that meets the needs a new post modern world may draw the apathetic back, but not those who have withdrawn in disgust, no matter how liberal your theology.  What disgusted and hurt them and sent them away may be too deep for a new marketing approach to draw back in.

Yet, the contemporary religious landscape does have its share of seekers.  People who would be right at home in our congregations. Would about them?

Gordinier quotes Chris Anderson from his book The Long Tail:

There’s still demand for big cultural buckets, but they’re no longer the only market. The hits now compete with an infinite number of niche markets, of any size. And consumers are increasingly favoring the one with the most choice. The era of one-size-fits-all is ending, and in its place is something new, a market of multitudes.

This shattering of the mainstream into a zillion different cultural shards is something that upsets traditional media and entertainment no end. After decades of executives refining their skill in creating, picking, and promoting hits, those hits are suddenly not enough. The audience is shifting to something else, a muddy and indistinct proliferation of . . . Well, we don’t have a good term for such non-hits. They’re certainly not “misses,” because most weren’t aimed at world domination in the first place. They’re “everything else.”

Unitarian Universalism is not a mainstream religious movement in American culture. We are the “everything else.”  There is no good term for non-hits. We are not a miss. We are the everything else. It has been noted by everyone who develops a UU elevator speech that defining UUism positively (by what it is) is much more dificult than defining it negatively (by what it is not).

Here, however is where another tidbit from Gordinier’s book might come in handy.

Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apapthy.  This comes from the scene in Slackers where the cowboy picks a card from the card deck of the hippie chick.  Yet the card deck was not random.  Turns out it was the Oblique Strategies deck developed by British painter Peter Schmidt and British musician Brian Eno (produced U2, Talking Heads) for times when stress was threatening the creative energies of a project they were working on and threatened the to make them “rigid and boring.”

Other examples from the deck:

Discover the recipes you are using and abandon them

Emphasize the flaws

Abandon normal instruments

Turn it upside down

Now, how many congregations are willing to do these types of things?  Here we are now, entertain us. I feel stupid and contagious.

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