Ok Boomer

St Andrew’s Anglican Church | Indooroopilly
‘OK BOOMER’: A sermon offered by The Reverend Ann Edwards
Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 23 and 24)

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

Today’s gospel tells the story of four young people that follow Jesus. What comes to mind when you think about young people today?

There is a pop cultural fascination with the differences between generations. As though there is something mystically different about your humanity if you’re born in a certain decade. In reality, generations are defined by the shared experiences of people living at a particular time. We were once centred around agriculture, then manufacturing, and now technology. Travel moved from horse, to car, to ride share. Youth in The Great Depression had a different upbringing to those raised during The Cold War, or the children that saw the Twin Towers fall. Useful as it is to understand where people might be coming from, somewhere along the line we started talking about the differences between people that result from these different experiences as though they were actually a characteristic of the people of that age themselves, as though it is the age of the group that is the source of the difference from those of other ages, rather than their shared experiences. It’s a problematic tendency that is leading to division.

As a speech pathologist, I have to admit, I love the new generations. They have a way with words that is so fluid and creative. It’s unmatched. My personal favourite is ‘meh’, spelled m e h, which is just what it sounds like, it’s onomatopoeic. Meh.

The millennials and Gen Z have fully realised the power of what Richard Dawkins described as a Meme. He was the first to name the phenomenon opened by the internet of an idea taking off quickly, rapidly, virally. Frogs, milkshake ducks, grumpy cats, dance moves, men looking longingly over their shoulders. Memes move in rapid fire succession adding layer upon layer to a conversation in just an image or phrase.

The young people I know and the students I have taught are always a step ahead, funny, clever and witty, resilient, and constantly adapting. They need to be.

Our kids and grandkids are facing a global economy that has been belted by a depression then pandemic. Where I comfortably studied with an allowance from the government, my students work full time and study full time. Many of you will have studied at no cost. Students today are accruing debts of $30 000 and more.

Rent is crippling and people need every cent of their dual incomes in an increasingly casualised workforce. For all this – getting a degree or trade is no longer enough – surprising occupations are becoming redundant and there is a need to adapt and re-qualify. Universities know this, and are shifting towards so called “micro qualifications”.

You’ve heard all of this before. As bad as it sounds to those of us that grew up, studied or got a job or trade, bought a house, and raised a family, I’m going to suggest this new normal could instead be full of opportunity and life and progress. But they will need us, and they need us to acknowledge the fact our world is in the middle of a literal digital revolution and we all need to adapt. To deny that is to cling to the horses in the face of the automobile.

But we do hear that denial, don’t we? The voices that decry snowflakes, that can’t afford to buy a house because of the avocado on toast they had for breakfast. The talk back hosts and politicians looking for a quick sound bite to please one generation at the cost of another send a clear message to our young people – we just don’t care. Is that our message? Because our young people are listening.

Just like the stereotypes carried about those younger than 35 today, there is a stereotype of those 40 plus. One that is based on social media spats, discouraging conversations, and those sound bites that politicians and talk back hosts quip. A stereotype of the generation that could rely on an occupation for their entire careers, that had the freedom to study liberal arts and be respected for the skills they developed, that could own a home with one income, but who has outspoken voices telling the young that it’s their fault they don’t have those same opportunities.

But the new generation knows the truth – the present is tough and the future in front of them is a great unknown. And in the face of this discouragement and hurt, they coined the perfect dismissive phrase.

Ok Boomer.

Have you heard that phrase used? You might think it a weapon, but it became the shield for youth in 2020.

While it certainly started aimed at one generation, the use quickly was extended to others. Taylor Lorenzo writes: “anyone can be a boomer — with the right attitude. ‘You don’t like change, you don’t understand new things especially related to technology, you don’t understand equality, Being a boomer is just having that attitude, it can apply to whoever is bitter toward change.’ ”

Listen to what they’re saying.

You don’t like change.
You don’t understand new things.
You don’t understand equality.

This isn’t an attribute of age, to the young, it’s a choice.

By the phrase’s very nature, every time it is used, young people feel dismissed or belittled for adapting to change, using technology, and wanting equality. It is a defence, not an attack.

Young people today…

Perhaps it’s what James and John might have said today if someone had tried to stop them following Jesus – get back here, get a hair cut, you’ve got a real job, know your place. You’re deluded, things are fine as they are.

Ok Boomer.

Social media means we’re interacting in a way we never have before. We’re hearing what the other thinks, and sometimes we don’t like it.

As much as we might object to the dismissive use of Boomer, what we also need to understand is that the language of Gen Z moved on in no time, and it is already falling out of use. It’s a meme that has had its time. But are we going to cling to it, to imagine that this is a permanent divide, entrenched, embodied in our generational differences? Or can we see that the distance is in experience, and can be bridged with listening, and working alongside one another.

There is no mystical difference between the generations, we just have lived through different experiences.

Young people today are just like young people in the 1980s and the 1960s. I recognise them. They’re just like the people that abolished slavery, established public schooling, led the way for women being able to vote, insisted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be recognised as human, declared a reasonable working week, created Medicare, eradicated small pox and polio, halted and reversed the deterioration of the Ozone layer, and stopped the widespread institutionalisation of people with disability.

That to me sounds like a people that can change and value equality.

Just like Simon, Andrew, James and John.

Generational differences are only differences in experiences and context. They need us and we need them.

Simon and Andrew stood up from their work and left their nets behind at the invitation of Jesus. They walked away from what they knew, their source of income, their friends and family, into the unknown, trusting that it would be good. James and John left their father with hired helpers, abandoning their work and family responsibilities. We don’t know what Zebedee did but James and John’s Mum stayed with them on this journey. We know that because – spoilers – she gets a cringe inducing story of her own later on when she angles for her children to have prime spots at Jesus’s side. But she was there, close enough to the action to speak with Jesus directly. James and John didn’t leave her behind – she followed too and was a part of the change happening. There were other people supporting the ministry financially and with encouragement. Homes were open, introductions made, disciples fed. Only then could Simon, Andrew, James and John learn and proclaim the good news in the way they did. To create something new, for a new Kingdom to be established, for hope to come to those without, change was needed. And while change involves leaving something behind, it also requires people of all ages to come along for the adventure.

Our children and young adults are stepping into the unknown, just like Simon, Andrew, James and John. Change is happening, and they know it. So they are putting down what will stop them creating a fair and equitable future. If we are stopping them from creating a fairer, more loving world, we can expect to be left with the nets.

The future belongs to all of us. We’ll learn from each other how to follow Christ, and love God, our neighbours and ourselves. Together, we’ll learn to serve the God that has loved all the generations since time began, and the one that will love every generation forever more. Just as John the Baptist gathered disciples and made way for Jesus, who then handed on the responsibility of his ministry to his friends, we are to gather and nurture people, who will continue the work.

As Amanda Gorman so eloquently spoke in her inaugural poem:
And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,
but what stands before us.
We close the divide because we know, to put our future first,
we must first put our differences aside.

We are far from redundant. We’ve been weathering and shaping change all our lives. We have learned how to love, have built the resources to provide refuge, and our encouragement means more to our youth than we can know. It always has done. So the final word will belong to the youth of 1964, as sung by Bob Dylan –

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’

In the name of Christ.

Lorenzo, T. (2019, Oct 29). ‘OK Boomer’ Marks the End of Friendly Generational Relations.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/29/style/ok-boomer.html

Yde, B. (2020). Stopped buying diamonds. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nCJ5ujGujw

Dylan, B. (1963). The times they are a’changin. https://www.bobdylan.com/songs/times-they-are-changin/

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