Sweeping Generalisations

 White van drivers whose front seats are full of yellow-coated skinheads tucking into their lunch and teenagers driving mobile stereo systems fitted with spoilers are far more likely to stop, smile and wave me and my kids across the busy road on the walk to school, than a baby boomer beamer (a BMW driven by a 50something) or a Generation Xer’s multi-terrain 4 by 4, built to cope with any situation but a traffic jam.  


Over the last five years it’s become obvious to me that, although not what we might expect, it is a definite trend – although of course with occasional glorious exceptions.  (I’ve had to exempt lorry drivers, who are always generous with their brake-pedal).  Generally however, younger people are more polite on the road than anyone else.


Is it always wrong to make sweeping generalisations?   If the answer’s yes, then of course, that in itself would be a sweeping generalisation.  Might it just be possible for some generalisations to be true?  And what could be more fitting than applying a generalisation to a generation?  


We hear it often enough, not least in the name each generation seems to acquire.  If you were born before 1925 you’re okay, I don’t think generations had been invented.  If you were born between then and the end of World War 2, you are from the ‘silent generation’!  After the war years come the infamous ‘Baby Boomers’.  From the 60s to the late 70s are Generation X.  The 80s to the millennium are Generation Y or ‘millenials’, and if you were born after 2000, well done for reading the Baptist Times.  You are the ‘New Silent Generation’ – although silence doesn’t seem to be a characteristic of my descendants born in this era.


Church marketers (mostly baby boomers of course) make good use of reading what people from each generation want out of Christianity, and can concoct a Gospel-remedy to meet their desires.  But of more importance is the question of whether the Gospel really does free individuals to defy their generation’s cultural programming should that be necessary.


Let’s pick on the Baby Boomers, because they’re the ones in power.  They are the most selfish generation the planet has ever seen.  They’ve used the last of the oil, are the last ones to enjoy secure pensions and early retirement.  At political rallies and demonstrations for justice, it is this generation who are notably absent (while their own elders are not).  But if the value of their homes is under threat from a local development of any kind, then the Nimby crusade is spear-headed by baby boomers.  


However… go to a Christian justice event.  The Christian Aid march for Climate justice, a churches together campaign to stop sex trafficking, a ‘Make Poverty History’ event.  Here, the baby boomers are out in force, if not the dominant force.  Their passion is obvious, and arises from a commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


There is something about being part of a church that does have the power to free us from the cultural traits that would otherwise reduce us to comply with our generation’s trends.  The generation in which we are born clearly forms who we are at the deepest levels.  But if we believe in a Gospel that ‘transforms’, then this is where it starts.


Published in BT, 2008