I am the pastor of a small church in a small, rural town. This means the “young people” in my congregation are 60 years old. The middle aged are in their 70’s and we have a few older types in their late 80’s and early 90’s.
One of the older members (mid 80s) loves talking about how “those young people” are destroying society. According to her, they are all lazy. Not one of them knows how to sew or cook (“They don’t even teach that at college any more!!”). Instead they just sit around and watch TV all day and microwave their ready made dinners.
At first I was grossly offended, thinking of myself as one of “those young people” but over time I realized that when she said “young people” she meant “everybody younger than her” and everybody younger than her is, well, everybody.
Her attitude is indicative of the deep frustration the Silent Generation has with everybody younger than them and every cultural development since 1960. Although their lives have born witness to America’s rise to global dominance and they experienced the greatest economic prosperity the world has known, they are still a very bitter and hurting group of people, something Fox News has learned to market and use to make incredible amounts of money, but little actual “news.”
Still this generation experienced an amazing amount of comfort. They worked 40 hour weeks for livable wages in strong institutions. They were the first to have access to an ever growing industry of health care. In fact if they were born just 20 years earlier they would all have passed away all ready. As it is they are still alive and physically active. They also were the first to buy easiness and comfort in the form of microwaves, televisions, personal computers and cell phones.
And yet, quite ironically, as a generation they are struggling with depression.
As comfortable as the world has become during their lives, it has also changed drastically and not always for the better. They bought their televisions to watch “Leave it to Beaver” and “I Love Lucy.” Now they turn on the TV and channel surf for hours trying to find something “wholesome,” only to be disgusted by the likes of “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story” and “Sons of Anarchy.” 1
The microwaves made cooking easy but it also made their children incredibly obese and, coupled with the cordless phones, gave many of them cancer. Buying a car in their teens was a rite of passage. Now their grandchildren and great grandchildren won’t buy cars and many won’t get driver’s licenses because of things like “pollution” and “high gas prices.”
They also spent their lives working for institutions that are crumbling around them, whether they be billion dollar corporations, local plants and mills, mom and pop shops or even Christian congregations.
More than that their children (late Baby Boomers and early Gen Xers) have mostly rebelled against their values. After all it is their children who are watching “The Walking Dead,” microwaving all their meals and championing the anti pollution causes. It is also the Baby Boomers who are in power while most of the institutions collapse.
Hence my wonderful congregant’s consistent complaints about “those young people.” She grew up in an idealistic world but somehow couldn’t sell the idealism to her children and grandchildren and their friends. And now as their eyesight dims and their hearing fades and their bones begin to crack, the Silent Generation finds it difficult to stay optimistic.
My first exposure to Christians in the Silent Generation was actually through my wife. She worked in a once great women’s ministry that was founded in 1935 and over the 20th century netted millions of dollars and just as many members. But currently this ministry is struggling to stay afloat and reinvent itself for the new world. The average age of my wife’s coworkers was 62 and the work environment tended towards toxic. The average conversation centered around “the hostile, evil, liberal culture” and “those young people who are destroying everything.”
As my wife and I reflected on the bitterness and rage of these older women, I realized that underlying all that frustration was a deep sadness.
They grew up in a simple world that made sense. If you worked hard you made money. If you saved you earned. There were only two super powers on the world stage and the enemy had a face and a name. Their values were absolute and most people agreed with them, even though they couldn’t sell them to their children.
All of that has now changed and change implies loss as much as it does gain.
Therefore the Silent Generation is a generation in mourning.
They are currently in deep despair because they just don’t understand what has become of their utopia. In light of this, I have found it is not my job to argue with them or defend “those young people.” It is not my duty to rage against the world they called a utopia (although as I have argued elsewhere, it was anything but). It is not my right to try to defend the values and decisions of their children and grandchildren. It is not even my responsibility to tell them to “get over it” and accept this brand new world, even though doing so is in certainly in their best interests. It isn’t even beneficial to use high brow academic words (like “post enlightenment” and “paradigm shift”) to articulate for them what has happened. Those words mean nothing to them and I found that when they do understand them they just get angrier.
Instead as with all pastoral care to the grieving it is simply my job to be silent for the silent generation. I endeavor to be slow to speak and quick to listen. And I hope to listen in ways that will help them process and articulate their emotions and fears and frustrations.
The stages of grief come into play here as well. As a generation they got stuck at the anger stage, though some are still bargaining and others are just plain depressed. As their pastors and counselors we should be helping them negotiate their way to acceptance and to hope. I have been able to pull this off with a precious few and the results have been magnanimous. Instead of getting together to lament the world that was and rage against the world that is, they get together to work towards a better world to be.
Certainly keeping them hopeful is no easy task, especially as their bodies and minds begin to fail. But I am optimistic that careful attention to their grief can free them to enjoy the last few years of their lives as they head to eternity.