Some claim that those middle-aged men and women born as I was, in the early Sixties, represent the caboose end of the Baby Boom. I’ve heard other armchair social scientists claim that my age cohort missed that train altogether. According to their taxonomy, my peers and I are more accurately referred to as, “Tweeners” (born between the “Boomers,” and “Generation X”)
I am not sure how pop-culture field-workers resolve these issues. Perhaps such questions are answered by tagging and tracking a random sampling of us. After charting our mating and migration patterns, maybe they compare us to other age groups to notice what sets us apart? Judging from old yearbook pictures from the Seventies, it strikes me as miraculous that any of us polyester shirt, cuffed pants, stacked shoes, long hairs were able to find a mate or reproduce at all.
And yet, here we are. We Tweeners never really got a fashion break. Saint John’s Gospel referred to Christians moving “from grace to grace.” When it came to fashion, we Tweeners moved from ridiculousness to more ridiculousness. In the Eighties, we cut our long hair, or rather, cut the front of our long hair, and wore a “a mullet” (i.e. all business in the front, but an untamed party in the back). When Prince and Madonna were going strong, I wore seminary blacks and comfortable shoes, but my peers swapped out their polyesters, and stacked shoes for Izods (collars turned up Elvis style), and boat deck loafers (“Topsiders”). Young women from our time wore the equivalent of colorful long-johns beneath overgrown, thigh length sweaters with football player pads in their shoulders. Just above those pads, their hair was “moussed up” into unimaginable shapes.
Thankfully, those years have passed, but just when my peers and I had a fighting chance at fashion respectably, along came the ravages of our middle-age years. What fashion trends did to take the shine off of our looks in the Seventies and Eighties, nature is now doing with her tools of age, gravity, and appetite. Oh the humanity! But I must say, when you compare our lot with other generation’s hardships, bearing the burden of a continuous fashion faux pas has not really been so terribly awful.
Honestly, so long as pictures from the Seventies and Eighties remain hidden, we Tweeners could really care less about our two-decade-long wardrobe malfunction. If you want to know the characteristic thing that really sticks in the collective craw of my age group, ask one of us why we think the moniker, “Tweener,” fits us. What you are likely to hear is that we think we are the first generation to stand between two distinct styles of parenting. When we Tweeners were kids, we were expected to bend and wrap our lives and schedules around our parent’s concerns and interests. When we became parents, ourselves, through some cruel trick, we were the first generation expected to bend and wrap our schedules and interests around our children’s interests and schedules.
For example, when we Tweeners were kids, a basketball, or baseball season consisted of eight or nine games. If one wanted to improve basketball skills, there were no camps, no summer leagues. There was a local playground for pick-up games, or a hoop in somebody’s driveway. Last summer, my son was enrolled on a baseball team that played seventy-five games along with an expensive tournament hundreds of miles away. Voila, my summer was organized around my son’s baseball interest and schedule, and not the other way around.
This Sunday’s readings dealt with the topic of Christian leadership (Dt. 18: 15-20; & Mk 1: 21-28). In the Gospel selection (Mark 1: 21-28), Jesus was described as one “who taught with authority” unlike their usual leaders. In subsequent chapters of Mark’s Gospel, the reader learns how teaching with authority put Jesus at odds with those who did not possess the same quality.
When I allow these scriptures to intersect with my Tweener experience, a couple of insights emerge. From a Christian standpoint, the most fundamental thing about being human is that we are humble vessels that carry divinity. If we have any authority at all, it comes from rooting ourselves in an authority that is beyond us. Developmental psychologists tell us that good parenting involves a process of mirroring. In the eyes of an accepting care-giver, the child comes to accept him or herself, hence the beginning of a good and accurate self-image. When one leads a contemplative life of self-reflection and prayer, it is as if he, or she stands before God for his or her mirroring function. By way of contrast, those who are concerned with the good opinion of others, stand before the fickle mirror of status, or popularity. Whenever you and I do this, we are as foolish as my fellow Tweeners in the 70’s. Whenever we try to keep up with the fleeting good opinion of others, we dress ourselves up into the rather ridiculous clothing that befits whatever is trendy to the people we are trying to impress. True authority comes from attending to an undying, unlimited inner source. True authority comes from a deep intimacy with the indwelling Spirit.
The second characteristic: despite what my age cohort might think, my fellow Tweeners and I are actually not the first generation to have to bend ourselves around other’s concerns as we entered adulthood. Every really great leader (whether a mother, father, religious leader, or boss) is not a great leader because they can force others to dance to the tune that they pipe. A great leader, in the Christian sense, is someone who knows how to bend his or her intellect, talents, and will around serving those whom they are charged to lead. In other words, a person of real authority is not motivated by power, but a desire and capacity to serve.