Today's edition of the "Kansas City Star" has an article that begins at the bottom right of the front page. Its author, Amy Sherman is a licensed mental health counselor and has a website at http://www.bummedoutboomer.com/ . We Baby Boomers may not consider ourselves "bummed out," but her article certainly makes a point worthy of reflection: "Come on Baby Boomers, Get Happy!"
Sherman shares that a Pew Research on Demographic Trends has found that, of all generations, Baby Boomers are the unhappiest and most discontent. I checked into this research and found that the data is overwhelming in this regard. It also reveals that Boomers are the biggest consumers of prescription antidepressants and have the largest number of stress and anxiety related physical illnesses. Reading this study made me both somewhat depressed and anxious....but, hey, I am a Baby Boomer.
Amy Sherman provides several ways to "get happy." To see these, one can go to http://www.kansascity.com/ and type "Baby Boomers get happy" in the search box. Her suggestions are good and reflect practical therapeutic approaches. As I thought about the article (while driving from home to the office), it occurred to me that something more profound has been happening over the past three decades of my vocation as a parish priest.
First, we boomers are those born from immediately after World War II (1945) through 1964. Our parents' generation had experienced the Great Depression, a massive war and stress/anxiety of proportions larger than anything since the Civil War, and nothing since has equaled their experiences as a culture. Yet, that generation seemed to have a resilience and capacity to deal with adversity that, frankly, staggers the imagination if considered for a moment.
Second, boomer parents tended to be more emotionally reserved and possessed a work ethic that was balanced with a reliance upon both societal and faith communities. As we grew, boomers tended to find our parents' style to be too restricting and emotionally constricting. The decade of the 1960s was both a psychological and cultural backlash to those and other perceived problems with the "establishment."
Third, boomers tend to think that our "rebellion" established new norms for culture. Actually, while we were altuistic, it was our parents' generation that enacted most of the culture-shift laws. It was also that generation that provided most of the sources of what would be considered "wealth" that we boomers tended to reject in those heady days of the late 60s and early 70s.
Fourth, inheriting that wealth from our parents, experimenting with communes and a society of love turned into a kind of driven, hedonistic quest for individualism the likes of which America had not known until its emergence in the mid/late 1970s. I may be overstating it a bit here, but research would bear out my observations I am sure.
The truth is, our (boomer) quest for a society of beauty, love and peace was very shallow. As we pressed for new freedoms, we also tended to reject the balance that our parents knew to be essential for healthy culture.....spiritual depth. For sure, we thought we were taking that next step into "deep awareness" and "communing with the cosmos." But that was actually only drug induced...a little help from LSD and other "mind blowing" and reality altering concoctions. I'm not making this up. I was there.
As we boomers were forced to take our place as the adults of society, and as our parents' generation began to phase out, our kneejerk reaction was to replace the quest for an altruistic society with a quest for individual authentication. Spiritual depth (now left behind in the flotsam and jetsam of our youthful rebellion) was replaced with possessions as the statement of ultimate worth and meaning. Remember the bumper sticker? "He Who Dies with the Most Toys Wins." Well, who's winning?
We boomers tended to raise our children (again, tending toward some generalization here) with our values...with a venere of expectation for making more, building more, achieving more and expecting more. Our parents left us a legacy, and we turned that legacy into an empire dedicated to "Me." Adult boomers with teenage children expect those children to be baptised, confirmed and married in churches that they, themselves, do not attend. After all, "Sunday is My only free day." Who's fault is that? We created the ethic that now powers our culture to be a 24/7 super mall of consumer choices.
While a vast majority of our parents worked hard to make it possible for the highest percentage of its offspring to attend institutions of higher learning at any time in history up until then; we boomers believe that such gifts were owed to us. Our offspring tend largely to be spoiled into believing that they need do nothing to attain what previous generations considered luxuries. My brother and I had parents who worked hard; and we enjoyed vacations, good food, good educations and relative security. I still had to earn the money for my first car and pay for my graduate studies. Our generation of children have expected (and most often received) their first cars, "full boat" educations at top ranked schools and high paying jobs right out of college.
We boomers have done so much...and all on a value system that is deprived of depth and spiritual empowerment. Some are opening eyes to that error, as the end of life draws closer. We wake up feeling as though we have gone to hell already. Well, if we have, it is our own fault. God, like an ever-loving parent, continues to wait for us to realize just how far astray we have gone. .
I realize that I wax somewhat cynical. It is generally not my way of doing things. The cup, for me, tends to be always half-full. As Memorial Day came upon us this year, I watched several movies that reflected a level of values and character that opened to me the reality of what we have squandered and the shallow legacy we are leaving our children. I tend to note that our children are seeing that shallowness.
One of my parishioners called my office this past fall and berated my administrative assistant about my refusal to allow his son to be confirmed at the same age he was. He bemoaned the fact that his son was now exploring Buddhism and blamed me for making this happen. Good try! The truth is, his son probably looks at his parents' generation (mine) as being shallow with expectations that do not fit with their reality. To wit: this son's parents never exhibit a depth of spirituality commensurate with their expectations for their children. This shallowness is transparent. Our children want more. If the Church of their parents can't do it, another faith tradition just might. We are not post-Christian my friends. We are post-boomer. It's our own fault.
I am passionate in my love for the Living, Transcendent God...revealed in Jesus. I have not always shown that to my own children, and I am a priest. Somewhere in the early 1970s, I awoke to the reality that where my generation was going tended toward a kind of nosedive. Did I escape? Not really. Enough rejection existed in me to expect more of my own children than was healthy. There is a cost to that.
As I approach age 60, I'm working toward a shift. Perhaps Alvin Toffler was right. I hope not totally. Now, I am working to create spaces of spiritual depth and creative exploration of Reality that is balanced...making folks whole. There is a price to pay for that as well. I am beginning to pay my share of the cost for living and teaching the Truth. It is not God who is exacting the price. Guess who?