In continuing to think about Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas’s Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture last Sunday night, I keep coming back to her (I admit, unexpected) focus on the generation from 17-34 years old, “Generation Next” or maybe Generation Y. Her emphasis and concern with this generation of Americans was particularly moving and powerful. She identified this generation as “post-everything” and “pre-nothing” — searching for meaning and purpose in a world whose securities, comforts, sureties, and positives have been dismantled, discredited, deconstructed, and over and over again found wanting. The task given to this generation looms large and arduous: nothing less than re-inventing the individual and social goals that would make the effort of living, and especially the effort of living together, worth undertaking.
The intellectual and cultural resources for accomplishing that task appeared, in her analysis, like so much rubble and waste. This generation confronts an ideological wasteland and a cultural “hell,” a hell that is the product of denial and refusal to confront fundamental crises and pursue their genuine resolution. So she pointed to escalating symptoms of cultural and political dysfunction, efforts to deal with them symptomatically, haphazardly, and partially, because of ongoing refusal, denial, failure to get to the sources: racism, sexism, class, and the social sin that is the acceptance of injustice and oppression.
What’s required, according to her presentation — at least, this is how I heard it — is nothing less than a rebuilding of the human collective spirit on the ruins of western civilization. For that, religion is relevant. Although it’s seen by many as part of the problem, the problem is really a corrupt and cowardly religion that doesn’t make good on its core values and promise. Religion — the transformational, liberating, resurrectional kind — is profoundly relevant to the situation she describes. The challenge facing those folks within the charmed circle of religious life is reaching out to the generation (17-34, “most are atheists”, for whom religion is part of the bathwater . . .) that needs it most urgently, but that is perhaps ill-prepared to recognize it and mistrustful of the marketing ploys that are likely to accompany “outreach.”
Stacey Floyd-Thomas’s presentation here was stark and passionate. There is something irresistible in that expression of understanding and caring that evoked the enthusiastic response “You get us!!” As I look and listen to that conversation, I think: I’m old. I have a lot to learn about this generation, and in particular about this different experience of life and the world, different background assumptions and concerns. So, for me, Dr. Floyd-Thomas’s “What’s Going On?” was a wake-up call, and a call to action.