culture

Exit 166. And know they love you.

The title of this week’s post, of course, is a line from this song.

I’ve known of this song for decades.  It’s older than I am.  It’s one of CSN-and-sometimes-Y’s most well-known songs.  I heard it on oldies and classic rock radio growing up, and I think they used a mediocre cover of it in a commercial for potty training pants or something like that at one point.

But I had never really thought deeply about the song until I heard it a few days ago and, well, started thinking about it.  The first verse and chorus seem pretty straightforward.  Teach your children well.  But then the second half of the song always confused me.  I had no idea what they were saying.  You have Graham singing the melody, but then David and Stephen are harmonizing on ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LYRICS at the same time.  I’ve always had a hard time understanding songs that do that.  I’m trying to listen to the lyrics, so it would be nice if everyone was singing the same thing at the same time, although it is kind of a cool effect.  And then the final chorus, now it’s “teach your parents?”  The title of the song is “teach your children,” so why the sudden reversal?  Was that just something that the guys thought of when they were on drugs?  And what the heck does “God knows the fears that you held the screw by” mean?  I can’t be hearing that line right.

So I looked up the lyrics.  It’s actually “can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.”  And all of a sudden, the song makes a lot more sense now that I know what they’re saying.

The song was released in 1970, during the Vietnam War.  Much like today, tensions were running high in society, particularly regarding the generation gap between the baby boomers coming of age, many of whom were being drafted to fight this war, and their World War II-era parents.  These parents and children grew up in very different worlds, and what worked for one generation does not always work for the next generation.  The same thing is happening today.  The young adult millennials who are at the forefront of today’s social and political activism grew up in a completely different world from the world that Generation X and the Baby Boomers grew up in; they can’t know the fears that we grew by, as Graham Nash sang.  The Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, so people in their 20s and younger do not understand why communism and socialism are viewed so negatively by those old enough to remember the Cold War.  Older people tend to criticize the younger generation for spending too much time staring at phones, laptops, and tablets, instead of interacting with others, fearing that the younger generation will produce more and more people who can’t function in society.  While some of these concerns are justified, it fails to take into account the fact that society is different today, and social media often strengthens friendships and relationships in a world where people cannot always be with their friends and loved ones face-to-face, so this also serves a useful purpose, particularly for people who are not always comfortable in face-to-face social situations.

I overheard a conversation recently about how, within the culture of Christianity, Baby Boomers often put down Millennials as being lazy and undisciplined, and that this is doing a disservice to the Church as a whole.  Millennials grew up in a different world, in which many of them did not have both parents at home like the Baby Boomers did, so their needs are different than those of older generations were at their age.  The Church wants to give them more discipline and structure, but they really need to be loved.  All of that seemed to fit well with my thoughts about this song.

Yes, society is divided along generational and cultural lines.  But we all have something to learn from each other.  And we all have something to teach each other.  We have something to contribute to our collective children, and our experiences can teach something to our collective parents who did not live in our world.  We’re all in this world together.  We don’t always understand each other, but making our best attempt to is an important first step.  So, if you want to make the world a better place, be open to learning about others around you, and teaching them about you.  Others usually aren’t as different or hostile as you’d think sometimes.

Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

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Exit 74. What are we getting wrong?

I recently read the book Last Mass by Jamie Iredell.  For those of you who know me, it will become quickly apparent from my description here that this is not my usual kind of reading material. Last Mass is a collection of paragraph-long reflections on the history of Catholicism in California during the time of Junipero Serra and his contemporaries, mixed with the author’s own reflections on growing up Catholic in California and the experiences that led him to stop attending Mass in young adulthood. Although I stopped attending Catholic mass at age 20, for very different reasons than Jamie did, I still tend to get a little defensive when reading anything critical of Catholicism, or of European-American culture in general, although from the historical record one cannot argue the fact that that Europeans mistreated Native Americans.  It is a story that needs to be told, so that we do not repeat such abuses in the future.

So in light of that, if this isn’t my usual kind of reading material why did I read this book?  Simple: I knew Jamie as a teenager.  We went to middle and high school together.  We had several classes together over the years.  I didn’t really hang out with him outside of school, but remember, I didn’t really hang out with anyone outside of school at that age.  We lost touch after high school, as I did with almost everyone I knew, but we’ve been back in Facebook contact since 2008, so I’ve seen his posts about the books he’s writing and the pieces that have been published in literary journals.  For a brief time last year, another of his books, I Was A Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac, was being offered as a free Kindle download.  I read it, and I really enjoyed it.  That one was a collection of personal essays that felt kind of like reading a blog like this one, but more well written.  He doesn’t know that I’m writing this, but I’ll probably tag him when I share it to Facebook.

Last Mass was very thought-provoking.  Jamie has a way of connecting his stories about Father Serra with his stories about his own life in just the right way.  It’s always interesting to read his stories, especially when he writes about himself at the age when I knew him.  I never knew he did so many drugs, for example.  While I do not share his conclusions about leaving the Catholic Church (I left for different reasons and opted instead to worship in a different branch of Christianity), I can relate to a lot of the struggles he shared, particularly those about the guilt and shame experienced within the normal bounds of puberty.

Any time I read about abuses perpetuated by Christianity in the name of the Church, such as the Crusades, the mistreatment of the Native Americans that the missionaries were trying to convert, or the acceptance of slavery within historical Christianity, it makes me wonder: How could they have gotten things so wrong?  How could Father Serra and his contemporaries have misinterpreted God’s teaching to the point that natives were whipped and beaten for keeping their cultural practices, native women were routinely raped, and natives were plundered of their possessions?  Of course, those who carried out these abuses were all products of their time and culture, and they should not entirely be judged by modern standards, but still, I wonder how the culture could have strayed so far from God’s teaching in the first place, with so few men or women of God standing up for the truth.

But there is a more important question here.  What are we getting wrong today?  What is it that Christians are doing today that seems perfectly normal in our culture, but blatantly contradicts the Word of God and will make future generations of Christians wonder what we were thinking?  Is it our tolerance of divorce within the church?  Our love of building big fancy church buildings while neglecting the poor in our own communities?  Our desire to water down the truth in order to be accepted in society?  (I don’t mean to be judgmental here, especially considering I have a lot of Christian friends who are divorced, and I’m not. But this is something I wonder about.) This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon.  The Bible is full of stories of God’s people grossly misunderstanding his teaching, and it will probably continue throughout history until Jesus comes back.  The important thing to remember is that I should be making decisions as a Christian based on the Word of God, not based on what the culture says.