Monday, August 8, 2011
This article was originally published in NEXT-WAVE, July 18, 2011.
by Palmer Chinchen
I have a name for this generation.
No one’s been quite sure what to call the emerging generation. Some call them the Millennials, or Generation Next (that’s makes no sense, every generation is the next), Generation Y, Generation 13, Generation I, Generation Digital Natives… but none of these labels say what this generation is most about… Justice. They are. And that’s why we need to start calling this generation of 18 to 28 year-olds by a new name, Generation Justice.
I know this is true because I’ve watched how they live. They are most about pursuing justice for the marginalized and being a voice for the silenced and oppressed. They want to repair this world and make it beautiful like Eden. They live out the mercy of God.
The contrast to prior generations is striking. I went through college with the Yuppie Generation. We were a self-indulgent lot. Everyone wanted to drive a Beemer, wearing a Member’s Only jacket — with the collar popped on their pastel Izod.
Not this generation. They wear Tom’s shoes because Tom puts shoes on bare feet in places like Bolivia. They’ve made scooters cool again because you can ride a hundred miles on a gallon of gas. They embrace simplicity because they want to share more with people who have less. That’s the heartbeat of Generation Justice.
I say that with confidence because of twenty-something year-olds like Jennifer Preyss. Jennifer is a young, energetic reporter for the Victoria Advocate; Texas’ oldest newspaper. Last year Jennifer traveled to Malawi, Africa and spent several weeks loving and caring for orphans.
In October — still bothered by the extreme poverty and the lack of simple basic needs like shoes — Jennifer read about The Grove’s Barefoot Sunday. She was captivated, compelled, and certain God wanted her to hold a Barefoot Sunday in Victoria, Texas — then send the shoes to children in Malawi. Jennifer says she “stalked” me on Facebook until I answered. Her urgent plea read something like, “Palmer, I want to hold a Barefoot Sunday for the entire city of Victoria! Can you help me?”
It sounded audacious. I told her I would do my best. But her plans seemed lofty, and South Texas was a long way from Chandler, Arizona. I was a skeptic.
Jennifer kept working. Her passion was infectious. Three more reporters in their early twenties joined her cause. A date was set, February 27th. A goal was established, 1,000 pairs of shoes.
When I showed up in Victoria, the night of their Barefoot Sunday, I saw how Jennifer had inspired a city. She and her team had rallied participation from 20 churches, 4 schools, 2 colleges, and a Synagogue. An entire class of second graders insisted on going barefoot when they took their shoes off for Africa. The reporters drove around the city picking up piles of shoes in newspaper delivery trucks… after their deliveries.
On Barefoot Sunday Jennifer ended up with a mountain of more than 5,000 pairs of shoes to send to Africa.
Right now Generation Justice is flooding the U.S. Government office for Nonprofits with applications. Their aim is not to grow massive aid or charity organizations. They are far more organic than that. They are simply living their passions. They are responding to the needs of desperate people that grip their heart. A recent report on volunteering in America reveals that this generation has fueled a national spike in volunteers, “Led by teens and young adults accounting for almost half the increase, about a million more people volunteered last year.”1
Every time I visit my son at college I’m reminded of the pervasive mercy spirit of Generation Justice. The walls of every hallway are littered with posters promoting the students’ causes. Students recently held a Live on a dollar a day week. They erected cardboard shacks in the middle of campus and slept there for a week to champion the need to end extreme poverty. The last time I was there it was Barefoot Friday, because students were giving their shoes away. A sophomore named Christian has founded Beacon of Light. On Wednesdays at 5 o’clock her student volunteers crowd into her cramped dormitory kitchen to make piles of pb&j sandwiches. Then load into cars, drive downtown, and give the sandwiches away to men and women who live hungry on the streets of San Diego.
Something very spiritual is happening.
Generation Justice has taken to heart Jesus’ kingdom-cry to feed the hungry, give clean water to the thirsty, put clothes on the naked (and shoes on the barefeet), and care for the sick — and end the pandemics.
Developmental psychologists refer to these years (18-28) as the critical years. Because The most important things we do with our lives are often determined by the choices we make, the values we form, the decisions we follow, the affections we develop, the allegiances we create during the critical years.
Shakespeare, Saturday Night Live writers, and Wheaton College students call them the Salad Days. These are the best days; the days in which we grow and flourish and thrive.
In the critical years you hold life by the tail. The world is yours for the taking. The doors are all open. You may live in any city you choose. You can take any career path you like. You can marry whoever you like… well, not really – but you get my point.
So much of who we you are is defined in those few developmentally important years. Think about your parents for a moment and the music they listen to. I can bet cash money it’s not Lil-Wayne or Usher. Your mom is still playing her Michael Bolton cassettes and your dad’s waiting for Kiss’s reunion tour.
In her seminal work on this formative life-stage, The Critical Years, Sharon Parks writes about the motion of faith. She argues that this period is a unique and identifiable developmental stage. Parks writes, “A Central strength of the young adult is the capacity to respond to visions of the world as it might become. This is the time in every generation for renewal of the human vision.”2
While at Harvard, Lawrence Kohlberg (considered the preeminent thinker on moral development) once taught a course on moral choice. Ethicists, who studied the effect the course had on students moral reasoning, reported that these young adults sense “a deep obligation to relieve human misery and suffering if possible.”3
This is why Jason Russel, Bobby Bailey, and Laren Poole founded Invisible Children. These three aspiring film-makers, in their early twenties, traveled to northern Uganda because they were disturbed by the atrocities taking place in Dufar, Sudan.
While looking for a way across the border they found themselves in the middle of a human tragedy. Thousands of children who feared being abducted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), to fight as child soldiers, were walking miles and miles every night from their rural villages to seek refuge in the towns of Gulu and Lira. The concrete floors of bus depots and hospital basements became their beds.
The three friends couldn’t believe what they were witnessing; literally, a flood of children filling the towns every night. Why hadn’t anyone told them? Why was the world silent?
They began to film the atrocity, produced a documentary, founded an organization, met with government officials, and called the world’s attention to the tragedy in northern Uganda. People, churches, schools, and governments have responded. The tide has turned. Kony is on the run. Children near Gulu are again sleeping in their own beds at night.
Do you see why I say it’s Generation Justice that is leading the charge to rescue children in places like Uganda — places like hell on earth?
The Rest of the Gospel
From my vantage, the Americanized version of the gospel is incomplete. We’ve focused our attention on an intellectual relationship with God, and for the most part we’ve neglected his call to live out this gospel of the kingdom – show mercy, pursue justice, love the marginalized, and free the oppressed.
I fully realize that it is good and necessary to have a mind after God. I have a PhD, I get it. But simply knowing your systematic theology doesn’t do it. Jesus flat out told the Pharisees they had no clothes. He was fed up with their pseudo-religious intellectual piety.
I think it’s the trophy hunters in Africa that got me.
I’ve spent about half my life in Africa and I can’t tell you how disenchanted I’ve become with the trophy hunting preachers. They come from churches and mission organizations to preach in villages and ask for a raising of the hands. Then they return to their country exclaiming a count of how many souls were saved.
They’ve missed it. They’ve missed the rest of the gospel! They miss the part when Jesus says, “care for them, feed them, love them, free them.” They never ask about the babies dying of malaria, why the stomachs of the malnourished swell, or who will care for the toddlers orphaned by aids.
They came to take a trophy, not to bring a kingdom.
But Generation Justice has heard the cry of the ancients like Micah and Amos and Isaiah, and they’ve started to live out the words of Jesus.
And they have begun to bring Christ’s kingdom to earth, just as it is in heaven.
That’s why as I type this sentence, eighteen year-old Allie Cestmat is in Malawi going village to village, with our team from The Grove, putting 8,000 pairs of shoes — from places like Victoria — on bare feet in Africa.
1. Mark Hrywna, Young Adults Fueled Spike in Volunteers. Non Profit Times, July 29, 2009. Accessed at http://calservenetwork.blogspot.com/2009/07/young-adults-fueled-spike-in-volunteers.html
2. Sharon Parks, The Critical Years (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 30.
3. Carol Gilligan, Moral Development: In the Modern American College. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981), 139, as quoted in Parks, 105.