Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thinking about Time, History and the Self, Part 1

Time and history seems to be that which isolates us and alienates us from those who have come before us, or at least this continues to be the continuing consensus among all this talk about the Future of Christianity and this Great Emergence thing we apparently have found ourselves in the midst. I get it, at one time I too felt that those who came before couldn't understand what I am thinking and what my generation were experiencing. The Boomers and my parents of the Baby Bust generation couldn't understand. I didn't even attempt to think about my Grandparents or anyone before them. Ironically I suppose I have always been fascinated by history and between thinking I'd be an engineer and finding a call to the pastorate I thought of becoming an historian. However, history was that very distant past that somehow related to my present but it was difficult to explain how or why. Though if I had been honest history had its appeal in what was foreign and without direct relation to me and the time in which I lived. My parents were an odd combination of in my time and emissaries from a different and foreign time- they told the family stories, stories that made it so clear that times had changed. I have a vague recollection of seeing my mother in a picture from when she was young, and asking who that was in the picture and the answer sent me off wondering what it was like to be a child in a time I did not know or understand: my interest in History was born. My present was real, their past an irrelevant oddity that was fascinating.

As I have moved from my 20's through my thirties and now entering my forties this year, this view of the past, and of preceding generations has changed. First, I don't feel alienated from my parents. I have come/am coming to see that Boomers are just people like my own generation trying to figure out their way in a culture that prizes the future over the past. It seems to me that such prizing makes it difficult to find ones footing in the present, as one is hardly encouraged to stand still let alone take time to gain ones bearings by look back along the path we have come. Boomer's and Xers and now Millenials or Generation Y are all attempting the same thing in ways that make sense in the face of our obsession with giving minute periods of time epic and millennial significance. We abandoned at some point in our western/American cultural consciousness, grand meaning and then suddenly our smallness must become grand and cosmic, every 10 to 20 years must represent cosmic shifts that separate us completely from all that has gone before. I am coming to see this belief in the absolutely meaningful quality of change and flux as part of our coming to grips with the world as beings that come into existence at a particular point in time. The longer I lived the more my parents made sense to me. Somewhere between 25 and 32 or so, I became friends with my parents as I realized that I owed a great debt to them for who I was (granted this is in part due to the fact that they were and are genuinely good parents) even when my perspectives and reality differed from theirs it had its roots in their perspectives and reality. Our differences have become less significant, our connection and my connection with the past has become more obvious, change and flux are real but seem to be that which is less real than connections and continuity. My time, my self seems less like a standard for judging and gaining a sense of the world, and more simply a vantage point from which to seek to understand a narrative of which we of this time are only one brief chapter. I think I am more like other human beings that have come before us than I am differ from them, though I do differ, just as I differ from my parents, as would be obvious if one simply sees us together. Yet, even my body is marked as much with similarities as differences. This journey towards this recognition perhaps began when at 24 one morning I looked in the mirror having grown a beard and found my dad staring back at me from my own face!