Change that scares the dickens out of me

Growing up in the segregated South of the 1950s, I lived in an insulated world where everyone in my circle of influence was white, working class, and, as far as I knew, heterosexual. A “good” black man stayed on his side of town. A “good” white woman bought the best detergent for her family. Girls who got pregnant suddenly disappeared. Aspirin was the drug of choice.

Change we can believe in? How about change that scares the dickens out of me? For I’m part of the Silent generation, Americans between the ages of 66 and 83 who need a map to navigate this new world. OK, not a map: a GPS. My identity can be stolen, my whereabouts tracked, my private conversations monitored. And there’s all that technology I don’t know how to manage: the DVR, features on my cell phone, having to plan my own itinerary on the internet.

But equally disconcerting for me and my generation is the change in values. Teens and young adults engage in sexting and get hooked on drugs. Children are murdered at school. Sex and violence permeate TV programming. It’s little surprise that my generation, which has witnessed such enormous change, tends to hold conservative positions on social issues and is either angry or frustrated with government (  We fear for the future of our families, our country, and our world.

What do frightened people do? They place blame. It’s the government, It’s the schools. It’s the parents. It’s Obama’s fault. Behind the blame is a yearning for simple solutions. If we just allowed prayer in the schools. If young women would just say no to premarital sex. If poor people would just go out and find a job. If the government would just quit interfering.

But to stay stuck in simple solutions perpetuates stereotypes of—yes, I’ll say the words—old people as complainers. It also makes us irrelevant.

An alternative is to live in the NOW. That is, we can seek opportunities to be with people who represent our changing society: those who are younger, of a different race, ethnic group, or sexual orientation. Not to preach or speak fondly of the past, but to listen and withhold judgment. Standing with them rather than against them might just make a heap of difference.


An older woman looks at sex and a changing world

Sex. The subject excites us; it scares us.

Sex is everywhere. Turn on the TV, and you see people casually sleeping with a colleague, a neighbor, a stranger even. Ads for Viagra promise meaningful relationships, not necessarily with a spouse. Crime shows deal with rape and sexual abuse. Sex sells cars, shampoo—you name it.

Homosexuality is no longer whispered about. People actually let it be known that they are gay. And they’re asking for equal rights under the law, even the right to marry.

Those of us who grew up in earlier eras feel out of sync with a culture so different from the one of our youth. Parents and church taught a moral code of restraint. Sex was not treated casually. Meanwhile, we forget that young people were made to feel guilty for their sexual urges (the harm eloquently portrayed in the old movie Splendor in the Grass). We also now see that homosexuals were forced to live a lie.

How do we deal with this disconnect between the values of our youth and the cultural climate of today? I’ve seen two alternatives at work.

1)     We can try to bring back the values of the past by teaching chastity and quoting the Bible. We can apply scare tactics, like condemning people to hell, warning about pregnancy, pronouncing doom for the American family (in truth, not always the harmonious, healthy environment for raising children we imagine it to be).

2)     Or we can open our hearts and minds to a morality that makes us uncomfortable. We can listen to young people talk about the sexual pressures on them. To single adults speak of their wishes for intimacy. To gays and lesbians witness to their experiences of coming to terms with their sexual orientation.

I’m reminded of the late Virginia Davidson, of Rochester, NY. In 1976, the year she turned 60, she was asked to chair the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Task Force on Homosexuality and the Church. As she listened to gay and lesbian Christians, she recognized the injustice of exclusion and worked for the rest of her life to bring them into full participation in the church.

Yes, my sentiments gravitate toward the second alternative. Which doesn’t mean I condone all that goes on today. But life will not return to the way it was when I was growing up—not that I really want it to.