Friday, June 12, 2009

Swinging Over the Generational Divide

A few months ago, my wife found herself in possession of a satellite radio for our little commuter-box of a car. The point of that was, of course, to connect her with the vast array of offerings on XM, and to thus make her day-to-day commute a little more tolerable.

I hadn't been using the radio much, but a recent solo long-distance trip through rural Maryland suddenly had me appreciating it. When your only over-the-air choices are country and country, it's nice to have something to fall back on that hasn't been pre-masticated by executives in Nashville. I'm actually a pretty big fan of bluegrass, but can't stand Corporate Country. The Man is still the Man, even if he wears boots and a cowboy hat. So I prowled through the hundred-plus XM channels, looking for something that just...clicked.

What amazed me was the channel I ended up sticking with. It wasn't current music. It wasn't hip-pop or altrock. It wasn't the music of my own youth or young adulthood. It was barely even the music of my parent's youth. It was big band and swing music of the 1930s and 1940s. Stuff like Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, some sweet live Cab Calloway and Tommy Dorsey mixing like butter with Sinatra. I listened for hours. I just sat and droned along in our little xB, listening to a calvacade of long deceased swing icons, and even the absence of cruise control and an engine overmatched for mountain driving didn't dampen my enjoyment of the trip.

Swing and big band sound had a brief hipster revival back in the 1990s, but it has since drifted back into the haze of musical history. This is a pity, because it's just so...alive. It was the pop music of that generation, and I find myself preferring it to the pop music of this generation. It shows musical accomplishment that isn't studio-dependent. It's suave and elegant, not brutal and profane. And it's...young. It was then, and you can feel the passion and physicality of youth moving in it now.

Preferences aside, though, it stirs me to wonder why it is that church is so obsessed with mimicking our societal obsession with generational fragmentation. There is a dissonance, I think, between being "relevant" and being "counter-cultural," and if church is to be authentic in it's articulation of the Gospel, it needs to be in greatest tension with the culture, both in form and in purpose.

Nowhere is this clearer than in our churchy replication of the separation of ages, kids from tweeners from youth from young adults from young marrieds from older marrieds from retirees from the old from the old old. Ministries box us in by demographic and microtarget interest groups like a marketer on meth, even though the whole point of Christian faith is the shattering of the boundaries between us.

This despite the fact that we grow most in faith and come to know Christ in the the crucible of the other. And sometimes, just sometimes, the other knows music that we don't, and that will speak to us in ways we never anticipated.