VIEW VIDEO In preparation for this week’s message, I was reading a list put out by the Recording Industry Association of America called The Songs of the Century, and noticed, perched at #5, Don McLlean’s song “American Pie,” which debuted in 1971 when I was 10 years old. When that song came out my brothers and I each chipped in a quarter and bought it at Money’s Radio and TV shop on the Danville town square, took it home, and began playing it incessantly, until one day, when my father reached his breaking point, declared it wasn’t music, and turned off the phonograph, demanding we listen to the radio instead. So we turned on the radio where, as it turns out, “American Pie” was playing. My father threw his arms up in the air, let out an anguished wail, and stomped out of the house. As I reflect on that event, some 50 years later, it occurs to me it might have been the start of my father’s struggle with alcohol.
Because God likes a good joke, I was present this past week when our granddaughter Madeline was listening to Taylor Swift, who I honestly know nothing about, though it didn’t stop me from telling Madeline that music was much better when I was a kid. She’s seven-years-old, so I pointed out that when I was seven, I listened to “Hey, Jude” and “Born to Be Wild,” but she said Taylor Swift was better, so I threw my arms up in the air, let out an anguished wail, stomped out of the house, and drank my first beer. Why do we do this?
I’ve been talking about stuff I want to do before I croak, my geezer’s manifesto, so today want to talk about embracing modernity and not fearing it. Starting today, I will refrain from telling young people that music was better when I was a kid. Neither will I fall into despair, believing those who are younger than me lack the intelligence and will to solve the problems that seem intractable today. In my geezer years, I will remind myself of this: No man who, as a teenager wore a leisure suit while dancing to the song “Muskrat Love,” can condemn the choices of today’s youth.
I’m comforted by the realization that generational superiority is not a recent trend. I’m not sure what was happening in the community of Ephesus when the Apostle Paul or one of his disciples wrote to them, but apparently generational conflict was putting the community at risk. The letter was written not to the children, but to the parents, who, after all, were the adults in the room. It said, “Don’t provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Discouraged. Having lost confidence or enthusiasm; disheartened. If our sense of cultural and generational superiority were limited to music, it wouldn’t be a problem. We’d laugh about it and go on. But when our generational superiority reveals a pattern of contempt for our children’s choices, we sow seeds of bitterness in our relationships. When we condemn not just their music, but their relationship choices, their attire, their vocational aspirations, their parenting techniques, political choices, and financial decisions, we sow seeds of bitterness and reap harvests of contempt.
“But you don’t know my child. You don’t know my grandchildren. If I didn’t intervene, they would ruin their lives.” The key word here is “their” lives. We’ve lived our lives, we must let our children and grandchildren live theirs, being careful not to offer our unsolicited comments and judgements, even when we believe they are making bad decisions. Every person I have ever known has made, in addition to good decisions, incredibly poor ones. Those who have recovered from their poor decisions are those whose parents or grandparents didn’t stand over them reminding them of their failures. “I told you so. I knew you would blow this. Why can’t you ever do anything right? You never listen.” Don’t provoke your children or grandchildren, lest they become disheartened.
Growing older is no excuse for saying whatever we want, to whomever we want, whenever we want. There is no secret age, that once passed, gives us the right to be rude or dismissive to others. I sometimes hear people say, “Now that I’m old, I’m going to tell people exactly what I think about them.” People who do that end up in nursing homes wondering why no one visits them.
When we sow seeds of bitterness, we reap harvests of contempt. Don’t provoke your children and grandchildren, lest they become disheartened.
My sister went to college in Vincennes, where both of our grandmothers lived at the time. My Grandmother Gulley invited her to church one Sunday, so my sister went, wearing blue jeans like every other college kid in America in 1978. My grandmother said she looked like a prostitute and told my sister she was ashamed of her. My other grandma, Grandma Quinett, whenever she saw my sister, would say two things. She would reach up and touch my sister’s face and say, “You are so pretty,” and “I’m so proud of how well you’re doing in college.”
To this day, when you walk in my sister’s house, there are all these pictures of my Grandma Quinett hanging on the walls, while all the pictures of Grandma Gulley are in a box in the closet. If you want to know who someone loves, look at their walls. It will never be the photographs of someone who told them their music was bad and they didn’t know how to dress. It will never be photographs of someone who told them they weren’t smart enough to go to college or only dumb kids went to trade schools. The pictures on the walls will be of the people whose words warmed our hearts and caused our spirits to soar.
If we’re lucky enough to live long enough to be geezers, let’s be the best geezers we can be. Let’s not tell the young people in our lives how they’ve disappointed us or let us down. Let’s tell them what happiness they bring us, how blessed we are to have them in our lives, how proud they make us. For people have a way of growing into our words. Let us be our children’s colleagues working for a better world, not their critics condemning their finest efforts. When they are brighter than us, as they will likely be, let our hearts be glad and not resentful.
Let our conversations be grounded in compassion, buttressed with encouragement, centered on their needs, not our own. If we do that, we will be celebrated on the walls of the next generation, not hidden away and forgotten. This, incidentally, is why so many people today hang pictures of Jesus on their walls, and not pictures of Pilate, whose cold and calculating words nailed Jesus to the cross as surely as any nails. Aspire to the walls, friends, and not the closets.