my grup gripe
Tuesday May 30th 2006, 9:56 am
Filed under: youth ministry, personal, thinking..., music, youth work, emergent

some time ago, i read an article from new york magazine about “grups”, shorthand for a newly quantified demographic of adults who are erasing the generation gap. i found the article in a link from the thinkchristian post also had a link to an al mohler blog post about the same article. all three are worth reading (especially the article). however, i strongly think they (particularly the new york mag piece and even moreso al mohler’s post) have completely missed the point.

first a bit of a summary. a few quotes from the article:

He owns eleven pairs of sneakers, hasn’t worn anything but jeans in a year, and won’t shut up about the latest Death Cab for Cutie CD. But he is no kid. He is among the ascendant breed of grown-up who has redefined adulthood as we once knew it and killed off the generation gap.

This is an obituary for the generation gap. It is a story about 40-year-old men and women who look, talk, act, and dress like people who are 22 years old. It’s not about a fad but about a phenomenon that looks to be permanent. It’s about the hedge-fund guy in Park Slope with the chunky square glasses, brown rock T-shirt, slight paunch, expensive jeans, Puma sneakers, and shoulder-slung messenger bag, with two kids squirming over his lap like itchy chimps at the Tea Lounge on Sunday morning. It’s about the mom in the low-slung Sevens and ankle boots and vaguely Berlin-art-scene blouse with the $800 stroller and the TV-screen-size Olsen-twins sunglasses perched on her head walking through Bryant Park listening to Death Cab for Cutie on her Nano.

For a Grup, professional success is measured not by how many employees you have but by how much freedom you have to walk, or boogie-board, away.

There’s that tricky word again: passion. What’s with the Grups and passion? It’s all anyone wants to talk about. Passionate parents, passionate workers, passionate listeners to the new album by Wolf Parade.

here’s my gripe: i think the article wrongly focuses almost completely on clothing and music choices. then good ol’ al mohler takes this a step further, and implies that it’s an issue of immaturity, that growing up would entail knowing when to wear a good suit (my words, but not far from his).


let’s look at the positive intent here (something i’ve found to be extremely helpful in understanding any conflict or change). maybe the grups (do i qualify? i don’t wear $200 dollar jeans, but i do wear shorts or jeans everyday, and rarely anything but a t-shirt. and at 43, i’d rather listen to death cab for cutie or system of a down than led zepplin or the journey or anything that actually came out of my generation.) are rejecting the crap values of a previous generation. and, to take it a step further, maybe they’re rejecting the values of their own teenage years.

in other words…

how is not a GOOD thing that a 36 year-old is more interested in quality of life than in corporate climing? how is it not a GOOD thing that a 33 year-old would rather work a job that provides meaning and significance from contribution (even if it means less pay or ’status’ in the way that used to be quantified), rather than working a job that provides high pay or prestige or power over others, but robs the soul. and to the fixation with clothing and music found in the article and mohler’s post… well, i’m just baffled. how is a suit and tie somehow, instrinsicly, better? if ‘appropriate clothing’ is a societally-prescribed norm, it’s a “it is what it is” at most, and annoying group think at worst.

well. i could rant about this for a while, but i sense i’m rambling. let me just say that i want clothes that are comfortable and allow me to focus on my priorities in life, which do NOT include propping up a previous generation’s norms. and let me just say that i want to listen to music that moves my soul, not music that makes me think of the past — and since my spirit and soul continue to grow and change (thanks, god, transformation’s a pretty cool invention of yours!), music that moves my soul will likely continue to grow and change also.

HERE’S THE THING: the observation that the generation gap, as experienced in every previous generation, is disappearing… now THAT’S something worth talking about and studying and thinking about. what are the implications? what are the risks? what are the new opportunities this provides us — especially in the church? wow — just think of it! is it possible to conceive of a time when worship style wars won’t be drawn along generational lines? how cool would THAT be?

15 Comments so far
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I’m 48, I wear jeans (JC Penney today) 9 days out of 10, I enjoy lots of music though my favorites are the groups of my “era”. I ended a career in radio because I was passionate enough that I told the boss that he was wrong and fought for what I believe is great local radio. Today I fight for the place of young people in the church.

And I think you’ve hit it right on the head, it’s about passion and good things being place into the place of priority ahead of the “other stuff”.

Time to go ruminate on those thoughts

Comment by Jay P 05.30.06 @ 10:04 am

One of the things that older people would say to me when I was growing up, is that you are only as old as you feel. Now at 40, I feel like I am around 25ish. I’ve thought about whether I have maturity issues, but as an adult volunteer at youth group, I realize when to act young and when to discipline or act mature or when experience is needed.

I guess what I want to say is that some of the older generation tries to judge us by our look rather than our fruit. I think that erasing the generation gap would be a good thing, if it meant getting kids into church, because an adult actually wanted to talk to them and see them as they are and be in an open conversation about their faith. I think most kids and older adults stand off from each other, because they don’t think they have anything in common with each other, when more than likely, they do. Unfortunately, the older people who criticize youth workers, often think of the kids as a “work force” rather than an integral part of the church.

Comment by Jeff Lutz 05.30.06 @ 12:08 pm

This pretty much says it all… leadership on 30 May 2006 12:10 pm
Great article/read from marko about 30 to 40 year-olds who act/dress/think like 20 year olds.


Pingback by the G sides » This pretty much says it all… 05.30.06 @ 1:11 pm

is adulthood eroding? you have 30, 40, and 50 somethings revolting against the previous generations adult paradigm. you have reasearchers telling us that adolescence is lasting as long as 25. Does adulthood exist as viable aspiration anymore? These are huge questions in light of how much focus we have placed in Christian ministry on developing spiritual maturity. We are so focused on dragging our youth into these pretentious parameters of spiritual maturity when really may all they amount to is a veiled pursuit of the adult paradigm. Passionless!
As our eyes open up to this reality we need to look long and hard at the practice of spiritual maturity that we have propped - especially in the evangelical camp.

Comment by mdaele 05.30.06 @ 1:19 pm

mdaele — i think “does adulthood exist as a viable aspiration anymore?” is still kind of missing the point. sure, it’s a question worth asking, i suppose. but the real issue, in my opinion, is a redefining of adulthood. i totally think teenagers and 20-somethings aspire to adulthood — just on a different set of terms, a different set of defining values. it’s adulthood that’s being re-thought (which, frankly, i think is a good thing). in developmental terms, adulthood is defined as having some resolve to the three adolescent questions of identity, autonomy and belonging (i think chap clark develops some of this in his book “hurt”). but too often, our culture has ignored this and proposed a behavioristic definition (which is reflected in mohler’s post) that is more about external performance.

Comment by marko 05.30.06 @ 2:04 pm

perhaps something is getting tangled in the semantics…
When i ask kids in my youth group if they want to become adults - most of them say no. But you are right they do aspire toward some of the aspects/trappings of adulthood (marriage (or secure partnership), career, etc.,) I also think that it is somewhat infantile for Mohler to suggest that adulthood is being rejected solely based on behaviouristic tendencies that arbitrarily are showing up in culture.
However, my point runs something like this: I think kids imagine adulthood in radically different ways than what previous generations imagined it to be. The way teens will answer those three critical questions will be categorically different than they used to be answered (i don’t know - do you agree?). Against that we have been working with these processes of spiritual maturity that are based on the old paradigms of adulthood. And on top of that the established evangelical church has focused almost entirely on behaviouristic markers of spiritual maturity. The things we typically use to describe ‘discipled’ kids, for me, often feel more like we are trying to make kids conform to a spiritualized form of antiquated adulthood. As a result there is little wonder that people like Mohler freak out over the trappings and behaviours. Personally I think it leads to the edge of propigating a form of spirituality that connects in almost no way with the reality of what kids are growing up into.
I’m probably out to lunch…

Comment by mdaele 05.30.06 @ 2:55 pm

i’m with you, mdaele — makes sense (and i agree).

Comment by marko 05.30.06 @ 3:03 pm

I dont know….i guess I just try to be the me that God created me to be and not worry about all the other stuff.

I read a book several years back that made the point better than much of these folks do. It was called SIBLING SOCIETY by robert bly.

I think you are right that it is, from what I read overly focused on the externals. But, as Bly points out, I think our youth are missing a lot when we have a society that in unwelcome to elders and where many 40 and 50 somethings are obcessed with being and acting younger than they are.

And, at least in my neck of the woods, there are a lot of youth and children that would be aided by parents that did not try and extend adolescence well into their adult years.

Comment by Clint Walker 05.30.06 @ 4:34 pm

But where’s the tipping point between stereotypes (stuffy, work-obsessed adult vs. carefree, irresponsible adolescent)? Often in youth ministry we hear about ‘bridging the generation gap’, but I wonder with Marko, what if the gap was filled?

After college, 12 years of marriage, 3 kids under 6 and in jeans and a henley, my life doesn’t look like what I thought adulthood would be. Nor does it look a whole lot like it did in high school (even if my outdated clothes do!). Maybe I’m an uncool grup. Maybe I just value students more that the trapppings of successful adulthood.

Here’s to erasing the generation gap… one clip on tie at a time!

Comment by Mike 05.30.06 @ 6:13 pm

I’m a 36 year old who wears jeans (or jean shorts) to work almost every day. Here are my thoughts.
1) Being more interested in “work[ing] a job that provides meaning and significance from contribution (even if it means less pay or ’status’ in the way that used to be quantified), rather than working a job that provides high pay or prestige or power over others, but robs the soul” is great if you’re willing to take the cut in pay. My problem is hearing about these people who also want the pay that comes with those who are climbing the corporate ladder.
2) T-shirt and jeans are comfortable, but are they always appropriate. I’m more concerned about the why than the what. I used to do the same thing, but for this reason - I certainly wasn’t going to allow any “adult” (anybody over 30 at the time) to tell me how to dress. So, are the 30 and 40-somethings wearing those things to make a statement, or to try and tell the world that they’re not really old, or simply because they really like to wear that kind of clothing? If the latter, then I agree - who cares. Let ‘em wear what they want. If the former two, then I, too, would question their maturity. On the other hand, why in the world do we have “dress clothes” at all. Why were they invented?
3) So let’s look at the positives (I’m an odd Gen-Xer - I like tradition and the values of my parents and grandparents) - why did the former generation choose the “norms” they did? Why did they believe that one should dress “nice” (whatever that looked like to them and now to us)? What were the positives of adulthood as it was defined a generation ago, and what should we keep for adults of today that may be thrown out with the bath water?
4) Why is behavior (whether it’s clothes, what kind of music they listen to, etc.) not a good gauge of maturity? Isn’t behavior just “fruit?” I agree, I don’t want to raise up pharisees - and maybe that’s my struggle vs. somebody struggling to make sure we don’t raise up students who continue to sin so that grace may abound - but that doesn’t mean that I don’t call students to a behavior that models Christ’s, or Christ’s call.
Hmmm… I’m being a little contrary today. At 36, don’t do four hours of sleep well anymore. Still, I think they’re good questions to consider.

Comment by Pastor Paul 05.30.06 @ 8:33 pm

i read this article with interest too marko and you put your finger on the misgivings i had also. minus the materialism i would consider liam and i grups - and it comes from a place of intentional choice - not immaturity or laziness.

Comment by bobbie 05.31.06 @ 5:45 am

So funny you posted this. I was listening to NPR and they had a story that described what we are calling grups. Over across the pond they are apparently called “chavs”, listen to story here

Comment by Andrew Seely 05.31.06 @ 7:17 am

Interesting. I’m 27, but I easily see myself within this scope. I’m sitting here wearing a Utilikilt (a most excellent anniversary gift) & a Pearl Jam concert tshirt from 1996 with moppy non-styled hair and a scruffy face in need of a decent shave (well, in some areas, not the whole face). But does it mean that I’m immature because I do not believe that how I appear affects how I am able to work? Or, even more important, that being here this way has a more positive effect on my ability to do well in work & life than if I were wearing a “uniform” of sorts? I was always repelled by the idea that one has to look a prescribed way in order to perform well, or that peoples’ reactions to one’s appearance was vitally important in every regard. People argue that things like stokebrokers in mohawks could never work becuase they’d never be trusted (an extreme example?) but I say that’s bs. It’s plain prejudice and judgementalism. Yes, the one with the mohawk may have varying degrees of pure or selfish reasons for haing one, but the person rejecting the broker based on the mohawk may be missing the best damn broker this side of Wall Street. The past answer has been for the broker to bend to the consumer, but that is, I say for the better, rapidly eroding. Like anything and everything for almost all time, there will be upsides and downsides to it all.

Comment by Tree 05.31.06 @ 10:41 am

[…] akes, and the reinvention of the american grown-up. i’ve ordered it. connects with my earlier post about grups being a (potentially) positive trend, counter to what others have said. from the websi […]

Pingback by ysmarko 06.26.06 @ 11:10 am

I’m still cool, so I can’t necassarily comment on my participation in this trend :)

But I think it does say alot about what we define adulthood as. Some of the best adults I know are 15, some of the worst teenagers I know are pushing 60. I think adulthood has a lot more to do about values, drives, responsibility etc. then what you wear, what you listen to or how you talk. You can put a three year old in a suit but you can’t make them own up to his responsibilities..

Comment by Kevin I 06.27.06 @ 3:37 pm

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