by John Ellis
I’m Gen-X. This means that I’m old enough to remember being told that my generation would be the first generation to do worse financially than their parents. Labels like “slackers,” “self-absorbed,” and “ungrateful” were liberally applied to Gen-X by both the so-called Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation – our parents and grandparents. I don’t remember the Baby Boomers weighing in, though. Most likely, they were too busy coddling their self-absorbed, lazy, participation-trophy-demanding brats now known as Millennials.
I’m kidding, of course. Most of the Millennials that I’ve had the privilege of befriending and/or working with have impressed me with their ambition, ingenuity, collaborative spirit, and overall concern for others. The stereotypes and pejoratives aimed in the direction of Millennials are as unfair and unwarranted as those aimed at my generation. Sure, there are generational differences – different approaches to work and different perspectives on the world, the world’s problems, and the possible solutions. But, that’s par for the course. Generational differences and misunderstandings are nothing new.
What’s different now, though, is the way social media has magnified our societal foibles and has escalated conflicts. Millennials don’t have to wait until TIME magazine hits the newsstands to find out how much previous generations despise them. Unlike Gen X, thanks to the internet, they get to watch the vitriol directed at them spill out in real time and, because of the ubiquity of social media, a much larger avalanche of it. All of that to say, I empathize with the retort, “Okay, Boomer.” However, my understanding doesn’t translate into approval. In a nutshell, I believe that it violates Paul’s instruction to Believers in his letter to the Ephesians.
In Ephesians 5:4, the apostle Paul commanded, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
That verse has been used, for both good and ill, to establish a position on how a Christian’s speech is to be characterized; it’s also been used to prooftext a variety of prohibitions and standards. “Movies with cuss words are verboten for Christians,” some will say, pointing to Ephesians 5:4 as evidence. Others use the verse to condemn silly, irreverent speech, even if profanity is absent.
The scope of the prohibition inherent in Paul’s command is beyond the objective of this article. I’ll say this: on one hand, I think Ephesians 5:4 is frequently used as a prooftext bludgeon to shame people into adopting culturally specific standards. However, on the flipside, that verse is also often ignored or whitewashed away by those who are tempted by a libertarian emphasis of Christian liberty. Like I wrote, though, this article is neither the time nor place to delve into that aspect of the verse.
What’s pertinent to “Okay, Boomer” is the verse’s final statement – “but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
As Christians who are heirs with Christ, our salvific and eternal blessings should shape how we view and interact with the world, and that includes our perspective of and interactions with other Image Bearers, including those older than us. Thankfulness is to dominate our lives and our speech. Commenting on the verse, the highly esteemed theologian F.F. Bruce explains, “believers have received so many blessings from God, in grace as well as in nature, that thanksgiving should be a dominant note in their speech as well as in their thoughts.”
As much as I empathize with the urge to retort “Okay, Boomer” when condescension or disdain is directed towards a Millennial, the phrase’s subtext does not contain a “dominant note” of thanksgiving. Instead, it contains the subtext of contempt and ingratitude. Please don’t misunderstand, by no means am I excusing the uncharitable and, frankly, sour grapes subtext of the Baby Boomers who speak and act dismissively towards Millennials. But one generation’s sins do not excuse another’s.
Speaking to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are Millennials, I encourage you to press pause on the generational conflict and ask yourself how you can use your responses and words to serve those who have come before you. Seek to use your words and actions to demonstrate gratitude. One way to do so is to operate and act with the realization that older generations have accumulated wisdom that you have yet to glean. Allow me to illustrate this with an anecdote from my life.
Looking back over my childhood, some of my fondest memories include my grandfather and his buddies. Every morning, they would gather at a local fast food restaurant to share coffee, food, and laughs. Joining them was always one of the highlights while visiting my grandparents every summer. Sitting, listening, and laughing to their self-deprecating oddball tales was worth getting up at 6 in the morning. Receiving answers to my questions about what it was like serving in WWII helped fill in gaps from my history books. Taking in advice about life, work, school, and love was priceless. That motley crew of old men who smelled of cigarettes, grease, and stale coffee filled in many of the holes left in my education, especially in the realm of the practical.
That being said, those men weren’t perfect – not even close, not even my beloved grandfather. Going into specifics about their flaws and sins would serve little purpose. Since those men were born in the early 20th century, readers can probably guess many of the problems with their overall worldview and the ways in which their perspective and rhetoric was deeply flawed and even sinful. My point – what’s important – is that even with the generational gap and all that entails, including changing perspectives and acknowledgements of wrongs and sins, I learned much from those men. Advice and information that I still value.
Decades later, I am still thankful for the time and energy those old men spent on a kid. Even while recognizing that no generation (and no person) is perfect, I’m aware that soaking in the wisdom of previous generations aided my intellectual, emotional, and moral development. If, in my twenties, when their generation was dogging Gen X I had treated those men with an eye-rolling dismissal wrapped up in a pithy retort, what would I have communicated?
With that in mind, I ask Millennial Christians, does “Okay, Boomer” reflect a humble, gratitude for your elders? Or, rather, does it demonstrate a steering into contempt characterized by ingratitude? And that brings me to another point in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
One of the things adult Christians have to wrestle and come to terms with is how to live out Paul’s command in Ephesians 6:2 to, “Honor your father and mother.”
Again, the scope of this article precludes a robust exegesis of that verse. However, I do think that one of the more obvious applications of Ephesians 6:2 is connected to Paul’s command in 5:4 that our lives be dominated by a spirit of thankfulness. Not only our actions but our words communicate whether we “honor” or parents or not. And it’s difficult for me to see how “Ok, Boomer” reflects the desire to, “honor your father and mother.”
As I’ve already stated, I empathize with the impulse of Millennials to respond to the insulting jibes from their elders with “Okay, Boomer.” However, like our parents, we operate under the Curse; having an impulse or desire does not justify that impulse or desire. Dismissing the accumulated wisdom of those older than us with a handy rejoinder does not adhere to Paul’s commands in Ephesians for our lives and speech to be characterized by thankfulness. Nor does “Okay, Boomer” honor our parents.
As followers of Jesus, our interaction with other Image Bearers should reflect our standing in Christ. Trading insults with older (or younger) generations does not bear testimony to the glorious truth that we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:23). Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let’s be counter-culture in the ways in which we interact with each other. By the ways in which we interact with each other, let’s show our immense gratitude for the great salvation given us through faith in Jesus. To that end, “Okay, Boomer” has no place in the Christian’s lexicon.
 F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 371.