504 Java Profile

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Greatest Generation

Today, December 19, would have been my Dad's 84th birthday.  He was a member of what Tom Brokaw called, "The Greatest Generation."  If you haven't read the book, make it a Christmas priority. The opening lines of the book are as follows:


"This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
--Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The year of my birth, 1940, was the fulcrum of America in the twentieth century, when the nation was balanced precariously between the darkness of the Great Depression on one side and the storms of war in Europe and the Pacific on the other. It was a critical time in the shaping of this nation and the world, equal to the revolution of 1776 and the perils of the Civil War. Once again the American people understood the magnitude of the challenge, the importance of an unparalleled national commitment, and, most of all, the certainty that only one resolution was acceptable. The nation turned to its young to carry the heaviest burden, to fight in enemy territory and to keep the home front secure and productive. These young men and women were eager for the assignment. They understood what was required of them, and they willingly volunteered for their duty. 

Yesterday, I took a youth minister friend to the National World War II museum in New Orleans.  If you come visit me, I will likely take you there as well.  Dad was an aircraft mechanic on the small carrier Boxer in the Korean conflict, as he missed WW2 by a few years. While I always get a little weepy about my dad, it was another serviceman whose story caught my attention.

This picture is in the museum and the caption identifies the soldier that Ike is addressing as the jump captain of aircraft #23, one of the thousands of planes that would drop the airborne divisions of US soldiers behind Hitler's "Atlantic Wall" to reinforce the troops that landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.  What caught my attention is that the jump captain's age was given in the caption.  He was 22 years old. As a 22-year old, he was already entrusted with the lives of the soldiers in the squadron who would parachute out
of his airplane, and when they were all out, he would follow.   A 22-year old had seen enough action, experienced enough crisis, made enough decisions, and led enough men to be appointed as a jump captain.He would sense the responsibility for the lives of the soldiers he commanded to jump.

I think back on Brokaw's words describing my Dad's generation, who grew up with an understanding that they would do the right thing because it was the right thing to do.  I get that not everybody in that generation was great, but I stare at the picture of a 22-year old and I feel like I need to apologize to my own children--and to the generation that I have served as a youth minister and a youth professor.

I wasn't mean enough.  I didn't allow them to do enough. I wasn't silent enough.

Let me clarify.  I believe with all of my heart that the current generation is capable of all of the accomplishments of the greatest generation--if people like me would let them. They are smart, industrious, creative, social and clever...if they were baseball players, they would be five tool athletes.  Too often, however, we have not made them think.  Their critical thinking skills have been stifled by the twin maladies of "rescue" and "instant." Parents and teachers have rescued them from their own bad decisions rather than forcing them to figure out the recovery plan.  Websites, ATM's, search engines and smart phones have allowed them to access information without really thinking through the possibilities.

My Dad's legacy to me was the "MacGyver Syndrome." MacGyver was a secret agent on TV in the late 80s who could create/invent/repair pretty much anything with a paper clip and duct tape.  I think MacGyver built a nuclear reactor with a ball point pen on one episode. My Dad never threw anything away, never considered it broken beyond repair and was into the "re-purpose" fad before it was cool.  He gave me enough of it to where I have a shed which is my "shop," and it is full of stuff that I need to fix or figure out how to use for something else.  Or throw away. NOOOOOOOO!

How do we help our kids learn to think critically again?  First, I think we have to help them rediscover reading. Not the "F" pattern of reading a website, but reading a book from cover to cover and figuring out what the author was trying to say. Second, I think we need to pause before rescuing. If they have broken something, will their world crumble if we don't replace it and allow them to feel the consequences of their actions? If they fail a science fair project because we didn't pull an all-nighter building a volcano, will it ruin their future or teach them to plan? Third, I think we need to pause (maybe a day or two) before we answer a question that they could figure out. Perhaps talk through possibilities, but reserve advice/opinion/solution until they have formed a solution of of their own. Fourth, I think we need to travel with them. Even travel around town lets them see the wonders of their city. Then move on to their state, their country, and their world as time and finances allow.

Let them go through a museum that describes science, industry, or art or even what a 22-year old can accomplish if he has to.

My children are grown and even now, I resolve to help them to think more critically so that they can launch more productively. It scares me to death as a parent because there are constant reminders of how evil some people in our world can be (think Sandy Hook Elementary).  Still, they will be better if they have been coached to apply critical thinking, discernment, judgment and reason.

Mostly, they will see the balance of grace and justice that is the nature of our awesome and loving God.