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“I speak Jive”

One of my favorite low-brow comedies is the movie “Airplane.” Barbara Billingsley, better known to us Boomers as June Cleaver, the Beave’s mom, answers the call to serve as a translator when an African American passenger from Harlem has a medical emergency. It is absolutely hilarious. But what makes it so funny is the kernel of truth beneath the veneer of humor.

Jive talk originated in the world of jazz in the 1940s. Cab Calloway published the first dictionary of jive in 1938. “Cab Calloway’s Cat-ologue; A “Hepster’s Dictionary” set out how to converse in the vernacular of “jive.”

What does this have to do with us? Well, it may be more relevant than you think. So, have you tried talking to your kids lately? Have you had a substantive conversation recently with a Millennial or anyone in Generation Z. The fact is, we conservatives are a shrinking plurality, and our numbers are getting smaller every day. It is not because the ideas and principles that undergird conservatism are flawed or evil. It is because we haven’t learned how to communicate our values to them in a way that they both understand and can process internally. All of this stems from the fact that we don’t know how to talk to the younger generations. Why? Because we haven’t made the effort.

I must admit I am as guilty of this as anyone. I don’t even try to talk to liberals anymore. I avoid difficult conversations and important issues with anyone who I know would hold a contrary opinion. And deep inside, I have always known that this is a recipe for disaster.

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Someone has to be the adult in the room. If we truly care about the future of this country; or at least if we care about the future of our children and their children, we need to sit up, take notice, and use the brains that God gave us to figure out how to get through to them. I am sure that in their hearts, they want to lead happy lives, have security with freedom, and fill the voids that are the terminus of endless pleasure-seeking. We all have the same values even if we ascribe different titles to them. Of course, there are some who are just mentally unbalanced. But that is true across the political spectrum.

This week I attended a workshop given by Dr. Ben Williams at Boise Bible College. His topic was “Crossing Cultural Boundaries between Generations.” The audio has been recorded and can be heard on Boise Bible College’s website. It was incredibly insightful and challenging for me. For example, he told us Generation Z craves authority, “but doesn’t want to be told what to do or think. Even though they are. We gave our authority to children during Covid and they gave it to celebrities.” One of their prominent sayings is “Tik Tok taught me.” 40% of Generation Z uses Tik Tok as a search engine rather than Google. They are caught in the “Myth of Happiness.” We have told kids to pursue what makes them happy, but there is nothing there.

Dr. Williams talked about the pre-eminent values of each generation. Boomers value success, Gen X’ers, independence. Millennials are collaborative, networkers who want to work together to get results, while those in Gen Z simply want freedom.

Dr. Williams just scratched the surface on this issue. But listening to him made me finally come to realize that if we want to save our children and our country, we must learn how to talk to them. We can’t just sit in our conservative corners and complain to each other about what is happening to our country and how lost the younger generations are.

Dr. Williams recommended two books to get me started learning how to talk to the “other side.” Meet Generation Z by James Emery White and Growing Young by Kara Powell. I ordered them and they will arrive this week. I am an “old dog”, but this is one new trick I intend to learn. Because I care, and I know if you are reading this article, you do too.

For a long time, I entertained the belief that it was too late to stop America’s Slouch (now slide), toward Gomorrah, to paraphrase Justice Robert Bork’s book title. As a Christian, I realize now that we must not be pessimists. We have to recognize and internalize the fact that “Nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

Our children, and America, can be rescued. But we must be the adults in the room who care enough to listen to their children.

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