Embracing a Generation into Greatness
You loved or loathed him, he rarely provoked a neutral response. Miller swaggered through life foul-mouthed and feral, relishing a good argument, and even better, a great fight. The Army refused his enlistment in World War I, so he joined the American Red Cross. He was serving in Italy when 200 pieces of Austrian shrapnel shredded into his legs. Returning to America Miller moved to Chicago. He chose Chicago, because it was home to a famous author named Sherwood Anderson. Anderson had a reputation for helping young writers. Miller was a fledging writer who wanted badly to improve.
Anderson, burrowed into Miller's soul. He met with him, gave him books to read, tore apart his writing. For two years the famous author invested long hours into this brash young man. Sparing Miller no mercy, Anderson red-inked his work till it sprang to life-sharp and vivid with immediacy.
When Miller moved to Paris, Anderson wrote a glowing letter of introduction for him to a famous circle of writers and artists. In 1926, Miller, claiming everything he ever learned about writing he learned from Anderson, published his first novel called The Sun Also Rises. The world remembers Miller for his unforgettable stories, and by his full name-Ernest Miller Hemingway.
Hemingway was just the beginning. Anderson moved on to New Orleans, where he befriended another writer, a poet thirsty to fine-tune his craft. Anderson critiqued and cajoled, spurring the young man toward excellence. A year later, Anderson helped this man publish his first novel, Soldier's Pay. That man's name was William Faulkner. Three years later Faulkner produced The Sound and the Fury, which instantly became a smashing success.
Hemingway and Faulkner are just half the story. Anderson moved on to California, and ploughed his life into mentoring playwright Thomas Wolfe. With Hemingway, Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe under his belt, you'd imagine Anderson might have stopped. But you'd imagine incorrectly. For California had another promising young writer with a fertile pen, John Steinbeck. Anderson invested his life in Steinbeck as well. By the time Anderson was finished, three of his protégés earned Nobel Prizes and four, Pulitzer prizes for literature.
Anderson's influence was phenomenal. What was behind this man's jaw-dropping legacy? His personal success as a writer lasted just a decade. How did he use his short-lived fame to produce writers of such renown? It is said that he was the only author of his day, to reproduce his style and vision of writing into the next generation of writers; writers that will be read for decades to come. Anderson's secret is summed up in a curious word, a word that I hope will become a part of your vocabulary, a part of your thinking, and life. Anderson you see, was a generative man.
Anderson sculpted the future of literature by pouring his life into writers who would eventually eclipse his own talent, young men who needed him to reach their destiny. By investing his time and insight into another generation, Anderson was generative. Generativity, a term coined by prize winning author Eric Erikson, is defined as the care taken in establishing and guiding the next generation. Anderson embraced a generation of writers' into greatness by taking the time to care for them and see them established.
A sad disclaimer to this amazing story; Anderson, while spectacularly generative to young writers, was unfortunately no role-model of generativity for his own family. He abandoned his wife and children in order to become a writer. (His life illustrates to us the tragedy of being to others what you are not for your own family). But for all his personal and moral faults, he invested what he knew about writing into another generation, and for literature that made all the difference.
The Secret of Greatness
Generativity, the care taken in guiding and establishing the next generation, is the secret core of greatness. We tend to think of greatness as an individual accomplishment. We say he's a great tennis player, or she is a great speaker. But greatness is not great unless it's transferred to the next generation. You are not truly great unless something great survives after you're gone. Someone said it succinctly like this; you are only what survives you.
My hope as you read this book is that you will hear an invitation from God to be a generative person. The consequences are extraordinary and eternal. Of course, generativity is probably not a subject you were discussing just last week over coffee. It's a word easy to dismiss because it's unfamiliar. But don't let the strangeness of the term, keep you from its riches. This word could change, even revolutionize your priorities. Generativity is a way for you to join with God in creating countless futures and holy outcomes.
Generativity is a a very simple concept; simple to understand, and simple to do. Everyone, no matter their culture, social, or economic class, no matter their education, can engage in generativity. It's not difficult to grasp. Generativity, the care taken in guiding and establishing the next generation, when done well, creates future, creates destiny. Generativity creates an environment in which greatness can be nurtured..
To understand generativity we must look to the ultimate generative person, God. "In the beginning, God created..." The first five words of God's revelation to us in the Old Testament we see God generating. He is spinning galaxies, unrolling the universe, setting stars to burning, creating futures, establishing foundations. He is brooding over the earth and creating order. God didn't just wake up one morning, feeling creative, and set about to make a lovely planet. Oh no! God intentionally created a cosmos with a future built into it. Every tree, every plant, everything in the garden God made had within it the capacity to create future.
God is passionate about the future! Everything alive was given the capacity to perpetuate itself into the next generation Generativity is a part of God's character, a holy feature of who He is. God doesn't have gunnysacks around the throne, where He dips out heaps of generativity. He didn't read about generativity in a book like this, and decide it was a good character quality to develop. Oh no! God is timeless. He is the God of generations. His plans and purposes can never be confined to a single generation, a single era, even a single millennium. In fact Scripture reveals that God's holy ambitions cannot be confined to time. God's intentions go farther into the future than we can ever imagine.
God was busy sculpting the future, before the foundations of the world. This intriguing phrase 'before the foundation of the world appears 9 times in the New Testament. In these verses we find that there are secrets that have been kept from us from before the foundation of the world. The Bible says we were chosen by God before the foundation of the world. And it goes on to say that our works were finished, that our name was written in the Lamb's book of life, that we have an inheritance in His kingdom, all these heart stopping wonders are said to have happened "before the foundation of the world." How could all that have happened before earth was even created? How can this be?
Of course we don't fully know. The most intelligent of theologians stumble when it comes to answering that question. I won't attempt to add my ignorance to the age old discussion of sovereignty and predestination. That is not my point. But what we can know most certainly from those passages, is that God in the act of creation, was not singing "Que Sera, Sera, Whatever Will Be, Will Be." He was not engaged in some creative experiment and wondering how it all might turn out someday. God was highly intentional. God, being a generative God, was taking attentive care in guiding and establishing future generations, even before they were born. God was investing Himself, His very breath into Adam, and His mandate was generational. Be fruitful and multiply. To paraphrase, God was saying be fruitful-take attentive care in guiding and establishing the generations that will come from you as you multiply."
God is the God of generations. Even His name tells us He is a generative God. He is the God of Abraham, Isacc and Jacob. God is not just the God of one generation. One generation could never know His fullness. Isaac knew God in a way that Abraham could not, and Jacob knew God in a way Isaac could not. But every man since Abraham needs the cumulative knowledge from past generations to get a fuller picture. God has never been confined in His purposes or in His heart, to one generation. It is blasphemy to freeze frame God to one period.
God stakes His supremacy above other gods in Isaiah 46:9 on the basis of His generativity, when He says;
" Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
God is validating His supremacy with the fact that He is the only God who tells the destiny of generations. God is generative and we can know nothing about true generativity apart from Him. As children made in His image, we too are designed to be generative. We were custom-designed to be generative, it is in our DNA.
When God comes down to judge Sodom and Gomorrah He says a curious thing
about why He picked Abraham to be a blessing in the earth. God says basically He blessed Abraham because God knew he'd be a generative man. "I know him
That he will faithfully teach his children and his children's children justice." God chose Abraham because he knew he'd have an eye and heart for the future, and would invest his time in caring for the establishing and guidance of the next generation.
Generativity is an act of shared causality. It is how we join God in influencing generations yet to be born. God gives us the dignity of shared causality. We create-either for ill or for good. If we are generative, we create a future consistent with greatness. If we are careless we doom future generations to a lifetime of mediocrity and squalor.
Generativity-is the core of history. It is why things are as they are. Is societal greatness a faint memory? Do you live in a town where school systems are failing, where spirituality is thin, where the economy is weak, and justice and truth stagger in the streets? History is complex, and includes multiple dynamics, but when you see the deterioration of all that you know to be great and good, a lack of generativity by godly people invariably is the culprit.
In Psalm 78, the Generativity Psalm, David gives one of the foundational secrets in transferring greatness. It's a simple recipe.
"What we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us, we will not hide them from their children, telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. ...that the generation to come might know them, the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children, that they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God but keep His commandments."
David says..." One generation will tell another of God's wonderful deeds, and they will tell them to a generation yet to be born, who will tell them to their children." Is David just talking about putting our children in Sunday School to hear Bible stories? And then our children grow up to do the same? I think not. This is not simply an individual directive, but a corporate directive.
We are to tell a generation, not just our children, but a generation, God's wonderful deeds, His personality and character, His intervention throughout history. We are to be highly intentional in creating for the next generation, a culture of continuity. This is how God has been with us in past generations, this is how He will be for us today, this is how your children can expect Him to be tomorrow.
The Psalm goes on to say the purpose of transferring God's glory stories, is so the next generation will not harden their hearts like their fathers. Every generation needs an expectancy of God's intervention in their own story, that results in an actual encounter with God, or there hearts harden to the possibilities. When God's glory stories are not imparted to a new generation, that generations departs from God.
The secret to producing a Psalm 78 generation, is intentionality. Tell God's glory stories, to the next generation and you create a climate of faith and expectancy. When a generation embraces that story, faith is generated which leads to an actual encounter with God for themselves. Every God story has within it the seed to reproduce itself on some level for the next generation.
In a few days our son Joel who is 13 is going to Uganda. Why are we sending our young son to Africa? Why are we thrilled he's going? This trip is not just for Joel, it's for his eventual children. Uganda is undergoing a phenomenal transformation. The AIDS rate has gone from 30 to 6 percent, and Kampala is experiencing a massive turning toward Christ. When Joel becomes a father he will tell his children first hand accounts of God's transforming of Uganda. And as he tells that story, faith and expectancy will rise in them. They too can lay hold of God for transformed communities within their own time and geography.
The richest inheritance of every generation is God's glory stories of the past. We are to impart the history of God's character, His person, His strength, His miraculous intervention in the past, in order to create expectancy for the immediate. Every generation needs to embrace God's history with His people, in order to produce faith for an encounter in the now. Generativity creates a culture of continuity. It creates an immediate expectation for a potential encounter with God.
How we live this moment, our obedience determines the greatness of future generations. Are we engaged in giving what we know to the next generation? Respected author/futurist/theologian, Leonard Sweet, takes a new bible each year with wide margins, and writes in it for a year, his prayers for one of his children or grandchildren. Leonard Sweet is generative man.
The next generation may be any age. If you are in your sixty's to seventy's, the next generation may be thirty to forty year old's. If you are thirty to forty the next generation may be teenagers. If you are a teenager, the next generation may be children. Everyone, no matter their age, has the privilege of being generative. It's a holy opportunity to sculpt the future long after you've left this earth. It would be good to get started today.
How Do We Embrace a Generation into Greatness?
How do we embrace a generation into greatness? Do we just tell God's glory stories?
No-that's just the beginning. We embrace a generation, into greatness when we decide to live as if they deeply matter. When we take time to be present for them, when we notice, affirm, listen, pray, care, do practical, intentional not random, deeds of kindness. When we share with them our story (wart stories as well as God's glory stories). After being a worshipper of God, (our highest and holiest work), we are being generative when we make the next generation our strongest and most intentional investment.
Generative and Holy One,
Teach me to know You as You know yourself to be- gracious , tender-hearted, keeping mercy to generations, forgiving iniquity, abounding in love. Make me like You in your generativity. Give me an eye for the future, a heart to pour my life into the next generation. Make me awake, aware and accessible to the generation
coming after me, and let me love them into greatness with your strength..
In Jesus name,
Scriptures for Meditation:
Questions to Ponder
1. Who is there in my life I could begin to intentionally help guide and establish?
2. What are my fears about reaching out to the generation below mine?
3. What are God's glory stories in my own life, that someone might find encouraging?
4. In what ways am I generative?