THE GENIUS OF A GENERATION

by James A. Wilson

We Baby Boomers are rapidly aging, preparing to pass out of American history. What is our legacy?

We have our accomplishments. In addition to helming the communications and information revolution – standing on the shoulders of parents and grandparents – we led the way to incredible medical breakthroughs from surgical techniques to dozens of available medical therapies using adult stem cells rather than the controversial – and so far useless – embryonic cells. We’ve overseen scientific breakthroughs from confirming God in Creation to the next generation of spaceflight. Our cultural achievements are greater than these.

We achieved racial reconciliation – despite the work still awaiting – through the crucible of war in Southeast Asia. The Jesus People – Boomers nearly all – gave us the short-term missions movement, with its emphasis on trusting local leaders to harvest where we may have planted and surely assisted. They gave us the modern addictions recovery movement and the re-animation of vigorous prophetic and healing – all kinds – ministries in our modern and mega skeptical world. We introduced a culture of people rather than product centrality into business and even political life, a grassroots democratic approach to society and culture. We have launched the beginning of resurrection in the arts that only God can actually author.

We also have much to repent, and that repentance remains in its cultural infancy. Although we invented neither the sexual revolution nor the abortion holocaust, we certainly embraced both with unprecedented zeal. We took drug and alcohol abuse to unprecedented levels and fled from commitments like marriage as an unbreakable and normative union between one man and one woman.

Yet our legacy – I believe – is not so much this or that thing we have done or failed to do. It is rather an approach to who we are and are to become.

In my novel, Generation, the teenaged protagonists come to see early on they cannot rely on what they have been taught or led to expect about the world they were born to inherit. Between the Civil Rights Revolution, war in Vietnam, and the cultural upheavals from social mores to Lyndon Johnson’s so-called Great Society there is no status quo to maintain – despite parental efforts to behave and expect behavior as though there was. These young people are as rebellious and self-centered as any, but they make a decision to seek what they call “the really real” – whatever that may be. Their quest takes them from the beaches of Malibu to the underground sub-culture of Hollywood, and from voting rights marches in Alabama to riots in Los Angeles over one rocket propelled summer. They deal with abusive parents, school administrators, the KKK, and a sudden death with a maturity too young to be achieved in anything but the crucible their lives have become. They find themselves addressing questions of faith – in disparate ways and directions – not because they possess or even desire it, but because of what one famous ancient described as a God-shaped hole in every human heart.

In the course of events they learn to value their quest for its own sake – letting the chips fall where they may – as heroes from the Knights of the Round Table to the Hobbits of Lord of the Rings have always done. Jesus and the disciples managed to turn a three-day walk from Galilee to Jerusalem into a three-year trek because they found such necessary value and significance in the journey itself.

These young people navigating a world turned upside down believe themselves capable of discovering truth and committed to questing for it. They find out – the hard way – that a real quest is equal parts self-funded and unexpectedly gift driven. They acquire the courage to take the risks that accompany the reality they are willing to seek at all costs at the same time they discover real compassion in themselves for those who do not necessarily merit it.

Perhaps most importantly, they learn through doing what they already know by instinct. There is intrinsic, implicit, and incalculable value in having our brothers’ backs. Those brothers are anyone needing a hand up. Such living saves lives; it also makes lives worth living.

As a writer and journey maker myself I would be trapped in my rose colored glasses if I imagine we all did what Jon and Lonnie, Travis and Blume, Leslie and Rindi and Suze and Calvin do in Generation. Yet an awful lot of us navigated the tumultuous sixties and seventies in just this way. This is our legacy and Generation is an attempt to begin to tell our story. Generation seeks to celebrate what we achieved and pass it on to what I call the Genesis Generation. I believe their destiny surpasses ours and their time is now.

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books, or at praynorthstate@gmail.com

FIRST MAN By James Wilson

I got to see First Man, the bio pic about Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon. The film is based on the James Hansen biography of Armstrong – I recommend the book for telling a larger story film can – but its vision is wholly that of its director, Damien Chazelle. It presents a well known story from a very different perspective. In presenting a side of the story not told before Chazelle is no more able than anyone else to capture the whole epic of man’s first visit to another world, but he presents an essential new dimension. It is well worth seeing.

The film has generated controversy over its alleged lack of patriotism. Some American leaders, – whom I respect – have slammed the film for omitting the planting of the American flag on the moon. Apparently these leaders did not see the movie before they spoke. Star Ryan Gosling muddied waters with a lame defense, saying it was really about how we came for all mankind. Reality is the flag is prominently displayed on the moon event though the planting itself is omitted; to show it – with the problems encountered setting it up – would have eaten screen time without adding to the story film-makers were meaning to tell. The plaque Armstrong left saying, “We came in peace for all mankind,” is never shown.

I get the dismay. It was American taxpayers who paid for Armstrong’s trip to the moon and American people who risked and sometimes gave their lives in the effort – not the world. That said, critics need to see the movie before judgment; they are wrong.

Chazelle set out to tell a subjective story of who Armstrong was as a human being, along with others in his life who endured much and contributed more. He tells it well. The story begins and – in a way – ends with the illness and death of his little girl, Karen, followed closely by his application and admission to the astronaut program. Asked in the interview process if he thinks that death will impact his participation in the space program, Armstrong – always buttoned up and self-contained emotionally and spiritually – answers dryly that it would be illogical to imagine otherwise.

The rest of the story features a man so armored he is unable to share himself fully with his wife and two sons. That feature of his personality is all that saves his life and his crewmate on at least two climactic occasions for himself and his country. It is his superpower, but also his personal Kryptonite.

Armstrong commanded Gemini 8, the first spacecraft to dock with another vehicle in space, an essential step toward the eventual moon landing. He was chosen for his coolness under pressure; that coolness saved his life within hours of the successful docking. A directional thruster on his ship began firing randomly, sending the craft into an uncontrollable and escalating tumble. Armstrong was able to analyze and isolate the problem in the seconds remaining before he would have lost consciousness and life – for himself and crewmate Dave Scott. A similar crisis erupts on Apollo 11 – the moon flight. When a radar goes out and a boulder free landing site is elusive Armstrong remains cool until he is able to land with less than two per cent of his fuel remaining. He and Aldrin are dedicated to landing – after all the lives and treasure sacrificed to get them there – and so an abort is virtually unthinkable. Armstrong is much more temperamentally suited to saving their lives and the mission than the much more volatile Aldrin.

What neither the film makers nor Armstrong understood (at the time) was the Kryptonite element of his character. His inability to be vulnerable – poignantly illustrated in scenes with his wife, sons, and a backyard non-conversation with his close friend, Ed White – will become more than Janet Armstrong can bear and they will divorce some years after the historic flight. His analytic gift was part of the personality God gave him at birth; yet exercised apart from a relationship with the Giver, all gifts lead only to destruction of one kind or another. Neil Armstrong gave his heart to Jesus Christ some years later and – presumably – learned how to become all of himself only then. This is mentioned in neither book nor movie, but my source is his guide on a pilgrimage he made to Israel late in life. Re-married, one hopes he was enabled to love his family as they deserved while remaining Armstrong.


Critics of First Man can fault it – if they will – because, for example, it omits the conflict with Buzz Aldrin over who would take the first step. It paints Aldrin as the abrasive character he is, while omitting the force of an abusive father that drives him; it omits the Lord’s Supper served by Aldrin on the moon, and gives him no credit for essentially inventing the math that enables docking in space. The film is not about Aldrin the person, but rather about Armstrong the person. That said, it does humanize Astronauts Elliot See and Ed White – two of the men who lost their lives in the race to the moon – because they were close to Neil Armstrong as Aldrin was not. Both choices fit with the mission of the film makers.

The film captures – beautifully and fearfully – the claustrophobia, the pressure, and the titanic explosiveness of space launch and flight as no other treatment has done. As elegantly as the launch and flight sequences are handled in Apollo 13, for example, it seems as though the rockets are blasting out of hell in this one. This film is a critically important counterpoint to earlier treatments. It is well worth seeing, pondering, and praying over.

James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books, or at praynorthstate@gmail.com.