Tag Archives: Old Age

Old Age a Blessing??

 A reminder of mortality, as I just turned 79!  It finally happened to me!  My gastroenterologist  advised me that he would give me some tests now, and if they were o.k. he wouldn’t do it for five more years—by which time I would be 84 and it wouldn’t make much difference how those tests came out, as the life expectancy for males today is 82.    His words  reminded me of an e-mail I received from a high school friend recently that listed 9 important Facts to Remember as We Grow Older.  

#9 was – Death is the number One killer in the world.

#7 added – Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

#4 – Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.

But he reassured me in the last line—….and as someone recently said to me:   “Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long!”

As we grow older we all face our own mortality.   We know the time is shorter than it once was.   But being older is in many ways a gift from God.    What blessings we have known as we grow older, in comparison to those who die at a young age!    

We have been able to see our children grow up, marry and have children for us to love as grandparents!   We are blessed with grandchildren and watching them grow.   We are blessed by children who become persons that we appreciate for not only what they do, but for the kind of beautiful persons they have become.    We see grandchildren grow and are able to participate with them in their joys and defeats and cheer them on in all of their endeavors—-and spoil them as any grandparent’s job description allows them to do.

We have developed a legacy to pass on to those children and grandchildren.   Whether it be a special woodworking project that they will love,  or the memories we make together as we live our lives—-that legacy will be passed on when our grandchildren and children say:  “I remember what Dad (or Grandpa) used to say about this!”

We  have lived through tragedies as well as joys in our lives and it has given us a depth and stability and a trust in God we didn’t have in our thirties.   Richard Rohr writes about this “second half of life” in his book  Falling Upward:  “ There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot control, fix, explain, change, or even understand.”    This is when the first stage of our lives ends and we reach out to God and say:   “I can’t do it on my own, God, help me!”    And we enter the second stage of our lives where our own ego is not our ruler, and instead we trust in God to guide our lives since we realize that we are really not in control after all!

For me it was the sudden death of my wife that  brought me to this second stage.  For others, it may be a divorce, the loss of a career, the loss of a parent.    I reached out to God in my circumstance in  a new way.   I’d always been the fixer!   This I couldn’t fix.   I cried:  “Help me get through this God!”   and I felt a peace that I had never known and began a relationship with God that I’d never known before and in this second half of my life I am still living and growing in that relationship.   What a gift of growing older!!

All of the above are reasons why those of us who are growing older should be thankful, in spite of our aches and pains that accompany it.    We have been blessed by the above and much more!    Life is good!   Live it to the fullest until the day you die!

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The Kingdom of God….on Earth

Most of us think of the Kingdom of God as something happening  in the future.   That was not how Jesus proclaimed it.   He said it was near.   That it was happening now—breaking into the world during his ministry.   The proclamation of the Kingdom of God  was Jesus’ message to the world.  The Kingdom of God as Jesus proclaimed it was not “when we all get to heaven” or “pie in the sky bye-and-bye.   Jesus saw it as “breaking in on earth—-it was now!  He taught his disciples to pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.    The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—a very different way of living.    Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God set the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head.   For example:

  • Blessed are the poor“-—not the rich as conventional wisdom holds.
  • Blessed are the meek“—not the powerful.  The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and pass it endlessly on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—they, and not the army generals, will be called children of God.
  • You have heard ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’, but I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.   If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” 

These and many more are descriptions Jesus gives  of the way life in the Kingdom of God would be different.     The Kingdom of God is what the world would be like if God ruled in everyone’s heart!

We have had many centuries of Christianity and we still seemed not to grasp Jesus’ proclamation.    Our “Christian” societies have not brought us close to the Kingdom of God—far from it.   Society hasn’t changed much since Jesus’ time.    Let’s compare the two eras—-Palestine during the time Jesus walked the hills of Nazareth and the U.S. today.   

Life in Palestine during Jesus earthly life….

  • was organized into political entities that included city officials, territorial governors, and heads of state—-all of whom drew their support from the high taxes levied on the peasants that made up 90% of the population.
  • was organized around the worship of many pagan  gods.
  • was designed to support the political and economic power of those who were rich and powerful and who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   The rich and powerful included the high priests and the temple organization.
  • was a culture where about 10 percent or less held the wealth and the land  and the 90% were peasants getting by on a subsistance living or below—just enough to barely live on and survive so they could pay the bulk of their income and produce in taxes.   The two constant worries of the peasants were food and freedom from debt.   Without food they starved and if they were in debt they lost their land and livelihood to their creditors.  Note that Jesus recognized this in the prayer he taught his disciples—-“give us this day our daily bread and  forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
  • A culture whose religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their power and influence over the people.
  • It was a land where people were lost and perished every day.

Does it sound familiar.     Let’s look at our country today….

  • We are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power have become status figures.   No one knows who Charles Middle Class Smith is, but they all know who Charles Koch is.
  • a country that has many pagan gods—we call them by different names such as—-   Money….Power…Pleasure…Comfort, etc.
  • A country where 10 % of the people have 60% of the total income, while  the other 40% of the income is divided among the remaining 90% of the population.
  • A country where people with no conscience kill and rob on a daily basis.   Where life is cheap.   A country whose children kill and maim their teachers and fellow classmates.   A country where multiple murders are committed in movie theaters and at marathons.   Everywhere we turn there is violence, in our streets, on our TV’s, causing us to live in fear of each other and carry guns to defend ourselves.
  • A country where the greed and gluttony of huge financial institutions eat up the savings of those most vulnerable who trusted them; and do so in order to enrich their wealthy stockholders who demand a profit at all costs.
  • a country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.
  • A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged are neglected.   A country where children have no access to health care and not enough to eat.    A country where the homeless and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones to be cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.    We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—-while huge corporations that contribute to the re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits as they feed at the public tax trough.
  • We are living in a place where children go to bed hungry, without health care, and are homeless even though both parents work—but for indecently low wages that can’t support their families—and we still support the politicians that have made the lives of the most vulnerable people even worse.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary (whether right or wrong does not matter) to stay in power.

We need a voice crying in the wilderness like that of John the Baptizer saying “Turn around, for there is a better way than this way of Greed and Suffering that you are walking—it is the way of Jesus and the Kingdom of God he proclaimed.

We need this voice because people are still wandering in this wilderness of today, having lost their  moral, emotional and economic way—-yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearinng for a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly and lovingly.    Jesus proclaimed that Way long ago.   He lived the Way.   The Church as Jesus’ body needs to Show the Way today.   

It is the mission of our post-resurrection Christian Community to proclaim the Kingdom of God through what we do and who we are as God’s people.   We’ve messed up for centuries—-let’s strive to get it right!

What’s in Your Tear Bottle?

There is a verse in Psalm 56:8 that says:   “God, you have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.   Are they not in your record?”    This refers to the ancient practice, according to author James Fleming of “collecting one’s tears and preserving them in a tear bottle made of glass, many of which had a bulbous bottom and a long neck flared at the top to facilitate collecting of tears. Some scholars think that the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears at the house of Simon the Pharisee may have actually been pouring out her bottle of tears on his feet.

The Lenten Season is the time when we are asked as Christians to examine ourselves and I would like to examine the question:   What’s in your tear bottle?   

I see Jesus as a man who felt deeply!   A man who cried tears of compassion, of grief, of love, and of anger.   Jesus loved deeply and those who love deeply express deep emotions.   We see in the Gospels that Jesus wept over many things:

  • After his final entry into Jerusalem he wept tears of compassion over Jerusalem as he saw they would reject him and the way of peace that he brought and choose instead the way of a military messiah that would result in their utter destruction by Rome.
  • He wept tears of grief as he saw the sorrow in  the lives of Lazarus’s family—Mary and Martha— at the death of their brother Lazarus.
  • He wept tears of anger at the sight of those who took advantage of the “little ones”—-the poor, the weak, the young, the old, the sick, the outcast.
  • He wept in the Garden of Gethesemane as he prayed that the “cup might pass”—but that God’s will be done.

When I was growing up I was still taught that “Men don’t cry!”   Somehow I never learned that lesson very well.  I am glad to see today that men are no longer embarrassed by crying.   But I’m talking to all followers of Jesus, both men and women when I ask you the question:   “WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?   What makes your eyes tear up?  

Are we, like Jesus, crying tears over injustice, tears of compassion, genuine heart-and-soul tears over the plight of our world and humanity?    Is our crying based on the kinds of attitudes and activities that brought the sting of salty tears to Jesus eyes?    What tears are in your tear bottles?  What tears are in mine?

I’ll go first and tell you some of my answers to this question.   Then I invite you to answer it for yourself.    

  • I cried tears of grief yesterday as I conducted funeral services for a man and watched his wife grieving the loss of a husband of 53 years.
  • I have cried tears of frustration as a pastor when I left the room of an elderly person in a nursing home whose family never visited her and whose life was being “warehoused” by the system .
  • Many years ago as I stood in front of the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C.—-I cried tears of grief for the loss of all of those young men and women whose names are recorded there and as I think what their lives might have meant to their families and to our society.   And I cry tears of grief for all who have died in Iraq and in Palestine and Afghanistan since then.
  • I cried tears of compassion many times as a hospice chaplain as I talked and prayed  with a patient that had been told their cancer was terminal.
  • I cry tears of anger when I read about the elderly being forced to choose between paying for medicine or food.   Something is terribly wrong with a system that allows that to happen.   And something is terribly wrong with professed Christians who keep quiet about it.
  • I cry tears of compassion and anger when I see pictures of children who have bloated bellies and sticks for limbs due to hunger while the adults of their society are spending the money that might have fed them to kill each other
  • I cry tears of compassion and anger as I see a homeless man or woman going through the trash, or trudging down the sidewalk with all they own on their backs in the cold and snow and rain.   Tears of compassion for the homeless—-tears of anger at a society that would allow that to happen.
  • I cry tears of grief as I see a mind wasted by Alzheimers disease.
  • I have cried tears of joy when as a pastor I united a loving couple in marriage and declared them husband and wife.

Those are a few of the things that bring tears to my eyes.    So—-WHAT DO YOU CRY ABOUT.   FELLOW CHRISTIANS–WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?

I have come to believe that there is a linkage between suffering and love.  They inhabit the same place deep in our souls.    If we did not love, there would be no crying.   We suffer and hurt and weep for our kids late into the night only because we love them.   Kids get home sick when they go away to school or camp—because they love their homes and families.   We shed tears over someone’s death because we love them.   TO NOT CRY IS TO NOT LOVE FULLY!   JESUS WEPT BECAUSE JESUS LOVED.    WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES YOU HIS FOLLOWERS WEEP?

Frederick Beuchner, in “Whistling in the Dark” says:   “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.   They are not only telling you  something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where you should go next.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR TEAR BOTTLE?   WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?

Spiritual Nomads in Search of God

When a person stops growing they begin to die.   That is true of us physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.   One of the advantages we experience in   growing old is that we have a chance to look back on  our lives with all of the joys and sorrows, gains and losses,  ugliness and beauty and still grow as we look for what Richard Rohr refers to as our “true selves” that emerge over time.   No longer do we   need to build  “a successful career”,  to “placate the boss”, to compete in the business, academic or religious world.  As we grow older we finally see that is not what our life was really about.   That turning- point in our lives comes for most of us when  something we cannot fix, mend, or control occurs and we turn to God and say:   “God, my life is in your hands.  I can’t do this without you!”   At that point we stop growing the “self” we have built up in our minds and the minds of our friends and family and   begin to grow our “true self” as one of God’s children.   

On my spiritual journey through life I spent the greater portion of the journey not knowing God.   Oh, I knew about God.   God was an intellectual construct that I made in theology classes in seminary.   I preached about God.   I married and buried people in God’s name-but I myself was  just a spiritual nomad wondering in the desert in search of a God I did not know.    Always in the back of my mind I considered myself a “fake” minister because of that.    It was not until the summer of 2010 and the sudden death of my wife of 50+ years that I finally ran into a situation that I could not fix, mend, or control.   I cried out to God:   “Help me!   I can’t get through this on my own.”   And I felt a peace come over me immediately that let me know that God was there, that God would lead me through the dark valley,  and that God loved me all along and had been there waiting for me to call on his name!

Now, as I look back on my life I see the hand of God everywhere I look and as I look forward I see God’s hand leading me.    God has blessed me with a loving and caring wife.   God has blessed me with loving and caring children and grandchildren.    God has blessed me with a peace I have never known before.  And God has blessed me with growth—-growth in my faith in God.  I am no longer a “spiritual nomad” searching for God.    I am  growing daily as God’s child through reading and study of the bible and through  reading of the writings of those in the Christian Faith who are seeking to make God a reality for those around them.    I am seeing that God’s only requirement for me is to love God with heart, soul, strength and mind and my neighbor as myself.    I am growing  still at 77 years of age and hope to continue for a long time.   But if I die tomorrow, that’s o.k.    I know that God loves me and will take care of me both in life and in death.

Are you a spiritual nomad?   Do you feel like the Prodigal Son?    Remember, God ran out to meet the prodigal son and threw his arms around him and welcomed him home.   He’s waiting to welcome you also!

‘Till I’m Too Old to Die Young…

There is an old country-wester song called “Too Old to Die Young” that says:  “Please don’t let the cold wind blow, till I’m too old to die young!”

Being 77 years old, I am more and more appreciative of that phrase because I have entered a new phase of life that is both scary and yet satisfying.

Fransciscan Friar, Richard Rohr, describes  two phases of life in his book “Falling Upward.”   His thesis is that you only enter the second phase of life when you suffer some tragedy in your life such as the death of a mate, a divorce, a job loss.  The first phase is occupied with striving to build a reputation, an identity, a career, etc.   It is something we try to do for ourselves..   The second Phase is much different.     For me, the second phase began with the death of my wife of 54 years, Dorene, suddenly and within a week.      For the first time in my life I felt I had no control over events.  I could only turn to God and cry out:   “Help me, I can’t go through this alone!”    Each time I cried out  a peace came upon me and I knew that God heard me and responded and that I was God’s child and He would get me through this “dark valley.”   I can testify that He did and I am now on the other side of the valley, back in the sunlight, but changed forever by the experience!

This second  phase of life is both scary and satisfyingscary because I am much more aware of my mortality.   The inexorable effects of living 77 years  remind me that my body is mortal.   The stresses and strains of living multiply  as we live longer and we realize that our bodies just can’t perform what we’d like them to do anymore.   For example, on a recent trip to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Rochester, NY, we went to Niagara Falls and I found myself—the father who took care of my son for many years—now being taken care of by my son.   On the visit to Niagara Falls it was not me carrying my son,  as I did often when he was young, but now it was him pushing me in a wheelchair so I could experience a ride on the Maid of the Mists boat at the Falls.   But it was satisfying in that I have lived “to see my children grow and see what they become” as the song goes.   Both of my children are kind, caring, responsible human beings who express their love for me, their mother,  and my present wife in unmistakable ways.    Truly, I think  that my children are the crowning achievement of my life, although I have achieved much.   Not that my wife and I did not make a lot of mistakes in raising them, but we always loved them and tried to be there for them, and now what we did is coming back to me in great measure!

So, this second phase of life is scary, but it is also very satisfying.   Richard Rohr, in his book Immortal Diamond says that our “true self” emerges in this second phase.   The first phase is occupied, of necessity, with building ourfalse self”, which is our identity that we create for ourselves, our reputation, inherently needy and fragile, our careers, etc.  It is the self that changes and dies.  The “false self” is not bad or even “false” as much as it is passing and self-built based on our constant striving.     On the other hand, our “true self” is who we really are as a child of God, created in his image, immortall; it is our souls, our absolute identity as a child of God.   The many things that bothered the “false self” are no longer our concerns.  There is no need to compete, no need to strive,  but we are free to live and let live according to God’s plan.   I feel at peace with God and his creation and feel a contentment that has not been mine as I was  striving to build the “false self” of my identity.

I am thankful every day that “the cold wind” of death has not blown on me “until I’m too old to die young!