ahh, the elderly

The other day I sat behind an older man clutching his ear with his hand during the singing. I picked what was going on. The music was too loud, but he desperately wanted to remain among the worshipping people of God. He wasn't making a fuss, and clutching his ear seemed to be his best option. As for me and my house (which is just Barby and I, to be fair), I think it is a poor option. A shameful option.

It is great to see emphasis given to youth and childrens' ministries...
BUT if we are going to build this around the compelling 'the youth and children are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today' statement - why are we not also affirming that 'the elderly are not the church of yesterday, they are the church of today'? Why is this not equally compelling? The logic is the same. You could even argue that the case for the elderly is even more compelling, given that, on average, they are closer to meeting their Maker than the children and youth. And eternity matters - right?!

It is great to see initiatives among people with disabilities...

Long overdue. Here in Bangalore, you can't walk far from here before you find such ministries, mostly gospel-inspired. I delight in the smile of one of the gardeners here - so uneven and limited in his walk with his disability, but welcomed and valued in this community. On our evening walks, we pass his little home - and the sunshine in his smile and the width in his wave makes my day. BUT if we are offering employment and building ramps and including sign language, why are we not also turning down the music just a bit for the elderly? Is that much lost by doing so? Is this not a legitimate disability as well?

In recent days, my heart has been inclined again towards the elderly for three reasons.
A Movie. An Exercise. A Passage.

a movie
Every now and then a movie tugs at my heart and I watch it again and again. We Bought a Zoo has been one example. I love it. I just do. And now a new one is eclipsing itHave you seen The InternRobert de Niro has recently retired (hardly elderly, I realise - but stick with me) and lost his wife. He joins a trendy, booming entrepreneurial on-line sales company as an intern, as part of a scheme pitched at retirees. He is so untrendy, starting with turning up to work in a jacket and tie - and all things technological are foreign to him. Now this is Hollywood and so not everything in the movie is praiseworthy ... but because of his servant-heart, his character, his wisdom, and his caring for people of all ages he has a transformative influence on the company. A company that is obsessive about relevance and success is subverted and improved by an odd, but intriguing, person in their midst. Methinks it is a great case study for a church leaders' retreat...

an exercise
A Langham friend of mine in Australia (Jill McGilvray) is a counsellor and does some teaching as well. I was captivated by an exercise which she does with pastors-in-training. She gives five post-it notes, from three different colours, to each student. On the five green post-its they write five things they are glad they own. On the pink ones they write five activities they enjoy doing. On the yellow ones they write five people that they love. Easy-peasy.

Then she gives her talk on ministry to seniors. Off she goes - but she has an alarm on her phone to go off every few minutes. When it does, each student picks a post-it, screws it up, and throws it to one side. This is the pain of growing old. It is the gradual sense of loss that fills every direction in which they look and live. Things and activities and people. Jill lives in this loss a bit, helping pastors-in-training feel the pain. Then they are asked to go and pick up each post-it, unscrewing them one at a time, and becoming more thankful that the things and the activities and the people that they love and enjoy are still with them.

a chaarpai
a passage
Next week I'm doing a series through Ecclesiastes for the first time in two decades. It is the first book of the Bible that I loved, as a preacher. I wrote about this recently. While it is an odd and difficult book, it is an honest one. I imagine the author as an elderly person. In NZ settings I refer to him as a kaumatua (a Maori elder). At other times he has been a grandfatherly sage. Next week, after tossing lots of ideas around with those who know far more than me, I have settled on him being a guru on his chaarpai as achhe din comes to an end. [NB: achhe din - literally, the 'good days', is a phrase used widely in India's public life]. While the scholars differ on this one (don't they always with Ecclesiastes?!), many feel that the emotional centre of the book is 12.1-7 where guruji takes us on a tour of his body as it declines into death. By this time he is pleading with his disciples to 'Remember their Creator' before the achhe din pass and the 'days of trouble' come. Eugene Peterson is so good in capturing this emotion:
1-2 Honor and enjoy your Creator while you’re still young,
Before the years take their toll and your vigor wanes,
Before your vision dims and the world blurs
And the winter years keep you close to the fire.
3-5 In old age, your body no longer serves you so well.
Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen.
The shades are pulled down on the world.
You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt.
The hum of the household fades away.
You are wakened now by bird-song.
Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past.
Even a stroll down the road has its terrors.
Your hair turns apple-blossom white,
Adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body.
Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest,
While your friends make plans for your funeral.
6-7 Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.
To be honest, one more thing is on my mind.
Movie, Exercise, Passage - but also, today...

A person
As I write, at this very moment, one of my very favourite people among the elderly is moving home. She knows Ecclesiastes 12.1-7 from the inside, with all its pain and frustration - and losses. I have so much else I should be doing, but I wanted to write this post on this day, as a tribute to all that she and Uncle Brian have meant to me over the years. Love you so much, Auntie Audrey. God is with you.

nice chatting



Christina said…
Hi Paul, I fear I am getting old because I have been at a few cafes lately where the music was too loud for me! I love your challenge to refocus on the church of today, I think it is easy to talk about 'what people want' rather than just looking at who we actually in reality have attending and doing something excellent for them. But at the heart of the problem of the music being too loud is I think a problem that we have (particularly in the Church) of intergenerational communication, I feel that we are just talking past each other and not really engaging with the key issues and struggles of each other. I am yet to see an service that caters well to all ages, done well, but I live in hope!
Paul said…
I'm sure you are right, Christina. 'Intergenerational communication' done well, leading to friendships and doing a bit of life together has the potential to intrigue people in a profound way. Paul
Unknown said…
Thanks for this post, Paul. It is both pastoral and prophetic. I hope it circulates widely among pastoral leaders in New Zealand!

Popular Posts