Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Can Start Aging

Had a great typo on the screen tonight at church.  While singing "Song of Hope" during the worship service, the line came up "All things new, I can start aging."  If you're not familiar with the song (great song by the way) it should be "I can start again."  It may be a typo, but thinking about it, there's something about the typo that, for me, rings pretty true.

I think I've said all this before, but I struggled quite a bit with turning 30.  40 wasn't so bad, but as 50 approaches I find myself really embracing the years ahead.  Aren't we supposed to dread those decades more as they come instead of less?  So what's different?

When I turned 30, I'd dropped out of the ministry already and was really struggling with a lack of direction in my life.  Something about being 30 means you're really an adult now and there's this feeling you should really be establishing yourself in life.  I suppose it's all that stuff about how you're supposed to be successful, yet here I was struggling to just make ends meet.  I think I was discouraged with where my life was, where it was going, with how I wasn't doing what I thought I'd be doing in my life.  Turning 30 was a sort of exclamation point on this feeling of failure.

What is really different now has a lot to do with how my faith has really renewed in the last several years.  Okay, honestly I'm not so sure it's about my faith, that kind of sounds like "I got better."  I'm still, like all the rest of us, a broken person who's pretty lost on my own.  Maybe what's different is coming to terms with God's grace, starting to understand that God's really not sitting there waiting for me to screw up yet again so he can rub my nose in it.  I've started to see him instead looking at me saying I've got something better for you.  It's not really anything about me, but maybe just finally starting to understand what He's wanting for me, and perhaps starting to let Him take care of my life instead of trying to handle everything about it myself.  

I preached it for a number of years, but it's just taken this long to start to understand more personally what is meant by God making all things new.

So yeah, like the song says, I can start again.  And there's something amazing about starting again.  Now there's something about life to be enjoyed, in fact to be treasured.  I'm finding a sense of purpose.  And that's why it seems appropriate to me that, with all things new, I can start aging.  Being in my late 40's is every okay.  Turning 50 is not something I dread, but embrace.  I hope I can feel the same about 60, 70 and beyond.  Life is something to be enjoyed because there's something even more incredible ahead.  Hope and anticipation become very real.  

I've screwed some things up pretty badly in my life.  If I were to dwell on it, there's a lot I could regret about what I've done.  I cannot ever undo the hurt I've caused and cannot try to pretend that my attitudes, actions and decisions didn't wreak havoc at times in lives of others.  Maybe the best way to say it is, I wish I had done a number of things differently over the years.  But I did them, and I can't change that.  But I guess what's different now is that I know that through Christ, through God's mercy, I do know that He makes all things new.  I don't have to live in the past.  My future is no longer seen through a rear view mirror.  All things are new.  Life is pretty darn good.  I can start aging, and actually find myself looking forward to it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Old is Too Old to Save a Life?

Recently former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant.  Since then there has been an array of stories and commentaries on whether at age 71 he was too old to receive a heart transplant such as this one on Yahoo.  Some of the commentaries were pretty harsh.  I bring this up because there is something in the tone of the articles that raises concerns for those of us who are in our 40's and up.  I really do fear this is just the beginning of this kind of discussion.

The gist of the articles is that typically 70-72 is the cut off age for receiving a transplant.  Many people are turning this into an ethical issue, though I suspect politics are behind a lot of that.  I honestly doubt there would be as much discussion if it were Nancy Pelosi who had the transplant.  Granted, you would probably see more conservative commentators making it an ethical issue.  Regardless of the politics or what ever I thought about the person having the transplant, the question of whether one is too old ethically to receive a transplant is troubling to me.

One thing most articles do not mention is that the reason for the supposed cut off age is not an ethical one but a medical one.  Ultimately whether you can receive a transplant isn't a matter of being too old but whether your body has a chance of recovering from such a surgery.

When we start to make this an ethical issue that says after a certain age a person should be allowed to die rather than receive life saving surgery, we're in a lot of trouble.  Right now it's sort of a fringe debate.  However, with projections such as those that say we'll have 900,000 people over 100 by the 2040's, you can pretty much bet the farm that this will become more and more of a hot button issue in the next 10 to 20 years.  The shift to a more elderly population in that time frame is going to create a strain on medical resources in a way we can only begin to imagine and there will be some backlash, even more so if by that time we move to a system that rations health care.  There will be backlash due to that strain, and I really believe you will see a growing sentiment against providing any form of extraordinary care to someone beyond a certain age.

For people in my age range, reaching that age is still a ways off.  But it's something to be aware of because by the time we get there, the effects and fallout from the aging of the Boomer generation will be full blown.

So maybe now's not too early to start the discussion?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Is our society ageist?  Is the church ageist?

In a time when sexism and racism and likely other isms are such hot button issues, is it a bit much to throw out the term ageism?  And really, does ageism even make sense when aging is, as far as we know, in each of our futures?  

Or maybe it does make sense precisely because aging is a reality for all of us.  We don't want to age.  Personally, I'm on the tail end of the baby boomer generation, being in my late 40's.  It's not uncommon to see a friend post on Facebook something about getting old.  My job is a somewhat active one, often involving climbing up on ladders etc, and I often find myself saying I'm getting too old for this stuff.  I think it's fair to say there is a dread of getting older.

But then I have to ask, is it a chicken and the egg kind of thing?  Does our dread of aging lead to our attitudes on aging, or is it that our attitudes on aging lead to the dread of aging?  

I found it interesting recently that I'd asked an online forum of ministers if they envisioned a more active focus on senior adult ministry.  It did not take long for the discussion to turn into how we can attract more twenty-somethings.  The response seemed to go along the lines of, our church is already largely made up of seniors so there's already a focus on senior ministry, we need to bring in more young people.  Ultimately, it was this interaction that led to me thinking of the term ageism.

It would be unfair of me to take too much out of a small handful of comments and paint attitudes where those attitudes may not exist.  I think the term ageism came to mind as much because of my own attitudes about attitudes.  I've already had this belief that many of our church leaders today see youth as being where we need to focus while seniors are almost a hindrance of sorts.  That may not be how they actually feel, but some of the responses definitely seemed to confirm that belief.  

Ultimately, I think we see youth as opportunity, aging as burden.  We look at aging in terms of slowing down, diminished capabilities, and growing health needs.  We dread those things in our own futures.  I don't know the answer to the chicken and egg question I posed earlier, other than to say I suspect that there's more of our dread leading to our attitude than the other.  But what I have to ask is, in the midst of how we feel about aging, does that ultimately lead to leaving those who are aging behind as we long for younger folks?  In our wishing to escape the burden of aging do we miss out on the opportunity that is out there with seniors?  In longing for the greener grass on the other side of the demographic fence do we neglect the greyer but still vibrant grass on our own side?  

And in so doing, who gets left behind because of how we view aging?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Maybe the Controversy Isn't About Worship Style

For several years, churches have struggled with whether to use a more contemporary worship, something more traditional or a mix of the two.  Churches have been split wide open over this issue.  My nephew pointed out an article by Amy Hanson that addressed this issue, and it got me thinking.

I think that when you dig into it, usually the struggle isn't so much over the style of worship, ultimately that's more of a surface thing.  Ultimately, the struggle over style is really more a symptom of a deeper issue, that issue being a generation of people feeling left out, pushed to the sidelines.

I'm sure many could read this and tell me that I'm not exactly coming to an earth shattering conclusion.  Maybe it says something about me and where I've been for me to even think this conclusion is even worth writing about.  Then again, I think one reason it is such a difficult subject is that maybe too many people don't totally understand just WHY it's such an issue.  

Yes, there are strong feelings on both sides when it comes to the actual style of worship.  They see each other as too loud or as too slow.  Too irreverent or too irrelevant.  Too performance oriented or too boring.  Personally, I tend to enjoy the more contemporary services.  Having said that, I've been to a number of contemporary services that to me seemed more about performance than about worship, more about making noise than making a joyful noise before the Lord.  At the same time I've been to traditional services that, well... let's just say that it felt like the only thing being worshiped was tradition.  I've been to some incredibly worshipful traditional services and the same can be true of some contemporary services.  As I see it, neither style can claim a superiority over the other.

One of the things that had me thinking about things in Amy's post was a comment someone left that talked about services having 80 people show up for traditional services in a facility that can hold hundreds or thousands.  I did not get the sense that the person commenting was using this as a point against traditional services, but it was that comment that reminded me of arguments people have used in the past about how no one comes to the traditional services.  Okay, I have to be honest and admit the possibility is there I've never heard anyone make those arguments, maybe that was just an argument I've used myself.  Anyway, whatever it was, something Amy said in her post was pretty poignant.  That churches need to start asking themselves why they are having these traditional services -- is it something that's just there to appease the older folks in the church (and what I'm saying here in parenthesis is not from her comments but perhaps just my own cynicism -- but sometimes the reason for appeasing is because perhaps some of these older members also happen to be pretty good givers?), or is it something that's part of a broader approach of engaging seniors in the ministry of the church.

Unfortunately, too often it's the former.  (See what I was saying about my own cynicism?)

And that all led me to thinking, why are those services often so empty?  Is it because it's such a dead style of worship that no one wants to come?  Or is there something more?

That's where Amy's comments really seemed to say something because ultimately, if it's just something done to appease some older people, it plays itself out in the quality of the worship, it's done half hearted, and ultimately the people who it's designed for KNOW.  And usually, if it is a matter of appeasement, it's that way because the truth of the matter is there's not much (if any) of an effort to truly engage seniors in the ministry and mission of the church.  Seniors are seen as much of a burden or a roadblock, and you can bet those seniors know it.  And if they are not a valued part of the body, why would anyone expect that the service designed for them is going to have much of an attendance.

You can perhaps see why all this brings me then to this conclusion that the root of the issue isn't really about style, but about belonging.  I've talked to many who have come to feel that they're no longer valued or needed in the ministry of the church.  It's time for the younger people to take over.  And suddenly we have a vast army of people who have so much to offer in experience, wisdom, and faith who feel pushed aside.  Worship style just ends up being the face of the whole feeling.  It's that straw that breaks the camel's back.  This insistence on using a musical style that grates on them just seems to provide an exclamation point to the sense that their experience and opinions no longer matter.  And ultimately, that's where the issue lays.

Frankly, I see no issue with having differing types of worship because really, you're never going to find something that is loved by all.  I do have to say, it is one of those myths about aging to say that older people always prefer traditional.  I know of many seniors who really prefer contemporary worship, and a lot of young people who prefer the more traditional.  And while we'll never get everyone to agree on worship styles, I cannot help but think that if all peoples and all ages felt engaged and valued as part of the church, the issue of worship style would lose most of its controversy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What A Difference A Millenia or Two Makes

There once was a time where it seemed totally improbable that this tiny band of followers of a dead teacher could ever make much of an impact.  Religious and government leaders were bound and determined to put a stop to it.  Yet, within 300 years Christianity became the majority religion of the Roman Empire, something that was accomplished even before it was declared the 'official' religion of the empire.  

Rodney Stark wrote a fascinating book on this period, "The Rise of Christianity."  Stark took a look from a sociological perspective at how and why the church was able to grow like it did.  A lot of Christians don't really care for Stark's work because he tended to believe that the explosive growth of Christianity was not necessarily miraculous.  Personally, I believe both sides.  Stark identified a number of reasons the Christian belief had such appeal even in a time of intense persecution.  I believe he was right on the money, but I believe the qualities that were part of Christianity that he identified were there through the power of God.

Anyway, this isn't meant to be a stodgy entry on church history, I'm actually going somewhere with it all.  One of the significant factors in the growth of Christianity was that it took to heart the mandates to care for the poor and the elderly, particularly the widowed.  To make a very simplistic summary of it all, Christians gained respect from non Christians because of the love shown by those Christians even in the most difficult circumstances.  

Fast forward to the early 21st century.  Society is staring down a demographic shift that has tremendous consequences ahead.  For the first time in history, the number of elderly in this nation outnumber the number of youth, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.  There are tremendous concerns about the impact that will be made on our society when the baby boomer generation fully enters retirement age, and whether we have the resources to survive the burden this creates.  

This is where I'm getting to, finally:  Society today is starting to try to mobilize to prepare for the aging of the boomer generation.  Universities, government, senior centers, etc., are starting to come together to figure out how to meet this upcoming need.  There is one part of society that is conspicuously being left out of these growing coalitions:  the church.  Sure there's the temptation to go all conspiracy theory here on this, and while it's true that aspects of secular society would rather have nothing to do with the church, when it comes down to it it really isn't a matter of discrimination against Christianity.  It's happening because these coalitions are of groups that are actively involved in serving seniors.  Churches are being left out because quite honestly, churches are not getting in the game.  Churches today view senior ministry as visiting shut ins and having fellowship dinners, pretty much the same approach they've had for the last 50 to 100 years.  We educate our people on all the social and psychological aspects of adolescents and youth ministry, and we have absolutely no education for pastors in place on the social and psychological aspects of aging.

One of the reasons the church had such a tremendous impact in the early ages was because they were taking the lead on taking care of the forgotten.  The church was not only providing welfare but giving people dignity and purpose.  Today, we're sitting on our hands utterly and almost completely unprepared for how to minister to people as these changes approach, while other aspects of society are far ahead of us.

What a difference a couple thousand years makes.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Book Review: Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life by Marc Freedman

Many an economist cringes at the thought of the next few decades and the effect on the economy of the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age.  What will happen when Social Security is bankrupt, when the cost of caring for this generation becomes such a strain on the economy?  Is there an alternative ending, one where our resources can not only meet the challenge but perhaps even grow through this period?

Marc Freedman starts his book "Encore:  Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life" looking at the two possible extremes of what the next several years hold out for us.  Most of the forecasts focus on the extreme burden that will be placed on society by the aging of the boomer generation, but Freedman focuses instead on the difference that could be made by a paradigm shift in the way we look at retirement.

Freedman is founder and CEO of San Francisco based Civic Ventures, a "think tank on boomers, work, and social purpose" according to their website.  The New York Times described him as "the voice of aging baby boomers who are eschewing retirement for ... meaningful and sustaining work later in life.  "Encore" takes a look at the existing view of retirement and suggests that a new approach to the retirement years can dramatically reshape the future and the way we look at the later years of life.

Such a paradigm shift is not unheard of.  In fact, Freedman suggests that our current view is something that was largely created by marketing by developers and financial products managers.  Up until the 1950's, retirement was seen as a time when people were forced out of work and into a life of boredom and eventual poverty.  In a short period of time developments such as Sun City and Leisureworld sprang up and sold the concept of a time of relaxation and leisure activity, something that has been earned by a lifetime of hard work. Financial services caught on and began to emphasize investing for a retirement life of leisure, and the concept caught on, to the point now that for many the goal has become to be able to take an early retirement.

As this new concept of retirement took shape, it was a time when most could expect to live another seven to ten years on the average.  However, in an age with a much larger percentage of the population nearing retirement age and reasonably able to expect even more years of life (and healthier years as well), the old model of retirement will be extremely difficult to sustain both on a personal level and a societal level.

As a result, our best hope may be in a change in the way we look at the retirement years.  It is a change that is not necessarily dictated by necessity, but also by a changing mindset of the Boomer generation.  Ultimately, a life of leisure may just be too boring for many, and after years of working in corporate America many are finding a desire to make a lasting impact.  Freedman suggests a new paradigm that is taking shape now, where instead of saving up and preparing for a life of leisure and inactivity, that instead those preparations are now about being able to move into a phase of meaningful work.  He identifies a number of examples of people who have moved into what he calls Encore careers, now stepping up as teachers or non profit workers and administrators.  He shows people using their life and work experience to now make an impact in meaningful ways.  When they were raising families, people may not have been able to get by on the pay that went with working with the homeless or teaching in urban high need schools, but now their income requirements may not be as high or they are better able to supplement their income with retirement income, and this frees them up to do work that makes a difference.

Encore struck a cord deeply for me, considering my recent journey into moving towards working with older adults.  I find myself moving into a sort of encore career myself (granted without some of the resources that many he referred to may have) where I'm finding a calling in my own life.  Of course it is a sort of double whammy for me because it provides some food for thought for the very people I want to assist and a sort of direction for many to consider as they move into this stage of life.  As a result, I find this book moving right towards the top of the "must read" list.

In fact, I don't believe the audience should be limited just to those thinking of retiring and/or considering such an "Encore career."  The reality is that the challenge of supporting a massive wave of people moving into the later years of life is indeed going to be overwhelming especially under the present approach to retirement.  In the end it will be very much like Freedman points out at the start of his book, either a huge calamity or a grand opportunity.  It is a chance for a generation to define itself, will it go out selfishly expecting society to support it in a life of leisure, or will it use this time as a great opportunity to 'give back,' continuing to work to support itself as much as able to while at the same time serving society rather than taking from it?  Because of this impending dilemma, it is incredibly important for anyone who is working with people in this generation in any capacity, whether it be ministry or counselling or financially, to start looking at the viewpoint suggested by Freedman.  There is still time for us to determine how this will end up.  What will we do?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I started reading a book that I would put out there as a must read.  It's called Encore:  Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life by Marc Freedman I'm thinking I'll review it when done, though I guess I've never done a formal book review, guess we'll see how that works eh?

Put simply, Freedman's book looks at a developing trend that takes a different approach to the second half of life.  Hey, considering the title of this blog, of course I'm going to like that "second half" part of it all.  Anyway, the trend is a move away from what we've traditionally regarded as retirement, going golfing every day or spending the days fishing or whatever other leisure activity you can find.  This concept of retirement really only came into being around the 50's and 60's, but a key factor in all of this is that since that time, the number of years one might spend in retirement has grown tremendously.  Another key factor is that people are finding that retirement just doesn't work any more, often a sense of boredom and anxiety sets in, and people are finding they want to go back to work.

Rather than saving up to not work, the book suggests saving up to be able to do the kind of work you want to do.  He highlights a number of people moving into teaching or non profit work, jobs that maybe could not pay what they needed or wanted to make in their earlier years, but with family grown, while that retirement account may not provide what a person needs to live on for another 30 years, that retirement could instead supplement working a lower paying but fulfilling position where one can make a difference somewhere.

Okay, this is getting dangerously close to a review.  What I wanted to write about is how a lot of this hits home to me personally.  

I remember several years ago first hearing about a different perspective on age.  I don't remember where I heard it, maybe it was from Dan Miller or Dave Ramsey, or maybe a totally different source altogether.  The idea was that we tend to look at something like turning 40 to be moving past the half way point of our lives, when instead maybe we should look at where we are in our adult years.  I think whoever I picked it up from said we've got probably 50 productive years in our lives.  When you look at it that way it's almost like looking at 40 as being 20, and there's a much greater percentage of our productive years ahead of us.

The reality is that people are healthier and more active at age 70, 80 and even 90 today than ever before, and it's a trend that continues to grow.  The Census Bureau is expecting that by 2046 there will be 800,000 people in America 100 years old or older.  That's pretty astounding.  

I think I mentioned this earlier (I've only done a small handful of posts, you'd think I'd remember what I posted already?) but I went through a period of trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do when I grew up -- a period that took place in my mid 40's.  It's got me to where I'm ready to move back into ministry, something that I bailed out of nearly 20 years ago, but something more focused.  I enjoy the telecommunications work I do now, but in the end, helping people with their business telephones doesn't exactly leave a sense of fulfillment.  This thing that I see in myself is why Freedman's book is making sense, why the trend is starting to take place.  People bust their butts for years providing for their families, climbing the corporate ladder or just getting by and they get to a point where they don't really want to sit down and rest, at least not for 30 years of retirement, but what they do want to do is make a difference.  

It's an interesting dynamic, getting at this stage of life.  I found myself thinking just this morning about my current job and how it fits into what I want to do.  Is it something where one day I'll make a move to a new career in ministry and quit my job?  Or, considering that churches are so far behind the curve and there are not exactly a lot of job openings doing what I want to do, is it something where my work will become the resource that will allow me to gradually move into this, starting out part time or even a volunteer and maybe moving into something full time down the road?  

Dang, I wish I were more talented in sales.  A guy could work 10 hours a week raking in a good enough commission to support working 30-40 hours in something he enjoys doing.  Of course if that were the case, it's easy to be drawn in by the temptation of realizing that if I'm doing that well at 10 hours a week, how much could I make doing the sales full time.  Then I'd be back at that whole place where, yeah, the career's good and it pays well, but is it what I really want to be doing?

I usually put a link to my posts on Facebook, and obviously the bulk of my friends are right around my age.  I wonder how many are starting to think about what they want to be doing?  Granted, a lot of them are people I knew from Bible College and many are still in ministry positions, for a lot of them I know they're still dedicated to it because they're making a difference.  They didn't need to wait until this stage of life to start thinking about 'what can I do now that is more fulfilling?' but have been doing it for awhile.  But if any of you are reading this that are at that stage, I'm wondering where you are now, is the idea of the book mentioned above and moving into a later life career that has meaning something that appeals to you?

Okay, I do have to say, with how new this blog is and how few people are probably reading this, right now the sound of crickets comes to mind after I ask a question like that.  But if anyone is reading, you can still comment...