Living Affirmatively as We Age

As I celebrate another birthday today, I draw inspiration from Progressive theologian and minister Bruce G. Epperly, who writes about the power of living affirmatively as we age. He notes that Boomers and older adults often suffer from discrimination based on nothing more than their chronology.

Indeed, many Baby Boomers and older adults complain that they are often the butt of “old geezer” jokes. Their complaints are backed up by research. A survey by Duke University’s Erdman Palmore, PhD, has also revealed that many older adults report being ignored or not taken seriously by younger adults. This in spite of the fact that we have many examples of people who made their mark well after the age of 60, people like actor Judi Dench, author Frank McCourt, or British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

In the face of ageism, Epperly encourages those in the second half of life to practise affirmative faith. “Affirmative faith,” he argues on page 85 of The Jubilee Years, “challenges us to let go of our self-imposed limitations and embrace God’s possibilities.”  

Here is an example from his book that you may wish to try.

When reciting Romans 8:38-39:

“ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Why not try changing this to:

“ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither ill health or old age, neither people’s jokes nor their failure to recognise my wisdom or true worth can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Epperly grounds his spiritual affirmations in one of my favourite verses of scripture:

” Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

Keeping Your Mind Agile, While Finding Joy, Meaning and Friendship by Reading with Another

Today I am thinking of my Aunt Grace. Warm and fun, she was a real people person. She was interested in everything you did and thought. Moreover, she possessed a wonderful curiosity about life which I think helped to keep her vibrant. She remained intellectually curious until her death at the age of 86, often asking me questions about characters in the Bible or scriptures she found puzzling.

One great sadness of her life was losing her eyesight, which began to deteriorate in her early sixties. But she never complained. She loved to listen to audio books and derived much pleasure from this pastime.

Navigating the newspaper was much harder for her. So she developed a practice every morning of speaking with her elderly friend on the phone. Her friend was nearly 100 years old, but thankfully her eyesight had not been affected by the aging process. So she would phone my aunt every day and read the highlights of the local newspaper to her. Aunt Grace often joked that they would start with the obituaries, just to make sure their own could not be found there. Then they would go on to other sections of the paper, my aunt’s much older friend reading aloud to her over the phone, and then the two of them engaging in some lively discussion about the most controversial news items or editorials, or tackling that day’s crossword puzzle. (My brother William, a real logophile and lexicographer, would receive almost daily phone calls from Aunt Grace, asking about the meaning of a particular word or seeking out his advice on the more vexing word puzzles.)

I truly believe that my aunt’s morning ritual with her friend was a double blessing. It kept their friendship alive and their minds agile.

Today we know that exercising our mind is just as important as exercising any other muscle in our body. Indeed, our mind flourishes when we do crossword puzzles or read a good book. The latter can be made even more meaningful when shared with another. As the research carried out by psychiatrist George Vaillant has shown, the key to successful aging is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” This is why couples who read to each other grow even closer and why adult children and friends who read to older adults find their relationships taking on new meaning. It is why people who volunteer as reading coaches at their local elementary school often experience renewed energy and increased personal satisfaction, and why grandparents who make a regular habit of reading with their grandchildren, even via Zoom or Skype, find that their relationships deepen and blossom.

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to his followers: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Boomers may have more time to engage in physical exercise, crafts, hobbies and social justice causes. Along with the former, one of the healthiest, easiest and most pleasurable endeavours we can pursue is taking the time to read with a spouse, a parent, a grandchild or a friend.

Helping You to Prepare for Retirement

The famous psychoanalyst Karl Jung once said: “A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.” In other words, life has a meaning and purpose beyond work and career and child-rearing. Moreover, it’s not just about having enough money to live comfortably when you are no longer punching a time clock.

          Sadly, most retirement preparation seminars talk only about preparing financially for retirement and say nothing about the emotional, physical and spiritual sides of this period of life. Retirement coach Janet Christensen says that “most people spend more time planning a two week vacation than they do planning for the years they will spend in retirement.”

          Some people of course do very well in retirement. I have some retired friends who are remarkably resilient. My guess is that, even without knowing it, they have been unconsciously preparing for this period all their lives. They have developed interests and hobbies over and above their work that they can build on once they leave the workforce. They have lots of things about which they are deeply curious. They love to help others and find new ways to use their gifts and talents. What’s more: they have already diversified their interests and have not depended exclusively on their career or children to bring them life satisfaction and meaning. As Atlantic Monthly columnist and Harvard professor Arthur Brooks writes, these people know that the 10,000 hour rule may be the path to excellence, but unless you want to become a world famous concert pianist, you are probably far better to balance your vocation with several other interests. While the former may lead you to stardom, the latter has a better chance of guaranteeing your happiness.

          The above notwithstanding, even for those of us who have tried to diversify our interests, retirement may still pose some challenges other than financial ones. Talking with other people about their experiences can help you to prepare well for this period, so that you are not thrown into a state of shock or even depression six months after you leave the job. Exploring some of the challenges that many folks do face in retirement can help you to consider what your growing edges will be and where and how you can learn from others and thereby build a more meaningful and healthy retirement.

          To this end, I would like to invite you to join me for a Retirement series for clergy (and hopefully helpful for others too!), starting this coming Thursday afternoon, April 15th. We will meet over three Thursdays from 1:30p.m. to 2:45p.m.via Zoom. You can register at 

          I look forward to seeing you then!

Celebrating Holy Days in the Midst of Covid — Again!

Today Christians around the world celebrate the most important religious holiday of our faith, Easter, while our Jewish brothers and sisters come to the close of their major religious festival: Passover. This brings me to memories of holiday past.

Looking back on my childhood as a young Boomer growing up in the sixties and seventies, I remember how my little Jewish school chums Vicky and Terry and Anita would be away from school for approximately a week in order to celebrate their holy days. I envied the extra time they got off school and I greatly missed Vicky, who was of my best friends. After their period of religious observance was over, they would come back to class with stories of a special meal shared around the family table with close friends and relatives.

As I remember the Easter of my childhood, with the beautiful Easter music at church (and the new outfit complete with hat, gloves and purse — my friend Elizabeth always had ruffles on her socks, another thing I very much envied!), and the little seed pots we planted during Sunday School class, there is one thing without which Easter would not be complete: family. As for my Jewish friends, food and family were central to our holy feast day too. There would be the big turkey that my mother would have placed in the oven early Sunday morning, so that the meal would be ready when we returned home from worship, and my grandmother and great aunt would be there to share the meal with us. Indeed, the celebration would not have been complete without them. And if my brother and I had not stuffed ourselves silly on all the chocolate eggs the Easter bunny had left us in the wee hours of the morning, we would enjoy a most delicious dinner!

Now I would be dishonest if I were to tell you that these holidays were perfect enactments of the happy family meals portrayed in shows like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, the Donna Reid Show, Ozzie and Harriet or The Partridge Family. Our family dinners were not like those depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting. Far from it! While my great Aunt Maude bordered on sainthood, my father’s relationship with his mother was strained at the best of times and this often impacted our gatherings. But even with their imperfections, I still miss these special family meals, especially since four of the people are now gone and my eldest son is teaching far away in the Middle East.

These memories tug at my heart strings all the more this spring, as we enter our second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. How do we celebrate these special times without our loved ones near? Perhaps an answer can be found in the traditional Jewish Seder meal liturgy. As the family gathers around the table, a child asks: “Father, why is this night so different from all the others?” And the father (or now sometimes the mother) proceeds to share the story of their family history from long ago, how they were once slaves in Egypt until God freed them from slavery and brought them to a new land.

Today, friends, if you cannot get together with your family, use this time to write a letter to each of them, especially the youngsters. Tell them about the struggles, challenges and disappointments you have faced in life (we all have some!), and share how you got through them. Then remind them of the Hope of our faith and the Promised Land which lies beyond COVID and beyond all our heartaches, difficulties and sorrows.