Currently I am reading Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened? It recounts her story of what went wrong in her bid for the 2016 US election. In it she reveals much about her childhood, education, marriage and motherhood, early professional life and fascinating political career. A first wave Boomer, her memoir shows just how far women have come in the past seventy years and, sadly, how far we still have to go. For whatever you think of Hillary Clinton and her politics, there is no denying that she is a supremely capable, well-educated, highly intelligent woman, who brings with her a vast amount of experience in the field of national and international politics, as well as a deep passion for justice, especially for the children of this world.
While she is the first to acknowledge that hers has been a very privileged life, there have also been major disappointments along the way. Her failure to win the highest seat in the land must count as the most crushing defeat of all. How does she keep going? She gives the credit to her friends, both women and men, many of whom she has known since childhood or university.
Especially since she has moved into her more mature years, she says that these friendships are more important than ever. As she observes, “studies show that when seniors interact on a regular basis with friends, they have fewer problems with memory and depression, greater physical mobility and are more likely to get regular physical check-ups.” For this reason, she says, she is holding on even more to her friendships.
These years are important ones for nurturing old friendships and building new ones. As Clinton notes, friendships “literally make us strong.”
The past year has been a rough one for several of my Boomer friends. Less than 12 months ago, my friend and colleague Kerry said good-bye to his elderly mother. In July, one of my girlhood friends said farewell to her mother. And just a little over a week ago my dear friend Maralyn buried her aged father. In each case, my friends were burying their only surviving parent. For them, the passing of their parents represents an end of an era. They have become their own front line.
With all the recent heartache and disaster, and with so much in the news about those who commit acts of terrorism or egregious hate crimes, it is important this Thanksgiving weekend to remember those who have made a positive difference in our lives, especially the men and women who showed us a kinder, more just way to live.
Such was the example of Beth Rickerby, the mother of my oldest and dearest friend Liz, and my Pioneer Girl leader at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor. This Thanksgiving I pay tribute to this kind and gracious woman.
For me, Beth Rickerby has always been the epitome of beauty, faith, strength and intelligence. Her style and grace were embodied in her Jackie Kennedy-like good looks, her tremendous fashion sense, and the elegance with which she always carried herself. Her composure and self-assurance were not based on any personal conceit or desire to impress. She was just comfortable in her own skin, but for my friends and me she was quite simply the classiest Mom in the neighbourhood. She was also the only Mom in the neighbourhood who went ice-skating with us! Her laughter could fill a room and was easy and contagious, but never demeaning of others. She was fun to be around and she was beautiful.
But she was much more than a pretty face! She was in many ways a real renaissance woman: cultured, articulate, well-read, and talented. A member and volunteer of the Windsor-Willistead Art Gallery, it was not uncommon for her to rent original pieces of art which she hung above her living room mantel, usually scenes from the beautiful Canadian countryside she so loved. As a youngster, I can remember her challenging Liz and me to expand our vocabulary through reading. She said that we were over-using the word “nice” and needed to grow our language skills. She was an accomplished seamstress who often made many of her own clothes. I also have lovely memories of her working in her garden, or singing as she sat at her piano and played her favourite hymns and songs.
A special memory I have is sitting at the Rickerbys’ dining room table in their home on Gladstone Avenue, enjoying a tea party with Beth’s good china, crystal and silverware – a favourite pastime of ours when we were young. Liz and our friends and I were all dressed up in elegant party gowns which Beth had purchased at the Maycourt Club re-sale store where she volunteered regularly. We felt very grown-up and terribly sophisticated!
It goes without saying, that Beth was also a great cook. Her Beef Bourguignon was famous among the many friends she and Ken entertained in their incredible home. She was an understanding teacher too. I have wonderful memories of her teaching me how to use a measuring cup and measuring spoons and patiently supervising me as I made muffins in her kitchen so that I could earn my Pioneer Girls’ baking badge.
Which leads me to the most profound way Beth influenced my life. Henry Adams once wrote: “A parent gives life, but as a parent gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there. A teacher affects eternity; she can never tell where her influence stops.” Beth was a real teacher. She mentored me and many others both by what she taught and how she lived those teachings. It was Beth’s deep personal commitment to Jesus Christ, her love of the scriptures, the joy with which she sang our hymns of faith, and her dedicated service to her Church and community, which made the deepest impression on my young life. Every week for nearly seven years Beth ferried me, along with Elizabeth, back and forth to Pioneer Girls at Campbell Baptist Church in Windsor. For at least four of those years she was my Pioneer Girl leader. I have often said that if it had not been for her and her strong witness to Christ and his teachings, I would never have found my way into service in the Church or heard the call to ordination in the United Church of Canada. Beth taught with her total self, openly, honestly, and with integrity. She was very perceptive and never afraid to challenge the system when it needed to be challenged. I remember when my own three sons were little, she told me that “we still had not found a way to teach little boys…. that somehow the system had failed them.” And I think she always strove to find ways to meet their needs and concerns, as she did with all the children who came under her tutelage, boys and girls alike.
THE MOST POWERFUL LESSON SHE TAUGHT ME, however, came one late afternoon in the summer of 1967. The Rickerbys, and maybe some others as well, were having a drink and visiting with my parents in our living room at our home in Windsor. This was not a usual occurrence. My parents never entertained and, in any case, they were almost old enough to have been Ken and Beth’s father and mother. But from the sounds of things, at least from what I could hear from our small den across the hall, they were having a good visit, some animated discussion, and a few good laughs. Then the mood changed. Even though I was only 12 years old at the time, I knew something was wrong.
Remember this was the time of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Things were very tense across the border in Detroit. Indeed, by the summer of 1967, Detroit’s predominantly African-American neighbourhood of Virginia Park was ready to explode. Some 60,000 people were crammed into the neighbourhood’s 460 acres, living in squalor in divided and subdivided apartments.
The explosion came in the form of the 12th Street Riot, which raged for five days and five nights and which could be heard even from our comfortable homes across the border in Windsor. It was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance of such magnitude that Governor George Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit and President Lyndon Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborn Divisions. The result was 43 dead — most of them poor and black –, 1,189 injured – most of them poor and black, over 7200 arrests – again, most of them poor and black, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of this riot was surpassed in the US only by the 1863 New York Draft riots during the American Civil War and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Tomorrow is actually the 50th anniversary of the 12th Street Riot, a riot that changed the face of Detroit forever.
Back to the scene in our living room that hot July day. The Rickerbys and some others were enjoying a drink and some lively conversation at our home. The subject of the race riots in Detroit was naturally part of the discussion. How could it not be? Sympathies were expressed for Detroit’s black community and genuine outrage at the deplorable conditions in which they lived. But then the conversation took a different turn. It became more personal. Remember this was also the year that the movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” came out. The film, which debuted on June 12th, 1967, gave a positive representation of interracial marriage, something that was very rare in those days. Everyone was talking about this movie, especially our parents. The film centered around an upper class white couple played by veteran actors Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy who find their attitudes seriously challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African American fiancé. Needless to say, the film engendered a lot of controversial discussion here in Canada too. Would you allow your daughter to marry a black man was the question that came up that afternoon in our living room. I listened quietly but intently from my perch in the other room. What would they say? What would they do if I came home one day with a black fiancé? Or if Elizabeth or Martha announced one day in the future that they were dating a black man? Would they be accepting of our decisions to venture into an interracial marriage? I waited with bated breath to hear their answers. The only person who gave an unqualified, emphatic yes was Beth Rickerby…. And they laughed at her. They all laughed at her…. But independent as she was, Beth held her ground. She was very gracious about it, but she remained firm. She did not give an inch. And in that moment, I knew that something very significant had happened. It was one of those moments of epiphany when the earth seems to shift under your feet and everything begins to change.
Now I adored my parents. I still do, even though they have been gone many years. And of course, when you are only 12 years old your parents can do no wrong. (When you become a teenager, they can never do anything right. But I wasn’t a teenager yet. I was just a young girl who believed that everything her parents did and said had to be right, without question.) But in my own childish way, I think I recognised (even if I would not have been able to articulate it back then) that their laughter was cruel and wrong-headed.
That incident has always stayed with me and I have re-visited it many times over the past 50 years. It informed my conscience and called me to question the values and assumptions that had shaped the basis of my privileged white-skinned childhood. Moreover, it taught me that real beauty is not skin deep but permeates one’s whole being. For all her physical beauty, her elegance, her charm, culture and grace, Beth Rickerby was above all one who possessed deep caring and compassion for others, especially the vulnerable and oppressed. During her final years, when she suffered horribly in body and in spirit, I understand that she could sometimes be difficult. But much more significant than any foibles she may have had was her passion for the underdog. She could be fiercely independent and very outspoken, but thank God she was. People who have no voice often need someone to speak on their behalf. Through her simple words that day, she taught me that “faith without works is dead” and that faith that does not take seriously the concerns of the world’s poor and outcast has no credibility. Beth Rickerby’s faith did not stop at the edge of a well-manicured lawn. It flowed over into the lives of everyone she encountered along life’s path and into all she said and did. It affected not only her dealings with people but also her determination to live with respect in creation and honour God’s good earth.
Beth’s witness that day in our living room taught me something else, namely, that we call can make a difference where we are. For all that we need those who march in civil rights parades, whether they be related to race relations or women’s rights or the rights of our LGBTT or indigenous brothers and sisters, and for all that we should give thanks for the martyrs who gave their lives in sacrifice for those and many other noble causes, we also need ordinary people – not perfect people – but ordinary, decent and honourable men and women who are willing to speak up and hold their ground at the office wine and cheese party or the neighbourhood BBQ or the living rooms of our nation.
This weekend, as I give thanks for the ordinary people like Beth Rickerby who influenced my life for good, I recall a line from George Eliot’s great classic novel Middlemarch, which ends by praising the good deeds of ordinary people. Speaking of the heroine of the story the novelist writes, “the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Friend Mike Ashton just forwarded me an excellent TED TALK which every Boomer should listen to! “There’s More to Life than Being Happy” with Emily Esfahani Smith. It’s all the stuff that Jesus talked about, only put into contemporary language. Boomers especially will want to pay attention to what Smith refers to as the Four Pillars of Meaning: Belonging, Purpose, Transcendence and Storytelling, all necessary for a successful transition into the second half of life. Watch, enjoy and learn!
Remember what the famous missionary doctor Albert Schweitzer once said to a group of graduating students: “The only ones of you who will ever be truly happy are those of you who have sought and found a way to serve.” Good advice for all, especially those of us navigating the second half of life!
What a beautiful Fall day! Not too hot and not too cold. Just perfect for a run through the woods! There are few better ways to spend an hour than to go for a run.
You are probably aware of some of the major health benefits that a regular run can bring, like helping you to maintain a healthy weight, improving your mood and reducing your risk of disease.
But here’s something that you maybe didn’t know. Researchers have discovered that running in particular can help to prevent cognitive decline. So, guess what I am going to do today? You got it! Going for a run! (I am long overdue; but the good news is that it is never too late to start!)
Check out this excellent article that my wonderful Millennial daughter Alexandra forwarded to me.
What if running is not an option for you? Consider Ageless Grace!
What is Ageless Grace?
Ageless Grace is a cutting-edge brain fitness program based on neuroplasticity that activates all 5 functions of the brain – analytical, strategic, kinesthetic learning, memory/recall, creativity and imagination – and simultaneously addresses all 21 physical skills needed for lifelong optimal function. Created by Denise Medved, the program consists of 21 simple exercise Tools designed for all ages and abilities. These exercises, based on everyday movements that are natural and organic, focus on the healthy longevity of the body and mind. To learn more, go to agelessgrace.com
Just learned about a wonderful new program being offered in London! It’s called LIVING LIFE ON PURPOSE and it’s based on Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book, The How of Happiness.
“During this 6 week program, the group will share the twelve evidence-based strategies that she discusses in the book. Then, according to the course description, they take specific strategies chosen by the group members and put them into practice.
Gratitude and Positive Thinking
Investing in Social Relationships
Managing Hardship & Trauma
Living in the Present
Committing to Your Goals
Taking Care of Your Body & Soul
Improved Mood and Well-Being
Improving Coping Skills
Reducing Feelings of Loneliness
Enhancing Your Quality of Life
An understanding of which activities naturally bring joy to your life
….Living Life on Purpose is a perfect opportunity to get out and learn some customized ways to bring happiness to your life.”
Saturday’s “walk and talk” book study on Craig Miller’s wonderful book, Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life, brought us to the end of our seven-week journey. A beautiful sunny day, it was the perfect morning for a walk along the Morrison Dam trails and for lunch and discussion on the back deck of our home in Exeter. Even our beloved Jack Russell, Oscar, had a a companion, as Diane and David brought their puppy “Smudge” for the walk too!
Our discussion was rich and wide-ranging, as we discussed everything from what salvation means to each of us, racial tensions south of the border (and elsewhere in the world), care-giving for our elderly parents, partners and grandchildren, our fears that there may not be enough people to care for us when we need help most, and of course the question of our own mortality. Two people also mentioned that they had never heard the term “nones” as a descriptor for those who do not affiliate with any religious tradition. How we reach out to the nones was therefore another topic of discussion.
As you can see, we talked about a “whole” lot of things! So it is not surprising that this week’s topic was “wholeness”.
In the biblical context of health and wellness, wholeness means being well in spirit, mind and body. As Miller notes, this value is key for Boomers and anyone seeking to connect with them:
“As boomers age, they will want to make the circle of faith, work, family and leisure into a complete package that will enable them to make sense of their lives. The material goods that they have collected will become less important; instead, a focus on well-being, family ties, friendships, and spirituality will occupy their lives.” (Miller, Boomer Spirituality, p. 141)
Elsewhere Miller writes, “Small groups that focus on creating a healthy lifestyle that integrates spiritual life will be in demand.” (p. 144)
Considering the above, we thought about all the ways that our churches could reach out to Boomers. Already at Siloam, for example, we have a wonderful healing and wellness team that has planned a host of events for the 2017-2018 year: meditation circles, labyrinth walks, drumming sessions, spiritual yoga, nature walks in Springbank Park, as well as other groups that engage body, mind and spirit. We have small group studies to engage the mind and spirit. In the Fall, in our Tuesday morning group, we will be looking at Adam Hamilton’s book, Making Sense of the Bible. Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today, and on Friday mornings we will be reading Wayne Dyer’s book Living the Wisdom of the Tao. Change Your Thoughts. Change Your Life. Some have assisted with Rev. Isaac’s garden project in which our students and young people have been working to provide healthy, home-grown vegetables for needy families.
In the spring we held two very well attended sessions on grand-parenting. It is clear that we need to do more in this area. We also need to provide more support to Boomers who are wrestling with care-giving issues and financial concerns. As Miller notes, many boomers are now caring for an older parent or ill spouse. Others are finding that they have not saved enough money for retirement or that this money has been depleted because they have in effect become the breadbaskets for their parents or adult children.
Perhaps the primary way churches can support Boomers in this time of transition is by returning to the things that we do best: providing spiritual nurture, a sense of community, and an opportunity to explore the big questions of life and faith in a safe environment. Social justice will continue to play an important role in our work as Christians, but (thankfully) we are not the only social do-gooders anymore. Many small businesses and larger corporations are trying to make the world a better place too, even if their motivation for doing so is, at least in part, about attracting shoppers who have a social conscience.
Churches that seek to be relevant today will provide boomers with opportunities to discuss our faith, while helping us find ways to express our convictions through loving actions in the world around us. They will provide a safe place to talk about the brokenness that many of us experience in our relationships, be they relationships between lovers, parent and child, between ourselves and God, and between humanity and the created world. (p. 175). Finally, they will help us to discern where and how God is calling us to serve in the second half of life and, in particular, how we can leave a legacy of love and justice to those who follow.
Another lively discussion over breakfast followed a beautiful walk along the trails along the Thames River in northeast London. In fact, we barely got past the first question on our discussion sheets!
Using Miller’s study guide, we were invited to consider which of the following we have tried or experienced:
NEW AGE PRACTICES: ESP, Tarot Cards, Channeling, Ouija board, Astrology, Out-of-Body experiences, being bathed in light, a visit from a dead relative.
MORE TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN PRACTICES: Divine healing, speaking in tongues, an answer to prayer, spiritual guidance, using a spiritual gift, a visit from an angel, an exorcism, hearing God’s voice as you make a decision.
The answers were fascinating and ranged from everything to having experienced allof the above to experiencing none of the above! Most of us fell somewhere in the middle, having had experiences under both categories, sometimes not always taking them too seriously, as when we were children and played with a Ouija board or our present day delight as adults in reading our horoscope every day!
The more we shared, however, we realised that in fact many of us had experienced more supernatural events than we realised. For example, many of us had had a visit from a deceased loved one, often in the form of a dream. Many of us also had also had been visited by an angel, maybe not an angel dressed in a long, flowing white garment with beautiful big wings and a halo, but a messenger (the real meaning of the word ‘angel’) from the spirit realm nonetheless.
We all agreed that the years had made us more open to a variety of spiritual and supernatural experiences, not less open to such things. One member of the group, a scientist, pointed out (in contradiction to Miller’s thesis) that far from discouraging such experiences, science had taught her to explore and question and wonder at the marvels of God’s good creation.
What about you? Can you relate to any of the above experiences? How has your view of the supernatural changed over the years? Are you less spiritual or more spiritual than when you were young? Given that Jesus operated very much in the world of the supernatural (see Matthew 8:22-33 and Matthew 9:18-26), does being more open to the supernatural help you to understand and appreciate Jesus and his healing miracles in the New Testament? And how can we build a community of faith and acceptance where people will feel safe to discuss their experiences of the supernatural?
Please join us next week when we wrap up with Miller’s final chapter on “Wholeness.”
While we very much missed a few people who needed to be away on Saturday, our discussion of chapter five of Miller’s excellent book proved to be one of our liveliest to date. In a frightening way, it was also very timely.
As the world looks with increasing alarm at the rising tensions between North Korea and the U.S., whose leaders have both shown themselves to be pathological liars given to bluster and bellicosity, we boomers now find ourselves facing, for the second time in our lives, the very real danger of a nuclear war, a fear that was certainly part of our childhood. It’s scary to think how well Miller’s comment on page 114 describes the terror that many of us feel today: “…all it takes is one mistake, one crazy person, or one fouled-up government decision by either side of the nuclear equation and the world could be blown up.”
For boomers who were the first generation to grow up in the nuclear age, this has led to four prominent attitudes which Miller outlines in this chapter. First, boomers have always questioned whether the future promised to previous generations will be there for themselves or their grandchildren. Indeed, some boomers believe that they may well be the last generation on earth. Secondly, there is the fear that technology, far from being the promised saviour of the world, will be our destruction. Thirdly, if we have no future, many boomers argue that there is no point in saving for or investing in the future. Fourthly, as Miller writes, “the dominant view of the future is apocalyptic: the end of the world is at hand.” (p. 115)
In the seventies, a large number of boomers found solace and courage in an intensely personal, and often emotional, relationship with Jesus Christ. While this flew in the face of what many of their more mainline church parents understood to be logical, rational, intellectual and progressive, for many boomers this new Jesus gave them, for the first time ever, friendship, understanding and, most of all, unconditional love and acceptance. Moreover, musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell made Jesus accessible in a way they had never experienced in their traditional church upbringing. As Miller writes on page 118, these musicals “scratched the core of what many boomers had been seeking, a religious experience that dug beneath the ritual and rationality of their parents’ religion and challenged the technological materialism that dominated so much of their lives.”
Others of course turned to eastern mysticism and the New Age Movement to find the spiritual meaning they were seeking and which the traditional church seemed to be so inept at providing. We turn to this topic in our discussion of chapter six next Saturday.