Just Watching – October 2017

Dr. Roger Weise, a highly regarded Chicago area geriatrician (and LCMS pastor’s son), must have really impressed me more than a decade ago because in successive issues of JUST WATCHNG I cited his three comments on the ageing process.  Remember them?  I do.

  1. Age is change over time.
  2. As we age it takes us longer to adapt to change.
  3. The older we are the more unique we become.

I was impressed with his three-some in my early 70s.  Today as an 88-year-old I am still in awe of them.  They are so true!  Sad to say, there are some my age and younger, who don’t have a glimmer about what Dr. Weise’s crystal clear comments mean.  As if that’s not bad enough they are often just as ignorant about how those three basics on ageing apply to families and congregations.  People, families and parishes –  

  • all age and change over time;
  • can have a hard time adjusting to internal and external change because their plate is already so full;
  • with the passing years, each becomes more unique – whether for “good” depends on them.

Their question is always whether they, or their family, or their congregation recognize that the unstoppable steam engine of change is high-ballin’ down their life’s main line, bell ringing and whistle blowing.   Johnny Cash asked, “Do you hear that train a-commin’?”  Well, do I, we, they?

In that regard have you noticed how today’s younger folks-families-congregations accept, adapt to and then adopt the choo-choo of change so much more easily than their older counterparts?  Many have clearly taken Alexander Pope’s 1711 advice (which shows how long this thing about change has been around),

“Be not the first by whom the new are tried,

Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.”

In that quote I didn’t pick up on his “are tried” at first.   Pope’s “the new” that “are tried” is a plural.  There’s lots of new going around.  It was a constant in his day.  It is still a constant in ours. 

  • That’s why some church’s yesterday’s avant-garde parish practices look so weathered and worn today. They didn’t keep changing. 
  • That’s why many of yesterday’s tried and true family traditions look so irrelevant today. They no longer address our needs.
  • That’s why yesterday’s clothing fashions and its pop music are so easily recognized as dated today. Neither kept up with the changing times. 

Over time, yesterday’s absolutes turn into “barnacles our boat”.  Our challenge is not that of dealing with accumulated micro-organisms but of coping with layers of thread outmoded traditions, tired old practices and rules that make no sense.  Woe to the individual-family-congregation that does not regularly beach its boat and scrape off the accumulated residue of yesterday that not only slows them down but leaves them with little time or energy for claiming the important new core insights that each generation develops when it comes to stage center.   And come they do.  

Observation #2, “As we age it takes longer to adapt to change” is a toughie, too.   It demands two somewhat contradictory actions by individuals-families-congregations.  

  1. It is a matter of learning, claiming and adding things that are new, while
  2. Pitching overboard irrelevant and unused things that are “old”.

That’s hard to do.  Older people like Audie and me know that full well.  We have down sized our home three times and in the process reluctantly dumped what we don’t use, no longer need and our kids don’t want. 

Weise’s Observation #2 opens the door to Observation #3:  “…with the passing years, each becomes more unique, unencumbered with much of yesterday’s absolutes.  Or, tragically, still weighed down with yesterday’s irrelevancies.

One way or another, people/families/churches get more unique as the years pass.  It’s fascinating to study how older churches take on a patina of uniqueness.  One nameless “old lady” refused for years to translate its original German language Constitution into English even though only a few spoke their mother tongue.  When tough issues arose they would tussle with it long enough to develop a kind of consensus and then ask the pastor, whom they all trusted and whom they believed read German, what their hallowed document had to say on the subject.  Smart as he was once he sensed what the group was ready – or not ready – to do he announced their group opinion was what the Constitution said!  He was their 20th century Oracle of Delphi. 

This church also had their Easter Sunrise Services at 9:30am for two reasons: 1) fewer members each year were willing to drive to their city location before 6am, and 2) and the neighbors whom they were trying to attract didn’t get up at the crack of dawn.  So they did the Joshua-thing: they made their Easter sunrise arrive at 9:30am.  Only a unique congregation could pull that off.

One theme I see that individuals, families and parishes: change is a constant.  Dr. Weise’s addition to that thought is that change like Times watches is a constant that takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  Nothing makes that point clearer to this older pastor that liturgical vestments.  How radically and constantly liturgical vestments have changed since I bought my first black de rigueur Geneva gown in 1949!  Time and tide wait for no man?  True, but why not add, “Time and change don’t dawdle either.”

So here I am, face to face with Dr. Weise’s simple assertion about me, my family and my church: “Age is change over time.” Ain’t it the truth!


Charlie van Winkel