Just Watching – October 2018

Audie and I have made “the move”.   Teetering on the edge of 90 we have joined Abraham, Sara and Lot by putting our Ur of the Chaldees (101 Villa Way) in the rear view mirror while heading for our personal ultimate Promise Land with maybe a layover or two in between, the latest being Windsor Park Manor.

Our Windsor Park Postal Service address is 130 Windsor Park Drive C304, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.   Our e-mail and cell phone addresses remain the same but the telephone land line number has changed to 630-933-9395.  With all the data in hand we feel we will be easy for our friends and family to find – when and if they seek.

As I write out all those new numbers needed to locate us my mind turns to an old post card that was addressed to my grandfather, William Steinkamp, in the1890s.  It was simply addressed to Teacher Steinkamp, Topeka, Kansas.  That’s it – and he got it.  Skip any digit of my numerical descriptive and my mail is likely as not to end up in the dead letter box of Pocatello, Idaho.

In my current circumstance I am reminded of George Burn’s line about reaching 95 years of age.  He said, “If I’d known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”  My spin on that is that if I’d known how tough it to move your residence when nearing 90 I would have taken that step years ago.  And so say many who are matching our age while experiencing their own pilgrim’s progress.

In the midst of our transitioning I came upon something by Dr. Roger Weise, a highly regarded Chicago area geriatrician (and LCMS pastor’s son) that I had quoted over a year ago.  He said:

  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.

In reference to #1 I keep forgetting that change is and always has been a constant.  Every new day is actually a brand-new day.  Like Moses’ manna, my yesterdays get stale and nearly inedible as time passes.  That’s nothing new – except that it keeps surprising me.  Tempus fugits.  Panta rhei. Whether in Latin, Greek or English it’s all the same truth: time flies

A year or so after I had retired as a parish pastor a kid came up to me in a grocery store and asked, “Didn’t you used to be Pastor Mueller?”  Yep, I used to be, but no longer.  Now I’m another being busily trying to figure out how to handle life in a new and very different world.

I also like Wiese’s #2 and #3: change doesn’t come easier as time passes nor does being unique mean being better.  I am a one-of-a-kind, not only as compared to others but as compared to what I did in the past.  Today names can fail me; words can escape me; specific memories often fade.  I need and receive unsolicited assistance from so many people – and I gladly accept it.  Dr. Weise is so right!

All he says that applies to me as a person applies to everyone else, too, though age related denial is rampant – and often laughable.  

It also applies to families and congregations.  Many don’t see  that unstoppable steam engine of change that is high-ballin’ down their life’s main line, bell ringing and whistle blowing and  fail to hear Johnny Cash as he sings, “Do you hear that train a-commin’?”  Well, do I, we, they?

As I’ve aged I have noticed that today’s younger folks-families-congregations accept, adapt to and then adopt their choo-choo of change.  Many have clearly adopted 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” in the past.   Pope’s “the new” that “are tried” is a plural.  There’s a lot of new going around.  Some of it turns out pretty good – others don’t.  But it was a constant in his day.  It is still a constant in ours. 

  • That’s why some church’s avant-garde parish practices look so weathered and worn today. Michael’s boat was rowed ashore long ago. 
  • That’s why many of yesterday’s tried and true family traditions are so irrelevant today. They no longer address reality – few families regularly eat supper together nor do they believe that no one should eats until all have prayed together. 
  • Yesterday’s clothing fashions and its pop music look and sound so dated today – like the CDs, tapes and records I dumped when we moved and the scads of old, old clothes Audie and I reluctantly pitched when we relocated. Neither of us kept up with the changing times. 

Older people like Audie and me know all that full well.  We have down sized our home three times over the years and in the process reluctantly dumped “tons” of what we no longer 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, maybe were weighed down with yesterday’s irrelevancies.

The truth seems to be that one way or another, people/families/churches are more unique as the years pass.  It’s fascinating how older churches take on a patina of uniqueness while denying change.  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 group 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.  Once he sensed what the group was ready – or not ready – to do he announced that their group opinion was supported by their Constitution!  He was their 20th century Oracle of Delphi. 

That church also had Easter Sunrise Services at 9:30am for two reasons: 1) fewer members each year were willing to drive to their inner city location before dawn, and 2) and the neighbors whom they were trying to attract didn’t get up early.  So they did the Joshua-thing: they announced that their Easter Sunrise Service would be held at 9:30 AM.  Only an older congregation, unique in many ways, could pull that off.

To Dr. Weise’s three bullets I would offer as a footnote that those of us who are really old are like Timex watches in the past that can take a licking and keep on ticking.  Nothing makes that point clearer for me as an older pastor than liturgical vestments.  Robes have radically and constantly changed since I bought my first black de rigueur Geneva gown in 1949!  Who wears one today? ‘Time and tide wait for no man.”  True, but it is also true that, “Time and change don’t dawdle either.”

So here I am, face to face with Dr. Weise’s simple formula that touches me, my family and my church: “Age is change over time” – and the times are certainly a-changin’.  Ain’t that the truth!


Charlie “Just Waking Up” van Winkel

I plan to stay on this super-senior kick including what that means, since no one else seems to have much good to say about it and there’s certainly little that’s positive.—and there is so much that God has reserved for us as our life’s stars begin to shine.