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Our Times Call for True Elders not Mere Olders

Updated: May 15, 2020

My family just watched Amazing Grace and I’m inspired - but I’ll try not to preach : )))

In this movie the passion of William Wilberforce reminded me of all those who’ve tirelessly worked to end the termination of the lives of unborn children - some of whom could have grown up to be future “elders.” See, apart from the moral considerations, mine is very practical – I’m hoping that one of these babies will find a cure for all the conditions I have that can take my life before my expiration date.

I’m choosing "elders" to differentiate it from “olders.” Today, and likely at most times in the short history of the human race (BTW – who’s winning?), we have a lot of olders but few elders. The chief distinction is the accumulation of wisdom, rather than mere years. You have to allow yourself to experience a lot of life’s ups AND downs to gain wisdom; while the years just tick on without any effort on our part. That said, age is no guarantee of wisdom. I know young people that already possess it. I believe they’ve been sent to help us.

My wife and I are blessed to have such a child - our 31-year old son John, who, like his namesake - John the Baptist - was born to an old-timer (I was 40). Again, like the Baptist’s, John’s birth was special. See “Testimony” on this web page.

One more comment about the path to wisdom – it often comes from failure more than from success – from doing it wrong rather than doing it right. Here’s one perspective on this important yet paradoxical lesson. And here’s one from the Harvard Business Review.

Whenever I’m in a discussion about this topic, I almost always refer to CSN&Y’s “Teach Your Children” because, as the song progresses, it transitions from parents teaching children to children teaching parents. In a healthy family environment, the cycle continually repeats itself. I believe this is the ideal - with Jesus simply illustrating the model (as in the scene where, at around 12, he’s described as teaching the religious leaders). After all, didn’t he say, “Follow me?” Basically, he’s telling us to do what he did - AND MORE! Raising up new elders is our responsibility. Our future depends on it.

A former pastor who influenced me for over 30 years once quipped about this,

“If I retire to Florida to play shuffleboard all day, just shoot me.”

FYI – You can see more of his wise one-liners under “Bishop-isms” in this blog post.

King Solomon was praised for his wisdom.

We have a shortage of elders in nearly all institutions, including on all sides of the political aisles.

Somehow, as I was writing, I recalled S&G’s “Mrs. Robinson” and the lines, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, wo wo wo...”

We are sorely in need of elders, not just folks with a lot of social media likes or lots of grey hairs.

Wikipedia on “Mrs Robinson” & reference to Joe DiMaggio

Simon happened to meet DiMaggio at a New York City restaurant in the 1970s, and the two immediately discussed the song. DiMaggio said "What I don't understand, is why you ask where I've gone. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial, I'm a spokesman for the Bowery Savings Bank and I haven't gone anywhere!" Simon replied "that I didn't mean the lines literally, that I thought of him as an American hero and that genuine heroes were in short supply. He accepted the explanation and thanked me. We shook hands and said good night". In a New York Times op-ed in March 1999 ***, shortly after DiMaggio's death, Simon discussed this meeting and explained that the line was meant as a sincere tribute to DiMaggio's unpretentious and modest heroic stature, in a time when popular culture magnifies and distorts how we perceive our heroes. He further reflected: "In these days of Presidential transgressions and apologies and prime-time interviews about private sexual matters, we grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife and the power of his silence". Simon subsequently performed "Mrs. Robinson" at Yankee Stadium in DiMaggio's honor shortly after his death in 1999.

***Notice the date…not much has changed since then – which confirms my comments about a shortage of wisdom figures.

Extra Innings

“Hinduism teaches that there are four major stages of life: (1) the student, (2) the householder, (3) the forest dweller or hermit (the ‘retiree’ from business as usual), and (4) the beggar or wanderer (the wise or fully enlightened person who is not overly attached to anything and is detached from everything and thus ready for death). I once saw these four stages represented in four stained glass windows in a Catholic church in Bangalore, showing how central this cultural paradigm is to the wider Indian culture, not just practicing Hindus.

Western cultures tend to recognize and honor only the first two stages at best. We are an adolescent culture. Seeing these missing pieces in our societies, I helped develop men’s initiation rites and have explored later stages of life. [1] My experience tells me that when we do not intentionally cultivate the third and fourth stages, we lose their skills and fail to create the elders needed to understand the first and second stages and guide us through and beyond them.

I’m in the “Forest Dweller” stage. I identify with that imagery, as I often find my soul in nature. My website’s Home page reflects this appreciation.

Growing Up Men – OnBeing 2017 podcast host Krista Tippett with guest Richard Rohr (0:51:26)

From Intro: “I’m not sure any living spiritual teacher has been recommended to me by more people across the years than Fr. Richard Rohr. Especially striking is how many men — diverse men — have told me they had trouble connecting to religion and spiritual practice, but that this Franciscan changed their lives, deepened their spirituality, helped them grow up. So at long last I’m here to draw him out and it’s a conversation with expansive scope, much like his teaching and writing: on why contemplation is as magnetic to people now, including millennials, as it’s ever been; on male spirituality and the epidemic of what he calls ‘father hunger’; and on the work of moving into what he describes as the second half of life. The first half is necessarily about survival, ‘successful survival,’ and preoccupations like titles and prestige and possessions with a dualistic, either/or sensibility. But all of that doesn’t take us all the way to meaning — which is not a linear matter of age and time.”

For more on raising up wise men, refer to my “Mens’ Journey” web page.


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