Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: elderly

Cultural perspectives on youth and old age

Closely related to the North American orientation toward the future is the strong emphasis on youth. This can be seen in commercial advertising and entertainment — the old are rarely represented. At work the young are often thought to be more active and productive, and to hold more promise than do the elderly, despite their experience and sense of responsibility.

There are few attempts to involve the aged in the mainstream of the society. Once they retire, they are viewed as having little to contribute. And when they can no longer care for themselves, they are often placed in nursing homes, isolated from their offspring and cared for by non relatives.

This emphasis on youth is the exception rather than the rule around the world. In most societies old people are viewed positively as wise and experienced. They are shown respect, given places of honour and consulted about family and community decisions. There is no retirement from public life. In fact, retirement as we conceive of it now is a twentieth-century phenomenon found mainly in the west.

Paul G Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries © 1985 by Baker Books.

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The church is a faith community

Forty years ago the pastor of the church my wife and I were attending went to California for several weeks to take a course in church growth. He was really pumped when he got back and expounded to us how the key to growing our congregation was to target people in our community who had a natural affinity and tailor the culture and activities of the congregation to make those people feel comfortable. Somehow it never worked. That congregation has been defunct for a number of years.

We liked that pastor and his wife. He had some unique gifts and deep convictions. However, the desire to grow his small congregation led him to be quite flexible and ready to follow the latest wind of doctrine.

As it looks to me now, the fatal flaw in the church growth model he presented to that congregation was that the glue that was to hold the supposedly growing congregation together would have been something else than their common faith. A church that is held together by a common ethnic origin, or an affinity based on how they earn their livelihood, most likely their visiting among each other will naturally drift into those areas. That’s not necessarily wrong, But is it going to hold a church together over the long term?

All the clever research and marketing that goes into the church growth movement ignores what the church really is. It is a community of people who are drawn together by a common relationship to God the Father, through being washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the basis of a genuine faith community. so much the better if we are of different ethnic origins and earn our livelihood in a wide variety of ways. The one thing we have in common is that we are sons and daughters of Almighty God. Why would we imagine that a vibrant church community could be established on some other plan?

Another thing that is happening is that churches are sliced into layers according to age and every slice seems to think it has all the resources for mutual edification and has no need of the others and the others have no need of them. Some churches even have different worship services for the young and the old and both groups think that is just fine. It isn’t. We all need each other.

Those of us who are old need to see things through the eyes of the young. Those who are young need to hear the wisdom of their elders. Surely we have some wisdom to offer — or have we just been drifting with the tide all these years?

Note that I said we should have some wisdom to offer. We will do more harm than good by attempting to impose our wisdom on others. But if we have a mutual love and respect that transcends ethnic, economic and age differences, (and shouldn’t that be fundamental to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ?) we will all have something to offer and something to learn.

If wishes were horses . . .

If wishes were horse, I would be in Edmonton with my wife instead of here at home looking after our three cats and trying to keep earning some money. But I supported my wife in leaving on this little one week adventure to help her elderly cousin and visit some of the people we know, so I will make the best of things here at home.

And I do get to do some interesting things. Tonight was the humorous speech competition at Toastmasters. I won, which means that I will need to deliver that speech in a few weeks at the district level. I wasn’t counting on that, but I guess I can do that, too.

If wishes were horses . . .  Some people seem to spend their whole life wishing things were different, wishing that other people would treat them better, wishing for better living conditions, wishing for all the fun and enjoyment that other people appear to be getting out of life, but which always seem beyond their grasp.

One of the people Chris wants to visit in Edmonton is Rose, the 90 year old widow of my cousin Ron. Rose never appears to waste time wishing things could be better. I don’t think she believes life could get any better. She is thankful for everything and everyone in her life. She is not really well-to-do, but she has all she needs and wants no more. She spends a lot of time on the phone talking with family and friends, and many of those friends go back a long time.

Ron and Rose had been married for almost 65 years when Ron passed away two years ago at the age of 91. The parting was difficult, yet welcome as Ron had so much pain in the last few years of his life. He never complained either, he was the favourite of the nurses in the home where he spent the last couple years of his life, as he was so thankful for every little thing they did.

What makes the difference? Ron and Rose were never difficult people, but they were not always as contented and happy as they were in the later years of their life. They were always church-going people, but they didn’t get converted until they were about 70. Knowing God, His forgiveness, His peace had a transforming power in their lives.

When our hopes are set on earthly things, we will always be disappointed. When we set our hopes on things that are heavenly and eternal,  we receive far beyond what we deserve or could ever wish for.

How did I get so old, so fast?

elderly_mancaneMy cousin Ted turned 76 today. No, that’s not Ted in the picture. It looks more like me, except that I can still stand up straight and I’m not nearly that skinny — yet. I’m working on it, but it’s coming pretty slow.

There was a day when I believed that anyone past thirty was over the hill. In the spring of 1971 I was the manager of a country grain elevator in Manitoba. A semi load of bagged fertilizer pulled in just after supper one day; I think the driver was about 20. We got to work and unloaded that trailer, then had a beer before he left. I remember him remarking that he would have to tell his friends that he had met this 29 year old guy and he still seemed young! I remember it like it was yesterday. After all, it was only… let me see now… it was only 43 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in those years — I still have more hair than the guy in the picture, but it’s white now. So is my beard. And I don’t drink beer anymore. You can read my last post to find out why.

I’m still 3 1/2 years younger than Ted, but that doesn’t seem like much anymore. We’re both past the best before date of threescore years and ten mentioned by Moses.However, it took Moses until he was eighty to dsicover his calling in life, perhaps there is still work for us old folks to do in God’s kingdom. At any rate there are still things to learn, even at this age.

Old age is not a disease

I had a birthday a couple of years ago. They come every year, for me as for most people, but this was the one that marked me definitively as being an old man. I told my family and friends that I did not want anyone telling me that I was 70 years young. I was 70 years old and I had the memories to prove it. Now I am even older.

It makes no sense to me either when people tell me “You’re only as old as you feel.” If that be true, there was a point this evening when I was 95. A nap fixed that. That is a little anti-aging trick known to most of us old people.

Why do we insist on treating old age as a disease? There must be just as much money spent on treating and masking the symptoms of old age as is spent on treating some major diseases. There was a time when the hoary head and the weather beaten face were badges of honour, not something fearful that needed to be disguised so as not to frighten the younger generation.

Ah but, you may say, old age is a terminal condition. To which I will reply that simply being alive is a guarantee that you will die. We need to come to terms with that reality before we can truly live life to the fullest.

Right there is the problem with our attitude towards old age. We live our working lives with the goal always before us that one day we will come to the end of this drudgery and be free to truly enjoy life. When we do retire, we find ourselves face to face with the awful truth that we have been deliberately avoiding all those years – retirement means that we are now useless.

True enjoyment comes from doing things that are useful. If our retirement dream was based on the cessation of all useful work so that we can take our leisure, the reality will be a crushing disappointment. Most retirees don’t like to talk about it, but that feeling of uselessness eats away at them. Suicide is as big a problem among retirees as it is among youth.

The problems faced by older people are just one symptom of the missing factor in the lives of most people in our era — we have forgotten that service to others is what gives meaning to life. We consider our working lives to be drudgery because we have forgotten that the real purpose of our job, any job, is to serve others. The real purpose of our lives away from work is to serve others — families, neighbours, our church community, anyone who is in some way in need.

Service to others — one never grows too old, too feeble or too handicapped for that. There is something that we can do at every stage of life. Facing life with this in mind will lift our spirits, clear our minds and give us a reason for getting up in the morning.

Doctrines of the humanist religion

1.  Nothing is real that cannot be understood by the human mind.

People choose to believe in spirits, magic, witchcraft, astrology, scientific theories or various “holy books.” These are merely attempts to fit all things seen and experienced into a framework that appears to give a logical explanation for every detail and event. I may call myself a lover of the truth, when in reality I am unwilling to believe anything unless I can explain it to suit my own intellect.

But the God who is really there does not fit man’s measure, He is a revelation, not an explanation.

2. Man is inherently good – all his failures are due to a lack of knowledge. He will make better decisions if he is better informed.

We may think we need a better understanding of how to appease the pagan gods or spirits, psychological counselling in order to understand the root causes of our emotions, or a university education to give us advanced mental tools to cope with the world we live in. How often have we said “If I had known then what I know now, I would never have done what I did,” when the real problem was not a lack of understanding, but the real problem was that we found the temptation overwhelmingly attractive?

 

Knowledge cannot give us the strength to withstand the seductive power of sin. A true knowledge of God will both open our eyes to the danger and give us the spiritual fortitude to choose not to yield.

3. It is a great evil for a man to be deprived of the things that bring him pleasure.

The things might be material goods, recognition, pride, bodily comforts, the right kind of work, or the right amount of leisure time. Is not the good life a sign of the favour of the gods, or of God’s blessing? Why can’t I have work that is ideally suited to my nature and expectations? Why can’t my wife, husband, parents, friends or boss treat me better? If only I had a little more money, a better job, or if only I lived somewhere else, things would go better.

How happy are the people who have the things that we think we need?

There is a widespread belief in our day that we have a right to physical health. We may base this belief on our faith in modern medical research, in the idea that physical healing was provided for in Christ’s atonement on the cross, or in natural healing, herbs, psychic healing, or in some form of shamanism. In each case, when one who holds to such a belief is faced with an incurable sickness it brings about a crisis of faith. Some believe that admitting they are sick would be a lack of faith, thus they resolutely refuse to face reality, living and dying in unreasonable fear. Others spend all their substance in search of healing, travelling over land and sea in search of a doctor or healer that has the secret to make them well. Then they die, leaving their families destitute.

4. The evil that men do is produced by their natural instinct for survival in a faulty environment. Man will only be truly happy and good when all sources of trouble and worry are removed.

Life insurance, property insurance, health insurance, unemployment insurance, social welfare programs, labour movements, peace movements, liberation movements, revolutionary movements, eternal security, reincarnation, the millennium, the social gospel – all have their origin in the premise that the basic goodness of man will show itself once all the external hindrances are removed. Some of the things mentioned have worked for the material betterment of people, but is there any evidence that they have helped produce happier, kinder, better people?

All of these thing are only vain attempts to hack away at the branches of sin, none of them attack the root of sin.

All four of these doctrines come into play in our society’s ideas about child-rearing. We are told that a child can only develop her true potential for good if she is given maximum access to information and allowed freedom to choose what she shall believe and do. Is it any wonder that many parents speak of their children as a burden? Is it any wonder that when parents grow old and come to their declining years, their children consider them a burden?

(to be continued)

 

Precious memories

My mother died seven years ago today, December 31, 2006 at 9:00 p.m.  If she had lived another 18 days, she would have been 99.

Not that I would have wished another 18 days for her just so she could reach that landmark.  She began to show signs of dementia in her early nineties and her last couple of years were difficult.  Then she caught a norovirus that was going round the nursing home where she lived.  She recovered from that, but it left her so weakened that she only lived a few more days.

She lived with us until she needed more care than we could provide at home.  Then we placed her in the Mennonite Nursing Home at Rosthern, Saskatchewan.  This was a wonderful place.  It helped Mom that in her confused state she decided this was the house her Uncle Pete had built.  Uncle Pete’s house must have been much smaller than this sprawling nursing home complex, and it was hundreds of miles away.  Never mind, it made Mom feel like she was not in a totally unfamiliar place.

Mom did not want to get dressed in the morning, because the clothes the staff wanted here to put on were not her clothes.  The trouble was that the only clothes she would have recognized by this time were the clothes that she had worn 75 years ago.  The staff people were patient with her and eventually coaxed her to let them help her get dressed anyway.

She fought when they tried to give her a bath and the staff asked for permission to sedate her at those times.  We gave our permission, but they never did use a sedative, finding ways to get her bathed without too much stress.

When our daughter was expecting her first child, almost five years earlier, Grandma was the first person she told and Grandma rejoiced with her.  Later, Grandma had a dim understanding that Michelle had a second child.  Now, in Grandma’s very last days, Michelle brought her third child, four months old, and showed her to Grandma.  The smile that Grandma gave was a little glimmer of light in that dark time.  We weren’t sure by then if Mom even knew who we were anymore, but the sight of the baby must have brought some happy thoughts.

The funeral was in Moose Jaw, where Mom had lived for many years.  We were touched by all the family and friends who came to show that they cared.  There were a few more details to look after and then we were left with our memories.

The memories of the difficult lady my mother became in her last years have faded and I am left with sixty years of memories of the wonderful, sweet lady that my mother really was.  She was born with congenital hip dysplasia and in later years told me that she had never walked without pain.  Yet she went on walks with me when I was little, even ran foot races with me.  She was a hard-working farm wife, cooking, baking, canning, and all the other tasks of making a home.  I remember her singing hymns in the vehicle whenever we drove any distance.  She loved to read and was my first and best teacher.

When I married, she accepted my wife as a daughter and they became very close.  She was delighted when a new generation began with the birth of our daughter.  When we moved to Eastern Canada she came and spent a couple of weeks with us each year.  We tried to get back to Moose Jaw every second year.  When Michelle was nine years old and my wife was going through weekly chemotherapy after cancer surgery, Mom came and spent several months with us, keeping the home running smoothly while Chris sometimes felt so tired.  Just having Mom there made this time easier for us all.

It doesn’t lessen the pain of parting to know a loved one is near death.  When the earthly ties that bind us together are cut, there will be pain.  Healing comes from in facing that pain and going through a proper funeral, sharing memories with friends and family, and accepting that this person who has been part of one’s life forever is not here anymore.  When the pain of parting has healed, the good memories come flooding back.

God’s way is still best

“For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).

Progress and family have never been very compatible.  The economic development of the U.S. south depended on capturing large numbers of African people, who knew more about raising cotton than the plantation owners, bringing them to America and treating them as livestock.  African-American family life still has not recovered.

More than a century ago, the Canadian government thought that the development of the Canadian prairies depended on neutralizing the strength of the First Nations people.  Children were taken away from their parents and placed in residential schools, where they were taught to be ashamed of their origins.  Now we are faced with a crisis of dysfunctional First Nations families who understand more about partying than about being parents to their children..

The public school system was intended to bring unity and cohesiveness to society by overriding the supposedly divisive influence of the families the children came from.  Various social agencies have needed to be established to deal with the fallout from the weakened influence of the home.  These agencies only seem to further weaken the homes.

For most progressive thinkers, the family was the chief obstacle to their vision of a liberated society.  It has taken a couple hundred years, but their ideas have taken hold and personal freedom is now considered to be the ultimate source of happiness.  Why then do we live in such a hurting society?

I was volunteering at a local food bank and a young lady came in to explain her situation.  She had met a young man who promised to love and care for her throughout life.  She moved in with him, without benefit of marriage, and as soon as the young man heard that a baby was on the way he disappeared.  This young lady was poised, well mannered, and had enough education that she could have found a good job to support herself.  But now she was a single mother.  Stories like this abound.

The disintegration of stable families in our society is destroying the sheltering fabric that provided protection for the weakest members of society.  Granted, there have always been some homes where the weaker members were oppressed and mistreated, sometimes in the name of righteousness.  But the situation today seems to leave everyone vulnerable.  Violence against women has increased, sexual exploitation of women is now considered normal, teenage girls are targets of unscrupulous men.  The weak and elderly are often left to fend for themselves.

We have sown the wind and now we are reaping the whirlwind.  The plan of God for the family provided a shelter from the whirlwind.  That shelter has been rejected for spurious reasons.

Yes, the Bible teaches that women should submit to their husbands.  But this instruction is given to the wives and does not give the husband any excuse to demand or enforce submission.  Submission is only submission if it is voluntary, anything else is oppression.  Let us not confuse the two.

The Bible says that husbands are to love their wives, to care for them and provide for them as they do for their own bodies, and not to be bitter against them.  There is nothing found anywhere in the Bible that would hint of permission for a husband to mistreat his wife.

The Biblical pattern of the family is the only workable pattern for building a stable, cohesive society, where the needs of all are supplied and all are loved and respected.  All homes are imperfect, because all we as people are imperfect.  Yet, for imperfect people to discard marriage and family and try to build something better is sheer folly.

Three old men and a teenaged girl

We moved into the Ontario village of Fullarton when our daughter was ten years old.  The village was located at the crossroads of two county roads and contained twenty-seven houses.  There were a few families with children, but many of those houses were occupied by old people who lived alone, widows, widowers and bachelors.

In particular, there were four lonely old men, ranging in age from 70 to 90.  They were Jack Davis and Paddy Davis, both widowers with no grandchildren living anywhere nearby, plus Giff Pomeroy and Carl McNeil, both bachelors.

In the centre of the village was an old fashioned country general store.  In addition to selling groceries, hardware and gasoline, it was the Post Office and the place where the village residents met and exchanged news.  When Michelle got older, she began to work in the store.

When Christmas approached the first year that she was in our church’s youth group, she suggested that they include Carl McNeil in their list of places to carol.  Thus, late one evening a large group of young people gathered at Carl’s door and sang some of the old Christmas Carols.  They could see Carl hiding behind his newspaper, not reading but apparently not knowing what he should do, never having  experienced such a thing in all his ninety years.  When the carolers came again the next year he was not in such a state of shock.  He listened attentively and when they were done, came to the door and gave them a hearty thank you.

One fall, the youth hosted a supper for all the seniors in the congregation and the surrounding community.  Michelle invited the four old men of Fullarton and they all came and enjoyed themselves immensely.

Then one day Michelle came home from working in the store and told us that three of them had asked if they could take her out for supper.  I think Giff was already in a nursing home by this time.  We gave our permission for her to accept the offer.  These were three lonely old men who wanted to show some appreciation for the considerate way that Michelle treated them.  And we were confident that they were gentlemen.

Therefore, one evening they came to pick her up and drove to the nearest town with a restaurant, ten minutes away, and had supper together, one seventeen year old girl and three men aged 70 to 90.   I believe all four of them enjoyed it.

I don’t think Michelle ever thought that she was doing something out of the ordinary by the courtesy she showed these men when they came to the store, or when she met them in the village.  Evidently they did.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets (Matthew 7:12).

 

 

Dementia

There are things that I wish that I would have understood better when my parents were suffering with dementia.  Above all, I wish I could have understood that even though their personalities had changed and their memories seemed to be gone, the father and mother that I had once known were still there, though unable to communicate.

I am beginning to understand how important it is to talk to such people and demonstrate our love in other ways, even though we see no sign of understanding and response.  And in some way that is unfathomable to us, God is still able to communicate with people with dementia.

Yesterday I attended a volunteer appreciation tea, put on by one of the hospitals in Saskatoon, for those who are involved in the Sunday morning chapel services.  The conversation got around to how important it is to older people to hear the familiar old hymns of the faith.  There were incidents mentioned of services in nursing homes, where someone would appear to be completely out of it during most of the service, then would ask for a familiar hymn and sing along with it.

A book from England, Could it be Dementia?*, recounts incidents of this type.  A nursing home resident with Alzheimer’s disease sat through a worship service, mouth wide open and a vacant look on her face.  When the minister read the text for his message her mouth closed, her eyes came alive and she drank in the whole message, then at the end the vacant look returned and her mouth dropped open.  Another woman lit up during a familiar hymn and sang along with the chorus after each verse.  Later she had no recollection of the hymn.  A man who was barely able to communicate a word or two sat through a mission report with no sign of comprehension, but when the meeting was opened for prayer he prayed a meaningful and moving prayer which showed he had been taking it all in.

Incidents such as these may be relatively rare, but they give us a glimpse into the reality that even though the light may be off, someone is still there.  The brain is a physical organ and when it no longer functions as it once did the person seems to be slipping away from us.  Yet the soul, the real person, is not affected by physical degeneration.  These people need someone to care for them physically, but we should remember that their soul still needs feeding and caring for too.

*Could it be Dementia, Losing your mind doesn’t mean losing your soul © 2008 Louise Morse and Roger Hitchings.  Published by Monarch Books, Oxford UK

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