Boston: stumbling onto Phillips Brooks

At the beginning of the Freedom Trail, waiting tor the tour guide after having clam chowder for lunch
Posing with the tour guide who was dressed in clothing of Boston past

Freedom Trail

We were in Boston and had gone on a Freedom Trail walking tour. Boston has a rich and significant history. Momentous events took place there and some of the buildings and graves testify to the fundamental way America has been shaped by those events. I loved the tour and would recommend it to anyone.

We then wanted to have fantastic hot chocolate at a popular café near the park where the Freedom trail ended. On the way to the café, I spotted a statue in front of a huge church building. I went nearer to look and saw an interesting thing.

Rt Rev Phillips Brooks

It was a sculpture put up in memory of Rt. Rev. Phillips Brooks, the famous preacher whose lectures on preaching I had read when I was in seminary. Phillip Brooks gave the “Lyman Beecher Lectureship  on Preaching” at the Divinity School of Yale College. The lectures now seem outdated but he had said some great, classic things about preaching. One of his often quoted sayings was his definition of preaching: “Preaching is the bringing of truth through personality.”

Beautiful Trinity Church (Episcopalian)

After tea, we went to take pictures in front of the sculpture. The sculpture was of Phillip Brooks preaching with his hands stretched out to make a point. There is a strange hooded figure behind him, with his hand on Phillip’s shoulder. Clearly the sculptor meant to indicate how Jesus anointed the preaching of Brooks, and how his effectiveness as a preacher depended on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Phillips Brooks and Jesus

Then we went inside the church to have a look. However, we needed to pay to go in and walk among the pews, the volunteers from church had told us. So I said, Forget it. Ping, my daughter in law, told the volunteers that I was a pastor and had read his lectures in seminary when I was young, and would love to be able to go in. That must have moved them to allow us to go in for free. Thus, we sat there inside the church, among the pews, and in silence I prayed for a fresh anointing and that I would give my whole heart to preaching.

The sanctuary was beautiful and awesome

That night I searched for a free download of Brook’s lectures on preaching and downloaded it. The next few days, I would open those pages and read them on my smartphone. I have gone back now to these lectures, but on my iPad so that I could highlight striking sentences and thoughts. God willing I will post these sayings of Brooks once I have finished reading the lectures.

The tasks of seniors

People aged 65 to 75 are called the young old and people 75 above are called older old. Throughout the senior years, and indeed while you are in your early or mid-50s you have several tasks you need to begin to navigate if you want to make your senior years meaningful, spiritual and impactful. In my research on ageing and spirituality, I have discovered there are at least seven tasks that have to be processed through. Here they are:

  1. Preparing for retirement
  2. Doing a life review with biblical lenses
  3. Clarifying your life purpose
  4. Developing a healthy sense of self  and community
  5. Deepening your faith in God
  6. Grieving and handling losses well
  7. Preparing to die well

Each of these tasks has to be worked through in a safe, loving and interactive environment. When these are done, the senior years can be adventurous, purposeful and meaningful.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8.

Growing old with grace

Do we have misconceptions about the old?  There are plenty swirling around in society but often we who are becoming seniors have too easily accepted them without thinking. Let me give an example. They say the old deteriorate mentally.  Forgetfulness is a common sign of this deterioration. The young forget to do their homework, forget their multiplication table, forget appointments but do not say to themselves, I’m getting old!  Seniors should not say that they are mentally deteriorating just because their memory sometimes fails them. This is just one example.

Other misconceptions about seniors are:

-seniors are weak and are often plagued with illnesses.

-seniors are irritable, stubborn and unteachable.

-seniors are less productive than their younger colleagues.

-seniors are generally withdrawn from life and activities and prefer to vegetate.

The first thing we need to do is to set free the mind of such misconceptions. If you are becoming a senior, do not allow such misconceptions into your mental software. If you are young, do not look at your brothers and sisters who are growing older in this light. See them differently and treat them differently. This is kingdom thinking and living.

What if church members stopped dyeing their hair

More are hitting their fifties and sixties
More are hitting their fifties and sixties

What if everyone in church, men and women, stopped dyeing their hair for a year? Before the end of the year there would obviously be more grey and white heads in the congregation.

There would be a greater awareness of the relentless ageing process of members who we previously thought were forever young. Without treated hair, we would look different. For the women, the difference would be more telling. Most men do not dye their hair and it is usual to see some grey hair, mostly men’s, in most adult congregations. But if everyone stopped dyeing, there would be a sea of grey and white, since there are usually more women than men in church. We would be surprised, perhaps dismayed, at how old others and ourselves appear. It could even be depressing, or devastating for some.

The members of the leadership team would have a heightened awareness of the ageing process in the congregation. They would think of the various implications of that. The financial implications would certainly surface. So would the need to renew leadership and mentor the next generation. The urgency of outreach especially to young people would be highlighted. The need for new blood would stare them in the face. Maybe special fixtures to aid the seniors, need to be added and the building made senior friendly.

The pastor would likely have already been aware of the greying of the congregation. However the colour of hair can be shock therapy for a pastor. Suddenly the needs of the grey haired senior become urgent. Hopefully the pastor would do some research or ask other pastors about how best to equip and serve the seniors in their churches.

So it may be a good thing for everyone in church to stop dyeing their hair for a year. In addition, more people will offer them their seats in the MRT during peak hours.

The problem of ageing

Since I am doing some research on spirituality and ageing, I’d like to share with readers some quotes from a book I am reading, while at the same time store some references that may be useful for myself.

“Modern scholars of aging believe that an accumulation of empirical facts will someday produce total understanding of the natural and social worlds, allowing us to grow old without disease, suffering, conflict, or mystery. The problem with this mythology of scientific management is not that it is altogether false, but that it is only half true. The scientific management of aging fundamentally misconstrues the “problem” of aging. As T.S. Eliot once remarked, there are two kinds of problems in life. One kind requires the question, What are we going to do about it? The other calls for different questions: What does it mean? How does one relate to it? The first kind of problem is like a puzzle that can be solved (though aging is more accurately ameliorated than solved) with appropriate technical resources and pragmatic responses. The second kind of problem poses a deeper range of challenges, which no particular policy, strategy, or technique will overcome. Of course, shaping one’s vision according to the Christian story will not remove the challenges of aging, but it hold the possibility of helping us to understand, accept, and imaginatively transform the unmanageable, ambiguous aspects of our existence.”(69)

“Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the structure of the modern life course was constructed according to changes in demography. Family life, as all of life, began to reflect age-stratified systems of public rights and duties. As the experience of a modern family cycle (end of school, first job, marriage, children, survival of both partners to at least age fifty-five, “empty nest,” widowhood) became increasingly uniform, the boundaries drawn around participation in the adult world, the cultural definition of full humanity. Age-at-death was also transformed from a pattern of relative randomness to one of predictbility; as average life expectancy rose dramatically, death began to occur primarily in old age, not at varied points in the life cycle as had been the case in the past. As a result, fear of aging and fear of death merged. Modern society has now become a fully age-segregated society in which most of the aged do not occupy a vital role. It is no doubt a society that supports a burgeoning aging industry, but one that does not otherwise value the aging of the mind, body and spirit. It not only offers no moral endorsement or meaning to growing older, it fears growing old (identifying aging with loneliness, obsolescence, and death).” (73)

Stoneking, C.B. Modernity: the social construction of aging, in ed. Hauerwas S.,  Stoneking, C. B., Meador, K.G., and Cloutier, D., 2003, Growing Old in Christ, Grand Rapids Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Catch the Age Wave: a reflection

Catch the Age Wave is a book about how the church should seize the opportunity of deploying the church’s seniors to reach a rapidly aging population. The church’s seniors are defined by the authors Win Arn and Charles Arn as those in the late 50’s and 60’s – the “soon to be retired” or “the recently retired.” My purpose was to survey what has been written about how churches pastored their seniors. Here are my brief reflections.

The Arns feel that there we should view seniors today differently from how they were viewed in the past. They are not weak and sickly. Today’s seniors are healthier than their counterparts a decade ago. They do not yet need a great deal of volunteers to take care of them. In fact they are potentially a great source of volunteers for the church. They can be great care-givers. Their retirement motive is not necessarily to play or rock the chair. They want to work, learn, grow and serve and play too. Evidently churches in Singapore need to revise their views of the seniors, and give more attention, more resources to deploy seniors and reach the unsaved seniors. I cannot but agree that we need new eyes. Ageism, that bias against the old, has no place in the church that boasts of Abraham as the father of their faith.

However, I was dissatisfied with the way spiritual development was dealt with superficially in the book. The tasks that seniors have to tackle and the spirituality of this stage of life were not spelled out nor examined. There was no mention of the very stark reality of the challenges of ministry to the seniors – especially the older old. Nothing was said of the infirm, the shut-ins, the poor, the sick and dying and their needs. The focus was heavily focused on the hope, the positive, the opportunities and ideas for ministry. It was imbalanced but their purpose was different from what I was searching for.

Their methodology was based on the “homogeneity principle” of church growth. This is the idea that the more people are of the same race, status, language and age group the higher the likelihood that such a homogeneous group would grow.  I thought that such a mental model would deter church leaders from seeing the church as ideally multi-generational and meant to be so because holistic, deeper and richer learning of the faith takes place more effectively in such a social context.

Arn, W., Arn, C. 1993. Catch the Age Wave. Grand Rapids Michigan: Baker Book House.

Life expectancy and faith expectancy

He is the father of one of our church leaders.

His name is Andrew and he shared with a glint in his eye about what the Lord has been doing. He had gone on mission trips for years and had seen the Lord’s hand in miracles of healings and in salvation. He had gone with teams and other pastors and missionaries and had seen the word of the Lord spread in Pakistan. In the last few years, his attention shifted to Palawan in the Philippines. He couldn’t stop talking about the Lord. He went up the mountains to reach out to the people in the northern part of Palawan. He later went south to survey the needs there too. And he wants to go back there – alone if he has to. And he is 72 years old.

Life expectancy of Singaporeans is now about 85.

Sir Alex Ferguson, age 72, retired from managing Manchester United.

Jupp Heynckes, age 68, successfully coached Bayern Munich to the German treble, including the Champions League victory over the other finalist.

Lee Kuan Yew is nearly 90.

Andrew reminded me of Caleb of the Old Testament, who said to Joshua, ‘I am this day 85 years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me…give me that mountain…” (Joshua 14:11ff). At 85, he was still appropriating the promises of God and the challenges of faith that God laid before him.

Financial experts may say most Singaporeans do not have enough saved up for retirement. I do not want to dispute that. But  I want to remember the experts who talked about the giants in Canaan, the high and mighty walls, and the veteran warriors guarding the cities. The experts all died in the wilderness. So I will keep my eyes on Jehovah-jireh, God my provider.

I am inspired by Andrew and Caleb and I want to grow old with my eyes on a faith project.