Letter to Jim

Dear Jim:

Did you know that there are twenty million people in the United States (10% of our population) who are 65 years old and older? I didn’t either until I read the cover story of Time, August 3. It was a fascinating article, Jim, But it was also very depressing. It began this way:

Edward Albee once wrote a play about a middle-aged couple who, before putting Grandma permanently in the sandbox with a toy shovel, gave her a nice place to live under the stove, with an Army blanket and her very own dish. The play contains more truth than allegory. One of the poignant trends of U.S. life is the gradual devaluation of older people, along with their spectacular growth.

The article continued by showing that, while America examines, psychoanalyzes, photographs, deplores and envies its youth, “Few have even wanted to admit the existence of a subculture of the aged, with its implications of segregation and alienation.” Other cultures honor and respect old people, but our society largely ignores them. Therefore some are predicting that within 20 or 30 years “ageism”, discrimination against old people, will be just as big a problem as racism is today. At the same time the aged are grouping themselves into communities which do not permit anyone under 65. There is growing resentment on the part of the aged toward the young. And thus there is another division or break appearing in our society. We already have the division between black and white, right and left, capital and labor, etc. To these we must now add the break between young and old.

The Time article, written from a secular viewpoint, described a situation which is characteristic of our nation as a whole. But it should cause us, never the less, to see that we are guilty of the same attitudes in the Christian community, not only because of the attitude of youth toward, older people, but also because of the attitude of older people toward youth. True, Christian young people probably have more love and respect than non-Christians have for their elders. And I am sure that many older Christians have a genuine concern for the youth of the Kingdom. But, apart from our worship services (and even there things are beginning to disintegrate), how often and where do we see younger and older Christians together in real, loving, and living communion?

Look, Jim, I don’t want to knock young people. You know that. I believe with all my heart that youth must be given all possible love , help, guidance, opportunity and direction in being brought to Christian maturity. But concentrating on the problems and challenges of youth does not mean that we may ignore the members of Christ’s body who are older. Nor would I suggest that the difference between young people and old people be ignored. There’s something “sick” about young people acting old and old people acting like kids.

At the same time, however, I see a division developing in our Christian communities where there should be communion and unity in Christ. It’s a division in which the youth ignore the older people and the older people resent and are suspicious of the youth. I believe, further, that we promote this division with some of our slogans, such as, “The youth of today are the church of tomorrow”; or “Work with the kids, the older people are already set in their ways.” Sure, there is a lot of truth in these statements. But, along with all of our talk about “generatlon gap” and “communication gap”, fear that such slogans do nothing but help to destroy the very thing we confess when we say, “I believe the communion of the saints.”

And so we have our conventions for young people, with older people looking on with a great deal of suspicion—and sometimes rightly so. And we have our men’s society conventions attended by those who are usually over fifty years of age—and our young people couldn’t care less. Is there something wrong with youth conventions and men’s conventions and meetings for the women in their promotion of missions? Of course not. All of these things are fine in themselves. But when and where and how are we going to get together both young and old in demonstration of the fact that we love and respect one another, that we want to live and work and play together as members of one body of Christ for His glory?

Several students from Dordt spend some time each week with the old people of the community. They read, sing, play, visit and pray together. This is a start. Perhaps the young people of our churches should periodically invite the older members of the congregation to attend some of their meetings, with the older folk returning the invitation. Further we could try to revive the practice of having young and old gather for mission fests.

But I have something more in mind, Jim. What happens on Sunday? We worship together, both young and old. Together we sing, pray, confess our faith, and receive the preaching of the Word. Together we eat bread and drink wine at the Lord’s Table. Why can’t we be together—both young and old—in facing our world, in witnessing to that world, and in seeking to learn the will of the Lord for social problems, for work, for politics, for justice, for agriculture, for every part of life? Why can’t we be together where the action is? Why can’t we? We can and we must, for we have the Spirit about which Joel wrote: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.”


Rev. Hulst