CHAPTER 36, IN WHICH WE VISIT ALABAMA, THAILAND AND ZAMBIA
The guys welcomed Mary Trujillo to the conversation this week. Mary is a professor at North Park University in Chicago. She is a person of deep faith, a woman of wisdom, a lover of people, and she is an elder. She opens doors for the people around her as she lovingly challenges them to do things they don’t think they can. She has co-journeyed through the many ups and downs of life with so many people.
Last month, in conversation 33, we began a conversation about Eldership. That was a great talk with David Janzen, and you can join that conversation here. Today we’re continuing that conversation with Mary Trujillo.
When asked what it means to be an elder, Mary talked about having a sense of responsibility for what comes next. She referenced Elise Boulding‘s concept of the 200 year present, and how many native American tribes considered their actions on the 7th future generation. Elders are able to see a larger context of what has come before and what will come after. Understanding that all of us are in this together can breakdown animosity that is often present between young and old.
Our western society is an individualistic society in which age has no intrinsic value. Because ours is a capitalistic system, an older person who is no longer able to “produce” does not have a place in society. But this isn’t true of just the old; anyone with limited economic capacity struggles to find a place in our society. This includes the disabled, the handicapped, the uneducated, those previously incarcerated, the untrained, the disadvantaged, and sometimes women. Those individuals and groups who are not highly valued by our social or economic system seem to be the people that Jesus dignified and cared about.
Mary swapped the word eldership with the term grandparent. There is something wonderful that happens as you reach a certain age–you see the continuity of life and the gift that life is. The challenge as we age is to maintain a sense of freshness and a connection to life. Even as the body betrays us, we must maintain a wonder and fascination with life. This is the secret to becoming an elder and not just a grumpy old person.
Many great elders have been people who endured great suffering…people like Nelson Mandela or Maya Angelou. Seasons of suffering cultivate in us new levels of honesty and vulnerability and rawness that can be powerful. Our culture has lost the concept of fruitful suffering, but all humans have suffered at some point. We can not avoid the experience of suffering in our lives. If our culture eschews our elders, the very people who can teach us how to suffer, how will we learn to suffer well? There is a unique way that God speaks to us during suffering because we hear differently and we see differently in these seasons. Staying conscious during suffering is what makes it transformative. The corollary to this is that as we become older we can also experience true joy. Mary made a distinction between happiness–which is a fleeting emotion–and deep abiding joy. Only when we know how to suffer can we know true joy. Pain and joy live next to each other in our hearts.
Mary told a wonderful story about her blind grandmother who built into her the value for serving others, while demonstrating the grace and nuance characteristic of an elder. Can you imagine the joy that God–the ultimate elder–receives when he invests and develops us? Mary told us that age is venerated in collectivistic cultures and shared how she experienced this on her recent trip to Thailand. Similarly, in Zambia, she was caught off-guard when she was greeted by a man many years her senior who said, “hello Mother.” In Zambia, motherhood is very venerated and this was a high compliment.
Lightning closed the conversation with this paraphrase of a quote he saw recently: Blessed are those people who plant trees, the shade of which they will never themselves enjoy.
Next week will be the last episode of unQuiet Life. The guys will share details then about why the podcast is coming to an end. We hope you will join us.
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