Letting go and getting out of the way

What a great week to be thinking about youth vs. age. The Yankees exited the Major League Baseball playoffs without … Continued

What a great week to be thinking about youth vs. age.

The Yankees exited the Major League Baseball playoffs without a whimper, as aging joints broke, aging sluggers waved at balls they once saw, aging arms lost zing, and a roster stacked with yesterday’s heroes showed what money can and cannot buy.

Aging tech stars — Research in Motion, Nokia, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell — lofted Hail Mary passes to snatch one last victory from younger and nimbler competitors in a market that is moving away from them.

Aging conservative Episcopalians in South Carolina fired on yet another “Fort Sumter” — the national Episcopal Church — trying through secession to preserve their latest “unique institution” of anti-gay prejudice.

Aging Republican leaders failed to see that today’s women don’t accept assignment to binders or faded reproductive ideology; today’s young workers don’t want bosses to tell them how to vote; and young Hispanic citizens don’t see themselves as an immigration problem.

So much is falling. Old assumptions about how people work, old ideas about what people want, old theories about God, old images of each other — they’re all falling away.

It’s painful to see giants stumbling for lack of vision. Work and computing are going mobile, for example, and here is Microsoft pinning its future on desktop products. Does life inside the Microsoft bubble prevent management from seeing what everyone else is seeing? Or are they like the Yankees: stuck with an aging lineup, hoping that “A-Rod” has one last home run in him? (He didn’t.)

My Episcopal Church is trying desperately to find a fresh course, grounded in younger clergy, fresh ways of envisioning faith communities, and a bold desire to listen to a changing world, not just preach at it. And here is one of our larger dioceses trying to turn back the clock and reopen sexuality debates that began decades ago and matter mainly to older traditionalists.

I understand that older folks — middle-aged and elderly — have a hard time letting go. We were once the repository of fresh ideas, exciting dreams, and change-the-world aspirations. Many of us remain as vital as ever, and we expect to be heard.

But the fact is, as the Yankees proved, at some point you want 24-year-old legs turning tough grounders into double plays, not 38-year-old ankles fracturing. Not only do youth deserve to be heard — after all, they are even more legion than we are — but they are dreaming the new dreams.

On Facebook last week, I saw a photo showing one diocese’s cadre of young clergy. They were laughing and eager. I once sat at that table, and my enthusiasm was strong. But my generation has been scarred by the 50-year decline of mainline Protestantism. I don’t think we caused it, necessarily, but it has certainly worn us down.

When I write and teach on church development, I feel the frustration of forward-thinking leaders. The change-resistant and selfish don’t let go. The Diocese of South Carolina’s latest salvo against modernity sounds like two embittered spouses still fighting at age 80, still trying to enlist the children and now the grandchildren in their unending quarrels. How selfish can they be?

If you watched the Yankees series with Detroit, you could see frustration on Manager Joe Girardi’s face. He had a high-salary bench filled with yesterday’s talent, but no one who could hit a fastball today.

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Tom Ehrich | Religion News Service Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich
  • brucegarner

    While I agree whole heartedly with most of what Tom says, particularly when it comes to issues of “control” that are behind the attitude of the Bishop of South Carolina and those who are following his path backward, I have to add a caveat. Not all of us who are over fifty think like “old farts.” Many of us have challenging ideas and attitudes that mesh well with the younger set. That is most likely the case for any of us who have found ourselves as people on the margins of church and/or society. So Tom, please don’t paint with such a broad brush when you speak of issues that face our church. You share wisdom that has come from age, so please do not dismiss others who can do the same….AND who have seen the church with new eyes that envision a new church.

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