This will be a different kind of chapter. We are about to have some fun. I have discovered that, for one reason or another, many older people have stopped having fun. Some have given up expecting they will ever have fun again. We shall steer clear of all crude jokes about preachers and old people, even though Christians who have been long in the saddle are especially ripe subjects for humor.
What we want in this chapter is enjoyment, not just laughter at the antics of other people. We will let the other chapters take up more serious issues. They can discuss things we should be doing either for our own good or for the good of others. All such matters are important, but if we don't personally like doing them, they don't belong in a chapter devoted to enjoyment.
Many people do not understand that, because we are older, we don't always relish the activities that interest younger people. It's not that we belong
to a previous age; we belong to this age or we wouldn't be here. We are not anachronisms; we are just what you see except that we are different! What others like, sometimes we don't like, and sometimes what we like they don't. There's nothing wrong with that, and if younger people realize it and accept it as we do, there's no problem.
I'm assuming that we are reasonably healthy for our advanced years, that we get around fairly well, and that we have enough to live on. Since I am assuming this much, allow me to make one stipulation: We will dissociate the word enjoyment from the word television, and your set will be turned off during this entire chapter. Thank you.
Now let's look at what there is for us old guys and gals to enjoy.
Children and Grandchildren
First on the list, naturally, are our own kin. How we love 'em. What joy they pour into our lives! As it turns out, the family is one of the casualties of the twentieth century, but even so, and perhaps because of it, the bonds of love between the old folks and the young ones remain as strong as ever, if no stronger. Demonstrations of affection continue to be of highest importance.
Without expanding on the subject, I wish to underline the need for us seniors to enjoy the family relationship. That rules out nagging,
complaining, shaking our heads and fretting over the state of things with young people today. Neither does enjoying young people mean being shoved out of the way, sitting inertly in rocking chairs and smiling benignly while the young cavort in supreme ignorance of their elders' existence. What an insufferable prospect! And yet the dismal scene is reproduced in every new generation. Enjoyment, by contrast, means our being active, contemporary parents and grandparents who maintain a solid love relationship with our families not for what we wish they were, or hope they will become, but for what they are.
Sitting in the stadium or arena and watching sports is a favorite vicarious recreation among older people, whether it be football, baseball, basketball, hockey, track and field, or some other popular event. However, even if a friend or member of our family is participating in it, we can never be sure that it will be altogether enjoyable. Our team might lose! Our entrant might be eliminated, or might even be carried off the field. Then we might well be desolate. If you are willing to take the risk, if you don't mind losing, I will say no more. Go to the event, shout till you are hoarse, and may the home team win! But for more consistent, active, beneficial, low-risk enjoyment, I have another sport in mind that is becoming more popular than any of the above.
Golf is perfectly suited for older people who are ambulatory. It offers fresh air, beautiful scenery, good fellowship, pleasant exercise, competition, and the opportunity to practice your skills. It's true that the joy of the sport is dampened when your drive careens into the water hazard (beg pardon for that one) or your putt refuses to drop into the cup. But just as every morning is a new beginning for the believer, so every hole is a new beginning for the golfer. Golf is a lot of fun.
Tennis is another excellent sport for the elderly, and while it takes more exertion, it is also a lot cheaper since free municipal courts are common. A set of tennis can be a wonderful tonic to a retiree. The problem often is to find a partner; but if your spouse can serve in that capacity, you are home free.
Horseshoes, croquet, and shuffleboard are very desirable ways of daily exercise if no other means are available. Trampolines are all right but, in my opinion, are not much fun. I do not recommend jogging for older citizens on the basis of personal experience; nor do I recommend pumping iron, cycling, or any other strenuous activity unless it can be done enjoyably and with a doctor's approval. We all know what violent exercise can do to the human body when it reaches its later stages.
In no branch of culture has such a radical change taken place during the twentieth century,
perhaps, as in the field of popular music. I well remember when the "Big Apple" and boogie-woogie first made their appearance on the music scene, setting the stage for swing, rock-and-roll, heavy metal, and rap. The music we knew and loved in the late twenties and early thirties was a form of jazz developed out of ragtime. Melody and tunefulness were still popular. The music of today and that includes much Christian music sounds strange to our ears and is totally foreign in character to us who are older. I'm sorry, but we can't help it nor can today's musicians.
Our young people listen to Lawrence Welk's music and wonder what we ancients could possibly hear in it that is appealing. We feel the same way about contemporary music. Welk's orchestral style does not truly represent the music of our youth you should have heard Phil Harris or Horace Heidt but at least it resembles it. Tastes differ widely, and I speak merely as a layman, but I can certainly say that the music of the early twentieth century, beginning with Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin, can still give today's older generation hours of lasting enjoyment.
I will not comment on changes in classical and light classical music, beyond reminding the reader that I am of "the old savor."
Sacred music is another subject. The nineteenth century was rich with stately hymnody and gospel songs, but a change came with the twentieth century. Few new and popular hymns were written, and as a result our churches subsisted
for decades (and many still subsist) on a diet of mainly eighteenth- and nineteenth-century music. Only in recent years have young people begun writing Christian songs that are more than choruses. A genuine revival of Christian music is in progress; many of the new melodies are exquisite interpretations of the biblical psalms. "Glory for Me" inspired the churches 100 years ago; today people are responding more to Jack Hayford's thrilling "Majesty."
An Evening Out
With the advent of television and the VCR, for huge numbers of people the custom of going out to a movie has ceased to be a pattern of American folk behavior. The motion picture industry has brought about a vast change in the moral standards of the American people, to our loss, but I did not write this book to inveigh against anybody. I will simply say that unless an unusual film such as Chariots of Fire comes along, I do not care much about either going out to a movie or staying home and watching a recent film with its sex and violence and long commercials on TV.
However, other opportunities are open. Shakespeare is still being performed. So are the challenging plays of George Bernard Shaw. Our generation considers that, for both musical and dramatic entertainment, the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan are tops. Recently I served as president
of a Gilbert and Sullivan Society, and while H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado continue to draw the best audiences, my personal favorites will always be Patience and The Yeomen of the Guard. Our generation also loves Gershwin, Romberg, Victor Herbert, Rogers and Hammerstein, and their colleagues. Do old people also like the symphony? Some of us always will.
Tonight my wife, Ruth, and I will dance a few quiet steps at home to the music of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," played by Frankie Carle. Yes, older people still enjoy music.
Entertaining is not an enormous undertaking for retirees. Having a congenial couple over for a game of Scrabble and a piece of lemon meringue pie can be to sample some of life's dearest delights during the sunset years. We have so much to talk about! So many memories! So many laughs!
Older couples do not often become noisy or unruly or overstay their leave. We do cherish the chance to chuckle at ourselves without wincing, to put some of our past anxieties into perspective and see them for what they really are. Friends no longer with us are brought back and their memories cherished and enjoyed. New friends are welcomed, and we learn of interesting lives that have only now touched our own.
Some of us who are able to do it like to exercise the gift of hospitality as enjoined by the New Testament.1 Many older people, including those living in institutions, truly enjoy a sumptuous home-cooked meal for a change, while those who play the role of host seem to enjoy it equally. Some hosts and hostesses call it the next best thing to having the Lord Jesus Himself drop in for a meal as He used to do in the humble homes of ancient Palestine.2
Surely the sharing of a meal with others in a pleasant eating place outside the home is one of retirement's special treats. A family get-together, a former business connection, church friends, or just two people enjoying each other's company add to this some tasty oriental food, or seafood, or Mexican food, or European food and for us older people the evening is a success even before the food is blessed.
In a metropolitan area where many older people live, finding a nature trail to hike is not the easiest task in the world. It just happens to be a favorite activity in our home, and if it can be done safely there is nothing like it. A good walk or a not-too-strenuous climb can prove to be a
refresher to the whole body. Those who live near foothills are particularly fortunate in this regard. Following a well-patronized trail to a local peak can be an inspiring experience during a Saturday outing.
City, county, and state park departments are happy to supply maps for interested hikers. For protection, hikers can travel in groups or (where permitted) with a dog on leash. I have found that steel-pointed walking sticks are of great assistance on a rough or steep trail, and they make it easy to ward off loose animals that wander near. Walking sticks also identify hikers as something other than interlopers or trespassers. Steel points for canes can be obtained through Swiss imports.
Hiking may not be as convenient as a local fitness center, but it's a lot cheaper, it's good exercise for older people, the scenery is enjoyable, and the fresh air is marvelous.
Don't pay any attention to this paragraph unless you really do enjoy working in a garden. To dig one's fingers in the soil is, of course, a very healthy activity for us earth creatures, and the results in floral beauty can be a continual pleasure as the seasons pass. But do we enjoy it? Yes! I can testify that after one has stared at a word-processor for so long, mowing the back lawn is a positive relief.
We shall look at this subject in Chapter 15.
Naturally! Right now a tiny angora kitten is nestled on my shoulder. What would older people do without pets? If you are a senior citizen and don't have a pet, get one. God gave us pets to enjoy. But if you do get a pet, take better care of it than poor old Mother Hubbard did with hers.
Finally, if we older folks can find a church where there are some merry Christians, we should join it and get in on the fun. To hear some real preaching, to have one's soul fed by a fired-up, New Testament Gospel sermon, is a magnificent experience. To see a congregation rise up and cheer a straightforward proclamation of truth is enjoyment at its most exalted. To watch people of all ages respond to an invitation to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, after a clear presentation of the faith once delivered to the saints, is a truly heartwarming experience.
But there is more to joy in church than just listening. In our next chapter we shall look at ways of ministry that are open to all older Christians who retain a conventional amount of élan that
is to say, their "get up and go" has not already "got up and went."
God is promising us all kinds of deep inner enjoyment if we put on the garment of praise, and over it the Gospel armor, and start witnessing for Christ in the marketplace. The noted pollster George Gallup, Jr., speaking at an urban ministries conference in New Jersey, revealed some remarkable 1991 statistical data concerning what he called the "high spiritual faith" of certain American Christians. I quote:
These people are a breed apart. They are more tolerant of people of diverse backgrounds. They are more involved in charitable activities [and] practical Christianity. They are absolutely committed to prayer. [They are] far, far happier than the rest of the population. These are the quiet saints in our society who have a disproportionate, powerful impact on our communities.3
Unless I miss my guess, a large proportion of the people who responded to this significant poll by Dr. Gallup, and whom he so perceptively described as "a breed apart," are up in years. They belong to the senior class.
One more thought: Since our marriage, Ruth and I have gone with Gospel teams of fellow Christians to Scotland, the Philippines, and Mexico, and we will soon be heading out again as God gives us strength. Would you like to join us? When Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples, the Scripture says they returned "with joy."4 We aim to do the same.
Let me close with a quotation from William Tyndale's prologue to his English translation of the New Testament, which was published in 1525:
Euagelio (that we cal gospel) is a greke word, and signyfyth good, mery, glad and joyfull tydings, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for ioye.5
Enjoy your autumn years!
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1. See 1 Peter 4:9.
2. See Luke 10:38.
3. From an address at a Southern Baptist conference in Newark, New Jersey, reported by Baptist Press and subsequently carried by the Evangelical News Service, May 24, 1991.
4. See Luke 10:17.
5. As reported in Hugh T. Kerr, Jr., Positive Protestantism (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950).
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