The Softening of Seeing Seventy: Presidents, Christianity, and Gymnastics

I turned 70 this summer. Of course, I don’t feel a day over 69-and am still a bit shocked to discover I’ve crossed over. I know I am in better health than my mother was at this age, more energetic, more fit and yet . . . I am aware that everything is softening.

We can start with the body. Toned muscles have turned to general mush, despite vigorous gardening with its attendant bending, squatting, carryings, etc. I can walk well; I have zero signs of arthritis and healthy bones. But I’m soft.

My skin sags with the increasing softness, challenging to look at but clearly my new normal.

My brain takes in new information, but ever so much slower. I can still argue a point, but my method softens by increasing awareness of what I don’t know and where I’ve been misguided, misinformed, or just merely guilty of misunderstanding.

My view of the world softens as well. I manage to stay horrified by the continued outrages, ignorances, personal greed, and vulgarities of the man that, essentially, the US Christian world put into the most powerful position of the world. Even so, I find myself with a gentler, softer heart when I look at the abyss of fears and uncertainties that brought about this departure from norms of decency and possibly even from democracy as we have known it.

And then there is gymnastics. Two pre-teens of my acquaintance, both elite gymnasts, both nationally ranked, both the stars of their respective gyms, suddenly decided to walk away from the sport. The two of them have never met, but they had similar reasoning: they wanted to have a life, to be able to do something outside of the endless demands of the sport.

In both cases, their faithfully supportive families also expressed relief that they, too, would have normalcy in their lives again. Entire families will no longer have their schedules dominated by, frankly, boring competitions often accompanied by long travel times.

The reality: it’s all vapor

I pull these strands together as I ponder the typical life of striving, always wanting to learn more, to do more, to be more, to have more.

I’ve heard so many sermons, meditations, etc. about us being human “beings” not human “doings” but none of that ever rings true.

Not in a children’s world with another competition looming determining who has mastered it and who gets cut.

Not in a political world with another election season with its mudslinging character assassinations which will leave only one victor standing on a pile of bloodied and battered opponents.

Not in a religious world with another doctrine to defend in order to state unequivocally which people get the rewards of heaven and which suffer the everlasting torments of hell. Or in the case of current United Methodists, which get to marry and which must stay forever single, never knowing the joys of intimacy for which all were created.

And I, like that aging author of Ecclesiastes, say, “Really? Isn’t this all just a bunch of vanity-fueled vapor in the big picture of things?”

Our hypocrisy and the general silliness of the situation

My clergy credentials reside in the United Methodist Church. The current situation in the UMC represents the ever troubled unfolding of a religion theoretically devoted to the Prince of Peace, the very one who intentionally laid down his life for his enemies. But the current trajectory certainly suggests that more narrowly won, dark-money fueled votes will end in an expensive, destructive, split.

The world will rightly call us hypocrites. We’ll slowly become less and less relevant in a world that longs for the kind of Holy Peace that only the church can bring.

Someone, somewhere, needs to say in a voice that can be heard,

“Do you not see how very silly this is? All this back-room politicking, and for what? You tiny little bit of matter in the glorious cosmos–why are you not working to bring peace and wholeness into the Cosmic Harmony instead of dividing over these inconsequential things?”

To those of us who are either raging at this corrupt, ignorant, President or who are profiting mightily by the very corruption, someone, somewhere needs to say in a voice that can be heard:

“Do you not see how ridiculous this man is? The naked obesity of his endlessly grasping, never-filled soul is on display for all to see: Look at it, for heaven’s sake. Give him generous space to fade into his growing mental decline with grace and privacy. Then we can move again toward decency and self-regulation.”

As I write these words, I find myself saddened by the way the Evangelicals have used this precariously ill and unstable man to get what they want. I can see no care or actual concern for the eternal soul of the man they put in office. They want what they want and the fact that the means are unholy, even to the point of despicability, matters not.

This is not the way of Jesus; they know it, but it no longer matters.

But, two children quit gymnastics. Keep this in mind. Two young people, profoundly gifted athletes with supportive families and who could have gone all the way to the top, walked away. Two young, yet amazingly mature, children said:

“I want some sanity in my life. I want some playtime. I want to hang out with my friends, pet my dog, and explore what the world has to offer. I want to sleep in on Saturdays, live without all the pressure to meet the expectations of my gym and my coaches. I don’t want craziness anymore.”

Stop the craziness. Now.

I don’t want craziness any more either. So here are my words:

To The United Methodist Church: If you split, you impoverish yourself and proclaim to the entire world: “We don’t believe that we are commanded to love those whom we call enemy. We proclaim ourselves hypocrites of the greatest magnitude. We want you to come to our churches for the sake of giving us more money and more status, not because we have life-giving words to offer.”

Our gut-level truth? We chose laziness and divorce over the holy work that permits us to hold together despite our differences. Just too much trouble. The time to speak this truth and become free.

To the people of the United States let us proclaim: “To live in fear is to live in death. Let’s talk openly about our many legitimate concerns, and do so without flaming blame wars. Without honest, meaningful talk, and less silly twittering, we cannot find decent, doable solutions.

To all of us: “Start learning to play again. Fight back against schools who load down these little ones with endless hours of homework, where one wrong move or a missed assignment or botched test may mean lifelong failure. Enjoy some softness in your life.”

Maybe the very softness I’ve been fighting against represents the best part of growing older.

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