I’ve got about six months until I hit 50. That milestone isn’t sitting well with me, though.
Part of my unrest is that the major tropes of my youth with regard to the accumulation of years have failed. Or perhaps I should say that I failed to fulfill them.
By the time you are 50, you are supposed to be in the prime of your career. You are a leader in your community. Your savings account is overflowing. You have power. Your words matter to people and they listen to you because you are a success.
At least that is what I grew up believing because that’s what we were all taught to believe.
Problem is, I haven’t achieved any of those. My careers (yes, multiple) have all been derailed at one point or another by uncontrollable economic factors, so this elusive “prime” I keep hearing about seems to be some mysterious other’s to enjoy. I’m not rich, so I have no power, since the money = power equation only grows stronger the larger the number of years on the calendar. Politics seems to be the only avenue to leadership anymore, and no party will have me. And since achievements in those preceding traits are the sole signal for success in our society today (with the possible exception of scandal, so there’s at least that still open), I’ll never be a worldly success.
They say that youth is wasted on the young, and I understand this more and more. Supposedly, the counterbalance is wisdom, but no one cares about wisdom. In an age of knowledge, where Google can give you answers to nearly any question you have, and it’s all within reach of a ubiquitous cell phone, what is wisdom? The Internet is filled with dime store philosophers, and most days anymore, I feel like just another of their horde. Name a topic and there’s a pundit for it.
So if none of this works, what is left for the guy who has managed to get to 50 years without making a total wreck of life?
I was taught to always refer to adults with “Mr.,”Mrs.,” or “Miss” preceding their surname. Even when I was in my 20s and 30s, my parents’ peers were still “Mr. Kreider” or “Mrs. Frey,” not “Joe” or “Phyllis.”
This gave those neighborhood stalwarts some ethereal cachet that made them different from me. Better. Smarter. More worthy of respect.
Just the other day, I was out with my son, and we ran into the daughter of a friend. She’s 19-21, if my faulty memory serves, and she called out to me by saying, “Hello, Mr. Edelen.”
I found it almost startling to hear “Mr. Edelen.” Perhaps I am now an adult, part of that elusive set of peerage that reserved such titular prefixes for the friends of my deceased parents.
If anything, that callout got me thinking more deeply about respect.
If none of the other standards for adulthood drilled into me in my youth can be assumed, surely respect can. Yet despite being called Mr. Edelen by one well-raised young lady, I think that more of us can identify with Rodney Dangerfield.
Getting to 50 without screwing up one’s life no longer merits the special favor of respect. Perhaps it never should have in the first place. We keep hearing that respect must be earned, and if anything, that’s still the prevailing thought.
Yet if our societal beliefs on respect are to be grasped, no one is earning respect.
The presidency used to be a position of respect. I don’t know if that was forever shot down by the presence of presidential protein on an intern’s dress, but since that event, neither of our last two presidents have garnered any respect. Even from Christians, respect may be talked about with regard to the POTUS, and we can blabber with the best of ’em about Founding Fathers and the greatness of America, but the words we say about our president don’t encompass respect.
In fact, even in the Church today, I can’t think of anyone who gets any respect. The world at large has a built-in reflex for questioning authority, and that seems to have slid down the gutter into the American Church.
Don’t believe me? Consider the following.
An elder from your church pulls you aside some Sunday and says, “I notice your giving has been down this year. What can we do about that?”
For many of us, the first thought is, Take a long walk off a short pier, buddy.
Even if we substitute pastor for elder in that scene, nothing improves. Doesn’t matter who the person is, we don’t want anyone telling us we’re doing it wrong.
But, Dan, the giving thing is a naturally divisive issue, you may say. And I know you don’t ascribe to a New Testament tithe, anyway. OK, then have the elder or pastor suggest that you’re not spending enough of your time in service to either the church or the community. Or that a church leader noticed a sin in your life you may need to address. Or that you might think you’re a gifted teacher, but that class you really want to teach is not what the church needs from you now. Or that you’re not as gifted in teaching as you think you are, and that perhaps your gift is driving the church bus.
How quickly the thought becomes, So which other churches can I visit next Sunday?
We can talk all we want about respect, but no one seems to get any anymore. We are so selfish and believe ourselves so wise, that no one can speak into our lives with any authority and have us instantly consider his or her words worthwhile simply because who he or she is demands respect.
We don’t honor offices or the people who inhabit them. Titles now mean nothing. We have become like cliffs of granite, immovable, unswayable, and suitable only for jumping off for those who would suggest we move or sway.
Sure, plenty of Christian leaders have abused their authority. Sure, some people may not be worthy of respect.
But is anyone?
I maybe a poor example of human being and perhaps an even lousier Christian. Maybe respect should not be afforded me simply because I’ve hung around nearly 50 years.
Yet what else is there? If we can’t respect those people who are still standing after 50 years or more, especially within the Church, what hope do we have to ever move anything—including the Church—forward? Instead, we may be dooming ourselves to a downward spiral of selfishness that keeps crying out for others to respect us, even as we fail to respect anyone else.