A Lengthy Stride—One of my favorite things about the church
For the past two weeks I have been canvassing door to door for Amnesty International. I am likely to be quitting this job soon and moving onto something more rewarding, but I have certainly had worthy experiences and made many observations about the generosity and compassion shown by strangers. My heart has been warmed as people with nothing reach into their wallet and give to a worthy cause. Yet, I have also had slurs hurled at me and doors slammed violently in my face. Some people have flat out told me they could care less about the rest of the world or violence against women. This lack of care for the world is something we all suffer from at times.
Yet, I noticed one trend in my two weeks of canvassing that was particularly striking. The desire to find out more and to get involved tends to be inversely proportional to age. Those that are over the age of 65 will almost never open the door, show interest or speak to you. I raised over 1,000 dollars and not one penny came from an elderly individual.
As I was canvassing yesterday in Arlington in the shadow of the Boston LDS temple, I was struck by the contrast between the world and our church.. I was filled with joy as I thought about the thousands of elderly couple missionaries engaged in service of the lord across the world. I thought about our beloved prophet quite recently declared the most powerful octogenarian in the world. It truly is glorious to be a part of a church that encourages the service and leadership of older individuals and does not condemn them to obscurity.
In a sense, the church’s strong focus on family and veneration for elders seems to reverse a trend in western society towards dissolution of ancestral bonds. Years ago, in an Introductory Anthropology Class, I read a book that one of my professors had written entitled “White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender and Body in North India” which spoke about Indian rituals and views towards aging and how things have changed since the westernization of the nation. Elders were formally venerated and aging integrated into the rituals of the community. A journey of discovery was a traditional part of the aging process as well. Today, instead, many are sent to old age homes or even left to wander the streets alone.
I did a bit of research about studies of religiosity and aging (Religiosity and Life Satisfaction Across the Life Course, James E. Peacock and Margaret M. Poloma, 1998) and not surprisingly found that most studies find a positive correlation between religiosity and life satisfaction.
Last night I went to an institute lesson taught by two CES missionaries. I think we are so used to having elderly couples serving missions that we fail to realize just how striking this is and how outside of the norm of ‘retirement’ in our society.
As Elder Holland put it in a talk on missionary service
“Those who can, put away your golf clubs, don’t worry about the stock market, realize that your grandchildren will still be your grandchildren when you return—and go! (Abide in Me, 2003)”
I’ve seen anti-mormon websites calling the practice of sending out senior missionaries to be exploitive, but I have felt the spirit that these elderly couples bring to their callings and therefore know that they benefit as much from it as do those they serve. They avoid becoming bitter and angry through their service. It is a beautiful and meaningful endeavor.