Source: World Network of Religious Futurists

Dr. Richard Kirby
Religious Futurists to Celebrate the Year of the Older Person
By Rev. Richard S. Kirby, PhD., Oct 12, 1998

This statement was delivered by Rev. Richard S. Kirby, PhD., International Chairperson of the World Network of Religious Futurists on October 12, 1998, upon launching the Golden Phoenix program, in view of the UN's Int'l Year of Older Persons in 1999.

I write these words on behalf of my colleagues, scholars in the future of religion and society.

Our subject is not only the future of faith - it is the future of love. It is the future of grace, the near-future of divine succor, the dawning of an ever-greater hope. Our subject is not religious ideas, but the energies of God, God our Light and Strength, God the ever-coming Supreme Reality. The 'future' which is our concern is now, the better world of heaven penetrating earth's miseries as we write and read these words.

Do you know, like, care for/care about an older person? Do you expect ever to become one?

Like so many elements of society, old age is marked by extremes. Sen. John Glenn, age 77, returns to outer space amid a fanfare of publicity. Elsewhere in the U.S.A. and in many other lands, old age is a baleful fulfillment of the definition of life given by political philosopher Thomas Hobbes - 'short, nasty, brutish and horrible.'

Poets, likewise, reflect in their perceptions of Age this wide range of possibilities: 'Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the Last of Life for which the First was made,' enthuses Rabbi Ben Ezra in Robert Browning's poem of that name. William Shakespeare, contrariwise, speaks sadly of old age as mere second childishness, without hearing or sight or teeth - or 'anything'.

Poets, likewise, reflect in their perceptions of Age this wide range of possibilities: 'Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the Last of Life for which the First was made,' enthuses Rabbi Ben Ezra in Robert Browning's poem of that name. William Shakespeare, contrariwise, speaks sadly of old age as mere second childishness, without hearing or sight or teeth - or 'anything'.

Is this good news or a herald of dread? We are living in an era where many people are concerned about the prospects which the "Golden Years" - senior citizenship - old age, modern maturity - hold for them or their loved ones. Catastrophic medical bills, abandonment, disability, alcohol and drug addiction, loneliness and a sense of being bypassed by society are among many problems the elderly face - or fear. In a culture which prizes youth, this is especially true. Loss of employment, premature retirement, compulsory euthanasia are among the fears marring the contemplative beauty of life's last stages, as lived in America. Behind these sociological horrors lies the reality of a false philosophy of age - the erroneous 'philosophy' that old age or even late middle age is the age of the discarded, outmoded, useless being.

Social change agents such as Maggie Kuhn and the Gray Panthers, and writer Betty Friedan with her 'Fountain of Age', have bravely confronted this error in the theory or philosophy of society.

What has been lacking is a coordinated attempt by the world's major religious traditions to construct a global, contemporary theory or theology of Old Age for the folks who will live in the 21st century - and even those who will live and age in 1999. It is one of the great privileges of religious thought that its subject is supreme wisdom, including the wisdom of age.

Now is the time when the new, more profound understanding of old age is breaking upon us from many areas.

In fact, there is good news here: this is a time of marvelous opportunity. Age, old age, even old-old age has a future, a great one. The 21st century is going to be a wonderful time to be old, sage, wise. A new understanding of age, a new theory of the place in society of the elder folk, is birthing with the new century. Old age is the place to be--the best game in town! The Wise Beings are gathering their strength and togetherness, the super-powered seniors are amassing their energies and writing their constitution for their place in the coming century.

The United Nations' upcoming "International Year of Older Persons" [1999] is only 12 weeks away. The glory and the predicament of Older Persons is a major issue for religionists as the new millennium approaches--for the world is aging rapidly, and the wisdom of Age, like the Wisdom of God, is part of the subject matter of the religious person, the scholar and inquirer, the devotee.

Wisdom is wealth!

But the U.N. Trust Fund on Aging, which relies on voluntary contributions from U.N. members, is almost broke. And the U.N.'s aging unit only has three people to oversee year long activities in 1999.

The United Nations has agencies devoted to children and population issues and a development fund for women. What campaigners are hoping is that The International Year of Older Persons in 1999 will put the age boom on the global agenda.

As of today, the world religions will lend their energies and knowledge of the things of God, the paths of righteousness, to this cause. And not just in theology or ideas or even worship--but with the building of potent, creative community.

We are happy to announce the formation of a program for senior citizens, the program of the Golden Phoenix, within the World Network of Religious Futurists. Mimi Weiss, a 70-year old performance artist, formerly of New York currently resident in Seattle, will head this program with her own staff and team of explorers of the landscape and creative topology of Age. She will direct the program of the Golden Phoenix and aim to coordinate a Million Senior March during 1999.

The Million Senior March will be both literal and virtual. Mimi Weiss and her team will be collecting a million signatures from older folks who wish to walk a new way of the Senior, a Path of social Wisdom and empowerment, a path of healing and prosperity. Mimi will be leading the participants into a celebration of their creativity and connectedness, and a mobilization of their wisdom. Their movement in real space, social space and cyber-space will be marked by songs and dances, a heightened level of social concern, a lived philosophy of age which will bless the world.

Mimi Weiss will lead Seattle's religious leaders into fresh definitions of their spiritual vision of the dignity and powers of Age which each religion has to contribute, the knowledge of God's power toward and within senior citizens. She will convene or inspire circles of exploration, religious Round-Tables, where religious communities can come to know the gap between their theory of Age and their caring for older persons anywhere. She will be a herald of wealthier, healthier days for seniors.

So we announce that the Spirit of Age is birthing anew, with a new line of Light marking its track into the 21st century. A new understanding of the profitability of Age is awakening in social consciousness.

Mimi Weiss will lead Seattle's seniors into The International Year of Older Persons in 1999. She invites all cities to join her in awakening the wisdom and vitality of their senior citizens, the wealth of the world. Wisdom and wealth are converging, in the communities of Senior Sages everywhere.

In the Fall of 1998, Mimi will publish a manifesto for Twenty-First Century Seniority, a manual of health, wealth and happiness for the most creative folks the world has yet seen: the senior citizens of the Third Millennium. We invite readers to join the best party in town, the celebration of the power of Age.

In response to this essay on the Power of Age, on November 1st, James Wellesley-Wesley wrote,

Dear Richard, I have now re-read your communication of 12th October concerning 'Religious Futurists Celebrate the Year of the Senior Citizen' in detail and find it really very useful as an introduction to this issue and as a prompter to response and further action. Certainly I have some language preferences, such as - for the 'power' of age, I would prefer the word strength; for the 'profitability' of age, I would prefer the word value; and for the wisdom and 'wealth' of age, I would prefer the wisdom and healing potential - having in mind that what may be well received in the U.S.A. may prompt doubts elsewhere in the world.

Then, while I am together with you on the need to come up with a "lived philosophy of age", I do not wholly subscribe to your "on behalf of scholars in the future of religion and society", if by scholars you mean academics rather than (the more inclusive) fellow participants in the school of Life - being myself a farmer, rather than an egg-head!

I agree 100+% with your statement "the future that is our concern is now", but hesitate at the invitation to "songs and dances" and the euphoria this implies. Maybe there is only "the dance", as T.S.Eliot indicated, but in the absence of the "still point at the centre of the turning world", as he also indicated, that dance becomes today's stampede toward destruction.

As I see it, it is precisely this 'still point' which it is the responsibility of those in the later years of the life span to cultivate, for herein lies the ground of our collective Being - from which centre may radiate integrity, fair-mindedness, and the sense of mutual identity so conspicuously lacking in our failure to bring into being, between us, a global 'modus vivendi' today.

Today is All Saints, and tomorrow will be the feast of All Souls. 45 years ago I remember spending this night in a Polish community some distance outside Istanbul. They were in great fear of soon being dispossessed of their Polish sanctuary of 100 years within Turkish territory. (They had maintained their Polish culture, even the sound of their farm wagons being Polish!) Candles flickered through the night beside the graves of their dead. A priest visited them (by horseback) for the appropriate celebrations, but was not allowed by 'the authorities' to spend the night there. This incident serves to remind me that we all have to become intermediaries with the Divine, regardless of profession - we cannot leave it to the professionals. Is this not the focus appropriate to the young at heart in later years? Cheers to all, James W-W.

© 1998-2008 by World Network of Religious Futurists.

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