I’m not a curmudgeon. I don’t get sentimental about the supposedly good old days. I don’t gripe about kids these days. This world has always been a marvel and a mess. Kids have always been glorious and egotistical.
What bothers me is how recent generations have abandoned wholesale the wisdom of previous generations. And not just the wisdom of one or two generations, but the wisdom of dozens of generations.
How we use our money. What we eat. How we think about and treat our bodies. What we do with our leisure time and Sabbath. How we treat the elderly. How we treat sex and sexuality. How we treat music. What makes for good art. How important faith is. How we use language, including cussing. And on it goes.
Rather than consulting our elderly about the best way to live, we consult the Internet. And that’s working out so well for us …
Again, I’m not a sentimentalist. There is a lot from the past that I’m glad to leave in the history books. Just because something is old doesn’t make it good. But what I find disturbing is that we are in the process of leaving everything behind, the good along with the bad. And we’ve got a prejudice against the elderly and all things from previous generations that is dismissive and belittling. The wisdom of the ages is sidelined without a thought.
The un-wisdom of Barney Stinson is “Everything new is better.” And even though the episode of How I Met Your Mother the quote comes from made his assertion seem stupid, it’s actually the worldview that most of us live by. The new phone is better. The new computer is better. The new morality is better. The new way of doing church is better. The new book is better. The new style is better. The new government administration has got to be better than the last one! And on it goes.
What if we paused and considered what we’ve lost in our quest for the new and improved? What if we looked around ourselves for the elderly people in our lives who have wisdom to share? What if we looked before we leaped and what if that looking was to our elders — not just the living ones, but the ones who died centuries before but let behind books filled with their wisdom?
In biblical times, the city gate was the place where people went to settle disputes. It’s where Boaz went to secure the hand of Ruth in marriage. It was there at the city gate that the old guys got together. They probably shot the breeze and played backgammon most of the time, but when people needed their wisdom — their life experience, their knowledge of the history of their people, their knowledge of the scriptures — they would come to the old guys and ask for it. Wouldn’t it be great if our churches and coffee shops and other gathering places offered that again? It’d be far more organic, more relational, more personal than the options most of us resort to.
For the sake of the future, we need to retain the wisdom of the past.
[The image is a photo of Wendell Berry, one of the wisest old guys around, someone who has written excellent books I go back to over and over again. I just wish I knew him personally.]