VIEW VIDEO Before I became your pastor some 23 years ago, back when I had hair and was full of the vigor of youth, I pastored Irvington Friends Meeting up in the city. The meeting was begun in the early 1950’s in the basement of a bank, then in 1957 built a lovely meetinghouse in a ten-acre grove of beech trees on what was known as the old Askren farm. The land had been owned by George and Caroline Askren, who were the last farmers in the Irvington area. Just before they married, right before the First World War, George carved their initials inside a heart on one of the beech trees. When Mr. Askren died in 1958, his widow sold their grove of beech trees to the Quakers of Irvington Meeting, the Quakers being the only buyers who had promised not to cut down any of the trees. Mrs. Askren had apparently forgotten which tree bore their declaration of love, the Quakers promised to let the trees stand, so a deal was struck, and a meetinghouse was built there among the beech trees.
After one of the older Quakers in the meeting told me that story, I began looking for the tree. There were hundreds of beech trees, but I eventually found the right one, still bearing its message. The meeting was laid down a dozen years ago, and the property donated to a Hispanic church, on the condition they never cut down the trees. Now instead of quiet Quakers worshiping there, there are Hispanic Pentecostals speaking in tongues, something the 1957 Quakers likely didn’t anticipate, but I suspect would appreciate the irony.
I went on their webpage to read the reviews and the people who worship there say the same thing about their church that we Irvington Quakers once said about ours: how loving the people are, how it feels like family, how it is a place of peace, which proves we don’t have to speak the same language to say the same thing.
I want to end my geezer manifesto this Sunday before Valentine’s Day, by saying that in my geezer years, I will take every opportunity I can to remind people that I love them. I will tell my friends, my sons, my grandchildren, my wife, that they are loved. I might even carve it in a tree. The writer E.B. White was once asked what he was trying to say to his readers and he said, “All that I ever hope to say in my books is that I love the world.”
In my geezer years, I am going to love the world. I will not grow bitter with age. Nor will I grow resentful. I will not live as if the world is lost, broken, and beyond hope. I will love the world, and the people in it. And not just the people, but the animals, the waters, the forests, the cities, the countryside. I will love the lowly insect, the soaring bird. I will endeavor to love not only those who are easy to love, but those who are difficult to love, those who challenge my capacity to love. I will commit myself to the growth of the beloved, which is the essence of love. I will not behave as if age grants me the right to be cynical and self-absorbed.
I was talking with a man this week, he’s about my age, and he said, “You know what I like most about getting old? I can say anything I want to somebody and if they don’t like it, tough.” In what world is it acceptable to say whatever we want to whomever we want with no regard for their feelings? Is there really an age, that once reached, grants us a license to be hateful and mean?
In my geezer years, I’m going to love. I’m going to give more thought, not less, to what I say. I will be aware that my words have greater power than ever, the power to build up and the power to destroy. In my youth, I said what I wanted without regard for the feelings of others. In my geezer years, I will measure every word, weighing them as if gold, leaving unspoken my basest thoughts, letting love inform my every utterance. In my geezer years, I’m going to love. I’m going to love others. I’m going to love the world.
I can only think John the Evangelist was having a bad hair day when he wrote in his first epistle, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any person loves the world, the love of God is not in them.” Intellectually, I understand John was influenced by the Greek’s penchant for contrast–for the spiritual to be good, the physical had to be bad. But if there has ever been a more thoughtless and destructive sentiment expressed, I’m not aware of it. How can we hate that which God imagined and created in love? How can we hate the very world in which God delights?
I had a peak experience this week. A peak experience, you’ll remember, is a transient, joyful, momentary event in which we feel deeply connected to others, to God, and to Creation. So I was sitting in our kitchen chair holding my grandson Miles in the crook of my left arm, when my granddaughter Madeline sat down on my lap, pulling my right arm around her. In that moment, looking at them and holding them, I remember the times people said to me after my first grandchild was born, “Your first grandchild is special. The other grandchildren are nice too, but there’s nothing like your first grandchild.” Sitting there, holding both my grandchildren, I thought what a load of unvarnished nonsense that is. Any heart, which can not expand to love not only deeply, but also widely, is a cold and lifeless heart.
In my geezer years, I am going to love deeply, widely, and thoroughly. I will not use my age as an excuse for insolence or selfish privilege. I will love my children and my grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of others, no matter their nation, no matter their age, no matter their race. I will love those at the front of the line. I will love those at the back of the line. I will love the world, knowing that as I love the world, I am loving the God who breathed it into being. I will belong to the world. I will believe in the world. And in my geezer years, I will love the world, with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my soul, and with all my mind.