I’m forming a hypothesis. (this is my escape clause in case you find it lacking signs of intelligence)
I just returned from SLC where I had wonderful visits with old friends, new friends, and blog friends. John Dehlin’s family exceeds the definition of graciousness and delight. MCQ and ARJ’s mountain biking prowess (and bikes!) are my new source of jealousy. And Silus Grok continues to charm and captivate us blubbering posers.
But it was in the presence of old people that I had my epiphany. You see, in New York, the land of stairs, crappy weather and busy, loud streets we don’t have Old People™ (they all go to Florida), just old-er people. Like Mark B, one of Brooklyn’s finest people who happen to be a smidge older than the median. It’s not something I ever really thought much about until last weekend when I attended church with my friend in Salt Lake, whose ward had probably 40% old people. That’s like, 100% more old people than are in my Brooklyn ward. And lemmetellya, our wards are different.
Which brings me to my hypothesis: it’s because of old people.*
Let me explain. I’ve recently told a few people that a symbol for why I love the Church so much in Brooklyn (not WHY, but a SYMBOL for why) is that I was 4 years in a bishopric and now over a year on the High Council and never once has anyone ever mentioned my beard (in connection to the Church). Again, it’s not the beard I’m talking about, but rather the culture that cares about beards. It’s not even on our radar. And I suspect it’s largely because we have no old people passing that traditional/non-doctrinal torch to us young-ish folk who make up the majority of the membership here. Other torches that aren’t passed down:
- issues with non-white shirts
- strict definitions of a woman’s “role”
- offensive 2-3 generation-old terminology for non-white ethnicities
- “so-called gays” or “the gay agenda”
- the specific order in which women can pray and speak in Sacrament Meeting
- assurances of polygamy in heaven
- politics at the pulpit
Sounds great, right? Well, it is. When I read accounts in the ‘nacle about these issues in various wards I say a prayer of gratitude that I don’t deal with them in my own. We have a wonderful church culture of acceptance, sensitivity and non-judgment. In my opinion, exactly as it should be.
Old people also provide the foundation of strength upon which this church sits. In my calling I often feel like the little kid wearing adult clothing. And for good reason. These old people have devoted their lives, 65, 75, 85 years of service. They have served in multiple bishoprics, Relief Society presidencies, scout leaderships, primaries, activities committees, ward missions, stake presidencies, etc, etc, etc. Each one of them represent decades of experience. They have been doing their visiting teaching for the last 65 years. I’ve been alive for half that. Which means there are other torches that aren’t passed down to us in Brooklyn:
- leadership with significant experience
- a culture of Family Home Evening
- High Priest group
- a culture of home/visiting teaching
- Solid youth program (though I suspect this is due to neighborhood demographics more than lack of old people)
- interest in family history
- a general sense of strength, confidence and longevity
That last one is especially true for me. There is something extremely comforting about being surrounded by people who have been doing this their whole lives and are sure of it all. I miss that. A lot.
* I’m talking in generalities here, don’t get your undies in a bunch.