Elders as Earth Advocates and Partners with Youth © 6-25-08

October 23, 2008

(from September, 2008 issue of GBOD's Center Sage)
By Judith Pruess-Mellow, Ph.D., M.Div., Exec. Dir., Senior New Ways

God’s world is in trouble. We live with the growing reality of global warming, melting of the ice cap, fires, floods, droughts, and scarcity. We have gotten ourselves into this predicament partly by worshipping the god of materialism, consuming more resources than the earth and its atmosphere can support. Tikkun Olam means repairing God’s world. Olam is the world God created and Tikkun means repairing or correction. Jewish mystics also teach that everyone has a personal tikkun, something that needs healing or correcting in their lives, or righting. The idea of Elders as Earth Advocates is the idea of Tikkun Olam. When we think of Elders as Earth Advocates, we think of elders as doing something to repair the world, which can be done by working in the society or on our own lives. I believe this is especially helpful when this work is done in an intergenerational context.
What are some earth-healing activities in which seniors and younger persons might take part? The effects of global warming are being felt everywhere, especially in impoverished areas. After Hurricane Katrina, many elders and younger people went on VIM trips to Louisiana, including the notorious 9th Ward, and Mississippi to repair lives and homes. Others are going to places in Africa where there is drought, to try to relieve suffering. We in California are experiencing wildfires set by lightning now, and it is very smoky and scary. In these situations, we need wise and calm elders in our midst who can keep younger folks from panicking. Elders are the ones who have been through wars and depressions. They know how to be steady, how to hope for better times, how to simplify, and how to make do with little. They can help save the planet for younger generations (William Thomas, What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World, 2007).
Seniors know better than anyone else that “The most important things in life aren’t things”; that it is crucial to “Live simply that others might simply live” (Elizabeth Seton); and that “Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come down where you ought to be” (Quaker song).
How else can elders help rebalance the earth? We can slow down and teach others to do so. We can create gardens and work in them with young people. We can go birdwatching together, using a field guide. We can study books such as E.O. Wilson’s The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth (2006) to learn what insects, birds and animals have become extinct and why biodiversity is important. We can be problem-solvers and challengers, helping young people discern causes which are larger than themselves.
We can take children to visit zoos, compost with them, buy food at farmers’ markets, decrease water and Styrofoam use. We can switch all light bulbs to CFLs. We can look through microscopes with them, walk on the seashore with digital cameras for “collecting,” visit a botanical garden, an aquarium, an orchid exhibit. We can go shopping together for thermal windows and curtains; explore together the use of alternative energy resources such as solar and wind; buy locally grown gifts, e.g., lavender oils and gifts produced in the home (http:home.infostations.com/greenblessings/); and formulate creation-care goals for the church, family and community (see Response magazine, September 2007).
Seniors can be role models, telling stories about surviving the depression and adopting resourceful lifestyles, such as using clotheslines instead of dryers, making do, patching rather than buying new. We can discern our true passions and help others do the same—many times these have more to do with creativity than with consumption.
What specific examples involving multiple generations can I offer? (All examples are from California.) Marilyn Wilson of Grass Valley UMC arranges carpools to all church and social events for seniors and facilitates the visiting of frail elders by more active elders. Lisa Conway of Los Altos UMC teaches Vacation Bible School students to build table top gardens for elders. Young adults at Pine UMC, San Francisco, serve seniors and hear their stories at “Learn at Lunch.” At Clovis Memorial UMC, the Boy Scouts serve dinner to seniors attending a class on “Coming Fully Alive as You Age.” Susan Diamond, San Mateo, teaches children and seniors gardening and flower arranging. Reach and Teach of Palo Alto connects people in creative ways to issues of social justice and development of a more just and peaceful world; creates and distributes products, including games, focused on civil rights, economic justice, global issues (www.reachandteach.com).
Environmental justice is God-centered, and it is based on a theology of interdependence and coexistence. We are all connected to each other and with nature. Harmony in nature comes about when people are in harmony. Chief Seattle: “We did not weave the strand of life; we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
And so, we can all become part of the Tikkun Olam, repair of the world, with intergenerational ministries. Mel Walsh of the Grass Valley Union, our local newspaper, writes in her book, Hot Granny, that “any older woman who helps the youngest generation turn out right is a very Hot Granny, indeed. And don’t most of us—whatever our life circumstance—feel some obligation as senior members of the species to spend a little time and effort mentoring young humans into personhood?” Yes, even those of us with no children of our own can become Hot Grannies, by caring about the well-being of the young, the earth, and all of God’s creatures. In fact, we can all become Hot Grannies. Blessings on your efforts!
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