The Commencement of Retirement, E-pistle 06.24.11

The Commencement of Retirement, E-pistle 06.24.11

When I asked a friend, what should I say in an E-pistle about retirement? The response, without missing a beat, came back: “I can’t wait to get there!”

Which reminded me of my sabbatical a few years ago. As someone who enjoys work and feels quite blessed in how I make my living (even, much of the time, “wow, I get paid for this?”), I always figured I’d die in the saddle. Old pastors don’t retire: they just become interims and then supply preachers, or some such!

But then I went on sabbatical. Glorious month after month in the Central American sun with nothing to do but read and wander. Oh, and make my meals and straighten up the house. I enjoyed how routine tasks became the ones I scheduled and thought about. How simple and basic life became… like the chores of a monk whose daily living became his meditation. Ah, sitting on the porch and watching those little chirping lizards run around the rafters.

I learned something new about myself: whether or not its a financial possibility when my time comes, I will be able– easier than I ever expected– to find a new “post-work” identity and lay my earlier, professional (or in my case vocational) burdens down!

That’s my hope for this year’s retirees.

It’s a danger any time one makes a list: there are probably retirees I do not know about or am forgetting… I suppose, in humility, this is my way of making sure we know everyone who is retiring this year!

But in the last few weeks, I’ve realized that both Harvey Thompson and Carol Irwin are not just finishing the school year, but also retiring this year. Since they are both educators, we should have– at the least– listed them with “the graduates” who we remembered earlier this month!

As a matter of fact, I’m suggesting we add one more item to our long church “to do” list: “thanksgivings” we need to remember. As I’ve said, maybe it’s as easy as one more category to our “Celebrating the Graduates” practices: 8th graders, High School and College graduates, anyone completing Graduate School or any other advanced training, and people who have or are soon retiring.

Anthropologists point out that one of the functions of religion is to provide rituals for life’s milestones. Cross culturally, in different religions, one finds rites of passage at those times. For Christians, that includes birth with baptism, confirmation with the movement into adulthood, marriage for the movement into one’s own family, and then through the cycle all over again– one, two or maybe even three more times with the generations behind you… until finally a funeral to mark one’s transition from mortal to eternal life.

Why does religion provide these rituals? Because transitions are not without their challenges. Marking the transitions, we are promising to walk with those who must navigate them:

~it’s ok to feel off-balance;
~we’re nearby to help;
~our tradition encourages “milestoners” to give themselves some time and effort to figure out who and how God means for them to be different in this next phase; and
~we’ll welcome and celebrate the ‘new you’ as our people come into themselves all over again.”

Sometimes, I think, these rituals are the most help for the individual in that they flag the changes for the community. The person enduring the transition can’t help but notice, but rituals become signposts along the way of life so the rest of us don’t miss the change. These rites remind the community to allow, welcome and respond to a person’s changing. Challenge the community: how it has to change how it relates to a “milestoner” differently!

The clearest example of this is a wedding. I tell couples, “of course, your ceremony is about the promises you are making to one another. But it’s also a big. flashing neon sign for your families and the world: ‘now these two people are their own family. That doesn’t mean the wedding couple no longer cares for or is a part of their families of origin. But it does mean that now their new family also needs space, respect and their attention.'”

Anyway, I’m hoping that this faith community can support, recognize and give thanks for Carol and Harvey as they retire. Maybe we should ritually give thanks for the work they have done, the careers they have completed. And in the spirit of commencement ask them what’s next. Wait with godly anticipation for their emergence in new guises, praying for and supporting them as they move into new territory. Towards where God wants them next…

See you in church,

Michael

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