Encore! Encore!

Golf? That’s right. Golf. There were golf clubs in my mother’s apartment. Up to that point in her life, I had never seen her express even the slightest interest in the sport, or any other for that matter. An avid walker, and creative gardener, she never felt the need, or desire, to exercise in ways that cost money or extravagant amounts of time.

But when my mother approached her seventieth year, she developed a new orientation to life. After selling our family home in Vermont, she moved to an apartment outside Schenectady, New York and a more urban environment. One day, while out for a drive in her new surroundings, she came across a nine-hole golf course tucked in a suburban neighborhood, and for reasons unknown to me to this day, she chose to visit it, and that opened up a whole new world for her. She rented some clubs, checked out the putting green, practiced on the driving range, and became a true lover of the sport. It was at that time, while visiting her, that I saw the golf clubs. Not long afterwards, we were out on the course together, with my children tagging along.

I think that the second act of my mother’s life brought her a sense of joy that had been elusive through most of her adult years. And when she took one leap of faith, she discovered that others were to follow. She signed up for painting classes, and soon art brushes and oil paints joined her golf clubs as treasured possessions. She volunteered at a soup kitchen in Albany, and each Thanksgiving made a pilgrimage to a local Italian bakery where she successfully persuaded the owners to provide desserts for the holiday dinner at that same shelter.

I am inspired by my mother’s willingness to become vulnerable to change. When she downsized her home, little did she know how much that transition would upgrade her life. I see a comparison between her journey of faith and openness to mystery, and the way in which so many biblical characters made out of their latter years a time of rewarding and beneficial activity. Abram was seventy-five when he and his wife Sarai were called by God out of retirement to welcome the journey of a lifetime:  a one-way ticket to the promised land. Moses and Aaron were eighty and eighty three years old respectively when they confronted the Egyptian Pharaoh with this memorable message from God: “Let my people go.” Thus began the Exodus, a radical act of liberation that set the people of Israel on a new path of freedom.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that “there are no second acts in life” he was clearly writing from a very narrow base of experience. Over three decades as a pastor I have witnessed more times than I can count the flowering of life and commitment and learning among people precisely at the time when people they might have chosen more private and leisurely pursuits. My dear friend, Bud Thompson, is one such person. A life long advocate for American Indians, he established a museum in Warner, New Hampshire to affirm and celebrate the rich fund of traditions and crafts that Indians have used to sustain their way of life over the centuries. Bud started that museum when he turned seventy, and just celebrated the twenty-fifth year of its existence. With all due respect to Mr. Fitzgerald, that’s what I would call a second act, and there are plenty more like it.

I am thankful for people like Marci Alboher, who believe in second acts and are helping people to craft them as their lives mature. Marci is the vice president of encore.org, a nonprofit making it easier for millions of people to pursue second acts for the greater good, and the author of The Encore Career Handbook: How to Make a Living and Difference in the Second Half of Life. Through her work at encore.org she helps experienced adults to embrace the idea of leveraging their skills and talents to improve communities and the world. Generation to Generation, a signature program of encore.org, is a campaign to mobilize the skills of adults 50+ to improve the prospects of children and youth. Marci will speak at Round Hill Community Church on October 27 at 7pm and I can’t wait to learn from her insights. She will help us to imagine creative ways of developing a second, exciting act for our lives, that can create goodness in the world around us. She will be available after her talk to sign copies of her book. And several local organizations (the Greenwich United Way, Boys and Girls Club, and Inspirica) will be available to guide attendees towards possible avenues of service.

I hope you can join us on October 27. It may be a significant step to a second act in your life, and a resounding encore!

An Ancient Hope for Modern Hearts

“O Lord…you have made human beings a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:5) These words can be found in the heart of the Bible—the Book of Psalms—and were written by a poet over 2,500 years ago. We do not know much about that author, except that he possessed an enormously high opinion of humanity. Yet following the recent acts of violence in Las Vegas, and other horrific attacks in recent months around the world, I wonder whether we might be developing an alternative, and less generous, view of the human capacity for goodness.

As a person of faith, I am not naïve about the harm that human beings can inflict on one another and the creation. But as a pastor, I believe it is the work of my life to develop and encourage our God-given ability to heal, to devote our resources and energy for the common good, and to change those things that contradict the movement of God toward a world of greater compassion. So I pray my prayers for healing on behalf of all those who suffered violence in Las Vegas, knowing that such recovery is only barely underway and will require years of prayer and effort to unfold. And alongside my prayers for those who need consolation, I will work to sustain my faith in humanity, to see in people across the world a God-given orientation towards peace and good will.

I invite you to set aside the news from time to time, and sit down with the author of Psalm 8, the one who brings us another kind of news, that we have been made a little lower than God, and are crowned with glory and honor. And if you seek a more modern witness to this legacy of faith, I commend to you these words by Howard Zinn, an American historian with a heart for hope:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something, if we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

Yours in Christ,

Ed Horstmann