As we prepare for Peace Camp next week, I’ve been thinking about what makes for peace, and why it’s vital to our lives. My thoughts this week have been about hope, that crucial component of second chances.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have been on my mind these past couple of weeks. Kate Spade was just a bit younger than me, Anthony Bourdain just a bit older. Beyond all of us being middle-aged, we didn’t have a lot in common. Both Spade and Bourdain built billion-dollar empires; in case you couldn’t guess, I didn’t. But their deaths have made me feel a bit vulnerable to the malaise I can feel all around me from other middle-age people.
It’s not so easy to be middle aged anymore. My dad once told me that the best time of his life was his forties. At the beginning of that decade, he finally had a job at JI Case, one of the biggest, best-paying employers in our town. He had just bought a house, and felt like he had arrived. By the time JI Case, and every other manufacturer in our town, was fighting for their corporate lives in the 1980s, he was old enough to take a buyout and retire early. He got a generous pension and great health insurance, although in that decade, no one yet talked about the need for health insurance, much less complain that it was expensive or hard to get or easy to lose.
Among my many middle-aged friends, a few of them have retired, but many more are not working at all, or working only a few hours a week at temporary jobs, and that’s not by choice. That includes many pastors in our synod who are scraping by on part-time interim gigs, who have given up hope of finding one last full-time call. Some of my far-flung friends are not in good health, but live for the moment without health insurance, hoping to live long enough to qualify for Medicare. Maybe a dozen of my high school classmates, who will always remain as teenagers in my memory, have died from drug abuse or suicide. The risk of dying from an overdose or by your own hand has risen for every American in the last decade, but middle-aged people are the hardest hit of any category.
I think that’s because we can feel that the ground has shifted under our feet in the decades since our parents coasted through their middle years. We’ve become leaner and meaner in the United States when it comes to work, much more willing to toss people aside as useless and easily replaced as soon they slow down, begin to develop health problems or hit the usual life crises.
It seems to add up to a grim picture of the future, one that doesn’t seem very hope-filled. Now contrast that with words from the letter to the church at Rome, written by Paul, that middle-aged, hope-filled buccaneer:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
I said that my clergy friends had given up hope of a final call, that my sick friends hoped to survive long enough to qualify for Medicare. That’s not the kind of hope that Paul has in mind. His idea of hope is that because we know how much God loves us, we’ll mourn our old job or our old healthy, younger body but then we’ll move on, in hope that something different and good will emerge. We’re like small children, who thrive because they’re secure in their parents’ love. Knowing that they’re anchored in unconditional love gives their spirits free rein to explore their world and take risks and be creative.
Without the certainty that we’re loved by our first parent, our creator, we’re completely dependent on how well we can compete against others, meet the expectations of others and win their favor. Without God’s love poured into our hearts every day, we’re only as worthy as we can make ourselves in the eyes of others. I wonder if Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain would agree with that statement, that God’s love is what gives each of us great, enduring value and hope and peace.
In middle age, I think, you have to be intentional about cultivating and nurturing that hope and peace, because so many things happen to us as we age that feel like the end of hope. “Find peace” might not be on your to-do list for today, but it’s one of the most important tasks we have in our lives. If we feel that our lives are hopeless, and despair can rule the day. But if we can find peace through our relationship with God, then life can be very different, filled with hope for another chapter, a next act
What’s Coming Up Next Week at Peace Camp Tuesday through Thursday, June 26 through 28
The Peace Camp team has lots of good things planned for next week. On Tuesday, we’ll meet a couple of young men who built solid lives after release from prison, and who now mentor young men facing the same challenge. As we will each night, we’ll listen to their stories and then break out into a few peace circles, small groups where we can discuss what we’ve heard and share our own stories.
On Wednesday, we’ll be joined by Tarrance Weaver, the author of Face to Face. Tarrance lives in Englewood and has worked as a violence interrupter there. Many people at Augustana remember his testimony about his life during one of our midweek worship services this spring, and the discussion after about essays written by teenagers who had suffered sexual abuse. Tarrance has a new video on YouTube, and he’ll be selling his book and available to sign them.
On Thursday, a Persian couple from the Baha’i Community of Hyde Park will talk about their years of exile, living as refugees in the United States. Also on that day, Padraig McGuire will be with us to lead us in making music together. He and I will lead a peace circle for those who would like to talk about addiction and second chances.
One of the options each day is art, and Robin Mitchell is going to be leading us in an unusual art project, building a room-size labyrinth. You can see the most famous example here. If you’ve never done this, you’ll be glad Robin has, because it’s very complex. But it’s also totally engaging, from the first measurements to the first walk through its switchbacks and turns. The other option each day is outdoor yoga with Andrea Gibson-Green from Chaturanga Fitness (if you have a mat, please bring it).
At the end of each evening, come and hang out around the campfire for songs and somemores, true summer camp staples.
There will be a special program for kids, and a free nursery for very little ones.
Haven’t Signed Up Yet?
It’s not too late! Go to our website and register online OR stop by and fill out a registration form and pay OR reply to this email and I’ll add you to the list.