Old Dogs, New Tricks

Lately I’ve been learning a lot about something I thought I already knew a lot about. It has been fascinating, challenging, and exhilarating. It also has been a humbling reminder of how hard it really is to teach an old dog new tricks. Furthering that is the recognition that success or acclaim makes learning and growing all the harder.

Sometimes it is easier to assume that you know and to resist all challenges to consider that you might not know it all, or even enough. “Learning and growing” is the three-word definition of changing, and that is something few of us are good at. So what significant thing have you changed your mind about lately? What new skill have you learned or started to learn? What changes have you made to the way you always have done or thought about?

Older people are bad at this, but, of late, I’ve encountered younger people who are worse. It is almost like teenagers never grew out of that phase when they thought they knew it all and their parents were foolish, out-of-touch antiques. There is a diminishing openness to the possibility that older people might be wise because they have kept themselves alive and growing longer. Ageism is as sinful as racism, and it also is just as wrong to discount someone because of their age as it is because of their race or gender. That goes both ways.

Wise elders are those who think they still have so much to learn and are more than happy to fall silent before their juniors to listen for their insights and wisdom. This past Sunday before church I found myself standing slack-jawed listening to a young woman who is not yet 13. I felt a bit like those who might have encountered the youthful Jesus, wondering where she got such wisdom. After the service, our oldest member commented on something I said in my sermon last Sunday. I was flattered until I realized that I actually hadn’t meant what she was talking about. My meaning had been far more superficial than her insight. In one day, God reminded me that I still have much to learn, and, if I’m willing, the Spirit will continue to lead me to 95-year-olds AND 12-year-olds who can teach me.

by Michael Piazza
Co-Executive Director
Center for Progressive Renewal


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