Review of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations

How can we take the insights from this book and apply them to Inter Generational Ministries in our churches?

Marc Freedman had already been influential to me, through his book Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life. I read that book while beginning my own sort of Encore transition, stepping away from my years in telecom into a passion for ministry with older adults. Encore shared some great insights into how we can see the aging of our nation as an opportunity for  great things. While not written from a ministry perspective, his thoughts and insights have good applications for ministry and in my opinion are valuable reading.

I found his newest book, How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, to hold the same if not greater value. I especially found the book lining up well with a lot of my thoughts on the need to increase our emphasis on inter generational ministry.

Living forever through long term impact

The “How to Live Forever” in the title comes from looking at the efforts of a number of people lately who believe we can increase longevity and possibly find secrets to immortality. He contrasts that with an emphasis on generativity, a term Eric Erickson used that conveyed the idea of “I am what survives of me.” The idea of living forever as Freedman expresses is more about long term impact, along the lines of the old greek parable that says a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.

There is much we can learn in the church today from the principals and examples in Freedman’s book. I think that too often we’ve turned church into a consumer society where it’s all about presenting benefits and fulfillment to our members. We could use some lessons on planting trees for the next generations. I believe this book has a value for those interested in ministering to and with older adults by opening our eyes to a different way of thinking that gets away from age divisions and moves towards how our generations can help one another out.

Our generations need one another

The reality is that our older generations have so much to offer to everyone else. This is especially true in the church where there is supposed to be a stronger sense of community and where I Corinthians 12 emphasis the need that all parts of the body have for one another. Freedman references Laura Carstensen who looks as older adults as “a potential Cavalry coming over the hill” for the younger generations, and I feel there is potential for the same sentiment in our churches. He points out that our older and younger generations are the ones struggling the most with inadequacy and loneliness, and how they can be a great solution for the needs of one another. There’s often a special bond between those generations, and Freedman repeats a joke that grandparents and grandchildren maybe get along because of a common enemy: the parents.

If you listen to me enough, you’ll hear me bring up the research done by Fuller Institute as described in the book Sticky Faith. With so many youth who leave the church after graduation, they looked into common elements of those whose faith ‘stuck’ with them, and one of the greatest common denominators was the involvement and interest of older adults in the church in the lives of those youth. Freedman’s book stopped me in my tracks a little because he referenced a study by Emmy Werner, looking for common elements in youth that achieve successful adulthood after growing up in poverty stricken plantations in Kauai in the 50s and 60s. Werner found similar results, that the greatest common denominator of those survivors was adults taking an active interest in their lives. This points out to me that whether in the church or in society, we take some of the best resources our generations have away when we isolate generations from one another.

Getting away from age apartheid

How to Live Forever delves quite a bit into what Freedman calls “age apartheid.” He looks at the beginnings of the leisure retirement communities. I like the “age apartheid” term, I am sure I’ll be stealing it going forward. I’ve often thought of age apartheid in the church as us pushing our older adults away, though Freedman points out that it also is self inflicted, as seen in the explosion of 55 plus communities today, noting that demographers are finding many areas where young and old are more segregated from one another than whites and hispanics. Freedman does go on to point out some innovative concepts that are coming forward: early integrated with retirement communities, and recent urban planning concepts that look for ways to integrate generations. I believe we need to look at those examples and reflect on how we can get away from the age apartheid that I believe is even more prevalent in the church than in society at large.

Concluding thoughts

Some of the most critical reviews Freedman’s “Encore” book expressed that it was strong on ideals but not as pragmatic as they’d hoped, expecting more how-to advice on getting into Encore Careers. While I do think that Freedman does do a little better here by offering some steps one can take, it’s not really as much a ‘how to’ book as you would expect considering the title. That’s okay, I’m not sure it needs to be. I believe the whole process starts with creating a mindset, and that’s the kind of thing where I feel Freedman’s writings really shine.

When it comes to the value of all of our generations, and the fantastic potential that is out there when our generations come together, Marc Freedman gets it. I cannot recommend this book enough for that very reason. I appreciate that his writings fly in the face of society’s tendency to fear and denigrate aging. Old age has become the enemy, but Freedman identifies that later life stages can be a fantastic time of opportunity and productivity. Rather than obsessing over extending one’s life, he sees how we can extend our lives through generativity, living forever instead in the benefits we provide for future generations.

Read this. If nothing else than for its value in developing a mindset. While it’s not a ministry book it still identifies the critical importance of getting our generations back together. In the final chapter he does get into some practical things people can take that I believe we can apply. I won’t go into detail here, mainly because I want you to read the book.

In the end, we can be left thinking, “this is good stuff, but now what?” I think that when we DO get to that now what question, the book has done what it needs to do. And maybe at that point, it’s then up to us to really say, now what? How do we as the church respond to both flaws and opportunities that we see through thinking about these things? Honestly, I don’t know if I have answers to the now what question. But let’s have a conversation about it, see what we can come up with.

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