Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Decade of Relinquishment - Emerson Colaw


I am 93 years old.  In my youth I never dreamed of reaching this age. Adolescents don’t think about such matters for they have too much in the present that intrigues them and challenges them.  But when we reach mid-years, we begin to think about the closing decades of life.  I have titled the nineties as the “Decade of Relinquishment,” for many of the things that we have spent our mid-years accumulating, we now begin to lose in the decade of the nineties.  Of course, there are those who find humor in these later years.  When I was serving as Bishop in Minnesota, one of our conference members was a retired pastor who was 109 years old.  One day he told me that he had gone to his 80th class reunion, and then with a smile he added, “The advantage of going to your 80th reunion is that you don’t have to remember any names.”

There are many columns, articles and books written about aging that talk about how we can do this in a way that is positive, fulfilling, and gratifying.  Many of these resources suggest that it is entirely up to the individual as to how these later years can be experienced.  I am frequently asked: “How do you age gracefully?” I always answer that question by suggesting they not overlook one crucial factor.  It all depends upon retaining a measure of health.  It’s hard to be graceful if the body is being ravished by cancer.  But apart from that, while the nineties represent a decade of relinquishment, they can also be a time of reward. 

But first, an acknowledgement of what is lost in the decade of relinquishment.  If a couple enters the decade married, it’s almost a given that they will be separated by death.  My wife died after we had entered the nineties.  One psychologist has suggested that the loss of a spouse is life’s most traumatic experience.  I find myself breaking into tears at unexpected moments, even though it has been more than two years since her passing.  And the experiences that can catch me in an emotional moment can vary greatly – the sight of a woman my wife’s age and I think about what might have been; or hearing a familiar hymn, for one of the things we did was sing when driving on trips.

This next loss I speak of facetiously even though it profoundly alters our lives.  It is that tense, embarrassing, uncomfortable session when the adult children gather with the parent as delicately as possible suggest the time has come to “turn in the car keys.”  My adult children did this to me more than a year ago.  My generation grew up with the automobile.  Starting at the age of 14 I drove a car to high school.  It was our entry into a larger, more exciting world.  To be told that you no longer have access to the larger world of freedom, growth, adventure and exploration is a devastating development. I was not totally convinced that this drastic measure was necessary in my case but now, a year later, I have experienced a sufficient number of physical losses to convince me that the step of relinquishing the keys was necessary and wise. 

There is another loss that is quite threatening.  It is the loss of identity which goes with what you do. Who are you?  I am a pastor; I am a teacher; I am an officer with such and such a company.  We are what we are by what we do.  For years I thought of myself by what I did – I was a preacher.  I was often invited to other parts of the nation to “preach.”  When I entered my nineties, this stopped.  I have not received an invitation to preach since I became ninety!  I’m not complaining; this is simply the way it is.

The thoughtful ninety year old will try to make the transition into the decade of the nineties an experience of growth and fulfillment.  I cluster my suggestions around three words.  The first is transition.  Some years ago there was a book published with the title “Passages.”  The author, rather young, outlined the passages that we experience before the age of fifty: Adolescence, empty nest, mid-life and so forth. But everything after fifty was lumped together as “senior years.”  Those of us who have made it to the nineties know that there can be as many “passages” after fifty as before.  So if you have been successful in making all these transitions, why can’t we view this new transition as another in a long line of successes.  Remind yourself that you have been blessed with a unique privilege.  Relatively few have the privilege of exploring a decade characterized by such longevity.  Accept this new challenge with excitement.

A second word is “personhood.”  While working on this paper I had lunch with a friend, a renowned psychologist.  I told him the theme I was developing and his immediate response was: “Just because it is the decade of relinquishment doesn’t mean you have to relinquish your personhood.”  In other words, this new decade must not rob you of your unique, divine image.  The real “you” must not be shrouded in bitterness, whining, nor a spirit of non-forgiveness.

When I want to say “I miss my beloved spouse, I miss my independence, I miss my car, I miss active work such as preaching,” when I want to say these things that I feel, I should acknowledge them but not dwell there.  I must “transition” to the next passage, even as I realize the correctness of the events that cause me to feel some of the things I have expressed. It is appropriate and necessary to express feelings even as we are sensitive to the feelings and needs of others, particularly those of our family, some of whom may in time be our caregivers.  As we think of our identity and how this must be preserved, we remember that “being” is as significant as “doing.” Take time to keep the mind stimulated, read, visit an art museum, don’t lose sight of the real “you.”

Third, celebrate the gift of relationship.  You can now watch your grandchildren play ball, help them with homework or a Sunday School lesson.   Here is where your faith enters.  We must cultivate a relationship with the Creator.  There is a saying that you are not asked to meet more challenge than you and God can meet together.

Recently, someone gave a book to me that is titled: “Prayers For the No Longer Young.”  I wish to share a few of the petitions: “Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will soon be old.  Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject.  Release me from craving to straighten out everyone’s affairs.  Help me to be helpful but not bossy.”

Here is a petition from another source: “Lord, in our youth we were taught to have high aspirations and to work hard to achieve them.  Help us in our old age to realize that we can no longer carry the responsibilities we once did.  Help us to be content with small achievements.”

Here is another: “Lord, I want to have a few friends in the end.  Keep my mind from the needless recital of all aches and pains.  The rehearsing of them is growing sweeter as the years go by.”

Here is one I like: “Give me the ability to see good in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people.  Give me the grace to tell them so.” 

It may be that living in the age of relinquishment will bring you good in an unexpected place.  I close with these lines from John Greenleaf Whittier:

            No longer mindful of the years of care and pain
            My eyes are filled with grateful tears
            For blessings that remain.

Emerson Colaw


Emerson Colaw was born in Chanute, Kansas. He earned a B.S. degree from the University of Cincinnati. He received a B.D., magna cum laude, from Drew Theological, an M.A. from Garrett Biblical Institute, and has done graduate work at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He has received honorary doctoral degrees from five different institutions.

Ordained deacon by Bishop H. Lester Smith and elder by Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, Emerson Colaw has been member in the New York, Northern Illinois, and West Ohio Annual Conferences. He was elected to the episcopacy in July 1980 by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. He was assigned to the Minnesota Area where he served for eight years, until his retirement. Currently, he spends the winter as Bishop in Residence at the North Naples United Methodist Church in Florida.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review of A Contemporary Theology for Ecumenical Peace

James Will. A Contemporary Theology for Ecumenical Peace. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 

A review by Alva R. Caldwell, Retired Associate Professor of Ministries at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

At age eighty-six, James Will knew that he had one more book in him that needed to be written. Dr. Will had a story to tell, and a deep need to share that story. Having worked in a theological seminary as a member of the faculty and as director of the Peace and Justice Center at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, Dr. Will had spent a career addressing professional, academic audiences. But in this book, he made a decision to address a different audience. Although, still a book that has much to say to the academic community, it is primarily addressed to the laity of the church. The book is intended for a general audience.

The inspiration for the book grows out of Jeremiah’s lament, “'Peace, peace', they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 8:11). What is one to make of the fact that the world continues to find ways to reject peace, and to live in hostility? In the very first chapter of this important book, we get a flavor of what Dr. Will means by “Ecumenical Peace.” This is not an appeal for denominational unity; Will goes immediately to the fact that God through Abraham brought into being three great religious traditions, and from the beginning of the book, the reader is challenged to set aside any presumptions that Christianity alone has the answer to establishing peace. The three great Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity are called into an ecumenical exercise to live into the peace that God demands of us.

The book is small in size, only fifty-seven pages, but large in its challenge to live into an ecumenical peace. The book is clearly theological in nature, helping the reader to work through various expressions of what it means to approach life through process theology, platonic philosophy, panentheism, pantheism, creation theology, and also gives us beautiful expressions of what it means to talk about God as Creator, Liberator, Redeemer. Here he does the reader a great favor by wading through much of the theological language that can only confuse and aggravate the reader. Instead, Dr. Will, invites us to hear these theological expressions as an invitation to live into an experience of working with one another to bring about peace. In fact, Dr. Will speaks of the world as an “unfinished creation,” in which the Abrahamic religions are invited to participate in peace making. In his own words, he says, “God’s enabling of human co-creation of peace is actualized in human dynamic praxis in an unfinished creation…”(page 13)

This delightful book is also a kind of memoir. Some folks read and then conclude that there is “nothing I can do to make a difference.” One of the wonderful things this book does is to listen to this eighty-six year old man tell stories of when he was in ROTC, when he was in college, when he was a seminarian, when he taught in graduate school, and in these lovely memories of his reflections, he gives the reader some very concrete ways in which persons can make a difference. This makes this book particularly valuable as a study guide for a congregation seeking to be pro-active in promoting peace and justice. Unfortunately, the publisher has chosen to deal with this book as a “publish on demand,” meaning that copies are printed as they are requested. This makes the book quite expensive. The book sells through Amazon for $67.50, but even at this price, the book is well worth reading as a contemporary witness to ecumenical peace.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Faculty Publishes New Book - Dr. Jim Papandrea

Dr. Jim Papandrea, Associate Professor of Church History, has co-authored a book with Mike Aquilina titled Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again. He is best known at Garrett-Evangelical for his enthusiastic teaching in History of Christian Thought and Practice I and his legendary cross-cultural study trips to Rome.

Dr. Papandrea was also recently featured on the Research on Religion Podcast in which he speaks on the subject matter of his new book. You can find the podcast here. The book combines history, politics, and religion to provide practical lessons to be learned from the struggles of the Early Church, lessons that can be applied to the day-to-day lives of Christian readers. Mike Aquilina and Dr. Papandrea examine the practices of the Early Church—a body of Christians living in Rome—and show how the lessons learned from these ancient Christians can apply to Christians living in the United States today.

You can purchase the book at or at

Dr. Papandrea earned his M.Div. degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, with a concentration in youth ministry, and his Ph.D. in the history and theology of the early Christian church from Northwestern University. He has also studied Roman history at the American Academy in Rome, Italy.  Dr. Papandrea's personal website can be found here. You can also check out his youtube channel for more information on the book.