3 Challenges being an Old White Guy

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By Rev. Dr. Bob Melone, guest contributor
Serving as pastor to nearly 200 people in a Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia has taught me many things. But lately, all I seem to learn is that I am slowly, but surely, becoming an Old White Guy... And I don't like it!
My ‘youth’ used to be one of my strengths: a draw, an asset, a defining attribute that made me appealing to the Church – an institution in which the average member is well over 60 years old. But today, because my ‘youth’ is gone, things appear to be different.
I still have as much energy as I did when I was 28. I still preach with the same fire as I did when I was 34. And my work still generates in me the same passion that it did when I was 41. But at 57, the world around me sees things differently and I don’t like it.
Now granted, my knees hurt every time I move. The hair in my beard is far more salt than pepper. And some days it feels like even oatmeal could give me heartburn. I am certainly NOT the same guy I was 30 years ago, but that’s not all bad. I have a little more wisdom than I did when I graduated from seminary; and am far better informed about everything from theology, to world affairs, to psychology. I’ve learned which battles are worth fighting, and which ditches I want to avoid dying in. And while my ministry will likely always be more about afflicting the comfortable than comforting the afflicted, I have learned to do both. So there are many good things that come with age. But right now, as I continue to move into and through the final third of my life, adjusting to being an old White man is not much fun. And here’s why:

  1. Old White men tend to think that we have all the answers. Yes . . . we DO mansplain . . . and all the time. And we really do think we know everything. We routinely confuse experience with wisdom, and it would serve us well to start learning the difference. In fact, there are many things that we still need to learn, in spite of our age. Times change.  People change. Questions change. And yes, even answers change. So while it’s hard to admit that we don’t know it all, it's far easier than continuing to pretend that we do. So it would do us well to start listening to other perspectives, and to recognize that sometimes different isn't wrong.  It's just different, and different is often good. 

  2. Old White men have been running things for way too long, and it’s hard for us to learn when we need to sit down and give others the opportunity to start setting tomorrow’s agenda. We can still contribute when asked, and we can certainly do the things we’ve been gifted and called to do. But we also need to learn when it’s time to hop in the back seat and let someone else do the driving! All the metaphors work here: learning to play second string and take a seat on the bench, accepting supporting roles and not always needing to be center stage, and not always needing to be on the front line leading the charge. Now is the time for us to focus on building up others and encouraging them to take on the mantle of leadership; because the future isn't ours, it's theirs.

  3. And finally, as hard as it is to admit, the world has heard just about everything we have to say. Too often, too many of us continue to speak, but aren’t really saying anything new. As Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Pastors, we’ve been at podiums and in pulpits long enough. As CEOs and CFOs and COOs, our voices have filled corporate board rooms long enough. Our opinions have echoed through classrooms and courtrooms long enough. It’s now time for us to give someone else a chance; for in the words of Ecclesiastes, it would do me well to learn that there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.     

I know 57 isn’t THAT old. But it’s old enough. It’s old enough to know that things are changing, that I am changing. And the sooner I can accept that, the better off I think we’ll all be. I will never become one of those old geezers who does little more than play golf every day. I can only sit by the pool for so long. I’d go crazy having nothing to look forward to each week but a bowling league or poker night with the guys. Frankly, I can’t imagine ever retiring. But I need to learn to temper my desire to serve and to do, and especially my desire to take charge and lead.

If I’m not yet an old white guy, I’m well on my way to becoming one. And that’s hard. So bear with me. Don’t put me out to pasture just yet, for I’m still being reconditioned to understand that I don’t have all the answers, that second string players are still an important part of the team, and that there are voices besides my own that need to be heard. I know I’m not quite there yet, but I’m on my way. I promise! So please, be patient with me.

Rev. Dr. Bob Melone arrived at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, VA in June of 2013. With his Danish wife of 28 years Jeanne, (pronounced "Shan"), they have three children. Bob loves anything on his pizza but anchovies, and has the same thing for breakfast every day — a bowl of shredded wheat (frosted, of course!) and a chai tea latte! Bob loves the water, living in DC, and one day hopes to own a boat so that he and his wife can sail around the Chesapeake Bay https://bmelone.com/


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