By the fourth century, you could become a Christian without risking your life. Church inevitably became entangled with private clubs, government posts and social networks. The urge to offer oneself wholly in martyrdom never diminished, however, and a movement was born. Men and women left civilization for an adventure of “living martyrdom” in the deserts of Egypt, Syria and Palestine.
As a Presbyterian pastor, my husband, Bob, had always been sympathetic when a parishioner became trapped by dementia. His views on dealing with dementia had been shaped by his father, a man of deep Christian faith and an active layman.
There is no state regulation for the profession of pastoral ministry. Although you need a license to practice medicine or law, or to open up shop as a massage therapist, you don’t need one to be a minister. There are expectations about what qualifies people for ordination, of course, but these expectations are changing.
In spite of my best intentions, somewhere around Halloween my ability to stay on top of things begins to unravel. It gets more and more difficult to wake up before the sun and harder to meet all the demands of each day, or even of the previous day. As things left undone accumulate and the hours of daylight diminish, a kind of lethargy sets in.
The focus of geriatric doctors on testing for memory loss, which leads to possible diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, is part of a war against the old, according to Margaret Morganroth Gullette, resident scholar at Brandeis University. She likens it to educators being preoccupied with testing schoolchildren. “‘Dementia’ is a label that dehumanizes,” she says. What aging people need is social support, which itself can enhance a sense of well-being that contributes to better memory. “In thinking about memory loss, we do well to remember two simple precepts,” she says. “Do not panic about your own. Be gentle toward other people’s” (Interpretation, April).