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I turned 65 yesterday. Earlier this month I joined the very popular and successful government-run national healthcare plan. Thank you!

This landmark birthday has caused me to think about aging in general, and particularly about the most frequent concern I hear about a second term for President Biden. “He’s too old!”

I’ve come to believe that perhaps his age is actually one of his better qualities. If you’re a rabid Trumper, I’m not going to change your mind. If you want to discuss Biden’s policies, and especially to bash them, do it someplace else. I want to reflect especially on age and leadership and confidence.

Speaking broadly, I do wish that baby-boomers would all shuffle off to play pickleball. Let someone else have a chance. It really isn’t surprising that this most bloated and self-important of all generations, who was so eager to be in charge, is not able to release the reins. 

That said, Biden’s age makes me like and trust him. It shapes the way he leads. The best description I can come up with is that he seems comfortable in his own skin, probably in a manner we haven’t seen in a president since Reagan — himself, then, no youngster. 

I am sixteen years Biden’s junior, but I see a similar comfort with and trust in myself as I age. I’m not as concerned if my hair looks wonky. I don’t need to be a part of conversations about the latest trends or the future of my denomination. I haven’t tuned them out completely. I’m not fossilized. But things that once were so pressing are not any more. Popularity and image matter less. I detect something similar in my good friend, Bob Dylan, who at age 82 tours nearly non-stop and releases wonderful, obscure, 8 minute songs that will never be hits.

Sometimes this attitude is described as “I don’t care anymore.” That’s wrong. Of course I care. Biden cares. Dylan cares. It is probably caring differently, or maybe about different things. These aren’t especially original and a bit shorthand, but — satisfaction more than winning, relationships more than principles, waiting more than fixing. There isn’t the same anxiety, the same striving. There is a comfort, a peace, a pace. It is part resignation and part confidence. 

Consider Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — younger men when they were president. Bright, charming, intelligent, elegant, innovative. Personally, I was never a Clintonista, but my admiration for Obama is unabated. In both of them there was a little edge, some might call it arrogance, a need to make history, to be dashing, to read the best books, talk to the shiniest artists, know the emerging economic theories. 

This is what their detractors found so irritating. I can understand why they felt resentful and jealous. It was easy for many to hate Clinton and Obama with burning passion. 

Hating Joe Biden is like hating the school custodian, the night-shift nurse, or your plumber. They are good, solid people doing the best they can. Not necessarily inspiring, but competent, more workmanlike. They know their stuff and they do it. No glamor.  

With Clinton and Obama it seemed like everything had the prefix “neo” attached to it. Not Biden. It’s just adequate, competent, and lusterless. If he’s anything, maybe he’s neo-New Deal. 

If you’re between the ages of 30 and 55, I am not calling you immature or unqualified to lead. But you still have things to prove. You’re concerned about your trajectory. And you should be. Admit it or not, recognition and reputation matter. And yours are still developing. 

Many of you are so bursting with ideas and energy and compassion that you make me hopeful about the future. There’s a spring in your step, but a little self-consciousness also remains. You are a pair of new shoes — shiny, wanting to be fashionable, but still working through some pinch points. Biden, Dylan, me — we’re old shoes, a bit worn, but comfortable, walking in a more uninhibited way, and probably able to walk farther than you might think. (Actually, I wear slippers about 90 percent of the time since covid! Maybe that proves my point.)

In four years, I hope there won’t be any baby-boomers running for president and before too long, no octogenarians in the Senate (or the pulpit, for that matter). But there are now. So rather than seeing Biden’s age as a detriment, I’ll take it as a quality well-suited for this time.

* * * * *

Nota Bene: I haven’t discussed Biden’s policies and record. If you have a need to do so, please go elsewhere. That’s not what we are doing today. We have a pretty lenient policy about comments here at the Reformed Journal. Today, it isn’t quite so lenient. If you want to dump your Let’s Go Brandon nonsense, or to bring up the economy, foreign policy, immigration, Hunter Biden or senility, your comments will be deleted. If you want to ponder and discuss aging and leadership and the qualities you see in older and younger leaders, then please share your thoughts below. 

Iowa’s nonagenarian senator, Charles Grassley

Two small points of personal privilege. No one in my state of Iowa can make any derogatory remarks about Biden’s age. In 2022, we elected an 89 year old to a six year term as Senator! And as for the scare tactics about “the likelihood of a Kamala Harris presidency,” they are nothing but not-so-veiled racism and misogyny. Whatever your opinion of the Vice President, she’s no more or less qualified, no more or less dangerous than Quayle, Gore, Cheney, or Pence.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.


  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Your imagery of shoes fits well (!) in my current situation in my career: I’m so ready to step down, retire in another year, and my most influential co-worker is full of ambition and all the latest buzzwords, marketing skills, computer-dexterity, and socio-political edge to every conversation. Pinchy new shoes indeed! I’m all for the worthy changes in attitude and latitude proposed for our area (academic services/resources in community college), but I’m not up to it in energy and my vision of course is “top-down, patriarchal, and so colonial.”Go for it, 30-somethings; I see a lot of myself in you, in my shiny-pinchy shoe years.

  • Karen says:

    The older I get, the more I appreciate the truth of this article. We’ve unfairly devalued the wisdom and broader perspectives of older people. Thank you for your good insights.

  • Cheri Scherr says:

    Awesome as always Steve and definitely hits the right note.

  • Mark Kornelis says:

    Amen, and thanks! With you on all of this.

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Thanks, Steve, and “Amen” to your wise perspective here. It reminds me of Parker Palmer’s last book, “On the Brink of Everything.”

  • Louanne Winkle says:

    When I began my career as a teacher, I was given some very good advice to listen to and respect those who had been doing the work for a long while. I did that and it made my career much richer. It allowed another perspective that needed to be valued and reflected on before proceeding down a new path. I’m happy to say that I felt that respect and value from many of my younger colleagues in the last half of my career. I truly appreciate this perspective to look at President Biden’s age as a plus. And, at age 65 myself (and retired), I’m okay with waking up everyday and doing whatever I’m called to do in my own piece of the world, working quietly and efficiently, knowing my own value and not needing all the accolades.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    If being well advanced in years recommends Biden, it seems as though (since we’re not talking policy here) that observation equally applies to Trump, which is problematic to me. Now, someone will likely counter that it is the wisdom and competence that comes with age the is being recommended here, qualities that some judge to be present in Biden and absent in Trump. Of course, that judgment is not universal, and to parse that question does inevitably involve questions that touch on senility (or the relative state thereof), policy (not mere intent), and what constitutes competence. In the end, God does not value a genteel wickedness any more than a boorish wickedness. I personally don’t find the advanced years of either candidate to recommend them, and to that degree I don’t think that relative age can be taken well by itself as an indicator of competence or desirability for the position. It is fairly amazing to me that in our country we find ourselves in a position where these two particular candidates gravitate to the top of our wish list. I don’t hate either candidate and do not desire to impugn our President, though I do find that the age of each is more of a liability than an asset. Steve, I hope I have been able to constructively join the conversation without violating the letter or spirit of your admonishments.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      I think that Eric and I disagree on a huge list of “issues” or “policies” or whatever you want to call them, but I agree with most of what he says here. I think we are looking at two candidates (provided the current status of the Republican primary remains through the race) who are essentially the same age, but a maybe a little different in how they live it. It seems to me that age is just a number, though much of what is written here besides that rings true to me. I must admit however that I’ve run into a number of young people in their 20s who seem pretty comfortable in their own skin (while admittedly striving to change the world) and a rather large number of people beyond 65 who have no idea who they are or what they want to be when they “grow up.”
      I guess I agree with much of what Steve is saying while adding that I think Eric is pretty close to the right idea too.
      At any rate, thank you, from this still striving just a bit, 48 year old.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        Rodney, we may not disagree on as much as you surmise. 😉 I’m not sure I’ve made much clear here or other places on the interwebs concerning my position on various political “issues” or “policies”. I am a 52-year-old career government employee working in environmental protection – I may not quite fit a mold that you have in your mind for me. But I suppose that’s true for all of us, right? Be well.

        • Rodney Haveman says:

          Maybe this is too late but also maybe I presume too much. As it turns, I’m a pastor but also community organizer working on green energy transitions for congregations and helping them organize to move states to provide more subsidies and incentives to nonprofits, so maybe we park our cars in the same garage on more things than I imagined.
          Always learning …

          • Eric Van Dyken says:

            Always learning is a necessary posture for all of us. I imagine we could have some very interesting conversations, and each would likely learn something from and about the other that would surprise us.

      • Eric Van Dyken says:

        And if I may hasten to add: I make my comments here as one generally predisposed to a great appreciation for the “well-seasoned” among us. I find it delightful to sit with aged saints and learn perspective and wisdom that has yet escaped me. In that general sense I agree with Steve, though in its application to Biden or as a general rule in politics I’m not sure I track necessarily.

  • Carol Van Klompenburg says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Steve. The qualities that you describe do often come with age, but not always. There are older adults I have known who are in many ways the opposite of what you describe. I do appreciate, though, your pointing out the advantages of the older years.

  • George Vink says:

    You once again put it “Right on!” Thanks Steve. FYI I I’m 79+

  • Laura de Jong says:

    I appreciate this take on Biden’s age…as a 30-something, I’m generally of the opinion that it’s time for these old men to shuffle off and play pickle-ball, so this has curbed my cynicism somewhat. With Eric, though, I think we have to acknowledge that Biden is only four years Trump’s senior, and Trump displays none of the worn-slipperishness of Biden. Trump very much seems to have something to prove, to care about reputation and trajectory. So what else is at play in shaping how these two men have inhabited the office? I wonder if, in this case, it’s less about Biden’s age and more about the longevity of his political career. He’s been on the hill since 1973, whereas for Trump, the world of politics is still relatively shiny and new. So perhaps that, more than anything, allows Biden to feel more settled in his role than his rival. Age and experience are often connected, but in this case, it’s the experience that makes the difference.

  • Tony Vis says:

    If I’m not mistaken, our good friend, Steve, is technically a Boomer. I’ve just recently discovered that they are now dividing Boomers into two groups, Boomers I and Boomers II. Quite creative, don’t you think? Steve, you are Boomer II, which strikes me as somewhat of an afterthought. I am a Boomer I, actually a Boomer IA because I’m an early Boomer—not to be confused with an early Bloomer. I just thought you’d want to know.

    As for the age of office holders, I would support a maximum age where every federal and state office holder, including the courts, is required to retire. I’d probably go with 75. My main reason would be to hand things off to the next generation, even if they are Boomers II. 😊 There is a time for all of us to let go and hand over the reigns of leadership to those who are coming behind us. If we have wisdom to share, that will be sought out by the humble and curious ones who come behind. If it is not sought out, perhaps we are not as wise as we thought. Anything is possible!

  • George Bruins says:

    Most of us have experienced the comforting, wise, and stable presence of a grandparent. Most of us have also witnessed the natural progression of aging, which may include a decline in memory, in judgement, and in emotional stability. There may be physical decline as well, which could preclude working as the school janitor. Numerical age is not a reliable indicator of ability. Nor are romantic notions of how we improve with age. We need to examine carefully how well a person is aging and how this affects their ability to perform a particular role-whether as school janitor or as leader of the free world.

  • Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell says:

    Thank you all for your input and civility! Apologies for the slow reply. I was off playing pickleball — not really. As many of you have pointed out, “being comfortable in your skin” is not automatically tied to growing older. Some young people are. Many older people still are not. I’m observing that I believe Biden is, just as Reagan was. Of course, it is all incredibly subjective. But Bush the Elder was older and yet seemed anxious, on edge, unsure, uncomfortable. I was trying to avoid the Biden vs. Trump comparisons. I realize that Trump supporters and I live in different universes, but to me it is pretty obvious that Trump is many things, but being comfortable with himself is not one of them. As others have pointed out being comfortable doesn’t mean you’ll like someone’s policies. I didn’t/don’t like Reagan’s policies. Just thinking out loud here, I wonder how much similarity there is between my “comfortable in your skin” and “who would want to have a beer with” scale for evaluating presidential candidates? And yes, to my shame, I am a boomer — a late boomer. But being one doesn’t mean I have to like it, and for the most part, I’m trying to wear slippers and let go of the reins.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      It seems to me that “comfortable in your skin” and “who would want to have a beer with” might correlate to a degree, but not necessarily spill over into the evaluation of presidential candidates. I like to have beer with all sorts of folks, and enjoy it most with people comfortable in their own skin, but most of them (us) would make lousy presidents.

  • James Loomis says:


  • Fred Mueller says:

    I don’t know about the maximum age for ministers. I recall David Van Strein who in retirement pastored the Community Church in China, Maine. He served well into his sixties. His preaching was superb. I served in the classis where he still held membership (the old Palisades) and reporting in, his wife wrote he is doing well, but needs help getting into the pulpit and does his visitation with a walker. Nowadays with the shortage, especially upstate NY, though many other places, we need the service even of the ancient ones (like me). I am retired due to parenting but preach every chance I get. Am I comfortable “in my own skin?” You tell me! By the way, Steve, I smiled when you wrote you had turned 65. I have fond memories of meeting the young Sophie and Steve when you arrived, freshly minted in Owasco!

  • Diana Walker says:

    I think a take the long view President out distances a One Day Dictator.
    Regardless of age.

  • Carol V says:

    Steve–thanks for giving some validation to us in the “silent generation” (squeezed between the “Greatest Generation” and the Boomers. Some of us have even begun to find our voice as we age!

  • Carl Fictorie says:

    First, we live in a culture that idolizes the idea of the “self-made man.” If you believe that, you are never satisfied with your current place, and always need to be striving for more. You also believe that you are in the place you are only by your own efforts, so few if any of your colleagues, especially the younger ones, are your equals or capable of doing what you have done. There are examples of this currently and in the recent past in every high government office and representing both parties. They fail to respect the example of George Washington who could have named himself king but chose to retire.
    Second, we also live in a culture where most do not have a soft off-ramp into retirement, as I see it. One day you are working, perhaps leading in some way based on your age and experience, and then you are not. (And too many are wondering if they can afford to retire at all, even when forced to due to arbitrary age limits.) And when you are not, everyone stops paying attention to you. In a political world where being popular means everything, losing popularity and losing an election must be frightening, which feeds back into my first point. I think this is why too many politicians hold onto office long after their prime. Jimmy Carter is the only recent example in my mind of someone who moved on after a political career and had good success afterwards–who retired well.
    Is there a way to create a society that provides a good place for a retirement that respects and values the wisdom and experience of our elders while also acknowledges that they/we begin to lose the capacity to live on top of a world that madly rushes onward?

  • Matt Waterstone says:

    Dear Rev. Mathonnet-VanderWell,

    My name is Matt Waterstone. I’m 40 years old. I’m a life long RCAer. I served a church on the south side of Chicago and now serve one just outside of Manhattan. I greatly appreciate your words on the RJ and have quoted them in sermons and devotionals. I’ve voted for Democrats and Republicans. I did not vote for former President Trump. I’m not the kind of person who comments on blogs. I wasn’t the kind of person who raised his hand in seminary. I never really felt like I had anything theologically dazzling enough to add to the conversation. But in grace, two reflections regarding your blog on Joe Biden’s Age:

    1. I was curious about your comment regarding President Biben “not necessarily inspiring.” I’m not so sure we should aspire for that quality (or lack thereof) in a President. That to me feels like we’re settling. I believe that we are at a point in our history where we do need inspiration – divine and human. I have a great deal of respect for plumbers and have always loved custodians. Yes, I would like a President who is humble and has a hard work ethic, but I would also like a President who captivates my imagination, invites me to dream and inspires me to get involved.

    2. As pastors, we all have holy pastoral visits with saints in their 80s and even 90s. We leave those visits and marvel at their physical, emotional, spiritual and mental health. They can keep up in conversation, are well versed in a wide variety of subjects, can recall events from last week and 50 years ago and have the energy to be active – even to play pickleball. But the reality is that Father Time has an undefeated record – even against Tom Brady! Diminishment is part of life. I greatly appreciate that President Biden has a deep capacity for what social scientist Arthur Brooks calls a “crystallized intelligence,” where experience and mentorships have high importance. However, the reality is one’s intellectual horse power (Brooks calls this “fluid intelligence”) starts to decline as early as in one’s 40s. I would like a President to have both. Personally, I do think age matters – a lot.


    • Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell says:

      Thanks, Matt. Ideally, of course, a president or pastor or a … would have charisma and character, winsomeness and a work ethic. I understand that Biden doesn’t have much rizz, but his age does give some qualities. I really like the crystallized and fluid intelligence terminology. A good team should have both and I trust Biden is surrounded by young strivers overflowing with fluid intelligence! Better stop now, my fluidity is about run dry for today!

    • Evonne Kok says:

      I totally agree. It is quite obvious to anyone willing to notice that Biden is declining both physically and mentally. I also agree with an earlier responder that said there should be an upper age limit for someone to run for president (I would say 65). This is the most demanding job in a very dangerous world. As a regular reader of the “The Reformed Journal” and a moderate Republican (not a Trumper!), I’m also surprised when articles are overtly political. I thought that this publication was supposed to be about our faith.

  • Peter Dykstra says:

    I’ve come to think that pausing before you speak is a virtue. Especially if what you say when you get around to it usually is pretty sensible. And if it takes a minute to remember where you’ve left the nuclear codes (or you get a digit wrong) well, we all might be better off for it.

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