Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Grey Ghetto

I spent some more time today visiting with an older member of our church who's living by himself at a nearby assisted living facility. Dick has no family and can't hear, and doesn't wear hearing aids, so you've got to write things out to communicate with him. It was lower tech this time, as I had the foresight to step away from using my iPhone and just dragged along a legal pad and a big ol' Sharpie. Yeah, I was kickin' it old school, but what matters to me is what works.

When I got there, he was out of his room, so I searched around the facility and finally met up with him eating lunch. He was at a table with four other folks, but they were all...well...lost in their own worlds. They were silent, folded in on themselves.

Dick didn't even look up at first when I tapped him on the shoulder and sat down next to him. He gradually brightened as I wrote him note after note in big bold letters, writing him questions and responding to his statements. But it took a little while. He's just so used to being alone and unable to communicate that it takes a few moments for his mind to warm up to the presence of another.

It was good to fellowship with him, and I'm committed to spending more time with him in the coming months. The visit resonated interestingly off of a blog post I read yesterday about intergenerational congregations. Too many of our churches are either young or old. We've got the hipstermergents and the old grey mainliners neatly separated into different congregations. Even in the heady corporate world of the JesusMegaCenters, their immense flocks are carefully divvied up into target marketing demographics. Kids with kids. Teens with teens. Young Adults with Young Adults. The church is a very neatly and intentionally divided house.

What that means is that the church is mirroring our culture. The boundary-shattering presence of the Holy Spirit is ignored. We fail to be the place for the young to learn just how poorly our culture treats it's eldest. Our old old are warehoused, conveniently sealed away from a society that is obsessed with youth and the young. When I go by to visit, I almost never see anyone younger than me there. And I ain't young.

This is a failure on two fronts. It's the loss of the young that they haven't been taught to see value in aging, in a life fully lived and in some of the deep wisdom that that creates. We obsess over ourselves and our own lives, and in doing so, we miss out on a significant opportunity for personal growth. A society that discourages mingling of the generations is a society that condemns itself to making the same mistakes over and over again.

More significantly, the ghetto walls around the old hide away something that we all need to see. We need to see how the elderly are treated. We need to see the impacts of isolation from the broader society, and the impacts of predatory profiteering on a population that can't often assess the quality of the care they receive.

The young need to see it, because unless things change, that life we so carefully avoid because it bores us/freaks us out will be our life one day. Is this how we want to live? Is this how we treat people who we care about? If our relationships with our elders were stronger, we'd feel this. If our commitments to our elders...be they family or friends...were stronger, we'd look at how our culture treats the aging with mortal horror.

It makes both Soylent Green and Logan's Run look almost utopian.


  1. Excellent post, Pastor! We miss out on so much in these tidy little boxes we divvy people up into.

    Currently, I'm working on the family genealogy and my son is learning an appreciation for his Nana from across the pond. My mom is 74 and remembers well WW2 as a little girl in the Cotswolds. I'm recording all she has to say about it and Adam at nearly 5yrs of age really enjoys listening.

    It's my hope he and his baby brother grow up with the proper appreciation and admiration for the elderly, family or otherwise.

    Again, great post.

  2. You mirror my thoughts.

    Our modern lives, within our modern urban society, are so selfishly-protected and so compartmentalized that our elderly can be conveniently segregated and then all-too-easily ignored.
    After all, they're difficult to communicate with, being usually both hard of hearing & slow.
    When I visit my elderly relatives in extended care, I too notice that my wife and I are the youngest non-employees there.

    You're a kind man for consistently helping to breach Dick's isolation.
    Thank you for your thoughts.

    As a compltely unrelated aside, may I ask about the origin of your BLOG title? Is the reference perhaps analogous to Milton's "abhorred shears" in Lycidas ("...comes the blind fury with the abhorred shears, and slits the thin-spun life...)?

    Sorry if you've already explained this somewhere, but I couldn't find any reference.

  3. @ Sawbones: You're welcome. The title of my blog is nothing more than the etymological meaning of my first and middle names, in the Hebrew and the Archaic German respectively. Well, the middle name is technically "Spear Warrior," but I prefer to shorten it.

  4. Aha. Thank you.
    Now I can sleep nights. :)

  5. I've often wondered what your name meant too...don't know why I never bothered to comment and ask.

    I've also been conflicted about the plight of the elderly in our society. I feel like it's so easy to marginalize them because of the young-worshipping that goes on. I wonder if it will change when the Baby Boomers are genuinely elderly? They seem to have quite a voice as a generation...

  6. @ Wynia: I suppose that depends how effectively the Boomers inculcated the value of appreciating the wisdom of older folks. I don't think things are looking good for most of them.

  7. There is so much we can learn from our elderly, but we would rather put them down like dogs...

    It's a symbol of a bigger problem, as well. People are separated. We grow apart. We don't connect.

    That old saying, "you die alone?" Now people get to live alone, too.

    Hail progress, thy name is death.

  8. On the blog name- I thought the title was about Longinus' spear, the one that pierced Christ's side.