Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Old People Are Gross - Leona speaks

In thinking about the Grace and Gravity blog, I came across this article I wrote several years ago. For obvious reasons, I never took it out of my “rantings and ravings” file. But, today I read it and believed all over again that I have a calling!

“Old people are gross.” That was the response of one medical resident who admitted to never taking a class in geriatrics during his medical training. (TIME, 11/11/02) He, like so many other physicians in training, was clearly more interested in the health of youth. Maybe it’s because younger bodies respond to heroic interventions. They get well – or at least better. They don’t languish through chronic and complicated diseases. They don’t die on your watch. They don’t take up hours and hours of time trying to explain the many different conditions and symptoms that seem to attack layer upon layer.

Old people are complicated. Their medical care is messy. They take time. They cost too much money. So, medical schools either don’t have geriatric programs, or they try them for a few years, and then dismantle the programs because of lack of interest. Gerontology programs in universities are much the same. I was involved in a Gerontology certificate program for 6 years. We started out with enthusiasm and registrations. It eventually died – quietly. Didn’t affect too many people. Just died. It was easier for it not to be around.

I’ve given my life to serving older people. I’ve done it because I cared very deeply about old people. I loved them. They were full of great stories. They needed me because I honored them and valued them. I built great programs for them. I went to the wall. So now we are trying to talk to the church about old people. Sure they respond with a fake positive. Yes, we need to have something for our older people. But really, churches think old people are gross. Maybe we all think old people are gross. We look in the mirror and we hate the wrinkles, the indications of years going by. We hate it that we can’t do some of the physical things that we used to do. We hate growing old. So, we make jokes. We get depressed. We curse. We do everything but look at why it is that God allows old age.

We just got back from another poorly attended speaking engagement. We worked hard. We had highly technical information. We were ready to educate. But 18 faces looked at us instead of the 100 that should have been there. They really wanted to talk about activities and ways to make oldness seem more youthful.

So it isn’t a pretty picture, is it? Old people are gross. Each and every one of us is getting old. We must be getting gross. Let’s deny it and ignore it and it will go away. Let’s dye our hair. Let’s use botox. Let’s just not talk about it. And certainly this gross vulgar topic shouldn’t get mixed up with our messages of church growth, seeker sensitive services, purpose driven congregations, church planting, evangelism, new life, and leadership development!

People take on causes – women’s issues, gay and lesbian issues, civil rights --- I guess in reality, I have my cause. This is what I’m called to. It isn’t going to pay very well. It isn’t going to draw the crowds. But I don’t think old people are gross. I think they are children of the living God. I believe that we are all headed toward a time of great spiritual revolution and growth.

Maybe the crowds won’t come. It will never pay. Our society doesn’t even pay doctors for taking care of older people. Why would we value paying prophets and preachers? But, It really is time for prophets. It is time for people to stand up and challenge people to face reality.

The last paragraph of the article in Time magazine was about a doctor who was going to teach geriatrics because there was not enough reimbursement in trying to care for old people. The last line? "Now the question is whether she can find some students.”

Oh boy.

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