Neglect (Helen, GA 2011)

On Tuesday we were to go pass out trail favors to hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  But being that Helen, GA was experiencing a small, cold hurricane on Tuesday, my group was redirected to a local nursing home.  I am by no means anti-nursing home.  I think they can serve a virtuous purpose of providing shelter and care for those who need them.  I have had two grandparents who spent the final months of their lives in nursing homes.  They had been cared for at home as long as possible, but even with large extended families the nursing home provided the best and safest care for my grandparents whose health was failing.  Yet I also think that nursing homes are places where people can be easily forgotten, mistreated, neglected, and disrespected.  I have no idea if the home we visited on Tuesday was such a place, but every time I go to a nursing home I am reminded of the sin of neglect.  Many people are in nursing homes, not because the family can no longer care for them, but because the family and society is done with them.  Most sins are dirty things you did.  Neglect is a dirty thing you didn’t do and someone suffers deeply because of it.

Naturalism has birthed a social ethic that asks whether or not a person is profitable.  If the person is not profitable, then it is not important that they live.  At this point in time, the only thing preventing America from practicing geriatric euthanasia is the law.  America is currently practicing pre-natal genocide, a right of choice protected by law.  Immorality eventually becomes law.  Who has the right to live?  Who has the right to die?  The gospel doesn’t ask.  Life is life.  Every life is to be loved and protected.  Whether fetal or feeble the gospel does not question, but rather compels those who follow Jesus to go to “the least of these (Matthew 25:40).”

On the way to the nursing home I told the kids with us that people in nursing homes love kids who sing; that it may be a good idea for them to drum a few songs up just in case.  No sooner had we walked in the door of the home than the activities director grabbed the kids, took them into a room and had them sing.  I looked at my oldest daughter and sent her a telepathic message with my eyebrows, “I told you so.”  While the kids sang I sat by a lady with 2 graham crackers and a small cup of yellow juice.  The graham crackers looked good, the yellow juice not so much.  I told her the night before that we had smores.  She mumbled something to me and held up her 2 graham crackers.  I told her, “I love graham crackers.”  She held them up again and mumbled something else.  I am generally a positive thinker, so I interpreted her mumbling to mean that she too shared my appreciation for graham crackers.  So, as the kids continued to sing, I pressed the issue with some humor, “If you don’t want one of those graham crackers, I’ll take one.  And by the way, I can get us more.”  Without a mumble she stuck her 2 uneaten graham crackers in the small cup of yellow juice.  I got the message.  She wasn’t kidding around.

I know I wrote something about this yesterday, but the ultimate point of mission trips, for me, is to teach us that being missional is not about taking trips, it is about engaging the conversation of the gospel that is already happening around you.  My town is full of nursing homes, so is yours.  Jesus said if we love and minister to “the least of these” we have done so to Him.  Yet, Matthew 25:40 is a double edged sword that reminds us that neglect is a heinous sin.  If we neglect them, we neglect Him.  No doubt, there are neglected cultures around the world that are starving for our attention.  It is indeed missional to be bold, sacrificial and go there.  But at the same time there are pockets of neglect all around us and it is missionally irresponsible to ignore them.
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