“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The friends of musicians' ministry

A group of people gathered in a room. Some carried musical instruments that they carefully removed from their cases and proceeded to warm up playing various scales. A kind person strolled to the front of the room and the sound quieted a bit.

"Welcome everyone to our Wednesday night friends of musicians meeting! I see you have brought your instruments which is great. I am so blessed by being with you on these evening meetings twice a month."

The musicians and those accompanying them smiled back cheerfully.
"Sometimes I wish more of our church family could hear you play your instruments."
The leader paused.
"But we have had our ministry to musicians twice a month like this for so long. The way it is, is just part of how we are."

Most of the musicians had always been separated like this and didn't have experience otherwise. So they gathered in groups and played their instruments together. There was much joy and laughter as well as genuine appreciation for their gifting. They were really quite skilled. Those with them did not have the same gifting, were not talented musically, but they sat with them, listened happily and provided encouragement. Yet, they had become used to the tradition of segregation where no musicians ever came to church or worship on Sunday.

"If musicians came on Sunday, we would probably have to change the way we do things" was the feeling of many people. "We would have to sing songs or listen to instrumentals being played. Our worship service would probably be a lot different if we included musicians and I like it the way it is."
But at one meeting where such a statement was made, a brave soul spoke up.
"I wonder if musicians are God gifted musically so that they way we do church would change, would be different. I wonder what worship would be like if we integrated musicians and allowed them to express their gifting?

A leader spoke up.
"I don't want people staring at people when they play their clarinet, their instrument. And some people don't like music so I don't want people to feel bad because of those people. Why should people feel bad about being a musician?"
The lone voice responded, "But the Bible itself talks about music and how people who are created as musicians are indispensable, have much to contribute and are to be celebrated. Their lives have purpose for the whole community."

"We are not changing so that musicians can demonstrate their gifting. Let them be together twice a month on Wednesday night and demonstrate their gifting then."


Thursday, November 21, 2019

JCID The Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability is now FREE!

At the Christian Institute on Disability, a part of the Joni and Friends organization, we have been publishing a journal since 2012. Up till now, there was a cost for subscription or for individual articles. Recently, we have worked to put JCID completely online and make it free for users. I would invite you to visit the website and check it out!
If you go here https://journal.joniandfriends.org/index.php/jcid you will be taken to the latest issue where you can read Dr. Ben Rhodes and my article entitled, Toward a Christian Model of Disability. You will also be able to read some responses from leaders in disability ministry to the ideas presented there.

So please take a minute, visit the website and read the articles!
God bless,

Segregation of persons with disabilities

I was recently in a meeting where I was sharing about the importance of people being fully integrated into the church. Change in church culture begins with presence. See a discussion of this here.
One parent of an adult son spoke up. I will paraphrase the person, but the comment was basically, "I want segregation! Segregation is the best thing for my son!" When I pushed back gently, the response was, "I want a place (referring to a segregated ministry that meets once a month on a week night) where no one will look at my son as if he is different. I want a place where he will be accepted. So that is why I want segregation."
I responded that "If there are places where your son experiences that kind of treatment, I can understand why you would feel that way. However, how will those places ever change if there is not integration?"
If the person's son is always segregated and is never in contact with other members of the community, then his presence will always be strange because his presence is unusual. However, should that same son be regularly in the mix with everyone else, he will become familiar and hopefully invited to friendship with others. Persons with disabilities are actually very common members of our community unless we isolate them from the community. We make people who are just people seem strange by the social isolation we impose upon them and we shouldn't do that.
Should people fear integrating family members, particularly those with severe disabilities into the community? I can see their concerns, particularly if people have experienced some form of discrimination or poor treatment in the past. It is our natural reaction to protect ourselves or our children. But at the same time, change in our communities will never occur if people are segregated. It is only presence that will lead to cultural change in how we do things. This is true in the church when our traditional ways of doing things can get in the way of the changes that need to occur for integration to take place.
Arguably, the very first step in cultural change is presence. Let's do all we can to facilitate the presence and then model the acceptance that we endeavor to see.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Inclusion of persons with disabilities in the church

As had been mentioned before in this blog, my wife and I lead a ministry to adults with disabilities at my local church. Its called the Light and Power Company. Each week we have a typical bible lesson to the 50-80 adults who are present. This past week, we studied the passages from 
Luke 6:6-11, Matthew 2:9-14, and Mark 3:1-6 where Jesus healed a man's right hand, on the Sabbath, in the synagogue. The story is interesting on a variety of fronts. But the aspect that struck me this time, was how the leadership would refuse to see the obvious positive nature of Jesus healing the man's hand. This was no doubt a person in their community, familiar to them, who perhaps experienced hardship because of his impairment. To their credit, he was in the congregation, hopefully not just invited on this one occasion to try to "trip" Jesus up. 

When Jesus does heal the man's hand, their response it to want to kill him. Their theology is wrong on so many levels. Wrong in not loving their neighbor, wrong in putting their traditions over the commands of God, and wrong in their response to Jesus doing an obviously beautiful thing for the man. But Jesus' actions didn't fit into their tradition straight jacket they had been conditioned to believe. Because we have not done something in a particular way, because I haven't be trained about this response, perhaps as with the Pharisees I have been trained to think this change in tradition is wrong, I will resist it.

We continue to stand at a crossroads in ministry. Will we love all our neighbors and embrace the changes that need to occur to love them and include them? Or will we, like the Pharisees, literally conspire to do evil in the process of resisting change. Hopefully we are not plotting the kinds of things the leaders in Jesus' time were, but we can still engage in evil when we exclude people on the characteristic called impairment. 

Its sad how we can see the blindness in the Pharisees when they can't see something clearly presented, but cannot see our own blindness. A similar story could be told about where some of us are in our stranglehold on tradition.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Disability ministry and social skills

In the last month, I have had the opportunity to travel to two places which are quite different when it comes to social skills. In France, I was at times greeted with a kiss on the cheek. In China, I learned a new meaning of "personal space" in that people will get very close to each other, even strangers. It occurred to me, if I kissed a man in China on the cheek, or stood as close to someone in France as people did in China, I would be considered quite strange because of the social customs of each place. There is nothing at all wrong with the social customs in either of these places. If I were to stand close or kiss on the cheek, I am not doing anything wrong...from a moral perspective. However, because of social traditions, I would be very wrong in either place.

Can we make this connection with those with disabilities who do not understand social skills? They are like the French person who kisses the Chinese person on the cheek, or the Chinese person who stand too close to the French person. They have done nothing wrong. They have only carried their tradition of social behavior to a place where the understanding of social behavior is different. As soon as we understand that people are from different places, we will likely forgive the misunderstanding and even enjoy or embrace it. When we go to those places, one of the things we enjoy are the differences in culture we experience. Are we willing to do the same for people who are not from a different culture, but just don't understand the social skill demands of the place where they are?

Social skills are too often the reason why person are excluded or rejected. As stated elsewhere in this blog, we hold to our traditions and reject the command of God to love our neighbor (see this posting on Disability Ministry and Traditions). How refreshing it would be if we were more accepting of others and their differences, particularly those which are simply social skill differences. May God help us to not let small things like social skills get in the way of loving our neighbors.


Friday, April 05, 2019

Disability as it relates to people, the community and God.

I have been thinking a lot about relationships involving individuals, the community and God. See this link for some of my thoughts. Recently in putting together a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12, the following occurred to me.
"Like the Corinthian church that Paul addresses, we face the same issues of disobedience that they did. We need to look at ourselves in the light of his exhortations. Because we have ignored or excluded individuals with disabilities, we have not become all that the Body of Christ should be. But we actually do not know what we would become if parts of the body that have been excluded were now included.

God in his sovereignty, has created individuals and his church. The way both of those are reflects how he wants them to be. Under his sovereignty, people are the way they are for themselves, for the community and ultimately for God. If someone is rejected because of personal characteristics, this reflects a misunderstanding of people, community and God. It is a threefold mistake. People aren’t able to express their God given purpose. The community or the Body of Christ will never become what it was meant to be, and arguably we are disobedient to God’s sovereign purpose."

I recently heard someone say that rejection of people is a "sin against the Body of Christ." I agree with that, that is how serious it is. This threefold mistake is so basic. It calls so much into question.