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

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My friend Michael

My friend Michael passed away last night. He was one of those people in your life that you immediately make a connection with. I wouldn't see him much more than once a week at church or at special gatherings but we were great friends nonetheless.
I have often said that he is the type of person everyone should have in their life. Whenever I would see him, independent of where we were, he would shout out "Hey Jeff!" I would shout back in response, "Hey Michael!" I will miss that aspect of our relationship.  Total abandonment of social rules when we would see each other for the first time in any setting. Our recognition of each other was the MOST important thing. It was as if he was saying,
"I don't care if I disrupt you, my friend Jeff is here and I want to acknowledge him!"

Michael would always remember to ask for prayer for his bus driver and teacher each week, if prayer requests were sought. Others would roll their eyes at his repeated request, but I am confident that when Michael arrived in Heaven, the fruit of his faithful request for prayer was made known to him.
He was not a perfect man, at times his temper would get the best of him and when we were together I would talk through actions of his with him to help him to grow in his faith. He loved to wear a tie and jacket to church each week sometimes in the most random combinations. I loved seeing him dressed up but would help him to straighten up his tie and jacket. I don't know if he liked the attention, but he would allow me to make him look "perfect" as I would tell him.
Every week he would ask me for a dollar which I would give to him so he could buy a soda at his work the following day. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, it also caused me at first to pause, before I knew him.  But then, we would sit together and talk about whatever happened to be on his mind. 
He loved sweets, particularly chocolate.  I remember the last time I saw him, Sunday, he had just eaten a chocolate iced donut. As a result he had chocolate all over his hands which I showed him he could lick off of his fingers. He also always wanted to take something home from church each week. Whether it was some bread donated by Panera, or a flyer about a church activity or whatever. He was VERY adamant about receiving something that he could take home with him.

This morning I was at the director's meeting at Joni and Friends when I received the message about his passing last night. I thought that I would be able to share his passing in a controlled manner, but once I began with "A dear friend of mine died last night..." I lost it. I thought about stopping my presentation (we describe our activities for the previous week at those meetings) but thought what better place than to share my grief over my dear friend with disabilities then at the director's meeting.
I cried through my description of Michael and then apologized for my emotion. But they were touched and said no apology was necessary.

In the few minutes since that meeting, I wondered how many men, living in a group home, working in an adult day care setting have someone who weeps over their passing: someone who was just a friend in their life, who knew them, and will miss them. My faith tells me Michael is with the Lord. I have great confidence in that. But I will miss him because he was my friend.  His calling out to me to greet me is unlike any other friend I have ever had, or will probably ever have again. His friendship was a tremendous gift to me! As a friend at Joni and Friends told me, his friendship probably meant more to you than to him! I like that thought although I hope he delighted in my friendship as well. It is my prayer that more and more, persons with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, with intellectual disabilities will have real friends in their lives who will mourn their loss. Not just family members or people who have become accustomed to them because of the paid services they provided to them, both of those are great. But people who were really their friends and were with them because they enjoyed the human interaction that any friend enjoys.

I will miss you Michael!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Natural like home"

In our Light and Power Company group, we often talk about how we feel more like a family than like a class or a group that meets at church. People are accepted as they are.  Sure we make demands on each other. But the overriding theme is acceptance, overlooking differences like social skill deficits, thinking the best of others, trying to be affirming, praying for each other, caring for one another and so forth. These are the kinds of attributes we find in families that are functioning well.  We rejoice with the successes of our family members, we hurt with them when they hurt. It is like we recognize that we are in this life together, as a family. In families, you don't necessarily choose each other, but you love one another nontheless. When you enter a group like our Light and Power group, you become a member of a family of people who chose the group initially, but then just accept others as the family grows. It is kind of like the idea of America being a melting pot (although we seem to be struggling with that at the moment as many groups don't want to relinquish their rights to be a part of the American family, they want to change the American family to be like them), where you come in as whomever you are and then become a part of the family, whatever personal characteristics you bring.

On our recent trip to Australia, we discussed this idea with Lindsey Gale, a groundbreaker in helping churches to be open to persons with disabilities. She made the comment in one presentation that the experience of being in a church should be, "natural like home." Church should be an extension of the love and acceptance I feel in my home among my family. As she went on to say, if disability is different at home than it is at church, that indicates a problem. If I do not feel at home, I am not experiencing the hospitality that I should be feeling.

I have been thinking that churches should be regularly reviewing their level of hospitality towards people...all people. Not the high performers who would be celebrated in any environment.  But hospitality toward those who experience devaluation for any number of reasons, not the least being disability and the poverty that too often accommpanies it. It is the presence of those people who can be like the "canary in the mineshaft" to tell us how we are doing at hospitality.  If those people are not in your church, if they do not see your church as "home", then some serious self examination needs to occur about who you are as a church. Are you a church of Jesus Christ who would welcome devalued people, or have you morphed into something else that self-examination would cause you to make excuses for?

Do you have the courage to ask those with disabilities or those who are familes with members with disabilities about whether your church feels like home to them? It is a scary question. (see this past post on scary questions) But it is a question if answered honestly will provide guidance for the church such that it will become hosptiable to all.  So it would be "natural, like home."


Monday, July 21, 2014

"God has a mission so the mission has a church"

A new friend, Rev. Phil Gale (husband of CBM's Luke 14 Director, Lindsey Gale), in one of our many great discussions, turned me on to the thinking of Bishop John McIntyre of the Anglican church.  His comments about the "missional church" were really interesting in particular as they relate to ministry that includes persons with disabilities.  I quote Bishop McIntyre from an article in the July 2014 issue of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican, p. 11).  All emphases are added by me.

"To be a missional church, he said, was "simply in integretity to be Christlike and in grace point to Jesus Christ in all we are and all we do."
It is to be present in community with an integrity of being that assures all those whose lives we touch that we are there alone for their wellbeing; that we are committed to peace with justice, mercy and inclusion. Where we can live out that demand, I am convinced people will be drawn anew to faith in Jesus Christ. Then our churches will grow as we participate in the mission of God in the world."
One reason Anglicanism is Australia was hampered in its capacity to be genuinely missional was because in the past "we have essentially been an associational church rather than a missional church" - "just another association of people who happen to be religious," he said.
The problem was exacerbated when church people assumed the associational view of church as well, so that "what we call 'mission' then becomes finding new ways at attracting people to become part of our association." But the "mission of the church is not to grow churches," he said, "It is to live under the rule of God; to live in allegiance solely to Jesus Christ.
"God's mission has a church. If we make growing churches our aim, we are trying to do God's work. Our aim is to live in singular allegiance to Jesus. When we do that with integrity and grace, God grows churches as the means by which God's way is extended in God's world. Others come to faith in Jesus Christ and join us."

"...we are there alone for their wellbeing..." Imagine if that was our reputation as the Christian church in the lives of persons with disabilities. What things might we do for people for families? What example might we be to the community?

Once again, "God's mission has a church." The way Phil restated the bishop's words is that
"God has a mission so the mission has a church."
That resonated with me as different then the way we often understand church. It implies that we are up to something, that we are active, kinetic, doing something of worth in the community that draws people to want to join us in our mission and become followers of Jesus Christ. They will learn about what we believe, but our mission by God's grace causes us to be irrestible. In order to achieve our mission, we have a meeting place where we are trained, where our wounds suffered from trying to love our communities are ministered to, and we are prepared to be sent out again. The church meeting is not the focus of the mission, not the end all of the mission.  The church meeting, the Sunday morning service, simply becomes a part of the mission. We are not being prepared at that meeting to go home because we have done all we need to do for the week, untill the following week when we come in and sit again. It is a rallying point for our onging, difficult activity of loving our neighbor.

If the above were the case, we would be prepared to find our neighbors with disabilities in need of assistance or simply love and friendship. When was the last time you heard a sermon about loving your neighbor with disabilities? Unfortunately, that is currently not a part of the mission as evidenced by what we are not being prepared to do (assuming we are being prepared to DO something) and by the people who are not sitting in the chairs next to us.

We have a church because God has a mission and the mission is not our comfort.


Monday, June 16, 2014

People with their backs against the wall

I recently came across a wonderful book called Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. Rev. Thurman wrote the book in the 1940s out of his experience as a black man growing up in the 1920s and 1930s and his conversations with his grandmother who had been a slave. His writing was no doubt influential to leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King. Although he largely discusses the experience of racial discrimination in America, his ideas about what "the readings of Jesus have to say to those who stand at a moment in history with their backs against the wall...the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed" has broader applicability. His grace in describing his experience at that time and his strong desire to live the religion of Jesus is in contrast to the discrimination he experienced in his life. But I think he is writing about discrimination in a much larger sense.  Some of the most memorable passages, to me, related to issues of integration and segregation.
Here are a few.
''Segregation can apply only to a relationship involving  the weak and the strong. For it means that limitations are arbitrarily set up, which. in the course of time, tend to become fixed and seem normal in governing the etiquette between the two groups. A peculiar characteristic of segregation is the ability of the stronger to shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity and a kind of mutually tacit sanction; while the position of the weaker, on the other hand, is quite definitely fixed and frozen." (p. 42)
"It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the underprivileged to work on the common environment for the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship. This is one very important reason for the insistence that segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil. Whether it may do for those who dwell on either side of the wall, one thing is certain: it poisons all normal contacts of those persons involved...The result is that in the one place in which normal free contacts might be most naturally established-in which the relations of the individual to his God should take priority over conditions of class, race, power, status, wealth, or the like- this place is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers." (p. 98)
When people can "shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity" when others cannot, there is something implied in the relationship between the two.

He boldly states that"segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil." Relationships are indeed poisoned by segregation.

But the part that really condemns is his comment on the church when he says that the church is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers. In the 1940s and today, there continue to be issues of racial segregation in the manner that Thurman describes. But for our purposes, here in this weblog, his sentiments highlight the kinds of changes that continue to need to occur in the church.

Early on in the  book he states, "It has long been a matter of serious moment that for decades we have studied the various peoples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without being at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as human beings" (p. 13). He goes on to say, "But it is one of the subtle points of a religion which calls attention to the point of overemphasis..." In this case in a negative manner. Any differences are overly elevated and then unfortunately naively applied resulting in segregation.

Ministry with personswith disabilities suffers from this malaise. Seeing people as the object of ministry rather than the subject of relationship is arguably the greatest problem of disability ministry at this current time.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Follow Me Session #3 - Light and Power Company

Follow Me Session #3 - Light and Power Company

In our Light and Power group, we are studing the "Follow Me" Bible study curriculum. This curriculum is being studied church wide in the Sunday sermon and weekly Bible studies. Here is the session for the third week of Follow Me. It is about a half hour.
This will also give you a feel for how we run our weekly teaching time.

Special thanks to Pat and Curtis Hall for putting this video together.