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

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Overcorrections from 1 Corinthians 12:22-23

The phrases "seems weaker" and "we think less honorable" are both social determinations. Just to say "seems" implies a not entirely sound determination. Depending upon the task at hand, how I have been socialized, and my experience will determine how I perceive someone. However, there may be criteria for making this determination which are less than obvious or even unknown, needing to be discovered from a Biblical perspective, criteria may need to be taken by faith.
I have quoted this excerpt from The Letters of JRR Tolkien before, but it bears repeating (Carpenter & Tolkien, 1981, #246, p 326). He wrote...
Frodo indeed failed as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he gave in, ratted. I do not say simple minds with contempt; they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable, their weakness, however is two fold.
They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in Time, in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget that strange element in the world that we call Pity or Mercy, which is also an absolute requirement in moral judgement (since it is present in the Divine nature). In its highest exercise, it belongs to God.
Complexity may be hidden in a variety of ways. However, complexity hidden is still present. There is hidden complexity in people who seem to be weaker being indispensable. Apparently if they are indispensable, they are not weaker on every level, though they may appear so on some or many. In one or more ways, they can't be done without. Apparently, however, people do not perceive this.
Weakness and dishonor may be thought to be related, and may be, depending upon the culture. When rugged individualism was the value in America (seems to be less so today), weakness would be equated with dishonor. So as can be seen, dishonor may be largely socially determined. In another culture, where community is valued, an over emphasis on individualism might be considered worthy of less honor.
Personal characteristics generally speaking, whether the result of choices that people make or personal circumstances out of one's control can lead to dishonor. For our purposes, characteristic which may accompany impairment can cause society to think one less honorable.
However, at the same time, "seems" and "we think" although entirely subjective, may still lead to actions/behaviors based on these subjective determinations. You needn't be weaker for me to treat you as such and my treatment may actually contribute to you not only seeming to be weaker but you actually becoming weaker. And my treatment of you may actually contribute to you not only being though of as less honorable but actually becoming less honorable.
For example, I think an adult with intellectual disabilities is a child so I treat him in that manner, as weaker in the same ways a child is weaker than an adult. That person then perhaps embodies that perception to the point that they become weaker, like a child, as a result of that treatment. Treating someone who is an adult as a child causes them to experience disrespect, dishonor in the thinking of those who are observing, leading to a similar dishonoring (at best) in the observer's interactions.
I spoke at a conference in the US recently, and many of those in attendance could not understand this. The idea of treating someone in an age appropriate fashion was alien to them, and they would not accept the FACT that they were contributing to the devaluation of another person.
To correct by saying the seemingly weaker one is indispensable, is actually a significant overcorrection. He doesn't say that the seeming weaker are "pretty strong" or "actually can do some things" he goes to the absolute other end of the strength/weakness continuum saying they are indispensable.
The same thinking applies to those thought less honorable. We don't show them some patience or a little, rather we give them special honor. Perhaps honor above and beyond what we would typically show any person. Once again this is an overcorrection.
Why these overcorrections? Perhaps this is an attempt to bring things into balance or perhaps this is to make a point. Perhaps to support the statement that begins "on the contrary." The result of this perspective change should be a significant change in behavior. It demands we treat others with special honor now, which is a change in ourselves but also a change in perspective towards others. If ind out I desperately need others when before I didn't realize that I desperately needed them. The implication in both of these statements is that I have to be told about this relationship because my behavior indicates that I don't understand it. What would be evidence that I do understand? A significant change in my behavior. If someone would look at me interacting with someone in a way that reflects these prescriptions, it would cause them to wonder what it is that I see to cause me to act so differently. It may be that I do see something different which guides my behavior. Or it could be that I change my behavior as a result of what I am told and either actually do see or by faith I hope to see the indispensable nature and hope to see the result of treating someone thought less honorable with special honor.
It is as Amy Carmichael said in Things as they are, "...we believe to see, and believing even now we see..."


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Amy Carmichael and cultural change

Amy Carmichael was the famous Irish missionary to India. In her book, "Things as they are: Mission work in Southern India" (1905) she quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem Aurora Leigh. The poem states, "It takes the Ideal to blow a hair's-breadth off the Dust of the Actual." Amy's response is, "It takes more. It takes God. It takes God to do anything anywhere" (p. 60). Later in the book she expands on this point. She was writing about mission work with Hindus. Think about this in context of our work with persons with disabilities within the church. She writes,
This custom as it stands is formidable enough. Many a man Indian and foreign has fought it and failed. It is a huge and most rigorous system of tyrannical oppression, a very pyramid to look at, old, immovable. But there is somthing greater behind it. It is only the effect of a Cause-the Dust of the Actual.
What can alter the custom? Strong writing or speaking, agitations, Acts of Parliament? All these surely have their part. They raise the questions, stir the Dust - but blow it off? Oh no! Nothing can touch the conscience of the people, and utterly reverse their view of things, and radically alter them, but God.
Yes, it is true, we may make the mose of what had been done by Government, by missionaries and reformers, but there are times in the heart histories of all who look far enough down to see what goes on under the surface of things, when the Sorrow takes shape in the Prophet's cry "we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth."
It is true. We have not. We cannot even estimate the real weight of the lightest speck of the Dust that has settled on the life of this people. But we believe to see, and believing even now we see; and when we see anything, be it ever so little, when the Breath breathes and even"a hair's-breadth" of that Dust is blown away, then, with an intensity I cannot describe, we feel the presence of the Lord our God among us, and we look up in the silence of joy and expectation for the coming of the Day when all rule, and all authority and power, yea, the power of the very Actual itself, shall be put down, that God may be all in all." (p. 68-69)

As I read this, I was touched by three quotes in particular. She says, "Nothing can touch the conscience of people and utterly reverse their view of things, and radically alter them but God."
Later she says,
"But we believe to see, and believing even now, we see..."
Finally she states,
"It takes more. It takes God. It takes God to do anything anywhere."

I was honored to be able to deliver a sermon last week at The Welcome, the church that Amy Carmichael started over 100 years ago. As I prepared for that talk, the above words really impressed on me the depths of the change we are hoping to see happen in the church. It is a dramatic cultural change. Something insidious underlies the "Dust of the Actual." We need to utterly reverse people's views of things. But we can't do that, no one can but God. At the same time, however, through faith, we believe to see. We can to some extant envision what that cultural change would look like. Yes we can work and yes we should work. But for the dramatic wholesale change culturally that needs to happen within the church, change of something tyrannical, and something old and immovable like a pyramid, our only hope is God. It is very unlikely people will embrace changes in the traditions of man in order to embrace the commands of God (Mark 7:8 & 13).

Let's begin to pray in that direction. We can do what we can but once again,

"Nothing can touch the conscience of the people, and utterly reverse their view of things, and radically alter them, but God."


Friday, May 20, 2016

Seeing disability as the change in me

In other places on this blog, I have discussed the question, "What is disability?" I often will settle on saying that it is a combination of the medical model, characteristics of individuals and the social model characteristics of environments. Therefore, when I endeavor to address disability with interventions, I will try to help people with impairments to improve their skills, abilities, etc. and I will attempt to change environments such that they are not discriminatory against people who have the characteristic called impairment.
As I have thought through these effort to address disability, it occurs to me, particularly in the context of ministry, that when my work to address disability changes me, I have experienced success in changing the impact of disability. We often look for changes in individuals (they understand something, or have improved in some way for example as the result of special education) or changes in the larger social environment (such that it is less discriminatory or more willing to embrace integration, etc.). However, an equally relevant evidence of successfully addressing "disability" is the change that is seen in the change agent himself.
If I am more friendly, or tolerant or loving as a result of my efforts, I have experienced success in addressing disability in an individual or group.
Clearly, if our interventions only result in changes in the individual with the impairment, we are not fully addressing disability as defined above. Equally true is that if we only intervene to change the environment and do not work to assist someone with impairments to maximize their potential, we are also not fully addressing disability. However, it encouraging to note that the changes I see in myself are at the very least a small measure of my success in addressing disability.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why secular human services needs the church.

When disability experts try to explain what disability is, they may use two models of disability: the medical model and the social model.

The medical model tends to see disability as a characteristic of an individual. So those in special education, or rehabilitation or other fields, including medicine, see a characteristic of an individual and attempt to improve the person's life who has that characteristic. In special education, for example, innovative methods for teaching reading have been developed to maximize a student's reading ability who might have difficulty learning to read. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of approaches. The problem sometimes comes when disability is seen as exclusively a characteristic of individuals.

The social model basically says that disability is discrimination. That is, I have a characteristic called impairment (whether physical, intellectual, etc.) and because of that characteristic, I am treated with discrimination by the social environment.

In thinking about how to address disability via interventions of one sort or another, it seems that human services (education, social work, rehabilitation, etc.) tend to focus almost exclusively on medical model strategies. They work to improve my skills, or my health or other things related to me personally. It is rare if at all that there are social model interventions undertaken. Let's think that through for a minute.

Imagine we have two individuals. One is the a person who is living in society, but they have no religious interest or are not participating in any kind of religious group. The other person is someone who has a religious interest and does participate in a Christian church of some flavor. How would one attempt to develop social model interventions aimed at diminishing discrimination in each person's social group?

For the individual who does not participate in a religious group, this becomes somewhat difficult. First of all, in which social settings would they find some form of integration? These are limited at best. If I were to attempt some form of intervention to reduce discrimination, it would have to be with the larger community, or city or even state or nation. It is no wonder that these types of interventions are rarely undertaken by human service providers. They are hugely daunting. It may actually be that human services are so medical model based that there is little effort to first of all even work toward community integration or understand what it is (visit this article for more on this), and second address social model issues. So there is probably less awareness over discrimination related to clients being in the community.

For the individual who does participate in a religious group, a Christian church, the foci for intervention is much more easily determined. If the church is comprised of 1000 members, for example, I can work within that social setting to mitigate discrimination which might be occurring. I can talk with leaders of the group, trying to help them to understand the discrimination that persons with impairments experience, give them strategies to reduce that on just a logical basis, or on the basis of the scriptures they state as underlying their religious practices. In other words, there are many options I might follow to work to reduce discrimination. I have worked doing these types of interventions with some degree of success.

I think the take home lesson of this is first that social model interventions are not occurring because human service providers envision a life for persons with disabilities that apparently does not include community integration based only on observable interventions they engage in. Second, religious/church involvement puts the possibility of social model interventions on the table in an easily employed manner.

Those in human services should seek the opportunity for church involvement for those they serve for a variety of reasons. But one of the most important is the ability to develop and implement social model interventions which would lead to community integration and attenuated discrimination toward those with impairments.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Things I learned but was never taught - Presence

I have been thinking a lot about presence. How the presence of persons with particularly severe disabilities changes those around them. Clearly social environments are not the same with or without a person with a severe disability in that environment. I suspect we choose to not have the environment that develops as a result of having the person with the severe disability in it based on the preponderance of environments that I have found myself in. But I also find that when I am in those environments with those people I learn things. It is not like coming to one of the classes that I teach where I discuss lessons from a particular reading, or try to teach my graduate students something. The learning comes from people who actually evidence little interest or understanding of the fact that they have the ability to be teachers to those around them. I have learned so much in those types of settings. But such learning is not at all unique to me.

It was Henri Nouwen who described Adam, a man with severe intellectual disabilities for whom he acted as a caretaker as "my friend, my teacher, my spiritual director, my counselor, my minister." You might read those words and dismiss them thinking, "What a nice thing to say about someone" particularly someone with a disability who has been devalued by most of society. "He is trying to bring dignity to someone who doesn't have any" you might think. But it is not a sweet thing to say about someone, it is the truth. If one submits oneself to such relationships and one is paying attention, there are so many things that are learned. As in the title of this posting, they are things learned which were never taught.

We learn things about society, we learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the person with the disability if we give sufficient time to learn them. Once again it is about presence. Presence changes things, it reveals things. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog about how the presence of a man beaten and left for dead revealed the character of those around him in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is that kind of learning.
"What will I be willing to do in such a situation?" I learn about myself.
"How will the enviornment change when people who have not been integrated experience full integration?" I learn about the social enviornment, be it the church or other social settings.
"Do I love my neighbor?" A challenging neighbor will reveal that to me.
"Do we as a church love our neighbor?" A challenging neighbor also reveals the heart of those in the larger environment.

Once again there is no effort typically on the part of the person with the disability to teach anybody anything. But the lesson is there and the possibility of learning is there.

Will we allow, no, will we facilitate the potential for this type of learning to occur?