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

Friday, April 18, 2014

The "special" label

A student of mine, a woman with a physical impairment, recently wrote in an article synopsis of her experience in her church. The church was one where there were few people with disabilities. She being largely the only one there, was treated as special, was spoken of as special and anything she ever did was regarded as remarkable because she was special. She wrote of how she tired of this designation, wishing she would just be seen as another regular person attempting to live her life for Christ like anybody else. She has challenges in life, they have challenges in life.  She then wrote about how she now attends a different church where many people with disabilities attend, and she is just another congregational member. She is no longer "special".

The word special is often associated with people with impairments whether it is special education or special ministry. Merriam Webster defines it as "different from what is normal or usual; unusual in a good way : better or more important than others: especially important or loved: more than is usual." Is that the truth of who persons with impairments are? If it is, then why are we so desperate as a society to prenatally diagnose and abort people with disabilities? If it is not, then why are we being pitiably perjorative and disingenuous in reference to people with a particular characteristic?
The fact of the matter is that special, when associated with an individual, actually implies distance, unfamiliarity, being something other.
I don't refer to my friends with impairments as special.  They are just my friends. I wouldn't refer to my child with a disability as special, he is just my child. Those who work with students in special education experience the sympathy stigma that Goffman (1963) refers to. People "distance" themselves from special educators by saying they are so special in that they can have an amazing amount of patience towards people with impairments. The distancing is in seeing themselve as not having patience, not being able to interact with people they would designate as special. By labeling those who do not see persons with impairments as different or special, the average person dismisses themselves from interactions with those perceived as different or special. However, if I am willing to change in my perception of others, they may have a speciality in that they are particularly good at something, but I would not allow their impairment to be something that would distance them from me by saying they were special (implying that I am not because I do not have an impairment).

I don't think people with disabilities generally want to be thought of as different independent of the motivation of those differentiating them (out of pity, or paternalism, or even good motives). They just want to be Bob or Sally or Mary or Fred. A human being.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Matthew 25 from Joni and Friends Daily Devotional

The following is from
Joni and Friends Daily Devotional March 30, 2014
"You Did It for Me"
"Then the King will say, 'I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:34-40
The year is A.D. 33. It's late on a stormy Friday afternoon, and I am standing on a rugged hill by a trash heap outside Jerusalem. I huddle with a group of women just a few yards from the cross. Large drops of rain begin to pelt the dust, and I clutch at my head shawl, wiping away tears and rain.
I cannot take my eyes off Jesus. His body is ramrod stiff, covered with caked dirt and blood, back arched, near death, yet hands stretched and fingers splayed. Jesus' head bobs against the crossbar and He groans, "I thirst."
I step out of the group and cock my ear. Did Jesus say He was... thirsty? A soldier, half-drunk, cracks off a stock of hyssop, spears a sponge and, after soaking it in sour wine, laughs and thrusts it into His face.
I am horrified. Wait. Don't give Him wine gone acidic. This is the Lord who is asking for a drink. O, God, if only I had a jug of fresh spring water! But history is written. I am helpless to do anything.
It is this year. It is late on a stormy afternoon. You drive by a nursing home, recalling a community notice mentioning the need for more dinnertime volunteers at the home.
Jesus said that when we meet the needs of our neighbors, we have ministered personally to Him. Hurting people are our neighbors. History can be rewritten -- we can still give the Lord that drink.

Joni and Friends
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Individuals with Disabilities and Employment Survey

Please consider taking this survey if you are an individual with a disability and meet the criteria below.

Individuals with Disabilities and Employment Survey

The purpose of this survey is to identify the influences and obstacles that have enabled individuals with disabilities to acquire and maintain part-time or full-time employment.
To participate, you must have a disability AND have been working part-time or full-time for at least 1 year. Your feedback is important, entirely confidential, and completely anonymous.

Employment survey

Monday, March 17, 2014

Embracing "asociality"

In thinking through the social structures of the church, the Mark 7:8 & 13 passages become crucial in decision making. What are the commands of God relative to church social structures and what are the traditions of men in regard to these same structures? If we opened the flood gates of inclusion, for example, would the result for the church socially, be something outside of the commands of God? If so, those results would be clearly wrong. However, if they were not, they would lead us to alternatives which have been somewhat unexplored because we have equated tradition with the commands of God. Must the Word of God be shared in a silent room? Does noise in a room indicate a lack of respect for what is being shared? Or, does silence indicate a lack of respect for what is being shared? Do the practices that lead us to being able to achieve the silent room during worship show a lack of respect for what is being shared? Does sitting still and doing nothing indicate a lack of respect for what is being shared? It seems many of our social assumptions need to be revisited.

It is obvious, but must be stated, that we are not talking about questions of morality when we speak of social openness. To illustrate, we are referring to someone talking or talking too loud or standing too close. We are not talking about what might be called “sins” by persons that we now say are no longer sins and then celebrate them.  This is a critical distinction to be made in our current social climate where amorality is equated with morality because either is determined by the social consensus of the moment. For example, racism is wrong in our society... at the moment. But I don't trust our society because it could change because of prevailing events, and people suddenly think that what used to be wrong is no longer wrong. It is not like this has not occurred in the past. Think of the language that has been used to describe our enemies in war. In spite of the fact that there were and are Americans from ethnic groups representing the countries we fought, our language became racist. When there is no immutable moral position based upon truth, one does morality by consensus and consensus changes. Amorality is not what I am talking about.

In contrast, perhaps asociality (as contrasted with amorality) is acceptable, particularly when expressed by someone who hasn’t the ability to know the difference and/act on the difference even when shown to them. Asociality can be annoying because we are conditioned to experience social interactions in a particular way. I can tell you, however, when you spend significant time with people who do not understand typical social behavior, you come to not only find it not particularly disturbing, but actually at times quite refreshing. I recall that the thing that got me interested in disability in the first place was actually that.  In my first interactions with adults with intellectual disabilities there was an openness, a lack of guile, which I found totally engaging. It would be considered inappropriate or strange for me to meet you and instantly tell you “I love you!” or “I hate you!” or even, “You have a big pimple on your nose!” Each of those statements are socially inappropriate according to typical standards and they are entirely wonderful and engaging in their honesty. Honesty, particularly when expressed, is not really socially acceptable behavior, but I love the brutal honesty I receive from my friends with various mental and intellectual impairments. I have grown to enjoy their form of inappropriate social skills over the "appropriate" social skills of others not impacted by disability.

Could the kinds of changes that inclusiveness would bring to the church cause us to develop alternative traditions that would be much more reflective of the commands of God than our current traditions are? I don't know but I am willing to try to find out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Video of Light and Power Company session

My wife, Kathi, and I facilitate (along with many other outstanding volunteers), a ministry called the Light and Power Company.  The group meets at Trinity Church in Redlands, CA.  I invite you to visit anytime! A couple of our volunteers, Pat and Curtis Hall, made a video of one of our teaching sessions just so others might get an idea of how the teaching goes in our ministry. 

As I review it, there are good and not so good things about it.  Things I am happy with and things I will be endeavoring to change in the future.  But anyway, here is an example of what a typical teaching session looks like in our group.

I welcome any comments or questions.

Video of Light and Power Company session

God bless,