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

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Stop "blaming" people with disabilities!

When you try to answer the question "What is disability?" the typical response, typical understanding is based upon two "models" of disability. The medical model says that disability is a characteristic of individuals. So I have a visual impairment or I use a wheelchair. However as research has indicated, the experience of persons with disabilities cannot be explained on the basis of their impairment. That is, there is something else which must be taken into account in understanding what disability is. The social model was developed to try to explain that. The social model says that the experience of disability is in part the experience of being discriminated against because of this characteristic one has called impairment. If we truly want to understand disability and assist those who experience disability we need to maximize a persons skills and change a discriminatory social environment.

It is interesting, however, how we have many different strategies that we use to teach people with disabilities or help them to not be limited by their impairment: medical model interventions. Yet we do next to nothing to change social environments such that people do not experience the other part of disability, discrimination: social model interventions. If for some reason you are not successful in a job, we seem to assume you were the problem and we give you more training. If you are excluded from a social environment, we assume you were the problem and try to improve your social skills. The take home lesson, is that if I experience discrimination because of a characteristic I have, the answer is to somehow fix me. I don't think we really feel the hurtfulness of that.

We need to stop "blaming" people with disabilities. You might think I am overstating this response, but when have you ever interacted with schools or human service agencies where the focus of their efforts was social environment change versus solely changing the individual with the disability? As stated, we have myriad interventions to improve the skills of individuals. Do we have any strategies that are employed to change social environments? It is as if there is no knowledge of the fact that a major understanding of what the experience of disability is, is to be discriminated against by the social environment. Many people who I have spoken to will tell me, the most difficult part of having a disability is not the disability but the way you are treated if you have a disability. Now this is a very broad statement, and there are many disabilities where there is great suffering experienced. But there are many others for which this statement is true.

But what does this have to do with the Christian community? It is arguable that efforts that people make to include persons with impairments into local churches are perhaps the ONLY efforts being made to change the social environment. Things you have read on this blog about cultural change within the church are perfect examples of this social model type of intervention. We say that we need to accept people with disabilities, as they are, and work to change the church social environment such that it is more loving of its neighbor. Can you detect the HUGE difference here? We have moved away from blaming someone for the discrimination they face, seeking to continually improve them in some way such that they might be "acceptable" the to social environment. Instead we say to the social environment, "You need to change." "When are you going to love your neighbor?"

This is an important realization.

It is we in the Christian community who should and to some degree are the only ones truly working on social environment change, seeing ourselves as the purveyors of discrimination and working toward the goals of inclusion and belonging as if we were working on an IEP for the church.
May God forgive us for our lack of love.
But may God also bless us with great progress as we seek to be the place where social model change is truly being explored, embraced and implemented!


Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Disability ministry: Our Light & Power Class song

The ministry that my wife Kathi and I facilitate along with others is called the Light & Power Company. We meet at Trinity EV Free Church in Redlands, California. Recently, I ask Scott Freeman, our worship leader and facilitator to write a song about the class. He wrote "Light and Power in Jesus Name" which has become our class's theme song over the past few months. Brandt Haas is the videographer and editor. Below is a link to the video. It is fun and reveals a lot about how we do ministry among adults with intellectual disability. Enjoy!

Monday, January 06, 2020

More thoughts on Disability Ministry and Cultural Change within the Church

I am currently awaiting the publication of an article I wrote related to the kinds/areas of cultural change that need to occur within the church. These areas will be addressed more fully when that article is hopefully published. But in the meantime, here are the areas addressed that I believe need to be considered in doing cultural change.

14 Areas for Cultural Change
1.     The typical worship service
2.     Who is invited to friendship
3.     Religious education/faith development - practice
4.     Religious education/faith development - goals
5.     Religious education/faith development - outcomes
6.     Affirming what should be affirmed in our culture
7.     Facilitating presence of persons with disabilities
8.     Providing opportunities for involvement/roles
9.     Creating platforms for prophetic voices
10.  Seeing needs and addressing them
11. Understanding programs versus relationships
12.  Evangelizing people with disabilities and discipling them
13.  Broadening acceptable social skills in the church
14.  Ecumenical cooperation in supporting people with disabilities and their families

Be watching for more in these areas. Also make any suggestions you might have in the comments.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Disability ministry and cultural change in the church

Matthew 9:16-17
"Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved."

Jesus replied this way to the disciple of John the Baptist when they asked about his disciples and their fasting. There might be an aspect of this which applies to the cultural changes in the church that need to occur with the presence of persons with disabilities. The old cloth or old wineskins might be the past and at times current practices of the church in relation to persons with impairments. The new patch or new wine, may be inclusion and belonging of persons with disabilities that does not easily work under the old practices. That is why something new is required.

Disability ministry done well is not simply a room where persons with impairments go, or another program on a night when no one else is there. Would you feel loved and a part of a church, if you were only invited to come there when people who others wrongly considered as having a life defining characteristic were also invited or present? What you experience might be better than no involvement or better than what you have experienced in the past, but it is not what is best for everyone. I will at times try to illustrate this by talking about a church having a "ministry to blue people." Imagine a church that only invited people with blue skin to come on a night, once a week or once a month. This form of discrimination would become the defining characteristic of that group. Yet we think that is OK when it comes to persons with disabilities.

Maybe the cultural change that needs to occur in churches is tantamount to new clothing because the new cloth patch wouldn't hold or new wine skins to hold the new wine. I think one of the points of this is that if the clothing can't be patched, it must be replaced. The new wine needs to be put into a wineskins and the old won't work anymore. The new wine is put into new wineskins so BOTH are preserved. The cultural change needs a culturally changed setting so "both are preserved." It is as Jesus demonstrated. Something that needs to be changed, should be changed. Applying the metaphor to our subject, the change will be good for both the church and those with impairments.


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 the 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."