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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Sherlock Holmes and the Happy Home

Sherlock Holmes and the Happy Home
By Jeff McNair
A family member had asked Holmes to visit a local group home in order to determine whether there was any likelihood of foul play in the choking death of a man at the group home. He and Watson arrived and walked through the residence, Watson chatting with the man who ran the home, while Holmes in his typical, keenly focused fashion, followed behind.
After the visit, they moved toward the door to leave, Holmes appearing irritated and disinterested in any conversation with the man who was the group home “parent”. Watson shook his hand cordially. But Holmes would not make eye contact staring at the door indicating his interest in leaving. As the door was opened, Holmes bumped it open further such that it pushed the man back and  he quickly walked out without a word. Embarrassed, Watson turned to the man.
“Please forgive my friend he must have something on his mind. Thank you for the opportunity to tour your home.”
“It was my pleasure” said the man with a quizzical look on his face as his eyes followed and stayed on Holmes who waited at the end of the driveway by a van too large for the typical family, obviously disgruntled.
Watson nodded, half smiled and walked toward Holmes slowly at first and then briskly as the door closed behind him.
“Why do you have to be like that?” he asked. “That was a lovely home and the people living there were obviously satisfied with their accommodations.”
“Was it? Were they?” Holmes responded his voice rising in tone. “You really thought that was a lovely home and the tenants satisfied?”
“Well, yes.  Weren’t they?”
“Watson you once again see, but you do not observe.” He responded. “We have had this discussion before.” His eyes riveted on Watson’s. “Have you learned nothing?”
“It is a government funded home, you cannot expect perfection. But the people there are happy, they have friends, you saw the Christmas cards, they experience community integration as evidenced by the award your friend received, and they seem to have the rights that would go along with living as an adult with an intellectual disability in the community.”
The look of disgust in Holmes’ eyes told Watson that apparently they had visited very different places.
“’Rights without opportunities are meaningless’ is how the reformer Irving Zola stated it. Must I describe to you every flaw of that place which anyone with minimal powers of observation would have clearly seen? Maybe you aren’t paying attention. Maybe you are satisfied because of your low expectations. Maybe you need to know some people like those incarcerated there. Maybe...” He paused and stared at Watson for a moment, then nodded as if reaching a decision. “No, in your case it is probably all of the above. But that is not a ‘home’ as you described it. Well it is a home, but I would propose not a home that you or I would choose to live in if we had the ability to make a choice which clearly those in the home do not.”
“I don’t understand why you are so upset.”
“That is obvious.”
“Well, are you not going to tell me what I overlooked. I believe you delight in that.”
“It is not that I delight in pointing out your inadequacies though myriad. It is that in doing so I might jar your slumbering mind into paying attention to the world around you, to which you are apparently oblivious.”
Watson stared back, ready for the onslaught which was typical of their interactions. With hands on hips he prepared.
“What time was it when we rang the bell?” asked Holmes.
“It was precisely 5:30.”
“Correct! How many adults do you know who are in the practice of wearing their pajamas at 5:30, ready to go to bed at 6. Why would adults go to bed at 6 when they are not ill? Likely for the convenience of those who care for them. Additionally, they all appeared to frequent the same barber who must have quite limited abilities as they all had the exact same haircut. It would be difficult to go into a public setting and gather 5 men who looked so identical.
“Then as we entered we were taken past the kitchen. There we observed the largest poster illustrating the Heimlich maneuver that perhaps I have ever seen. A bit late for the man who choked to death. A menu was prominently placed on the refrigerator indicating the fare for that evening was chicken breast with rice and vegetables. However, the dishes in the sink were soiled by what appeared to be peanut butter and jelly and at least one resident does not like bread crust.
“It was at that point that I recognized my friend from Ethiopia, I noted that his right ear was reddened as if it had been rubbed raw or perhaps struck. As the staff member/tour guide would approach Joe, another resident, clearly he did so with great care, particularly if approaching from his left side. It was as if he feared him. As I reached to greet my friend with a pat on the right shoulder with my left hand I noted the slightest flinch on his part. It was then I realized that Joe was my friend’s roommate, and concluded that he is physically aggressive and had been hitting him. The aggressive man was also left handed. Perhaps that is why there is a business card by the phone for a behavior specialist who refers to herself as, “an expert in aggressive behavior.”
“Through his family, I knew that my friend grew up in Addis attending the Ethiopian Orthodox church there and as I know there are no such congregations in this area I wondered whether he had found another faith group. In his room there was a stack of bulletins from St. John’s Catholic church, just down the street. The most recent bulletin was from 2012, two years ago. The oldest was from 1998 when my friend came to America and likely was placed in the home. So as recently as two years ago, he was a regular attendee at St. John’s. In preparation to come to this home, my research revealed that the company which runs the home had changed hands two years ago. If you recall, when I asked him if he was enjoying church, although from the bulletins I knew he hadn’t attended in two years, he responded, “We are taking a  break from church.” This is not the type of thinking that would be generated from someone who first, had a faith background going back to his time in Ethiopia and who would enjoy church to the point of collecting bulletins regularly for 14 years and second who had an intellectual disability. Obviously, those who now run the home do not permit residents to express their religious preference.
“However, as you know from your time in Africa, Watson, priests in the Ethiopian Orthodox church will carry a six inch cross in their pocket which they use to bless people who would come to them for assistance. Although my friend is not a priest, I noted that he carries such a cross. It is apparently always in his pocked as evidenced by the faded pattern on his jeans pocket in the shape of a cross. So, obviously these people are not being given the opportunity worship as they would like.”
“As you quoted Dr. Zola, Holmes,” Watson responded, “ ‘Rights without opportunities are meaningless.’”
“But what of the Christmas cards and the community integration award?” Watson responded.
“Upon entering, I also observed the bulletin board where staff members would pick up their name badges when working at the home. The names of two women were among the 5 badges. Those same two names were on the Christmas cards that stood on the dresser of my friend’s room. He has no community friends. He has no one outside of those people who are paid to be with him.”
“...and the community integration award?” asked Watson.
“Yes, I wondered at that myself.” Holmes responded. “But like many of these places, they do not distinguish between community integration and community presence which are very different things. If you were to look closely at the award, the groups present at the gathering were homes or workshops for adults with disabilities facilitated by state disability agencies. Doubtless there was no one there with the adults, who was not paid to be with them. Would you call that community integration?”
“Clearly not!” replied Watson.
“So those who purport to facilitate community integration don’t know what it is.” Holmes paused, thinking.  “But there were other disturbing things as well. The actual house is nice, typical of this neighborhood. These places generally have spacious backyards, fenced in, where someone might get away for a moment to clear their mind or just enjoy being outside. As I looked, the grass in the yard had not been watered for some time such that it was dry and the ground quite dusty. Now I do not care about their garden, but there were no pathways through the dry grass, no places where it had been pressed down by people walking on it. I also investigated the shoes and pants of the residents and noted no dust or dirt like that in the backyard. So the residents, once they are home, never go outside. They are kept as prisoners inside the house. This might not be that sad if there were activities which might provide diversions of sorts for them.”
“There was a television.” Watson countered.
“Yes there was, but did you note a remote?”
“Come to think of it I didn’t see one.”
“It was there, however, it was out of reach of the residents on top of one of the book cases. There were several table games on the shelves but they don’t look as if they had been taken down for quite some time. So the residents don’t go outside, do not have control of the television and as I am sure even you observed.” Watson bristled but kept his attention on Holmes, “Their opportunities for amusement were Spartan at best with very little to divert them other than Joe beating on my friend.”
Watson shook his head sadly.
“As I walked to my friend’s room, I could just make out a name printed with a black marker that bled through his collar. At first it didn’t make sense as it was not his name till I realized that he doesn’t even own his own clothing but shares clothing communally with the others. I wondered how far that went, till he leaned over to pick up something off of the floor behind the headboard of his bed and a different name appeared on his underwear.
“The object that my friend picked up was a theater ticket that had fallen behind his bed. The dried out tape could no longer hold it to the wall. It too was dated prior to 2012. It was a 1997 performance of Les Miserables. I was glad that he got to see that because I know he has always loved music. But that brought no satisfaction as I lamented that perhaps the last time he was with a friend was that evening in 1997, with me Watson. I knew his family when they arrived here but lost track of them over the years as our lives went in different directions. It was I who took him to the play. But I wonder now if I would even be permitted to take him somewhere with the current oversight of his home.
"But the thing that saddened me the most was the half-moon shaped callous on his wrist. Did you notice that, Watson?” There was no response. “People will sometimes bite themselves in frustration, Watson. My friend’s callous, so distinct, so deep was communicating to me that his life has been hard. My hasty departure was only partly because of my disgust. I also feel as if I have failed him.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Frustrated with myself

The title of this post reveals how we, how I often feel about our desire to and our success at loving our neighbors. I will sometimes joke that we were commanded to love others because it is hard and we wouldn't do it otherwise. You don't have to command me to watch football on TV because I will do it even though I am an Illinois fan. But I am not an easy person to love and sometimes neither are you. But you are commanded to love me and I you. I honestly don't think we can pull that off without the empowering of God's spirit. We ask him to help us, we express our desire to love others and we ask forgiveness (at least I so often do) when we fail.
For me the answer is to embrace that command, to believe in it, to write and talk about it because maybe, by God's grace, as Bob Bennett sings maybe the words of my mouth will fall to my heart.
Yeah I am frustrated with myself but I see the path of growth that I am on and that encourages me. Please forgive me as I walk that path. 


Thursday, February 05, 2015

National Prayer Breakfast 2015

I would encourage you to read President Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Some of us love him others of us not so much, but to think that our president, the leader of the free world would give the remarks he did can be nothing short of encouraging.

One comment that he made particularly struck me. He quoted Eleanor Roosevelt's frequent prayer in which she said,
Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength

I don't think we pray that or live that enough. "Tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength." I wonder how much of the typical Christian's life is filled with those types of experiences. Sure they are often thrust upon us when family members develop cancer, or other diseases. It is also thrust upon us when our children are born with disabilities or we ourselves develop disabilities. Those situations will often cause us to be awaken as if by a cold shower to the fact that we truly do have no power, ultimately, in our lives.

But I would say it is one thing to have something thrust upon us and quite another to seek out the kinds of experiences, the "tasks" in which we have no power to resolve. Our only hope is to be driven to God for strength. Do you seek out those kinds of experiences in your life? As Christians, I would agree with Mrs. Roosevelt that we should.

It is amazing in a culture that teaches rugged individualism, how deluded I can be about who I am, how self sufficient I am, the "master of my own destiny" and the "captain of my own fate." But those are fool's lies. Perhaps I am self-sufficient (in my own mind) at the moment, but it is a delusion. I am quickly desperate and dependent reduced to total reliance on others. But why would I seek out that situation?

First, because that is the reality of who you are. Anything that convinces you otherwise is a lie. It is pride and self delusion.

Second, dependence on God is where He wants us to be. That I have been blessed to the point that I forget Him, reflect on me. I love the verse in 1 Corinthians 4:7. Paul asks, "What do you have that was not given to you? And if it was given to you, why do you act as if it wasn't?" My blessings are not proof of my self-sufficiency. They are proof of my dependence, if I will open my eyes in gratitude to see. So I take that understanding of my blessings, look to my neighbor who is struggling because their life experience is different, and enter into their suffering so I can both be an agent of the Grace of God, and be reminded of my total and complete dependence on Him as I walk through that which drives me and my friend to Him for strength.

We need to embrace these kinds of involvements with others. We need to seek them out so we can enter into them. We need to aks God to draw us into situations where we learn total dependence on him perhaps through loving our neighbors.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Social Ramps: The Principles of Universal Design Applied to the Social Environment

Social Ramps

Bryan McKinney and I have just published an article in the latest issue of the Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability (click on the words "Social Ramps" above to see it). The article looks at applying the principles of universal design to social environments. Using the idea of a ramp, something most people are familiar with as a way that folks who use wheelchairs can access physical enviornments, we wonder about how "social ramps" might be created to facilitate access to social enviornments. We make the point that confronted by steps, someone who uses a wheelchair is denied access. The society has determined that this is something that they want to correct, so ramps are designed and built allowing access to those who have been denied access in the past. The physical environment was created in one way and overtime has been reconstructed in a different way. You might say that we have changed our physical enviornment traditions such that access is easier.

Well, how might we change our social enviornment such that access might be easier? Are social skill traditions, cultural traditions immutable or might they be changed? How might we approach softening the social enviornment, changing traditons deliberately such that those who have been excluded for social skill deficits or misunderstandings might be provided access. Yes, some people can learn to change, but many others cannot change due to their disabilities, etc. If the social environment CAN change such that these folks could be included it might be encouraged to do so. Our social enviornments would then be different than they currently are. More loving more accepting, etc.

Well, please check our our article and think through the issues presented.
God bless,


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Knowing the path versus walking the path

"Neo, sooner or later you are going to realize, just as I did, there's a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."

Those are the words Morpheus speaks to Neo in The Matrix after he has saved Trinity from the crashing helicopter. I am increasingly, like Morpheus, coming to the realization that I have been taught the path to the point of knowing it pretty well. But at the same time that same teaching didn't really expect me to walk the path. That may imply that actually I didn't know the path either.

The words of Jesus are so challenging. Here is a sampling...

If you want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)

The story of the Good Samaritan ending with, "The one who had mercy on him. Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'" Luke 10:37

"Do you understand what I have done for you?...I have set an example for you that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them" John 13

"In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets" Matthew 7:12

"If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?" Matthew 5:46

"Love your neighbor as yourself" Mark 12:31

The challenge is much greater, much deeper. Jesus wants us to follow him on the path he took. Do we really understand the path he took? Or as in the last posting of the poem have we been taught it as unapproachable, not really demanded of us, something for saints and super Christians. We even use that phrase as there is something other than just being a Christian with the same demands for all.

I need to learn that lesson. I need to be sure that those who come after me recognize the demand to follow. For so long I feel like the most important thing for me to do was to get my mind right, get the right theology as if that was the most important thing. What happens in my head is the most important thing not what I do with my life, my body, my mind towards other people.

As I write this, I have my turntable going, playing Kansas. What that means, is that I have a record playing music from a band of the 1970's (for you younger readers). Kerry Livgren, who ultimately came to the Lord wrote the following words. in the song Opus Insert.

But there's too many empty lives my friend
And we just can't let them waste away.
For this life is a precious thing my friend
And we just can't wait another day.

Do you feel the urgency there! Urgency for us to do something. To walk the path. Don't buy the lies you have been sold about what the demands of God are on your life. God tells you the MOST important thing you can do after loving Him with all your heart, soul and mind is to love your neighbor as yourself. And that demands action, work, discomfort, risk based upon faith. It is not just thoughts. Would someone be able to observe your walk and recognize that you recognize that there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path? What evidence would you provide?