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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The sin of the social environment

In Mark 7:1-13 there is a telling interaction between Jesus and a group of Pharisees.  In verse 5, Jesus is asked, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders…?”  They were asking about the fact that the disciples didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they ate. Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah saying, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (ala Romans 12:2).  That is pretty damning.  But Jesus follows up by saying in verse 8, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  He goes on to tell of how in this case, they do not honor their parents.  “Thus you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down.”  He concludes in verse 13 by saying, “And you do many things like that.”  Their traditions, in this case, did not honor a group of people they should have been honoring.  There are traditions which contribute to functionally impairing people, socially and otherwise, via an unwillingness to make the changes to the environment, the traditions, that would better reflect the commands of God.
If we as “these people who honor me with their lips” do exchange the commands of God for the traditions of men, we are guilty of the sin of the social environment. Fill in the blank as to what that particular social environment might be. It could be the school, the restaurant, the church or the local park. Our traditions seem to teach us to treat people with disabilities as different from those without disabilities. We also seem to have a hierarchy of persons with disabilities as well in that people affected by disability can also fall into this kind of social environmental sin. I addressed this a bit with a post back in 2007 called "Don't hate the player, hate the game." But to blame our behavior on the way we have been socialized or that everybody acts in a similar manner, is childish. I am responsible for my own actions and if the social environment is behaving in a wrong manner, that is not an excuse for me to behave similarly. 
I am responsible for my behavior toward others.
I am responsible for my language toward others.
I am responsible for my exclusion of others.
I am responsible for my not choosing some people as friends. 
Your personal characteristics, whatever they might be, didn't MAKE me do anything. I just took the opportunity of your presence to express a form of ugliness that resides within me. I took the opportunity of you being someone different from me in some way (personal characteristics, ideology, etc.) to embrace the the ugliness within me and celebrate it. In my novel, Meowoof, I talk about this as the Grumble. It is something that lives within us. So in reality, I am the ugly one, not you. I am the intolerant one, not you. But if my blaming you for my ugliness is not called out, then it will be encouraged and only continue. 
Take responsibility for your own participation in the sin of the social environment and stop it. 

Radio interview with Judy Redlich on "Encounter"

Today an interview I did with Judy Redlich, is being broadcast on the radio program "Encounter" Join Judy Redlich Tuesday 1:30 p.m. 

You can tune into Encounter weekdays at 1:30pm on KSIV AM 1320 or FM 95.9 for Christian perspective, world view and stimulating conversation. Judy also works for the Joni and Friends office in the St. Louis area. Please tune in for an interesting discussion. Here is how the interview is described.

"Looking for a Sunday School curriculum that could reach developmentally disabled adults at your church?  Meet Jeff McNair, its author, and national disability advocate.  Learn about new tips for advocating for persons with disabilities and their families."

Thanks for listening in!


Monday, April 16, 2018

Sin and social skills - (Edited Repost)


Sin and social skills

So, a person with a intellectual, emotional, or mental disability approaches you. He stands too close to your face. He asks you questions that you think are inappropriate. He touches you too much. He doesn't get your hint that you are feeling uncomfortable. He doesn't understand your language indicating that you want to end the conversation. He will not let the conversation end. Finally you break away. When you get with a friend, you comment, "That guy is weird. He's a mess. He doesn't get it at all, he was like standing too close and touching me and couldn't take a hint."

The question is...who just committed the sin?

He doesn't get it, you do.
He is flailing around in attempting to be loving and friendly. You aren't nor do you want to be loving or friendly.
He will talk about you as his friend. You talk about him as weird and how he doesn't get it.
He will look forward to a chance to talk with you again. You will avoid him in the future.
He will give you all the time he has. You will give time only out of some feeling of guilt.

So who is committing the sin?

It is amazing what we, what I, will do or think about a person just because their social skills are not all they should be. The person is not being evil, the person is not doing wrong, the person just doesn't understand many of what are truly the subtleties of social skills. My response is to reject him and perhaps 90% of my friends and 90% of church members would probably agree with my rejection of him. We as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, condone, understand, accept, advocate, discuss, follow through on rejection of people with various disabilities because of their social skills.
May God forgive us.

Yet as I approach the Lord, of course  my social skills are flawless. To the Lord, interacting with me is no doubt "a day at the beach!" How fortunate for him that he is able to be in my presence (being the Lord, and being omnipresent, he kinda doesn't have a choice but to be in my presence). I am confident that the three persons of the trinity do not huddle together and say to each other, "McNair is weird." But you know, in reality God's interactions with me, and my prayers to Him are "a day at the beach" because the Lord loves me. He loves me not because I am "a day at the beach" but because out of his love he has chosen to make interactions with me "a day at the beach." He has chosen to make me feel like I am "a day at the beach! " In spite of all my problems, my sins, my poor social skills, my pride, the crap that is in me and circles me like flies because of the choices I have made, HE LOVES ME! You see that is the example he provides. 
He shows me, ME, as the example of loving someone who is difficult to love, 
and then He loves me.

Do you think he cares about the social skills of the person who bothers you? Please! No, he treats him like he is "a day at the beach" just as much as he does to me.

So do you get it? Social skills deficits are not sin. If I reject another on the basis of social skills, that is sin and I am the sinner. We, I, need to learn about love. True love is not easy. It is messy and inconvenient. It makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes demands on you. I pray that when I am put to the test, when God asks me to show real love to another human being, I will not be worrying about that person's social skills. I hope my concern will be whether I am reflecting the kind of Love that God shows to me. I pray that I will be worried about the sin I am tempted to commit by rejecting another person who God truly loves.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Senior men's class visit

Every year on Easter, just to experience something different I like to go to a different church. I found one not too far away and thought I would try it out. As I walked up to the building, I was greeted enthusiastically by a woman.
“We are so happy you are here!”
“Thank you” I responded.
“Have you been to this church before?”
“No, I go to a different church and thought I would just visit yours today.”
“Well we have a perfect place for people like you! You will have the opportunity to meet and make many new friends.”
I looked at her quizzically and said ‘”OK. Great.”
“There is a special place for folks like you to sit in big church. It is in a section over there” where she pointed to other 60ish men sitting together.
As I looked around, I saw lots of people sitting and talking waiting for the service to begin in the main area of the sanctuary. But I followed directions and moved toward the area populated by men with grey hair (those that had hair) who were a similar age to me.
She accompanied me and got me situated. “After the singing, you will go out to your class with the other men.”
“My class?” I asked.
“Yes the class for people like you.”
“Like me? What do you mean, like me? Couldn’t I just stay here and listen to the sermon? I’d be happy to sit with the other people if that would not be too much of a distraction.”
“Oh no!” she responded happily, “you will be happier with the way we have everything ready for you and the others.”
As I looked around, the others smiled at me and back at her. With that she moved away.
A guy sitting behind me tapped me with his iphone. “After the singing, we can go to the class and color pictures of Jesus while we are waiting for everyone to arrive. Last week we made popsicle crosses.”
“What? Why do you guys color pictures of Jesus?” I asked. “I’ve never been to a church where I was given pictures of Jesus to color.”
“I guess it has to do with the way they see you here.  You’ll get used to it after a while.”
The service started and the other men and I participated in the singing and bowed our heads for the prayer. As the sermon was about to start, the friendly woman came back and said, “OK guys time to follow me.” They all got up so I did too. People waved to us as we exited and went to a classroom where colored pencils and pictures, more like cartoon pictures, awaited us. The other men sat down and immediately started to color.
As I looked around the room, I saw a friend of mine who was a high school math teacher named James. “Hey James, how long have you been coming to this church?”
“For a little over a year. I’ve gotten good at the coloring. My wife likes putting the pictures on the refrigerator.”
I looked at him and kind of shook my head, but shortly he was back at coloring.
The teacher came in. “I want to talk about work today. How many of you have jobs?”
Everyone’s hand went up including my own. I’m a professor.
She turned to Bob a couple of seats down from me, his hand raised.
“What kind of work do you do Bob?”
“I work at a marketing firm which specializes in commercial real estate.”
“Good for you!” she responded. “That’s wonderful! Commercial real estate is VERY special. How about you, Sam?”
Sam was sitting right next to me.
“I’m a police officer.”
“Do you ever get to work with the animals? I bet that would be fun.”
“No, I do more traffic enforcement.”
"Cars go so fast. Please be careful out there!”
“Thanks, I will.”
As I sat there, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing.
“We are going to have a snack shortly. You will be able to choose the kind of cookie you would like.”
As she turned away, I grabbed Sam. “What is this?”
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“This class, the things you do, the way she talks to you. How do you stand it?”
“Isn’t this the way all Sunday school classes for senior men are like?”
Agitated, I responded, “NO, it’s not the way all Sunday School classes for senior men are like!”
“Really? It is all I have ever known.”
“You are kidding, right? NO they aren’t like this. Men are treated like men, like adults. They get to sit wherever they want to. Why should 6o year old men be treated like this?”
“Isn’t that who we are?”
“It’s not who I am.”
We were interrupted by guitar music.
“EV-ry BO-dy SING! If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” followed by clapping.
“I’m not happy and I know it!” I said to Sam sharply.
“I feel like the way we are treated is the way these people here in this church see us. It feels a little strange to me as well, but I don’t know. Maybe there is something in the Bible or something that causes them to act this way towards us. It’s like the only place I go where I am treated this way. I definitely don’t get treated this way at the precinct. Maybe this is the Christian way of interacting with men like us.”
“It's like they don’t respect you. How can you stand it?”
“Well is there any place else I could go where I would be treated differently?”
“You should come to my church. Don’t put up with this…”
“What kind of cookies do you have?”

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Two stories about Jesus, healing, and disability

There are two particularly interesting passages related to Jesus' healings in the Gospels. They seem to reveal at least an aspect of His perspective on persons with disabilities.

The first is Mark 10:46-50. This is the story of Bartimaeus a man who was blind. We are told that when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he began to shout "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus tells his followers to call him. When he came to Jesus, He asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" That is an interesting question from Jesus. Because He had healed people, everyone in the crowd knew what the man wanted, no doubt including Jesus, yet he asks the question. Now we learn later after Bartimaeus says, "Rabbi, I want to see" that Jesus tells him, "Go, your faith has healed you" meaning that he was a man of faith. This is critical. A man who already has faith in Jesus, comes to him asking for mercy. Perhaps Jesus sees that he already has the most important thing, his faith, and that is why he asks what he wants.

In contrast, we can look at Mark 2:1-12 the story of the paralytic who is lowered through the roof. Interestingly, the passage says in verse 5, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" He doesn't comment on the paralytic's faith as the reason for the forgiveness of his sins but rather on the faith of those who brought him. This raises many questions about this interaction and how it occurred. Did his friends just take him or did he want to see Jesus? Clearly the friends were men of faith. But Jesus doesn't ask him or his friends what he wants. He sees their faith and says to him your sins are forgiven. Now once again, it seems obvious, perhaps, why his friends brought him to Jesus. Maybe they were trying to develop his faith, but more likely they wanted Jesus to heal him of his paraplegia. The healing itself also appears to be the result of the thoughts of the teachers of the law who were present questioning Jesus' authority, not specifically because of the man or his friends. It is also noteworthy that the man once healed later in the story, doesn't say anything. He just got up, took his mat and walked out.

In both of these stories of interactions between Jesus and a person with a disability, it appears that LIKE ANYONE ELSE, the critical factor is their faith.


Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Mental Health and the Church

I have just completed reading Dr. Steve Grcevich's new book Mental Health and Church. In a nutshell, I highly recommend it for any reader. Steve takes his incredible wealth of knowledge and experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and applies it to the Christian community. The book is so practical and takes the mystique out of the question of "What do I do?" in relation to inclusion and ministry with persons with mental illness.

I particularly enjoyed Part 2 where he helps the average person to "overcome" in a variety of areas leading to an inclusion strategy. But chapters 10, 11 and 12 really grabbed me. As chapter 12 exhorts, we have some apologizing to do to those we have excluded before we can ask them to trust us to the point of being among us.  Chapter 11 points out the hardship of social isolation while at the same time providing, dare I say obvious or intuitive ways, we can assist people to not be socially isolated. The ways are obvious but they are things we are NOT currently doing, so perhaps they are not as obvious to most. Then chapter 10 speaks of developing friendships among other great suggestions.

I walked away from Part 2 feeling like there can be no excuses for not taking the next steps toward an inclusion strategy. Steve, once again, removes the "I don't know what to do" excuse and replaces it with so many great ideas.