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

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Good Samaritan Church

A religious leader was asked, What was the most important thing for a church to do?" 

He responded, "What do you think it is?" 

The questioner responded, "You should love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul and mind and you should love your neighbor as yourself." 

"That's correct! A church should reflect the commands of God."

The questioner responded "What does a church look like that loves its neighbor?"

The religious leader responded with a story.
A man with a disability went to a local church. He went to the worship service of the church. While he was there he was totally ignored. No one so much as spoke to him. It was as if he wasn't even there. He left as he came, a person devalued, without worth.

The man then went to another different church the following week. He went in and was greeted. When he asked whether the church assisted people with disabilities, like himself, they were gracious. However, they said that ministry to people with disabilities was not a priority because they are doing so many other ministries. They did ministries to the poor, and evangelism overseas. So they couldn't take the time to include those with disabilities as a focus of ministry. But they noted that there was another church just down the street that had made ministry to people with disabilities a focus so they felt like they didn't need to address this group of people. They told him to just go there.
The following week the man went to the church down the street the other church alluded to. As he entered, he walked past the handicapped parking spaces and up the ramp into the building. When he used the men's room he noted that there was a wheelchair accessible stall. There was an elevator that went to the second floor and there was a section in the worship center where people who used wheelchairs could sit. During the sermon, the pastor passionately stated, "We are not really impacted by disability, but we will love all people who come to us!"

The religious leader then ask the questioner, "Which of the churches was one that loved its neighbor?"

The man replied, "The one that had the accessible building."

The religious leader replied. "That is not correct. None of the churches were loving their neighbor. The first church ignored people with disabilities in the community. The second church skillfully sidestepped their responsibility toward persons with disabilities. The third church made modifications to their building in response to government regulations. We must not confuse compliance with mandated, government regulations with loving your neighbor. Additionally, it is fine to say that a church will welcome only those who come, but in reality they may not be welcoming to persons with disabilities because so many do not have the ability to come. Either they have intellectual disabilities that prohibit them from getting a driver's license or they have physical disabilities that would make it difficult or impossible to drive a car. So to say we welcome all who come is not sufficient.

“So the man in the story with the disability just kept looking...”

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Disability ministry and traditions

I often mention Mark 7 when I speak to groups about disability ministry. The passage highlights how traditions can get in the way of obeying the commands of God. The two most important commands being to love God and to love your neighbor. When we are confronted with having to love our neighbor or keep our traditions, too often we and our religious leaders are like the religious leaders Jesus confronted in that we hold to traditions and eschew the commands of God. It is interesting how Jesus points out three ways we avoid the commands of God, for our purposes, the command to love your neighbor.
In Mark 7:8 he says,
"For you ignore God's law and substitute you own tradition."
Our first dodge is to act like we don't know what we are supposed to do. To ignore implies that you know something is there but you pretend like it isn't. So we know we are to love all our neighbors, including those with impairments, but we ignore it.
In Mark 7:9,
"Then he said, 'You skillfully sidestep God's law in order to hold on to your own tradition." 
When we can't ignore our responsibilities anymore as they begin to intrude upon us perhaps both intellectually and physically, we come up with ways to sidestep our responsibilities to love our neighbor. So clever ways of minimizing the demands placed upon us like segregated ministries, or those that meet on different days when no one is around are ways we can sidestep loving our neighbor.
Finally in Mark 7:13 Jesus says,
"And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition. And this is only one example among many others." 
So finally, when we can't ignore or sidestep, we just cancel the word of God.
In a recent trip to the Philippines, I was working with a man who works with pastors. He told me of an occasion where he was talking to a pastor about including people with disabilities in the church. The pastor's response was, "I know we should be doing this but we aren't going to." That is the place where some leaders have ended up. When they can no longer ignore or sidestep, they just decide to cancel the word.
As I have come to understand this section a bit more, it has helped me to move leaders almost in a progression from canceling to sidestepping to ignoring, to doing what they should do to love their neighbor.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Celebration of disability

Every few years my  church will hold a disability celebration Sunday. The last time the Sunday was recognized, a couple of parents came to me between services with the question, "What is there to celebrate?" It was easy to see the pain and struggle behind that question. The experience of disability can be incredibly difficult. In preparation for this year's celebration Sunday, I mentioned my interaction to our pastor. In his short tenure so far as our pastor, Rev. Todd Arnett has been incredibly supportive of our ministry. He was hardly at the church a month when it seemed he knew the names of everyone who attends our Light and Power Class ministry (I am not sure I can always be counted on to remember the 70+ people's names).

In his call to worship for this year's service, he drew something out of 2 Corinthians 12 that I hadn't quite put together before. In speaking of his "thorn in the flesh," Paul says,
"Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, "My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness" So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me...For when I am weak, then I am strong." (New Living Translation)
Todd made the point, that to say that "I am glad to boast about my weaknesses" is not unlike saying I will celebrate my weaknesses. This is hard. This is not intuitive for us. But Paul blows up our focus on strength by celebrating his weakness and how it drives him to rely on God. As I have stated in this blog before, our self reliance is a figment of our imagination. To think that I do anything by my own strength is little more than an expression of my uninformed pride. When I recognize this, and I finally see how dependent I  truly am on God, it may be a hard thing, but Paul encourages us that to see it and embrace it as a good thing. Why? Because I understand that I do anything, only through the power of Christ working through me.

The day that I recognize this truth, whatever causes me to come to that recognition, is a day worthy of celebrating.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The way we have always done things - Precedents of Practice

The way we have always done things is a significant barrier to change. What might be called "precedents of practice" can be reason enough to eschew change. Sure there are reasons why practices develop as they do. Many of those reasons are Biblical reasons and we should embrace those firmly. The Bible should be taught. We should sing praises to God. We should welcome strangers. We should assist people in need. We should love our neighbor. We should observe communion. We should bring tithes and offerings. With each of these statements, you probably have a specific practice in mind as to how each of these are done. We need to do these things but we needn't do them in a manner that reflects an immutable precedent.

Our precedents may be sinful (see previous post on the sin of the environment). As I quoted in a post from 2007, there is also this fact.

Collective unconsciousness can be so vast that even the most global societal policies may be undeclared, unexplicated, unacknowledged, and even denied. Thus for many people to all work toward a bad thing requires no
deliberate or conscious conspiracy. While this is well-known by social scientists, most citizens are not aware of how they themselves can be totally unconsciously acting out undeclared, large-scale, societal policies in their own daily lives. (from "A leadership-oriented introductory social role valorization (SRV) workshop, February 27, 2007)

When we simply accept our practices, whatever they might be, without being reflective about them in changing times, we risk doing wrong things. Church cannot look the same as it did in 1930 or 1960 or even 1990. We reflectively learn, hopefully mature, and continue to grow. Precedents of practice might need serious change. Disability ministry has been one of those bright lights that has shown on our traditions and practices. If we dare to look at what that light is illuminating, we should own any ugliness that we now see and seek to change, creating new precedents which will no doubt need to be revised again as we continue to mature.

I believe the worst thing we can do is stubbornly dig in our heels and refuse to change. If you do reflect on precedents, you realize that the main need for them to be changed is how they keep us, in a comfortable way, from loving our neighbors. The spotlight of disability ministry on precedents of practice make us uncomfortable because of the demands precedent changes would bring.

I am reminded once again of  1 Peter 2:19-21 which says, "But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you and example that you should follow in his steps."
We need to embrace the discomfort and feeling of insecurity when we change our traditions that need to be changed. If we reflect on our precedents of practice, perhaps out of obedience we will begin to move in a different direction leading to a different practice.


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!