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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"...a splinter in your mind"

I love the movie The Matrix. I have quoted it elsewhere in this blog. When Neo "awakens" from being inside the matrix he has the following conversation with Morpheus.

Morpheus : Your muscles have atrophied, we're rebuilding them.
Neo : Why do my eyes hurt?
Neo blinks
Morpheus : You've never used them before.

The point of the story is that virtually everyone in the world is not living in reality. They are living in a world that has been created for them, in this case by computers who are controlling them, that blinds them to reality. Morpheus awakens Neo to this reality when he disconnects him from the matrix such that he now understands reality and now is living in reality. Upon awakening to the truth, Neo is confused. He doesn't have muscle control and when he looks around, his eyes hurt. As Morpheus says, they hurt because, "You've never used them before."

I sometimes feel like I live in that same kind of unreality. In many ways I have been blinded to reality and in a variety of venues, even Christian venues, I have been taught unreality. When I try to love my neighbor, it "hurts" in part because I for that moment traverse the world of unreality into reality and whatever part of me gets used that hasn't been used in the past hurts me.

Earlier in the conversation between Morpheus and Neo, when Neo is presented with the pills there is this dialogue.

Morpheus sits down in the armchair opposite from Neo
Morpheus : Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo : No.
Morpheus : Why?
Neo : Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my own life.
Morpheus : I know..._exactly_ what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something _wrong_ with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there...like a splinter in you're mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you _know_ what I'm talking about?

Of course in the movie, Morpheus is talking about the matrix, the unreality that people live in of which they are totally unaware. But there is an unreality of which we may be unaware in our lives as well. I feel the unreality in the church. Perhaps you can resonate with the lines above. 
"You are here because you know something." Do you ever wonder why you know something or see something that others do not?
"What you know you can't explain." I know that something is not right, it needs to be changed.
"But you feel it. You've felt in your entire life." The feeling is consuming and overwhelming. When you share it with others, you feel like and sound like a broken record. They listen kindly, but perhaps don't fee the urgency that you feel, have felt, for as long as you can remember.
"That there's something wrong with the world." That there is something wrong with the church. You know it, get glimpses of it, are desperately trying to put your finger on it.
"You don't know what it is, but it's there...like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." You are trying to understand why what is wrong is wrong. You feel like it might be about what the vision is. Like a splinter that you are trying to get out of your finger, you are desperate to get this splinter out of your mind. It is like if you could describe both what is wrong and what should be, you would finally have some peace as the splinter would be gone. Once you got it out, you could look at it, and with some degree of relief, you could point to the splinter and feel like "That is what I have been trying to get out of me!"
"It is that feeling that has brought you to me." Well not to me per se, but to this kind of information. Perhaps you come to a blog like this hoping to get what you know affirmed. To know you are not alone in your thinking. When Neo meets Morpheus, all that he suspected is affirmed.
"Do you know what I'm talking about?" Of course you do, reader. You are struggling with the same things that I am.

If our eyes hurt, that is a good thing as we are finally using them. If you have the splinter in your mind, that is a good thing as God is perhaps trying to get you to do something, to understand something. If you are being hurt as you try to understand what God has put on your heart, that is also a good thing.People around you likely will not understand you. I have felt this. I try to humble myself to be sure that it is the message that they are rejecting and not the attitude of the messenger. But clearly, even as we grow in the development of ministry to and with persons with disabilities we will continue to face opposition as we push the envelope (1 Peter 2:20-21 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).

But whatever you do, do not lose your vision but ask God to clarify your vision. That has been my prayer in recent months, that God would give me a clear vision for the church as it regards loving our neighbor. In particular, loving people who have had devaluation done to them.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

"Being seen"

I had the privilege of hearing Katherine and Jay Wolf on Tuesday. They are an amazing couple with a website, and a book http://www.hopeheals.com/#welcome . I would recommend you go there and read the book.

Their presentation about their life experience was amazing, filled with trials subdued by hope. As they have come to understand disability, they made a point about a realization that had come to them. Basically it is that people with disabilities need to "be seen." It is a very basic starting point, but it is easy to understand that it is the beginning of everything. If I see you, you are in my presence and I am no longer avoiding you, at least on some level. If I see you, I begin to enter into your experience, understand a bit about what your life is like. Particularly in the case of individuals with disabilities, I am no longer sheltered from you. I can no longer say, "I didn't know" when someone describes your life experience. Being seen has the potential to be the beginning of manythings.

If people with a particular characteristic are not being seen, that leads to other, potentially negative outcomes. I remember the joke, "What the eye doesn't see, the cook gets away with!" That is, who knows what goes on in a kitchen when no one is watching. Well, what the eye doesn't see, human services gets away with. What the eye doesn't see, group homes get away with. We are often aghast at what people will record on video cameras. But the take home from that is not just that someone was caught doing something, but that the kinds of things that are not seen have been going on all of the time because people are not seen. Don't hear me wrong. I am not advocating increased video surveillance or the use of technology to in some way moniter people. Quite the opposite.

What I would advocate is that you see people with disabilities in your life and advocate that others see them as well. You have the ability to facilitate that by what you do. If I take someone out for lunch, I facilitate them being seen in the community. This is not always easy, though, as much of human services are a barrier to the friendships between people that would allow this to occur. But it is not just human services.

How well is your church doing in ensuring people with disabilities are being seen in a variety of Christian community contexts? Sometimes ministries can be so segregated, it is almost as if those in them are spirited in and out, with no opportunity for interactions with others in the environment. I don't think this is right. I am also not saying that people with disabilities should be put on display somehow. Rather, if they, like everyone else, are simply in the enviornment, singing songs, drinking coffee, listening to teaching, they become like everyone else. I guess "being seen" is a simple test for a level of being integrated.

Are people with disabilities being seen at your church? It is a simple test for integration. If people are being seen, that is a good starting point for many good things that could grow out of that.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ministry shapes the church

How will our involvement in ministry shape the church? It definitely shapes us as individuals. Each of us knows people who are are involved in foreign missions in a variety of ways and that shapes everything down to their dress reflecting their nation of interest. People who are involved with poor and homeless individuals will also take on a particular persona. Some churches who have made that segment of society a priority also change in the way they appear. I know of a church in Riverside California that is very intentional in serving persons who are homeless. They have a daily free lunch program. That in itself shapes the types of people who will be in the neighborhood every day at noon. Other examples might be provided. But you can look at a church and to some degree see who they are in terms of their priorities for ministry. Even the location, whether centrally located or remote communicates something to the community. In our time of ACCESS (in California at least where someone with a disability can call to receive a ride to where ever they want to go) location is perhaps less critical, but there are still those who will struggle to access even slightly more remote places. This is also true because of how people will refuse to pick up others and take them to church.

Clearly there are some communities who are more "impacted" (I actually hate that word because it implies something being forced upon someone rather than them choosing to do something) because of their location. But there are people with some characteristics who are present in every community, like those with disabilities. They are also people who when present will cause the church and its members to develop in a certain way. Some pastors will say that their church is not "impacted" by people with disabilities. It is almost as if they say that with relief as if they were "impacted" they would have to change to become something different that reflects how that ministry will shape them. But if a church leader tells me that they are not "impacted" by disability that doesn't tell me that their are no people with that characteristic in the community. It tells me that there is not any interest in that church in serving people with that characteristic in that community. It tells me that there is not any interest in changing what that will ministry will shape you into if you served people with that characteristic. Do you catch how sad that is? It is literally the desire to skirt the responsibility for first of all loving a whole class of people who may be hurting because of their life experience. And second being unwilling to embrace the change that that form of ministry will bring.

AND...people with the characteristic "disability" are everywhere. So we are too often unwilling to change to become a ministry shaped church that reaches out to the nearly 20% of the population who have a disability and the much higher group that are affected by disability. Can you see how the changes forged in our churches by ministry to persons with disabilities would facilitate ministry orientated churches touching on a major concern of a large portion of the population, anywhere in the world? There is significant potential for a revival within the church if we would just embrace the changes that would come from being "impacted" by those in need of inclusive support. I believe that form of ministry would shape the church toward reflecting God's idea of what it should be.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Milky Ministry

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn't talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren't ready for anything stronger. And you still aren't ready, for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. (1 Cornithians 3:1-3, Life Application Study Bible).

I had lunch this past week with a friend, MD Sias. We always have great conversations! He is a man whose heart is for God. In the midst of our conversations about disability ministry he said something to the effect that we are not really prepared to do "solid food" ministry. I immediately got his point and recognized that in many ways we are still at the stage of what might be called milky ministry. So what do I mean by that?

Too often when I am interacting with people about churches including persons with disabilities, the conversation devolves down to a basic misunderstanding of our requirement to love our  neighbor. Now clearly that is not an easy thing to do, however, it is at the same time something that we know that we should obviously be doing. So if you are told that people with disabilities should be a focus of ministry, be included in the church, have their gifting valued, but you respond by saying things like, "they are not a priority for ministry" or "we are not impacted by people with disabilities" or one of myriad other responses given as a reason to not love your neighbor, one must speak to you as one who "belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life." We must take out the carton and fill the glass with milk.

But this also applies to some ministries. There are ministries that are entirely separate, entirely segregated such that there is little to no impact on the congregation. These are "milky ministries" as far as the church goes. You see I cannot expect the infants that attend to be willing to be changed, be challenged to love neighbors who are different from those who they typically interact with. I cannot expect them to think about providing special honor to others because they think they truly are less honorable (1 Corinthians 12:23). To expect that would be to expect them to eat solid food, something "stronger." Unfortunately these "infants" can be anyone from rank and file members up to the leaders of the church. Why are they not ready for solid food? Paul answers that question. "...for you are still controlled by your sinful nature."

To not love your neighbor is to still be controlled by your sinful nature. Now trust me, I do not love my neighbor as I should. But I know that I should, and I am trying to get better and by God's grace I will! I want to embrace the change that solid food would bring to me. I get visions of what I might be able to become if I could nibble and bite on solid food. I get visions of what the church could be if it would increasingly move toward a diet of solid food as evidenced in ministry related to persons with disabilities that would cause real change.

It is funny that when you get a taste of solid food ministry, you aren't as impressed with milky ministry. You are glad that folks are drinking milk rather than nothing, but you want them to experience the change that being filled with solid food brings.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Who do you say that I am?"

  Some friends got together as they often did just for a cup of coffee and some conversation. It was clear that one of the group was having a tough day. He hardly raised his eyes, looking at his coffee as it swirled in his cup. He friends noticed his atypical quietness. 

   "Something bothering you?" one of them asked.

   "I am not having a good day" he replied. "I don't like the way people treat me sometimes. I don't understand them."

   The friends looked at him with concern. Sure he was someone with an intellectual disability, but he always seemed friendly, happy, ebullient.

   "I don't get these people. Who do they think I am?" he asked in a moment of clarity.

   "Some people think you are a child. That's why they teach you with flannel graphs and puppets." one friend responded.

   "Some people think you are just not a nice person. That you or your family have done something bad, so you are the way you are." said another.

   "I think some people think you are different from them. That is why they put you away from them with people they think are different because of their impairment, their disability. They think they are doing you a favor by separating you and treating you differently."

   "Some people think you have nothing to give. That's why they don't let you be with everyone else."

   "Some people are afraid of you. Because they don't know you, they worry about what you might do."

   The man paused in thought as they looked at him with concern.

   "But what about you. Who do you think, I mean, who do you say that I am?"

   One bold friend quickly spoke up. "You are the same as me. You are the image of God, a person with purpose, gifted in a unique way so that you can contribute to the Body of Christ. We can't do without you, and we should be showing you special honor such that your gifts might be seen and felt by the church. You are the same as anybody else."

   "People have not told me that before. But I hope that is who God says I am" he replied.