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


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

"If this...Then that"



In a 2011 article, Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger laid out a series of interactions between two events. The article citation is provided below. In part it tries to propose connections between two "events". If we do something (if this) we might expect something to occur as a result (then that). We might also think in reverse in that if we see something occurring (then that) we might expect that something happened leading to the outcome we see (if this).


Clearly things are improving in the world of inclusion of persons with impairments within the local church. There are pockets of brilliance and still pockets of complete failure. Even where there are things happening, there is significant room for improvement or what might be called "maturity in ministry" (see this link for a good article that helps to explain maturity and provide a bit of a roadmap towards attaining maturity What Would Be Better?). What is it that has to God's glory been changing in recent times? It is not coming from the seminaries, at least not overtly. Disability is still not generally a topic for training there. Seminary training is not leading the way in teaching us to change in our love for our neighbors with impairments. They, as the "if this" are more likely to perpetuate the currently experienced "then that." Arguably it is not coming from our leadership. Yes there are organizations like Joni and Friends among others who areproviding leadership and working to facilitate the change. There is leadership in that way, from the few Christian disability organizations out there.  There are some denomintions providing leadership as well. But it is almost as if it is a grass roots movement that is causing the leadership, the basic practices and traditions to change. The change, should it come as I pray it will, will change the church in very dramatic ways. But as I have often said it will be a corrective.


As I have often thought about the universal misunderstanding and lack of desire for change across all permutations of the Christian world (Baptist, Catholics, Penecostals, etc.) it has struck me how universal the misunderstanding of persons with disabilities and the response of the church has been. How could it be that ALL permutations of the Christian church have gotten this wrong for so long? That is, there is or at least has been, something universally wrong with Christian theology, or traditions, or teachings (the "if this") that have led to the experience of persons with disabilities that we see or have seen (the "then that").


I have a long way to go on understanding this, but would be interested in any ideas people may have about why this is so. Ideas I have thought about thus far relate to the training of our leaders and the lack of understanding of those who train them. Training of whomever at almost every level evidences this problem. Once again this "poor training" of whomever is universal within the Christian church which is breathtaking. I wouldn't expect that there would be that much unanimity in this area across all the denominations. The outcomes of this training have at times caused people to desire to start new disability friendly churches from scratch in order to address what they see as the fundamental problems of the churches they have experienced. It is the old joke "How do I get to Chicago?" Response, "You can't get there from here!" This response indicates that the "if this" is so strong and pervasive, we need an entirely new starting point in order to get where we want to go because we cannot get where we want to go from our starting point; the existing way of doing things. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I understand the position nonetheless. I have related in this blog a conversation I once had with Jean Vanier where he said we have been focused on the rectitude of doctrine rather than the rectitude of love.  I resonate with this, but as Bishop Nazir Ali of the Anglican Church also once shared with me, if we had the right doctrine we would have the right love. So perhaps this fundamental "if this" problem is in part our doctrine. Yet, once again because of the universality of the problem within the Christian church, I wonder.  Could past or present exclusion of persons with impairments be the one thing that we agree upon across doctrines and denominations? Our experience might tell us that.


There is much more of my thinking that I could share here, but I won't at this point.  Once again I would welcome any input from anyone who happens to read this. I think it is something important to understand as we move forward.

God bless,
McNair


Wolfensberger, W.  (2011) An “If This, Then That” Formulation of Decisions Related to Social Role Valorization As a Better Way of Interpreting It to People. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: December 2011, Vol. 49, No. 6, pp. 456-462.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back...

Well I heard it again today, hadn't heard it for a while.  Had a conversation with a gal living in Mississippi who told me of her experience with her child.


"Why don't you discipline that kid!" some church leaders and members said about her autistic child.
"We will have a ministry if you start it and stay with your child!" so why come to church?
"Your child is not a priority of ministry!" a church PASTOR told her.
"We are not interested in serving the people at the ARC group home that is across the street!" another church leader told her.


You know, just when you feel like we are finally making a bit of progress, you hear the same stories people have been hearing from US, the CHRISTIAN CHURCH for who knows how long.  It is disgraceful what our leadership will say and do. God forgive them and us.


Recently I have been thinking a lot about how the exclusion of persons with disabilities is a church wide problem. It is SO foundationally wrong. It illustrates an attitude that is SO far away from what we are called to be. But the thing that I have been thinking about is that if this is a church wide problem, then there is a church wide problem in the way we are being taught. There may even be a church wide problem with our theology. How could we choose to NOT love devalued people if our theology was correct? How could seminaries train leaders who would freely exclude people if they had not been taught incorrectly?


I have come to the conclusion that there is a system wide problem with our leaders, our understanding of spiritual truth and our theology. People will ask me when I say that, "What is the problem?" I don't know. I am working on trying to understand what it might be. I just know it is pervasive. Pastors will chide me saying there is nothing wrong with our theology and I respond, "Then why don't we care about people who are largely suffering because of the way we treat them? They have been devalued by our society, inside and outside of the church?" I wish they would get angry at me and defend something, but they just kinda shrug and say, "Well we will never get everything right because of our sinful condition."


I think I am going to try that explanation out on my wife.
"Well honey, I haven't done the dishes in 35 years, cause, you know I will never get it right because of my sinful condition."
"Yeah, I punched my boss and lost my job, but you know, I will never get it right because of my sinful condition.'


Of course we are sinful and of course we will never get it right.  But wash the dishes every so often and learn to control your anger.  Add to the list, MAYBE WORK ON TRYING TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!  Yeah loving my neighbor is hard but that is I what I am called to do. That is also what my leaders should be relentlessly focussing on me doing. Leading by example, providing opportunities, and making me feel a bit of guilt if I am not loving my neighbor. But I guess they don't want to love their neighbors either because it is hard for them as well.


I have related this before, but I once met a famous theologian (can't remember his name it was in 1988). He spoke on disability related issues. Afterwards, I asked him how the church has missed this? His response was,
The church is disobedient.
That statement forever impacted me. It isn't just that I just screwed up, it is that I don't want to be obedient. Friends, we need to call our churches to obedience in this area and remember we are talking to people who too often do not want to be obedient in this area. Why would our leaders not want to be obedient? I go back to what I said above about wrong traditions and theology. For a theologically trained leader (like the lady I spoke to today described) to say the types of things he said implies that either they have an obviously wrong theology or they don't believe the theology they claim to be teaching me.


Sorry for the rant.
McNair

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My friend Michael

My friend Michael passed away last night. He was one of those people in your life that you immediately make a connection with. I wouldn't see him much more than once a week at church or at special gatherings but we were great friends nonetheless.
I have often said that he is the type of person everyone should have in their life. Whenever I would see him, independent of where we were, he would shout out "Hey Jeff!" I would shout back in response, "Hey Michael!" I will miss that aspect of our relationship.  Total abandonment of social rules when we would see each other for the first time in any setting. Our recognition of each other was the MOST important thing. It was as if he was saying,
"I don't care if I disrupt you, my friend Jeff is here and I want to acknowledge him!"

Michael would always remember to ask for prayer for his bus driver and teacher each week, if prayer requests were sought. Others would roll their eyes at his repeated request, but I am confident that when Michael arrived in Heaven, the fruit of his faithful request for prayer was made known to him.
He was not a perfect man, at times his temper would get the best of him and when we were together I would talk through actions of his with him to help him to grow in his faith. He loved to wear a tie and jacket to church each week sometimes in the most random combinations. I loved seeing him dressed up but would help him to straighten up his tie and jacket. I don't know if he liked the attention, but he would allow me to make him look "perfect" as I would tell him.
Every week he would ask me for a dollar which I would give to him so he could buy a soda at his work the following day. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, it also caused me at first to pause, before I knew him.  But then, we would sit together and talk about whatever happened to be on his mind. 
He loved sweets, particularly chocolate.  I remember the last time I saw him, Sunday, he had just eaten a chocolate iced donut. As a result he had chocolate all over his hands which I showed him he could lick off of his fingers. He also always wanted to take something home from church each week. Whether it was some bread donated by Panera, or a flyer about a church activity or whatever. He was VERY adamant about receiving something that he could take home with him.


This morning I was at the director's meeting at Joni and Friends when I received the message about his passing last night. I thought that I would be able to share his passing in a controlled manner, but once I began with "A dear friend of mine died last night..." I lost it. I thought about stopping my presentation (we describe our activities for the previous week at those meetings) but thought what better place than to share my grief over my dear friend with disabilities then at the director's meeting.
I cried through my description of Michael and then apologized for my emotion. But they were touched and said no apology was necessary.


In the few minutes since that meeting, I wondered how many men, living in a group home, working in an adult day care setting have someone who weeps over their passing: someone who was just a friend in their life, who knew them, and will miss them. My faith tells me Michael is with the Lord. I have great confidence in that. But I will miss him because he was my friend.  His calling out to me to greet me is unlike any other friend I have ever had, or will probably ever have again. His friendship was a tremendous gift to me! As a friend at Joni and Friends told me, his friendship probably meant more to you than to him! I like that thought although I hope he delighted in my friendship as well. It is my prayer that more and more, persons with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, with intellectual disabilities will have real friends in their lives who will mourn their loss. Not just family members or people who have become accustomed to them because of the paid services they provided to them, both of those are great. But people who were really their friends and were with them because they enjoyed the human interaction that any friend enjoys.


I will miss you Michael!
Jeff

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Natural like home"

In our Light and Power Company group, we often talk about how we feel more like a family than like a class or a group that meets at church. People are accepted as they are.  Sure we make demands on each other. But the overriding theme is acceptance, overlooking differences like social skill deficits, thinking the best of others, trying to be affirming, praying for each other, caring for one another and so forth. These are the kinds of attributes we find in families that are functioning well.  We rejoice with the successes of our family members, we hurt with them when they hurt. It is like we recognize that we are in this life together, as a family. In families, you don't necessarily choose each other, but you love one another nontheless. When you enter a group like our Light and Power group, you become a member of a family of people who chose the group initially, but then just accept others as the family grows. It is kind of like the idea of America being a melting pot (although we seem to be struggling with that at the moment as many groups don't want to relinquish their rights to be a part of the American family, they want to change the American family to be like them), where you come in as whomever you are and then become a part of the family, whatever personal characteristics you bring.

On our recent trip to Australia, we discussed this idea with Lindsey Gale, a groundbreaker in helping churches to be open to persons with disabilities. She made the comment in one presentation that the experience of being in a church should be, "natural like home." Church should be an extension of the love and acceptance I feel in my home among my family. As she went on to say, if disability is different at home than it is at church, that indicates a problem. If I do not feel at home, I am not experiencing the hospitality that I should be feeling.

I have been thinking that churches should be regularly reviewing their level of hospitality towards people...all people. Not the high performers who would be celebrated in any environment.  But hospitality toward those who experience devaluation for any number of reasons, not the least being disability and the poverty that too often accommpanies it. It is the presence of those people who can be like the "canary in the mineshaft" to tell us how we are doing at hospitality.  If those people are not in your church, if they do not see your church as "home", then some serious self examination needs to occur about who you are as a church. Are you a church of Jesus Christ who would welcome devalued people, or have you morphed into something else that self-examination would cause you to make excuses for?

Do you have the courage to ask those with disabilities or those who are familes with members with disabilities about whether your church feels like home to them? It is a scary question. (see this past post on scary questions) But it is a question if answered honestly will provide guidance for the church such that it will become hosptiable to all.  So it would be "natural, like home."

McNair

Monday, July 21, 2014

"God has a mission so the mission has a church"

A new friend, Rev. Phil Gale (husband of CBM's Luke 14 Director, Lindsey Gale), in one of our many great discussions, turned me on to the thinking of Bishop John McIntyre of the Anglican church.  His comments about the "missional church" were really interesting in particular as they relate to ministry that includes persons with disabilities.  I quote Bishop McIntyre from an article in the July 2014 issue of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican, p. 11).  All emphases are added by me.

"To be a missional church, he said, was "simply in integretity to be Christlike and in grace point to Jesus Christ in all we are and all we do."
It is to be present in community with an integrity of being that assures all those whose lives we touch that we are there alone for their wellbeing; that we are committed to peace with justice, mercy and inclusion. Where we can live out that demand, I am convinced people will be drawn anew to faith in Jesus Christ. Then our churches will grow as we participate in the mission of God in the world."
One reason Anglicanism is Australia was hampered in its capacity to be genuinely missional was because in the past "we have essentially been an associational church rather than a missional church" - "just another association of people who happen to be religious," he said.
The problem was exacerbated when church people assumed the associational view of church as well, so that "what we call 'mission' then becomes finding new ways at attracting people to become part of our association." But the "mission of the church is not to grow churches," he said, "It is to live under the rule of God; to live in allegiance solely to Jesus Christ.
"God's mission has a church. If we make growing churches our aim, we are trying to do God's work. Our aim is to live in singular allegiance to Jesus. When we do that with integrity and grace, God grows churches as the means by which God's way is extended in God's world. Others come to faith in Jesus Christ and join us."

"...we are there alone for their wellbeing..." Imagine if that was our reputation as the Christian church in the lives of persons with disabilities. What things might we do for people for families? What example might we be to the community?

Once again, "God's mission has a church." The way Phil restated the bishop's words is that
"God has a mission so the mission has a church."
That resonated with me as different then the way we often understand church. It implies that we are up to something, that we are active, kinetic, doing something of worth in the community that draws people to want to join us in our mission and become followers of Jesus Christ. They will learn about what we believe, but our mission by God's grace causes us to be irrestible. In order to achieve our mission, we have a meeting place where we are trained, where our wounds suffered from trying to love our communities are ministered to, and we are prepared to be sent out again. The church meeting is not the focus of the mission, not the end all of the mission.  The church meeting, the Sunday morning service, simply becomes a part of the mission. We are not being prepared at that meeting to go home because we have done all we need to do for the week, untill the following week when we come in and sit again. It is a rallying point for our onging, difficult activity of loving our neighbor.

If the above were the case, we would be prepared to find our neighbors with disabilities in need of assistance or simply love and friendship. When was the last time you heard a sermon about loving your neighbor with disabilities? Unfortunately, that is currently not a part of the mission as evidenced by what we are not being prepared to do (assuming we are being prepared to DO something) and by the people who are not sitting in the chairs next to us.

We have a church because God has a mission and the mission is not our comfort.

McNair