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


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Presence of persons with disabilities in the Christian community

"If nothing else, people with disabilities can at least have presence."
I have written quite a bit about presence in this blog. People will say this kind of thing about others that they haven't taken the time to know, to see their gifting. There is a laziness about this statement.  But there are those with very severe disabilities for whom people having the best intentions will say the above. We say these kinds of things often because we are unable to figure out a person with a very severe disability's gifting. It is as if they are reduced to presence. Now I'm not saying that all a person has is presence, but if you think about it, it alone could be a pretty incredible thing. Particularly when you consider that it is not facilitated for them. Yes as a starting point, but perhaps more broadly, the most important thing for someone with a disability, or anyone for that matter in a church community, is presence. Presence changes things. Presence reveals things (as in the Good Samaritan). What is the thing that people with disabilities need more than anything else? Presence. What does the church need from persons with disabilities more than anything else? Their presence. Presence implies being among, being seen, being a part of something. Presence can also make demands. Perhaps in part that is why the presence of persons with disabilities is often not facilitated and at times rejected. Presence can be powerful and make demands.

But what is it that is rejected when presence is denied? Arguably it is an aspect of God's own image. People rejectors are God rejectors. James 2:1 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?" (NLT). Apparently, there is a connection there. Presence of persons with disabilities is minimally a starting point because of where it leads.
It leads to excluded people having their gifts discovered and expressed.
It leads to changes in traditions which we have come to syncretise as part of faith or theology.
It leads to changes in understanding the breadth who human beings are.
In some cases, it leads to worship and other aspects of church attendance becoming more service oriented.
It leads to caring and advocacy which can be demanding.
We come to realize that not everyone has the same experiences in life that we do.

I have often said that in my life, God's in his sovereignty has allowed me to have health, a good job, and nice place to live, a beautiful family and so on and so on. I am incredibly grateful for these blessings. But when people struggling with muscular dsytrophy, or mental illness come into my world, I learn that the way God's sovereignty is expressed in the lives of others is different from my own and demands from me  a response. Their lives are they way they are for them, but they are also the way they are for me as a fellow body member. Their presence opens my eyes to human variety and what should be the logical Christian response, human interaction. I see God being real to them in their life circumstances as he is to me in mine. They also reveal aspects of the character of God that I will not see if they are not present. So presence is not a minimal thing. It is foundational to so many things related to Christian faith for all.

McNair

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A response to suffering

Maybe part of life is joining clubs you never wished to be a part of, 
then walking others through them too.

That is a quote from someone I once knew in response to suffering they were facing. Such a response is so incredibly difficult, but also so very incredibly wise. It helps a bit when we can get the slightest glimpse of purpose in our suffering. It is only with faith in God as a backdrop to your life that you are able to say things like the above. God brings purpose to life. Without God, there is no purpose and suffering is all pain and completely meaningless. The above is the juxtaposition of tears and trust. Trust tempers the tears. It is a juxtaposition of strength and sadness. Sadness remains, perhaps forever. But strength is provided to face the sadness. I am so grateful that this friend had the Lord Jesus in their life who gave the courage to even say the above. May God also continue to give them the strength to live it, which is the more difficult part.

The above statement is a prayer. A paraphrase might be, "Lord, by faith and in obedience I join this club of suffering, but please don't let it be without meaning. Will you use the strength that you gave me to make this statement, to also live this statement."

I am reminded of the passage from 2 Corinthians 12:9 when the Lord says to Paul, " My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Weakness can lead to statements like the above. But God's grace also brings the incredible power evidenced by such statements. It is his grace promised and then provided that shows a way through the things which debilitate us. I don't know how people face suffering without the Lord. Paul then responds by saying he will boast in his weakness. This is a much further step to take. It is saying that it is God who takes me through my weakness. I did not take myself through. God gave me strength. I did not have the strength within myself.  But please do not misunderstand. This is very hard. My suffering surrounds me but as I weep, I choose trust in God. I pray that I will choose trust in God. My strength fails me, but in complete weakness I choose to trust in God. With the little strength that is my own, supported by God's spirit, I pray to trust in God. I respond to waves of sadness that threaten to drown me, with waves of trust in my Lord.

I would say to anyone who might read this and is suffering, in a courageous act of your will call on God to show you his grace. Ask him to keep to his promise to provide grace. Ask him to walk through whatever you are facing with you. Perhaps begin with the simple prayer, "Help me!"

McNair

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talking to your church leaders about starting disability ministry

In the great book, Lead like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, there are many great insights. One struck me as I was rereading it recently. On page 191-192 they state,

"Whenever we are asked to do something different in life, the change agent - whether a manager, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a colleague, or a friend - usually starts off by attempting to convince you of all the benefits of the change you are being  asked to make. Yet it's been found that the benefits - the impact and the "why" of change - is the fourth-ranked concern people have during change. People are first interested in information concerns. "Tell me what you have in mind. What is needed? What is wrong with the way things are now?" When you have information concerns, you don't want to be sold on the change; you simply want to understand it. Next, people are interested in personal concerns. "How will doing this affect me? Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?" Here the focus is on the details involved in making the change a reality. Third, people have implementation concerns. "What do I do first, second, third, etc.?"

This is an important set of observations for us who who are endeavoring to facilitate change within the church. I immediately saw myself as jumping down to the number 4 concern about the impact in my interactions and I think that I would agree with the authors that that is a mistake. Just to help to see the progression, let me list the questions in order.

1-Tell me what you have in mind.
  What is needed?
  What is wrong with the way things are now?
2-How will doing this affect me?
  Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?
3-What do I do first, second, third, etc.?
4-Here are the benefits of the change that I am asking you to make.

Think through this progression before the next time you are attempting to influence someone about the benefits of inclusive ministry.

McNair

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Definition of disability ministry

I wanted to post the following mostly to receive input from anyone who might be interested. Here is a first draft of a definition of disability ministry.


Disability Ministry


Disability ministry is the label given to efforts to address disability (definition provided in a separate document), in the Christian community.

Ministries first endeavor to create greater confidence in Jesus Christ among persons affected by disability (definition provided in a separate document) by discipling Christian individuals…


1). So that they understand what the Bible says. For those with intellectual impairments, that they comprehend at their level of understanding.


2). By teaching and modeling Christian behavior so that people can produce Christian behavior (including worship, prayer, evangelism, service, and discipleship).


3). By facilitating people’s understanding and expression of their individual gifting in loving service.



Disability ministry also works to facilitate the discipling of Christian environments…


4). To begin with repentance, recognizing that historically the Church has not always loved its neighbors with impairments.


5). To see all people as who the Bible teaches they are.


6). To actively facilitate the expression of everyone’s gifting.


7). To assume persons with disabilities are to be fully included in all Church social environments and then to work towards that inclusion.



And finally…


8). To advocate for cultural change within the Church to reflect all 8 of the above.

Thank you for any input you might provide!
McNair

Friday, April 28, 2017

Meowoof

I have been receiving much positive feedback on my juvenile fiction novel called Meowoof. It would be great for young people or adults interested in exploring what it is to be different in some way. Here is what I wrote about it last November when it was about to be launched. Please consider picking up a copy! 

Meowoof is a new book from Jeff McNair. It would be great to give to a young person who feels different in some way, someone with a disability, or parents of a child with a disability. It is juvenile fiction so it is easy reading and fun. But there are very deep ideas behind the engaging story. Great also for a discussion group interested in discussing differences in people.

Here is the description that goes with the book.

Meowoof invites you into a world of dogs! Of course it is filled with licking, sniffing, biting and chasing. It is no doubt a fun and amusing place to visit. But life is not without its challenges. 
Barney, a beagle, and his mate Inky, a dachshund are just a young couple looking to start a family and live a typical life. But there is something unusual about one of their pups. He is like no pup they or any other dogs have ever seen before. Skip and Rosie, friends of the family do their best to support them as does His Howliness, the leader of the Moon Howlers, but they are up against attitudes deeply held by doggy society. Barney and Inky find out how those around can change when someone is not like everyone else. Those who understand the experience of being different will fearfully whisper about how dogs are taken over by the Grumble, an evil living inside of everyone. How does one battle against something everyone has inside of them? Dogs like Skip and His Howliness refuse to be put off by differences in others and will bear their teeth and fight the Grumble. But the Grumble is not that easily defeated. 
What is it to be different? What happens to you and those around you when you are not like everyone else? You are different. In a truly unique way, Meowoof begins a story about those who are different and what their lives are like.  
  • If you are a little different you will see yourself in this story. 
  • If you love someone who is different, you will more fully understand your experience. 
  • And, if you struggle with those who are different, perhaps you will begin to understand why.
McNair