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

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Divergent thinking part 1

“There is more than one way to skin a cat.” Actually I will have nothing to do with a cat or his skin, whether or not he is wearing it. But to put it another way, we need to think divergently, rather than convergently. “In praise of paradox” is an article by Dr. Julian Rappaport which makes this point. He states that social problems, social issues are different from hard science issues. I can calculate the answer to a Physics problem (well, I cant, but at least I know there are people who can do those kinds of calculations). There will be a single correct and a multitude of incorrect answers. Social issues are not like that. As Rappaport implies, we may come to two conflicting solutions to the same problem. For some people one will work, for others another and for others, neither will work. I think divergent thinking is sometimes difficult for Christians. We will at times carry over our morality orientation towards the black and white to other areas of life. We take differing positions, at times positions based upon interpretation, experience, understanding or knowledge, and assume that is the only correct position.

I recall the pastor of a church I attended for five years when I lived in Illinois stating that if someone really got into the Bible, she would see that the perspective of this particular church was the right one and they would come to believe what he believed. He related how people had come to this church and stayed because they realized that the perspective taught there was the truth! I asked whether anyone had ever left that church for another church. Or what of all the other Christian churches in that community, were all those people disillusioned? The implication of his perspective was that they had all fallen away. Of course I am not saying that anything goes, however, I have come to believe that people can have a different perspective from me on a world of issues and still be Christian.

This same point is true of ministry to people with various disabilities. The church can fall into the same problem that the state has fallen into in that it offers a limited menu of services. You can use those services or you can go home. It’s like going to McDonalds and trying to buy a hot dog. You aren’t going to get a hot dog at McDonalds, so if that is the outcome you desire, you will not be able to reach it.

I have taught a class at the university on the portrayal of individuals with disability in film. Just like in all the Disney cartoons the mother dies, in most disability movies, the professionals look foolish because they offer services which don’t meet the need. Some examples:
In Benny and Joon, the psychiatrist wants to put Joon in a home, instead she lives on her own.
In Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Ratched wants McMurphy to be the model patient, when through his antics he frees the other patients, particularly the Chief.
In My Left Foot, mom keeps the gifted Christy Brown, a person with cerebral palsy at home and educates him against recommendations.
Similar themes arise in Lost in Yonkers, or Slingblade, or Dominick and Eugene or The Other Sister, or Rainman.

The messiness of human service makes us uncomfortable. You can’t send the autistic boy to the Sunday school class like you would the cute little nondisabled youngster. The adult with mental retardation cannot always be expected to sit quietly in the church setting. The other day at our church, a developmentally disabled adult happened to stand up (he was sitting in the front row) at just the moment the pastor began to preach. He stood there for about 5 minutes looking up at the pastor as he spoke, and I am sure that he thought the pastor was talking directly to him. Finally the light came on and he sat down.

That is the problem, but that is also the excitement. Work with persons with disabilities is filled with challenges and the unexpected. Social skills are up for grabs, and the traditional menus which churches have used for ministry can be tossed out the window because many disabled persons are living under a different set of rules, rules that they don’t even understand.

So, creativity is the mark of the special educator, or the person in ministry to persons with disability. Convergent thinkers need not apply.


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