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

Friday, May 21, 2004

Fowler's Stages of Faith (part 1 of 6)

James W. Fowler in his book Stages of Faith (1995), describes what might be called faith development. Movement deeper into faith. I thought it might be interesting to consider his 6 faith stages as they relate persons with disabilities, their families and their supporters.

Today we will begin the discussion with an overiview of Stage 1: Intuitive-Projective faith. Some bullet points about Stage 1 faith from Fowler.
-fantasy filled, imitative phase
-most typical of children 3-7
-imaginative processes underlying fantasy are unrestrained and uninhibited by logical thought
-the stage of first self-awareness
-first awareness of death and sex and the strong taboos by which cultures and families insulate these powerful areas
-emergent strength of this stage is the birth of imagination
-transition precipitated by emergence of concrete operational thinking and a growing need to know how things are, distinguishing between what is real an what only seems to be.

In relation to persons with cognitive disabilities several of the bullet points stand out. The notions of fantasy unrestrained by logical thought, imitation, self-awareness, cultural values and distinguishing reality. Lets discuss each of these briefly.

Fantasy unrestrained by logical thought can be seen in the blurring of reality and fantasy. Individuals with severe cognitive disability will look at television programs, whatever the subject, and perceive what is viewed as reality. They haven't the framework or the capacity to make discriminations between what is real and what isn't. We will sometimes play act a story in our program for adults. Perhaps I will act as if I am taking someone's posession, or making a rude comment. Individuals in the class will at times physically prevent me from taking the object from another, or worry what will happen if my wife finds out. They verbaly state that they understand that I am just "pretending," however, their actions betray the fact that they aren't sure.

Self-awareness is observed in their requesting something they desire, asking that someone refrain from doing something to them, discussing their likes and dislikes.

Sex as a behavioral issue is often a point of discussion. Largely in respons to a desire to do what is modeled as right both through the lives of persons known to them and what is explained from the Bible. They are quick to relay Biblical perspectives on what is right for themselves or others.

The birth of imagination is critical in this phase and its absence is evidenced often in a lack of understanding of the most basic of issues.

A growing ability to perceive what is real indicates the beginning of a transition to State 2. People will speak with great excitement about something they have observed in a television program or movie, but when asked about the reality of the situation, will be called back, and say, that they understand it was just a story.

Presentation of the Christian faith to this group revolves around basic stories, examples and illustrations about how one should act and live. Fantasy is avoided as it will not be perceived as such. Even jokes are very grounded, if they are shared at all. Someone might say, "you are a monkey" and laugh although even this type of a statement might tax the ability to discriminate in order to see the humor.

For those with severe cognitive disabilities, interactions are very direct, hands on and inclusive. "I am glad you are here" with a hand shake or a hug is perhaps all that is remembered.

One man in our group has a pattern when visiting church. It might be said that this is how he expresses his "faith." Upon arriving, he comes up to me and gives me a hug. I say "I am glad you are here." He says "Donut." I respond, "Go sit down and I will bring you a donut. Do you want coffee?" He says "Coffee." Later in the midst of the Bible lesson, he will walk to the front and say "Pizza" or "Hot dog" and I will respond "Are you going to have a hot dog for lunch" the key being the repitition of the food item he has mentioned. He will repeat the name of the food until I get it right and restate it. He then goes and sits down again. When we make the hand motion regarding 3-5 for Proverbs 3:5 he will attempt the motion. For him "faith" is the participation in a ritual with a group of people who are accepting to him. Expectations on my part as a facilitator of spiritual development, are that he will feel welcomed, feel that he was listened to, and ensure that the ritual he has come to expect which he has associated with church occurs in the manner which he expects. At times he will be confronted with actual "theological" content. On several occasions while at church he will hit someone. I will separate him from the group and say to him "No hitting." Perhaps this is a proscription against a behavior which he associates with me (the Sunday School teacher) or the church, however, more likely it is a standard enforced across his life.

Interestingly, this is a behavior pattern which is generalized across all of his interactions with me. He does not engage in these behaviors with others in the church situation or other social settings. However, it is consistent with me where ever we happen to be together. So his "faith" may be more of a behavioral pattern associated with an individual. As with anyone's faith, the difficult part to determine is what he is bringing to the interaction.


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