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

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

U.S. Catholic Bishops part 2

The following is from the "Doctrine and Pastoral Practices" website sponsored by the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. http://www.nccbuscc.org/doctrine/disabilities.htm

"2. Each person is created in God's image, yet there are variations in individual abilities. Positive recognition of these differences discourages discrimination and enhances the unity of the Body of Christ."

The notion of being created in God's image is an interesting one. It must imply something of a positive nature, I would assume. I never paid much attention to the notion when most of the people I interacted with were like me: healthy, apparently happy, got along with others, etc. But then I worked for a year in an institution for persons with profound disabilities. As I walked the halls of that institution, I passed people who literally were so physically disabled, they appeared to fluid lumps of humanity thrown to the ground that solidified to form something resembling a deflated ball. Many of them had accompanying severe cognitive disability to go along with their physical disabilities. I was involved in sensory stimulation training, which I ultimately stopped doing as I felt I was more of an annoyance than a help (I mean imagine not being able to move or communicate, and then having someone rubbing ice on your hand, or a prickly brush across your skin, with the best intentions of course, in the name of stimulating you). Anyway, I looked on those individuals and tried to reconcile the notion that they were created in the image of God with any past ideas I might have had about the concept. It was obvious to me that the image of God is not intellect, it is not physical health, or even as I once thought, social interactivity as none of these were present in these individuals. At this point in my life, it occurs that it might be that all people have a spirit. In the end it is more important from a leveling the field kind of perspective to note that we are all created in God's image. Such a perspective to my biased eyes raises the importance of those with profound disabilities and convicts my own vanity (it is easy for those without disability to see that we were created in God's image, I mean, c'mon, just look at us!).

Yes, it is also true that there are variations in our abilities. I am confident that the Bishops meant the best by this part of the statement, however, it can come off a bit patronizing. I suspect to them, it was simply the other shoe falling in relation to the image of God statement. It is true that we all have different abilities, but I really resist the "looking for the abilities in others" trap as abilities are linked often to worth. I say people have abilities because I am trying to assign them worth. Well I honestly have met people that I don't think have any abilities. And please don't tell me that their severe disability is actually the ability to bring out something in those around them. Variations in our abilities, sure, fine, however, worth is from God in being created in His image, and being loved by him. People get hung up on abilities and variations in abilities.

Positive recognition of ability differences may actually discourage discrimination and enhance the unity of the Body of Christ, but it can also be so much "whistling in the dark." I might actually have something to fear in the dark and whistling does little in light of that fact. Once again, positive recognition of ability differences benefits those with abilities. Recognition of differences in abilities if fine but it really isn't about abilities or the lack thereof. No, God says I have value so I have value. My ability to write a sentence or kick a ball, or smile in a friendly manner must be treated as irrelevancies in terms of worth. This is, I believe, where the Church is in a morass of confusion. It is not about what you can do for me, it is what can I do for you.
  • And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your servant;
  • Even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:25)

Discrimination will go away when we stop having "peeing contests" over abilities and recognize that we are to serve one another. . . when we quit looking at appearances, when we quit feeling the need to affirm abilities because we are so darn fragile. The more needy, the more opportunity for service. You want to enhance unity? Lets serve one another and spend our lives for each other, for many.



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