Tuesday, December 21, 2004
"8. We welcome qualified individuals with disabilities to ordination, to consecrated life, and to full-time, professional service in the Church."
Although the primary focus of this blog has been integration of persons with disability, particularly cognitive disability, into the church we have at times touched on other areas of disability. Although I do not understand all aspects of "consecrated life" as mentioned by the Bishops, I suspect there could be vocations which might be filled by persons with some form of cognitive disability. Particularly those which might not require a great deal of study or theological understanding. Those which would not require the supervision of those without cognitive disability or some of the more demanding aspects of teaching. However, I want to move away from cognitive disability for a moment.
There is no doubt that persons with various forms of disability (physical disability, blindness, deafness, etc.) have been ordained and served in full-time professional service to the church. If they did not have these disabilities when they began service, they certainly have developed them over time. As we are using a Catholic document as a point of departure for this discussion, one need only consider the Pope who with advanced age has found himself increasingly facing apparent physical disabilities. Although these disabilities have impacted his ministry, they have in no way limited the impact of his ministry. I suspect there are many who upon seeing his disability are actually encouraged by the fact that he can relate to the physical issues they are facing in their lives.
There are also those who have been disabled by others in the service of God. The Bible speaks of horrific tortures people have faced over time because they refused to either denounce a belief in God, or refused to stop telling others about God. I cannot imagine we would now disqualify those who endured such trials from working in ministry.
I have known a variety of people who have served as ministers who also experienced disability. One of the most powerful sermons I ever saw was delivered by Rev. Steve Chance. He is an ordained minister who also has cerebral palsy. I remember Steve would sit in the front row of the church waiting to be introduced. Upon his introduction, he would slowly go up the steps leading to the stage so that he could deliver his message. You struggled with him as he made his way up the steps. Just the act of him climbing those steps drew you in, gave you some small bit of empathy toward the challenge moving around the community might be for him. As he would reach the platform and move toward the lectern, you were relieved. Steve, somewhat haltingly, would then turn and rivet the audience with a brief pause. "Is God fair?" he began, and you knew that he had a good notion of whether on not God was based upon his personal experience. Contrast that presentation with the good looking well built pastor who bounds up on stage and asks the same question. Steve had and has a vital ministry because of the experiences God has placed in his life. Experiences you and I and probably Steve would chose not to have, but the end result is a powerful witness for God in a way that others could not emulate.
I was in a meeting the other day where several deaf leaders in their church spoke about the incredible benefit of having a pastor/priest who was able to sign. It was not shared whether or not the person they spoke of was deaf himself. If he was, what a great investment on the part of the church to train up and place him among others who spoke the same language and had similar experiences (I am reminded of God coming to the Earth in the form of man). But even if he wasn't deaf, what an obvious thing to do to minister to a community. Can you imagine going to a church where you not only don't speak the language they speak, you can hardly even perceive it.
Involvement of persons with disability in church leadership is not a mandatory thing that must be done, but it does send a message to the congregation about what the church thinks about persons having that characteristic. If I see persons with my same racial flavor in leadership, it implies to me that people like me are valued. If I never see anyone who looks like me in leadership it implies that people like me cannot rise to leadership at worst, or at best that the church is too lazy to find someone like me.
I remember that at the university where I used to teach, a new building was built with a large lecture hall. The stage of the lecture hall had no wheelchair access to it. I can imagine the discussion between those who planned that stage . . . "Do you think we need to have wheelchair access to the stage?" "Naw, nobody in a wheelchair would be speaking to this group. Besides, if the university thinks its important, they can add a lift or something later." The ultimately did.
If the church wants to engage the community, to bring the community in, to minister to the community, then the congregation must reflect the community AND the leadership must reflect the community as well. If I don't see myself there, then I won't come.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
"7. We must recognize and appreciate the contribution persons with disabilities can make to the Church's spiritual life, and encourage them to do the Lord's work in the world according to their God-given talents and capacity."
You know, I honestly don't think we do recognize and appreciate the potential contribution persons with disabilities can make. We have an idea of what it might be like if persons with disability were integrated into the church, but really, we don't know.
I remember back in 1985 when I bought my first computer, a Mac (it was amazing). Although I had a notion of what I might be able to use a computer for, part of me felt like I was buying a Cadillac to go the grocery store when I already had a perfectly good electric typewriter. Now, I can hardly imagine life or work without a computer.
Perhaps if persons with disability were truly integrated into the church we would begin to recognize the contributions they have always been available and able to make but never had the opportunity to make because they were not fully included.
The Bishops also chide us that we must "encourage them to do the Lord's work." As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, a friend of mine named Jack is an adult with developmental disabilities who lives at a healthcare center for seniors. Jack lives there because of a medical problem he has, however, he is far and away the youngest man at that place. Many of the other residents are in advanced stages of senility, alzheimers, whatever you might want to call their gradual mental regression. But Jack knows all their names, says hello as he walks through the facility, talks about the Lakers (his favorite subject), reads the newspaper with them among many other things I am sure I am just not aware of. Jack is a minister of friendship and encouragement to the people living in that place. He also facilitates prayer for people in that place, staff and residents at times, through mentioning their names at times when we pray at church.
In my mind there is also something special about the prayer of a person with cognitive disability. Now don't get me wrong. The specialness has nothing to do with some idea that they have a special soul, or any other theological goofiness. The Bible says that the prayer of a righteous person avails much. Other notions of prayer are linked to faith. I find that persons with cognitive disability often have great deal of faith (as Jesus recommends, the faith of a little child). I really don't think God looks on us and says, "Your faith isn't as good as someone else's faith because you are cognitively impaired. Or your faith is greater because you are a professor at CBU." It is more about what we do with what we have. If I am to have the faith of a little child, then there might be something that I need to loose in order to gain that innocence. I need to loose my overly analytical mind, my need for proof. We are saved by faith. I see some of my cogntively disabled friends much ahead of me in terms of basic faith in God. I also find they are righteous. No they are not perfect. But their unrighteousness is often different from my unrighteousness.
People with unquestioning faith are definitely in need in the church. I could give many examples of such faith in persons with cognitive disability. Times where they encouraged children and adults with their "take Him at his word" approach to God.
So although I appreciate the Bishops' statement, and agree with it, I really don't think we know of what we speak, as the saying goes. Are there blessings to be had if the church is more open to and inclusive of persons with disability? What would we see if the congregation represented the community?
Lets find out...
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
"5. Since the parish is the door to participation in the Christian experience, it is the responsibility of both pastors and laity to assure that those doors are always open. Costs must never be the controlling consideration limiting the welcome offered to those among us with disabilities, since provision of access to religious functions is a pastoral duty."
The parish (aka the local church) is indeed the door to participation in Christian experience. It also is the responsibility of both the pastors and the laity to keep the doors open. I have been in situations where the pastors kept the doors open to persons with disability in spite of the laity and the laity kept the doors open in spite of the pastors. The latter seems more difficult to me. But a larger question is what is meant by keeping the doors open.
In one of the Cal Baptist courses I teach, students are required to interview their pastors about ministry to persons with disability. Perhaps the most common answer they receive is that the church is 1) wheelchair accessible and 2) has handicapped parking spots. Somehow, these legal requirements for public buildings have been confused with the Bishops' notion of the churches' doors being "open." Obviously, openness must mean something more than simply physical access. The fact that I can go somewhere doesn't mean that I am welcomed there. There is a qualitative difference that distinguishes open in terms of access from open in terms of wanting or desiring someone's presence. The latter form of openness implies that those who are open have done something to be more than just physically accessible.
The Bishops imply openness is participation in the Christian experience. For some that implies a facilitation of participation as participation will not occur on its own. Its like the catalyst in a chemical experiment.
catalyst - A substance usually present in small amounts relative to the
reactants, that modifies, especially increases, the rate of a chemical reaction
without being consumed in the process. (American Heritage Dictionary)
Small amounts, yes.
Especially increases the rate of reaction, yes.
Without being consumed in the process, yes.
Costs are at times given as the reason for a lack of programs for persons with disability. The point I find interesting about this excuse, is that we accept it. Perhaps it has just been used for so long, that we assume it is a justifiable response. But I would say, that the next time someone tells you they cannot afford something relative to serving persons with disability, ask them to share with you what the specific costs are, and how they came to determine those costs. I am quite confident they do not know of what they speak.
". . . since provision of access to religious functions is a pastoral duty."
I do not claim to be a Bible expert, however, I cannot remember a time in the New Testament when people were excused from ministry on the basis of finances. It is almost as if finances are somewhat irrelevant. Please do not get me wrong, I understand that things cost money, however, there is much that can be done without money. A major focus of the Bible is both ministry to the poor, and the responsibility of the poor in ministry. God would not call us to only expensive forms of ministry as not all would be able to participate then. It is just as God would not make walking, or vision, or hearing, or cognition a prerequisite to ministry. We are all called to serve independent of our abilities. To whom much is given, much is expected, however, there are very few to whom nothing is given and nothing is expected. We cannot use the excuse of no money for nonparticipation in ministry. That is the cool thing about God's call. Pretty much all of us have what is required for some level of service, we have the ability to be servants independent of our salaries.
The Catholic Bishops are all about access, facilitating access, and removing barriers. This statement (statement 6 above) would not be relevant if the Bishops had not seen a lack of access or the placement of barriers somewhere.
Friday, December 10, 2004
"A few weeks ago, I took part in a discussion that involved a number of people working with children and young people who suffer from different forms of 'autism' - the kind of disorder that seems to cut people off from ordinary communication and shows itself in strange repetitive behaviours and sometimes in violent outbursts. We watched a video showing the work of one of the most experienced therapists in Britain, and then heard her talking about what she is trying to do with her methods.
The first thing we saw on the video was a young man, severely disturbed, beating his head against a wall, and then walking fast up and down the room, twisting and flicking a piece of string. The therapist's first response was strange: she began to twist and flick a piece of string as well. When the young man made a noise, so did she; when he began to do something different, like banging his hand on a table, she did the same.
The video showed what happened over two days. By the end of the two days, the boy had begun to smile at her and to respond when touched. A relation had been created. And what the therapist said about it was this. Autism arises when the brain senses too much material coming in, too much information. There is a feeling of panic; the mind has to regain control. And the best way of doing this is to close up on yourself and repeat actions that are familiar; do nothing new, and don't acknowledge anything coming from outside. But when the therapist gently echoes the actions and rhythms, the anxious and wounded mind of the autistic person sees that there is after all a link with the outside world that isn't threatening. Here is someone doing what I do; the world isn't just an unfamiliar place of terror and uncertainty. And when I do this, I can draw out an answer, an echo; I'm not powerless. And so relationship begins.
To see this sort of thing in action is intensely moving. This is real mental and spiritual healing at work. But it gives us a powerful imageof what it is we remember at Christmas.
Human beings are wrapped up in themselves. Because of that great primitive betrayal that we call the Fall of humanity, we are all afraid of God and the world and our real selves in some degree. We can't cope with the light. As John's gospel says, those who don't want to respond to God fear and run away from the light. But God acts to heal us, to bring us out of our isolation - which is as bizarre and self-destructive as that young man beating his head against the wall. And he does this in a way that is just like the therapist in the video. He does what we do; he is born, he grows up, he lives for many years a life that is ordinary and prosaic like ours - he works, he eats, he sleeps. Here is ultimate love, complete holiness, made real in a back street in a small town. And when he begins to do new and shocking things, to proclaim the Kingdom, to heal, to forgive, to die and rise again - well, we shouldn't panic and run away because we have learned that we can trust him. We know he speaks our language, he has responded to our actions and our words, he has echoed to us what we are like.
Christ does not save the world just by his death on the cross; we respond to that death because we know that here is love in human flesh, here is the creator's power and life in a shape like ours. As we read the gospels, we should think of God watching us moment by moment, mirroring back to us our human actions - our fears and our joys and our struggles - until he can at last reach out in the great gestures of the healing ministry and the cross. And at last we let ourselves be touched and changed.
That's what begins at Christmas. Not a doctor coming in with a needle or a surgeon with a knife, but a baby who has to learn how to be human by watching; only this baby is the eternal Word of God, who is watching and learning so that when he speaks God's transforming word we will be able to hear it in our own human language. He is God so that he has the freedom to heal, to be our 'therapist'. He is human so that he speaks in terms we can understand, in the suffering and delight of a humanity that he shares completely with us. And now we must let him touch us and tell us that there is a world outside our minds - our pride and fear and guilt. It is called the Kingdom of God.
May the blessing of Christ our incarnate King be with you all at this season."
(c) 2004 Rowan Williams
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
"5. Parish liturgical celebrations and catechetical programs should be accessbile to persons with disabilities and open to their full, active and conscious participation, according to their capacity."
Accessiblity and participation.
Accessibility is much more than wheelchair access or handicapped parking spots. Today, virtually any new, public, building will have many accessibility aspects nailed down because it is the law. However, accessibility is much more than that. If I have chairs in my auditorium, does that mean I am willing to accept any person who sits in those chairs? Hardly.
Accessibility should imply a certain desire to have people involved, it implies that I have done a bit more of something, something out of the ordinary perhaps, to facilitate access. So in my church, for example, we not only say we invite children with autism to be involved in the children's classes, we have people who are available to serve as "buddies" to help the child feel a part of the group. It is a small thing, but it allows one to say, "Not only are you and your child welcome here, but we have buddies to help your child to be successful in the children's program here." It implies we have thought about people like you, with your life situation before. It implies that we value you, so, we have come up with a way to make access to our church easier for you.
The Bishops' statement says access to "liturgical celebrations" and "catechetical programs." Although not a Catholic myself, I recognize the importance of liturgy to the Catholic tradition. If one is to be a full fledged Catholic, she must have access to liturgical celebrations, which include much of the public meetings of the faithful. The catechetical programs are the educational programs leading to catechism as well as other benchmarks of church membership/participation (I would assume). Persons with disability should have access to these educational programs so that they can participate fully, "according to their capacity."
On the basis of experience with persons with cognitive disabilities in church situations, it would be easy to dismiss someone as not having the capacity to benefit from a variety of programs the church has to offer, if you don't provide time and opportunity for those individuials to participate in the programs. Yet, there are people who are prayed for on a weekly basis, simply because friends of mine who are adults with mental retardation ask our group to pray for them during a time of prayer requests. I have prayed for the bus driver of several men who make the request each week, for years. If you honestly believe in the power of prayer, you must believe that the desires on the part of those men to have their bus driver prayed for has somehow made a difference. They also always ask me to pray for their teacher. Another man who lives in a senior center (arguably not the most appropriate placement for that man, although I think he has a ministry there as he brightens the lives of many of the residents through his knowledge of sports and unabashed ability to start a conversation with anyone) asks me to pray for his mother and a nurse who helps him each week. I can't help but wonder how many of the other residents are not prayed for each week. One staff member always asks him to pray for her as well and we make a point to remember to pray for that person. I guarantee to you that were those men not involved in the program at our church, for sure the people for whom they ask for prayer might not be the topic of prayer, at least not by me and others in the group. Will these men remember that Paul and Barnabus split up and Paul went with Silas and Barnabus with Mark (our current lessons are from Acts)? Does it even matter? They are participating to the extent to which they are capable and they are making a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of those for whom they are praying or facilitating prayer through their request for prayer.
The Bishops touch on a notion which I suspect has a great deal behind it, that of "conscious participation." I suspect this term implies a notion of understanding. My son recently took a class in Philosophy as a part of his college curriculum. At the end of the class, students could ask the professor any question they wanted. He asked, "Do you believe in God?" He replied "No," but followed up the statement with the analogy of him being like a flea on a dog, trying to understand what a dog was (as an aside, that is why God-the dog, became a flea-in the form of Jesus, so we would get some understanding of who He is). Anyway, we understand a lot less than we think we do. We compare ourselves to others who know less than we and congratulate ourselves, or segregate ourselves on the basis of our knowledge. As I have stated elsewhere in this blog, however, such comparisons are silly. They are particularly silly when we think about what we know about God in relation to what might be known about him, and then we segregate our selves on the basis of what we supposedly know.
"He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the
things that are not - to nulify the things that are, so that no one may boast
before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become
for us wisdom from God - that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1
Corinthians 1: 26-29)"
You know, sometimes the above sounds like a warning to me. It makes me wonder about the things that I choose in comparison to the things God chooses. My choices are evidenced by to whom I give access and for whom I facilitate participation.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
"4. Defense of the right to life implies the defense of all other rights which enable the individual with the disability to achieve the fullest measure of personal development of which he or she is capable. These include the right to equal opportunity in education, in employment, in housing, and in health care, as well as the right to free access to public accommodations, facilities and services."
Once the right to life is secured (and it is arguable that it has not yet been secured, as evidenced by the Bishops' third statement) our hope would be to expand rights to include those which facilitate the fullest measure of personal development. This is one of the reasons this blog spends so much time on opening the church to persons with disabilty as churches do indeed facilitate a fuller measure of personal development, and not just in the spiritual arena. The notion of personal development of persons with disabilities is not one that the church necessarily knows how to do. The comment was once made to me that disabled persons don't improve, so why devote so much time to them? The fact of the matter is that even the most severe of disabled persons do evidence improvement (I haven't done the research yet, but anecdotally I have observed this) although perhaps not to the degree of those without disability. However, as with all church members, it should interest the church whether its members are achieving the fullest development possible, as least as much as they are able to impact development.
Then there should be equal opportunity in
- health care
Education is improving, although equal opportunity doesn't necessarily mean access to the core curriculum being used for students without disability. It should mean access to the type of curriculum which would best serve each student (would facilitate personal growth as above). However, sadly many disability advocates have fought for access to the core curriculum, which is a curriculum built upon a social efficiency model (having the greatest impact for the greatest number of people) not a critical/functional skills model. So students have gained the right to a curriculum which is not necessarily even relevant for them. People have confused access to the core curriculum with integration and so even though children are being educated next to each other, it is arguable as to whether they are receiving the instruction each individually (both those with and without disability) needs to be the most successful.
Employment access has improved somewhat through both the requirements of the Americans with Disability Act, and the increasing recognition among employers that persons with disabilities make good employees. In particular, persons with cognitive disability make great long term workers in entry level jobs. Increasingly, employers are learning that they can save money on hiring a person with cognitive disability to fill positions that have a high turnover rate when persons without disability hold those positions. Actual equal opportunity, well, not quite. The bias against persons with disability is evident in the workplace as employers are simply a subgroup of a larger population who hold the same biases. However, employers go to church and if the church were to involve persons with disability, there would be a greater opportunity for employers to know persons with disabilities and potentially employ them. The gains from network membership are also great in terms of increasing employer tolerance for minor social skill "deficits." More on this aspect of network development is provided at the following website <http://www.jeffmcnair.com/CSRD/networks.htm>
Access to housing, well, they have access to what they may be able to afford. There used to be a program whereby persons with disability were able to receive supplements such that their rent would be no more than a third of their income, however, for whatever reason new applications are not being taken. As a result, I have one friend who is an adult with cognitive disability who pays over 700$ for his apartment and another friend who pays about 260$ for the exact same apartment. The second got into the program when they were still taking applications. Now imagine getting a little over 700$ per month in Social Security, and then having a part time job on the side (part time as you don't want to loose your Social Security benefits) and trying to pay 700$ in rent. As he has stated, he hasn't had the luxury of eating out at McDonald's in the last 6 months because he can't aford it. So access to housing? Access to housing in the worst areas of town.
Health care is better than I might have thought if I hadn't had contact with many of the people I know. I have one friend who has received two kidney transplants, and has been in the hospital on numerous occasions. I have another friend who is dealing with depression who has received great medical support both in terms of long term hospital care, outpatient services and even assistance with medication. Both of these persons have developmental disabilities. Perfect, no, however, I would say it is better by comparison than say housing opportunities by far.
The folks I know also have access to public accommodations (including travel assistance) and various facilities and services. Of course I am not privy to every aspect of their lives, however, I hear few complaints about busses, etc.
So the right to life in terms of other rights is a mixed bag. The church holds huge potential in improving access to other right simply through their inclusion of persons with disability.