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

Friday, April 30, 2004

The Christian imagination

Dr. Stanley Hauerwas has written, "The Christian imagination is constituted by practices such as . . . learning to be present to - as well as with - the mentally handicapped - who we hopefully know not as mentally handicapped, but as Anna and Boyce, our sister and brother in Christ."

He probably should have said that the Christian imagination "might be constituted," or "could" or "should be consitituted." Because actually it is not consitituted by the high ideals he mentions.

In reality the Christian imagination could be a significant part of the problem. Maybe not the imagination of "the church" as a whole, but the imaginations of individuals who comprise the church. Individuals who make up the church, well . . .

They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as significantly different from themselves.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as having a poor quality of life.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as "black holes for service" as a pastor commented to me one time.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as a threat to their regular Sunday school program, in that they will require super human efforts.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as a threat to the development of their larger congregation in that their "notorious social behaviors" might scare off those who would choose to attend that church.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as lacking faith, or experiencing disability as a result of some sin committed by their parents.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as unable to contribute anything to the church, only being a drain on the church's resources.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as being unable to grow spiritually.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as being dirty or diseased.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as being unapproachable by traditional social means like conversation, or phone calls, or lunch.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as living in families who rue their existence, wishing they either had not been born, or were in some way different then they are.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as being the offspring of parents who in some way were selected by God by some syrupy cosmic process to be the parents of the individual.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as being "angels unaware" or "God's special children" or incapable of sin rather than being simply an example of the range of humanity.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as suffering from mental retardation.
They imagine persons with cognitive disabilities as dissatisfied with their lives.

After nearly 30 years of interactions with individuals with mental retardation and a variety of other forms of disability I have come to the conclusion that people with disabilities are just people.


Thursday, April 29, 2004

The memory of disability

John Hull, in his article "A spirituality of disability: The Christian heritage as both problem and potential" states,

". . . Only the disabled seem incapable of inclusion within this universal realm of accepting love. We see the force of this if we ask the naive question why there were not disabled people among the group of close disciples to Jesus. There were none, and it would have been impossible that there should have been any, for the simple reason that Jesus would have restored such people to full health. Indeed, such restoration becomes in itself symbolic of the experience of becoming a disciple."

This is an interesting perspective. However, it is also interesting to note how many of the followers of Jesus during the time he walked the earth would have been people who had been healed of disability, persons who had a memory of disability. The metaphor of of becoming a disciple was not lost on me. Later in the article Hull describes how individuals with disability may have a greater experience with the range of human experience. I believe this is particularly true for persons with acquired disability, as for persons which congenital disability, that experience would be their sole experience. Anyway, how interesting to think that the church was born amongst a significant proportion of people who were once literally disabled, and were healed out of that experience. One wonders what effect that perspective had on the foundation of the church. Although Paul was healed from the metaphoric disability of unbelief, his personal disability remained.

Hull at times wonders at the Bible's metaphorical use of disability in connection with sin, which in my mind seems to be the idea which blossomed in the church. Metaphorical disability was equated with actual disability, and metaphorical healing of disability through belief was equated with actual physical healing. The result being the condemnation of persons with disability as either being sinful or faithless (see April 24 posting).


Tuesday, April 27, 2004

The little children metaphor

There are several places in biblical gospels where Jesus tells his followers to somehow resemble little children. In Luke 18:16 he says to let the little children come to him because the kingdom belongs to such as these. He also says we must receive the kingdom like a little child. In Matthew 11:25, he praises God because he has hidden things from the wise and revealed them to little children. In Matthew 18:3, he says if you humble yourself like a child you will be the greatest in the kingdom.

So. . .
we should receive the kingdom like little children
hidden things are revealed to little children
we should humble ourselves like little children
the kingdom belongs to little children

In considering Jesus' audience, poor, malnutritioned, largely uneducated, third worlders, the level of their children would be arguably even lower than the adults. This audience strikes me as not being that far afield from cognitively disabled adults of today. Jesus was no doubt speaking figuratively when telling his followers to be like little children.

Yet in my interactions with mentally retarded adults, little children, in many ways, cognitively, it gives me pause. I consider the joyful manner in which they receive gifts. I ponder the things which they understand about the Lord and about their faith and wonder about the things which might be clear to them yet confuse me (ostensibly an educated person with wisdom of the world). I reflect on the humility they must consistently engendor to receive the kinds of services and supports they receive. I disagree with the following statement, however it makes a point, in that few people would really say they "need" their disabled friend. If I need you, then you can make demands on me and I must capitulate to you in order to gain what I need you to provide, or I need to receive from you. In over 25 years, I can't remember a time when a mentally retarded person refused to help me when I asked for assistance. But to be in constant need from others forces humility on you, and in some ways causes you to be humble like little children. Ultimately the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Belongs to those who receive it like a little child, are humble like a little child, and receive the revelations that confound the wise, like a little child.

There might be a principle here, that persons with average to above average cognitive abilities can be deluded into thinking that they are self sufficient. This level of conceited arrogance which we all have to some extent, interferes with many aspects of our spiritual growth. That is, I won't believe unless I understand something, I don't want to humble myself and serve others, I really desire that they serve me, I must receive my faith along with other gifts from God with humility. I struggle in all these areas, particularly in receiving my faith as a gift. As Watchman Nee says, I look in the wrong direction, looking at myself as the source of my knowledge, my success, my faith, my acceptability and reason for belonging.

I find people with cognitive disabilities don't face that same problem as much. For example, they are used to not understanding things, to having to be humble to receive help. If you tell them that God has given you a gift, they will respond in humility, not second guessing what He wants in return or if he even is. They set an example for me.

To my thinking they often respond as a little child would.


Monday, April 26, 2004

Manifesting the works of God

John 9:3-5 says,
"Neither this man or his parents sinned" said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work" (NIV).

Jesus said this in response to his disciples asking about a blind man they encountered, "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" They were wondering who's sin caused the blindness.

Merril C. Tenney, the Bible scholar wrote that this passage might be translated in a different way. Here is Tenney's translation.
"Neither did this man sin, nor his parents" said Jesus. "But that the works of God should be made manifest in him, we must work the works of him that sent me, while it is still day; the night cometh when no man can work."

One of Tenney's points with his translation is that the works of God are made manifest in persons with disability by the things those around them do. The works of God were not made manifest solely through the healing of the man by Jesus. An interesting perspective to consider. An interesting plumb line for evaluating the response of the Church to persons with a variety of disabilities.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Clean up your own house

I was reading an old article the other day entitled, "Fractured images: The body of Christ needs healing" by Father Donald Senior (US Catholic, 1994). In the article, Senior discusses the misapplication of biblical principles to persons with disability. He particularly takes to task the notion that people remain disabled because they lack faith. This accusation from Christians has often bothered me. However, he provides the perfect response to such statements.

He relates,
". . . a blind woman I know was visiting Manhattan and walking down a street with her guide dog and cane. Someone stopped her and said, 'Miss, if you believed enough, if you had enough faith, you would be able to see.' She replied, 'Well, if you had enough faith, you could heal me yourself.'"

Remember that one and put it to use!


Friday, April 23, 2004

Biological election

I was recently visiting another blog (nicea.blogspot.com) where there were discussions about Barth's ideas on election. These postings caused me to wonder about election as it relates to individuals with mental retardation.

There are those who would say that by virtue of impaired cognitive abilities, these individuals have been elected and are on the salvation fast track. Interesting that biological conditions could have such spiritual implications. If that were the case, no decision for Christ need be made by the congenitally mentally handicapped.

We know that all will be "given an opportunity" but what does this mean for those with cognitive disabilities? I wonder if they would recognize their opportunity and what the options for a faith response might be?