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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pride sucks or "I am better than you!"

I have been thinking a lot about pride as it relates to a variety of areas in my life, but particularly in relation to persons with disability.

If I were honest with myself, I think I would say that I believe I am better than my cognitively disabled friends. Its shameful to admit that, but I believe it is true. I am smarter than most, I am physically better off than most, I am wealthier than most, I have more opportunities (which of course I feel I deserve because of my efforts, my hard work), and on and on. The only thing which in any way reigns in my self-absorbing pride is the fact that God tells me that I am not better than anyone else. God tells me that we are all equal. In fact, the fact that I believe I am better, may make me worse than many others, particularly those I feel I am better than.

But I don't think that my problem is restricted to me (unfortunately). I honestly believe that in their heart of hearts, most of those who attend a church and call themselves Christians hold the same perspective as I do about how I/we, rank in relation to those among us who are disabled. I/we, like to say that we are all equal at the foot of the cross, but I (for example) have a Ph.D. and many of my friends are cognitively disabled, so obviously that can't be true. I/we say that we want to evangelize the world, however, I/we won't go out of our way to bring a disabled person to church so that can't be true. I mean, either I don't think the disabled person is worth my time, worth my effort to be picked up (because I am too busy to pick him up, or I have plans after church, or something else related to me and my importance) or I honestly do think they are my equal or perhaps even my better and do go out of my way to pick them up.

On several or more occasions the NT states that salvation is a gift, "so that no one can boast." So I/we don't boast about my having access to the most important thing, the point of life, because it is a gift, but I/we am quick to boast (although through socialization, not out loud) about all the other things I/we am able to do, which are of course, once again based upon my/our own efforts. I boast by my actions or by my inaction. I boast by my unwillingness which is only unwillingness because of the pride I have which makes me feel that I have more choices than I probably actually would have if I weren't so full of pride. One might think these other things that seem so important, are the most important thing the way I/we tend to rate these other things in importance by my/our behavior. The most important point in life is free, it is a gift so that no one can boast, but I/we exclude people on the basis of things which are not important. I/we don't brag about my/our salvation because it is a gift. But my intellect, my behavior, my physical stamina, my health, my good looks (if I had them) are of course not a gift, so those things can be the basis of differentiation amongst people.

I see myself through such a strange perspective. If I see God through a glass darkly, I see myself through a brick wall. We chuckle at the pride of others when we see it, because we see others the way they really are as compared to the way they think they are, we think. We also think we see ourselves clearly. I think that if it weren't for God in his mercy protecting me from seeing myself as I really am, I would be stymied to the point of being totally incapacitated by my pride, my sin, my self-centeredness my total disregard of God's purposes. But instead, he allows me to live on in some fairyland of totally unsupportable ideas of who I am. Particularly who I am in comparison to others around me, and particularly in comparison to those who I see as below me, not worthy of my time or effort. Those who are "not a priority for ministry at this time," as I have heard too many times from Christian church leadership. What does it mean if a person or a group of persons is not a priority for ministry at this time? It seems to obviously imply that I, in my pride, can determine who is worth the effort (see Sept 28 entry), and unfortunately, for too long persons with cogntive disabilities have not been worth my/our effort.

Can you see how this is a problem of pride? Pride in individuals like me and pride in the church as a whole?

But there is something that I can boast about with total confidence. That is that God loves me, the way I am, full of myself and my importance. But God loves my friend with disabilities the way he is, full of himself and full of his importance. I wish I loved my friend like God loves me and my friend the same. I wish I believed in the importance of my friend with disablities like God believes in the importance of me and my friend the same. I wish I could be willing to give my life for my friend with disabilities like God gave his life for me and my friend the same. I wish my behavior reflected the principles of equality that I say I believe in. I wish my behavior reflected the importance of all people before the cross the way that I say I believe in the importance of all people. I wish my thoughts about myself and my friends with disabilities reflected the thoughts of God about me and my friends with disabilities being both the same.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Isaiah 53: 2-3, 4

A student in one of my classes at California Baptist University, shared this verse in reference to persons with disabilities. I may be the only one, but I hadn't thought of how Christ's experience is so similar to that of those with disability. Isaiah writes,
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not...we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and aflicted.

A very interesting characterization which could easily describe many persons with disabilities. Christ understands them.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Prayer as a leveler

The Light and Power Company at Trinity Church in Redlands, California recently hosted an all church prayer meeting. The meeting was sparsely attended by around 30 people, but it was a great time.

In preparing for the event, it occurred to me that prayer would be a great leveler of persons within the church. God is not honored by our "much words" and all prayers are pretty much equal. For me to go on and on about the surgeon's training and hands and whatever else comes to mind does not make my prayer any more effective than that of someone who simply says, "Help Sally get better." At the same time, however, the "childlike" faith of persons with cognitive disability may cause a qualitative difference between my and their prayers. My intellect often fills me with doubt, whereas their limited intellect allows them often to pray doubt free.

Please consider instituting a prayer session sponsored by the persons with disabilities in your church. It gives teeth to the lesson that we really are all equal at the foot of the cross. It also should raise the esteem of persons with cognitive disability in the eyes of other members of the church. There are people who will literally not be prayed for if not for the prayers of persons with disabilities, with cognitive disabilities. This is very powerful.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis

Independent of you might think of the "emerging church" movement, there are some interesting comments being made by those in one way or another who are involved in that movement. For example, Rob Bell (pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids Michigan, an amazing church which I had the opportunity to visit a week ago with a dear friend, Dan Morton) in his book Velvet Elvis, wrote the following:

If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody.

And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the 'un' and 'non', they work against Jesus' teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, 'God shows no favoritism.' So we don't either.

This is a controversial statement no doubt, but the point of the church surrendering itself to radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return is something we have lost to a significant degree. Yes there are pockets of radical service, however, we as an entire church body could hardly be characterized as being involved in radical acts of service, nor could we as individual members of churches be characterized as involved in radical acts of service (I count myself among these individuals).

But what is the example of our Lord? Somehow, I need to make the radical acts of service more important than the probably thousands of hours I spend with my children or on my own in sports activities, for example. If we are doing anything radically, we are missing the example of Christ in a radical manner.


Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nicholas Wolterstorff on Matthew 25

Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff provided the Alan Keith Lucas lecture at the recent NACSW ( North American Association of Christians in Social Work ). He spent a significant amount of the lecture discussing the Matthew 25 scripture regarding judgement: the separation of the sheep and the goats. He made the point that the translations which have predominated over the years may be in error in translating the word dikaios as "the righteous" rather than as "the just" or "the just ones". No doubt this distinction will be dealt with in depth in the book on justice which he has sent off for publication. However, it is an interesting distinction. So to fail to do justice to the "least of these" is to fail to do justice to Jesus himself.

One of the primary points I think he made was that justice implies the worth in another. I strive to facilitate justice for another for reasons unrelated to myself (my righteousness) and more related to the desire for all people to live under just conditions. I go beyond just aiding victims to attacking victimizers.

He also made the comment that in the Beatitudes, that the translation should not be "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness" but rather "Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of justice" or doing justice. He commented that those who are righteous aren't typically persecuted for doing righteous things. Rather those who do justice or are constantly advocating for justice can be quite annoying ie. the recipients of persecution.

He also talked about how the Bible uses the word "downtrodden," the implication being that they are being actively trodden down.

In summary, he said, attentiveness to justice means attentiveness to the worth of another. This is a fascinating take on a section of scripture often used in relation to persons with disabilities or mental retardation. The least of these deserve justice because of their worth. Their worth comes from their humanity, not their cognitive or other ability levels. Disability does not decrease worth and therefore does not diminish one's right to justice.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Disability transformation movement

I have recently been in contact with Dr. Don Grossnickle, a member of the Diocese of Chicago of the Catholic Church. In our discussions, he used the term, disability transformation movement in reference to the kinds of changes that he, I and others are attempting to make within the church. There is a great deal going on across the country in these areas. I have recently been able to participate in only a couple of these conferences.

We had the PreSummit on church and disability facilitated by Bill Gaventa, the force behind so many positive movements which have occured over the years relative to faith groups and disability. It was a marvelous meeting in Washington DC attended by many powerful groups (powerful in terms of the changes they are making in churches and the lives of persons with disabilities). I expect to see more from this group.

Then there was the "Through the roof" summit held by the Joni and Friends organization in Pasadena, CA. Once again, a gathering of some wonderful people who really have a vision for the future of the church and persons with disbility. Of course Joni was there, but also people like Dr. Jim Pierson, and someone who I think will be a significant player in this area in the future, Steve Bundy of Pasadena Nazarene church.

I just got back from the National Association of Christians in Social Work conference (nacsw.org) which also had rumblings of issues related to social justice. Dr. Nicolas Waltersdorf, the well-known Christian philosopher from Yale University, spoke about social-justice describing a way of translating the Matthew 25 chapter about sheep and goats in a different manner. We also placed an add from NACSPED (nacsped.com) calling on NACSW members to work in their own churches to open them up to persons with disabilties by volunteering themselves to develop such ministries.

So things are happening in the disability transformation movement. Should you know of other things happening across the country, please respond to this blog and let us know about the activities.

May God bless our efforts.