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

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger 2

I have been reading The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger, which is a book of Dr. Wolfensberger's writings on disability from a theological perspective. Dr. Wolfensberger is renowned for his work in areas related to human rights, education and other issues impacting particularly persons with developmental disabilities. However, this book (edited by Bill Gaventa and David Coulter) is an absolute must read for persons interested in notions of mental retardation and disability from a theological perspective. The next few entries will interact with some of the thoughtful discussion provided in this volume.

In "An Attempt Toward a Theology of Social Integration of Devalued/Handicapped People" (a paper presented in 1978) Dr. Wolfensberger takes on the notion of segregation by whomever of a group deemed as different in some way. This principle has particular relevance to the church to the degree that it acts to segregate persons with various disabilities from the general congregation. The following comments are made about how segregation begins.
In truth the one single characteristic of a person, or of a group, that can override all other shared characteristics of people in being used as the justification of segregation can be utterly trivial. It is remarkable in itself that one single characteristic can be presumed to differentiate people so totally, i.e., in that this characteristic can override everything else, even thousands of other characteristics the segregtaors and the segregatees share. If we just contemplate this one little reality, we may be stunned by its magnitude, expecially when we consider that this one overriding characteristic can be something as minor as skin color, the shape of one's ears, left-handedness in Japan, or something of this nature. Even when the characteristic is not trivial, it pales in comparison to the massiveness of the shared characteristics...segregatory congregation also signals back to society that the one characteristic that the congregated people supposedly share with each other is more important than all the thousands of characteristics they share with the segregators.
Now there are times when some forms of segregation make a degree of sense because the point of segregation is relevant. For example, we wouldn't expect to see persons with cognitive disability studying medicine in medical schools. Their difference would be a point of relevant segregation from the field of medicine.

What, however, are the relevant characteristics for segregation from a local church?

1 Corinthians 1: 27 and following states,
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 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.

Who has the Church chosen? What are the relevant characteristics that are so different from the rest of us that we see fit to exclude them from out midst? God chooses "the things that are not." Who do we choose?

(from cbu)

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger 1

I have been reading The Theological Voice of Wolf Wolfensberger, which is a book of Dr. Wolfensberger's writings on disability from a theological perspective. Dr. Wolfensberger is renowned for his work in areas related to human rights, education and other issues impacting particularly persons with developmental disabilities. However, this book (edited by Bill Gaventa and David Coulter) is an absolute must read for persons interested in notions of mental retardation and disability from a theological perspective. The next few entries will interact with some of the thoughtful discussion provided in this volume.

In "The Prophetic Voice and Presence of Mentally Retarded People in the World Today" (a presentation made by Dr. Wolfensberger in 1976) the following statements (they really should be read in context) are made.
"So I asked myself, what are the prophetic signs which appear to be unique or very special to our day, which are very different from what they have been at other times. . . Where and how is the Spirit active today in a way that is different from the way it may have been in other eras?
As I posed these questions to myself over the past few years, I began to read both the signs of dysfunctionality and of prophecy in a different and clearer fashion, and I read one very, very powerful prophetic message, coming from mentally retarded people. For instance, I considered that it should not be unexpected if divine messages about the present patterning of offenses should come from people who, in their roles and identities, are exactly the opposite of what our era idolotrates. Who and what is the opposite? The opposite is a person who is not intellectual, not scientific, not technological, and not academic; who does simple instead of complex things; who cannot cope with complexity, and technology which passes him by; and who, possibly, is despised for lack of modernity and intellectuality. Is that not the retarded persons of our age?
But if it is, is there any evidence that God has thrust retarded people into a prophetic role? I submit to you that there is indeed . . .

The article goes on to list 10 signs to substantiate the possibility that persons with cognitive disability are indeed carrying a prophetic message.
-Mentally Retarded Persons are Becoming Much More Public and Visible
-Retarded People are Becoming Internationally Known
-Non-Handicapped and Handicapped Persons are Sharing Their Lives, Often Living Together
-Retarded Persons are Gentling Others
-The Prophetic Manifestation of the Presence of God via Retarded People
-Retarded People Speaking in Tongues
-Retarded People may Withstand Their Culture
-Retarded People May Be Parodying Intellectualism
-The Dance of Spiritual Joy
-Retarded People Are Beginning to Be Persecuted and Martyred

No doubt Dr. Wolfensberger's writing on this topic will cause you to think through, to consider his position. For each of the signs he describes the sign and how he has seen it evidenced. His perspective is very interesting.
Under the sign, "Retarded People are Beginning to be Persecuted and Martyred," he makes the statement,
"The logic is compelling: the world has always tried to put to death God's prophecy, and it is the nature of God's will that prophets must be prepared to be martyrs, and disproportionately they are. The moment retarded people in significant numbers become bearers of the word of God, the principalities and powers will converge upon them to fight and stifle that form of prophecy that is so specially powerful all because of its much more miraculous nature, and because in some ways, it goes beyond what any other type of prophecy has said before (my emphasis). . . we have never been told in systematic prophecy that human intellect is universally bankrupt, and that millennia of technological development is at an end."

There is a connection here, I believe, with our earlier discussions in this blog of down syndrome, prenatal diagnosis, etc. It is not unusual for persons with developmental disabilities, yes, mental retardation, to change those around them. Personally, I recognize a kind of a prophetic voice about the importance of love and caring and genuine friendship. These kinds of principles fly in the face of the calculations which are driven by technology . . . "Will this person have a good quality of life?" . . . "Is it cheaper to test infants for PKU, or just to deal with the disabilities which will result if we don't?" . . . "What do the percentages tell us about whether or not parents carrying a particular gene will produce a child with a disability?" . . . "Is is more cost effective to spend millions of dollars on political campaigns, or to provide housing subsidies to persons on fixed incomes?" . . . and so on.
And where is the moral compass in this situation? Where is the salt that gives the world its flavor? Where is the light on the hill?
Wolfensberger makes the claim that persons with mental retardation are prophets to the culture, to the church. You may not agree but it makes you think.

I am confident that Jesus would be hanging out with the unwelcomed people with mental retardation and other disabilities in the group homes and care facilities.


Friday, August 12, 2005

Who sinned?

I met briefly today with a friend of mine, who is a professor of Theology. He related the story of a woman who came to him and told of how the pastor of her church said that the reason that her son was born blind was because of her sin. My friend was amazed at the story: that someone would still be accused of sin for the birth of a child with disability, particularly in the light of scripture (I had told him of my experience in this area, but he could hardly believe me). But he also provided a great response. He said that the woman should have replied to the pastor, "Is your son blind as well?" That response that would provide a true understanding of sin, what it is, and what our condition is as members of a depraved generation. It also points to the fact that sin is overwhelmingly NOT the reason for disability.

(from cbu)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Lutheran Church Missouri Synod statement

The following is a statement passed by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod at their 2004 convention.
To Facilitate Ministry with and to People with Disabilities
Overture 6-02 (CW, p. 245)
WHEREAS, Physical, mental, and emotional disabilities may significantly limit participation in worship,
fellowship, education, service, and outreach activities; and
WHEREAS, People with these disabilities are able to make positive contributions to the life of a parish;therefore be it Resolved, That the LCMS Board for Human Care Ministries address the following matters:
1. A mission statement for this ministry with and to people with disabilities;
2. A congregational self-assessment tool to assess the needs of people with disabilities;
3. Plans and guidelines to address physical and attitudinal barriers in churches;
4. Suggestions whereby people with disabilities can be involved in the life and ministry of a congregation;
5. Congregational outreach to people with disabilities to achieve participation in the life and ministry of the congregation.
Action: Adopted (10)
(After introduction by the committee, a request was made to move the question unanimously. The convention instead
closed debate, and the resolution was adopted as presented [Yes: 982; No: 18].)

This is a great general plan for the development of ministry for any church (I wonder who the 18 were who voted against this?). Churches who want to develop ministry in this area need-
a mission statement,
to do a self-assessment,
to look for physical and attitudinal barriers,
to look for avenues for involvement in life and ministry, and
outreach to achieve participation in the congregation.

You see, it really is quite simple. Obviously it is not easy to examine one's attitudes but if people with disabilities are thought of as just people, and the attitudes toward them examined as if they were attitudes toward any person, progress can be made.

(from cbu)

Monday, August 01, 2005

A moving prayer

This past week, a friend and hard worker who attends our Light and Power class at Trinity Church was honored for her last week in the class. She is moving across the country. Anyway, at one point we gathered around her, and as is our custom laid hands on her and prayed for God's blessing and direction. Amy, a member of our class contributed to the blessing by offering a beautiful prayer. After speaking of how we will miss Lella in a voice broken with emotion, she said ". . .and I pray that God will give you peace in your life at your new home." It was a lovely prayer with a heartfelt sentiment.

Lella had devoted a significant amount of time assisting Amy and her family over the past few months. In spite of her cognitive disability, Amy wanted to give back to Lella in some way and did through her beautiful prayer.

It made me once again wonder how many people would not be prayed for if persons with cognitive disability didn't pray for them. I am impressed with the steadfastness of these individuals in remembering to pray for people known to them. Remembering their parents and families and friends. Their righteous indignation over injustice when they become aware of it.

I will never forget a man named James who was an elderly adult with mental retardation. James was fiesty and let you know what you think. At one point in a lesson I was giving in class, I mentioned that several children had been abused by their parents. They had been locked in a closet for months fed through a slit in the door. Angrily but tentatively James rose to his feet and said, "I will not stand for that. I will not let that happen." Although powerless to do most things about the abuse of children, James used what he had, impressing those there that day with the absolute evil of the situation. He also used his voice to pray that such abuse would stop.

Do we really believe that all people are equal in the sight of God? Do we really believe that God hears our prayers, ALL of our prayers by ALL of us?

By the way, Amy has down syndrome. In a perfect world (see July 7th entry) her voice and therefore her prayers would not be heard as she would have been aborted to protect HER from a poor life quality.

"I will not stand for that. I will not let that happen."