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

Friday, March 31, 2006

"Points of insubordination"

I have been reading some Michel Foucault (which may worry some of you). Actually, I am reading the writings of others who are translating Foucault for me, and I am not just talking about the French. One of the most interesting ideas shared is that of "bio-power." I quote an article from Tremain's book, Foucault and the government of disability where Martin Sullivan quotes Foucault,
In short, rehabilitative medicine fits Foucault's description of subjecting power insofar as rehabilitation is "a form of power...which categorizes the individual...attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and with others must recognize in him. It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects" (1982, 212).
Later in that same article, Sullivan mentions Foucault's idea of rebelling against subjecting power through acts which are called "points of insubordination...which are a means of escape." by virtue of their birth, individuals with various congenital disabilities fall under subjecting power which identifies them, ascribes an identity to them, imposes a "law of truth" on them which he and those around him must submit to. The problem with most of the evidences, the "behaviors, objects and language" (Berger & Luckman) of this subjecting power is that unfortunately, they are untrue. The only way to break out is through points of insubordination, by not going along with the program. The people with disability, particularly cognitive disability, haven't the ability to recognize their subjugation, and wouldn't know what to do if they did.

Burton Blatt wrote an interesting book many years back called "Revolt of the idiots" about a group of residents of an institution who revolted against those in charge of the institution. It was of course pure fiction but it resonated with me. In terms of changing things in their lives, persons with cognitive disabilities are rarely going to be able to be their own advocates. I recognize there are many excellent self-advocates in the disability movement, but such advocates are rare.
It is we who are the ones who must recognize the subjecting power being applied inappropriately to persons with disability and we who must engage in "acts of insubordination" on their behalf. Let me give you two examples of what I mean.

One happened many years ago. I approached a pasor at my church and told him that I wanted to begin a ministry to adults with disabilities. His response was that it is not a priority. In some ways, he was using subjecting power on both me (in my disire to do ministry) and persons with disability in categorizing them as not a priority. My response to this subjecting power was to engage in a point of insubordination. As Kathi and I left the meeting, I remarked to her, "It will become a priority when I start bringing adults with disabilities down here." Kathi didn't punch the pastor in the nose, but our attitude and ultimately behavior was insubordinate. I don't vilify that pastor anywhere, in fact he is a friend of mine, but I was not going to go along with the subjecting power that was weilded.

Then recently, I had the opportunity to speak in a chapel at a local Christian school. The focus of the week was on calling, so I was to tell them how I came upon the calling I believe I have. I briefly shared how I felt God had led me to the calling of including persons with disabilities in the Church and its agents. I then went off on how a person with disability could never attend that school. That although that school sets itself up as one which represents Jesus Christ to that community, in reality it doesn't because of its exclusion of persons with disability. Once again, an example of insubordination. I didn't burn the school down, I just wasn't totally obedient.

I believe we need to engage in these types of behaviors on occasion in order to get people's attention. As Christians, we can sometimes be so nice that no change will come. I would encourage you to be insubordinate if it opens your church to persons with disabilities. However, remember that as with the message of Christ, the message might be offensive but we are not to be. I confront, but not to ridicule or embarass. My attitude has to be one that calls the Church to obedience.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Secret Girl

I read a recent article in the January/February issue of the AARP newsletter (no cracks about my age please, my in laws graciously provided the article to me). Anyway, the magazine has an excerpt from a book entitled Secret Girl by Molly Bruce Jacobs, which is scheduled for release in March of this year (2006). I have not read the book, but would for the moment recommend the article. The book is about the placement of a girl in an institution by her family and her ultimate reuniting with her family through her sister, Molly. Here is a quote from the article/book.
The notion I'd conjured in my imagination decades ago-that Anne was my dark antithesis-faded rapidly. Instead I began to see her as my counterpart, one I'd lost touch with long ago. She had what the world I grew up in had supressed in me, what drinking had numbed. In spite of her disabilities, she was everything I wasn't, or what I'd imagined I wasn't allowed to be. She exuded the joie de vivre that dries up in you when you're raised to believe that the trophies and rewards you accumulate will make you happy, and that the pursuit of truth and beauty is only for dreamers and fools. Blue blooded manners had not made her self-conscious. The light in her eyes had not dimmed with complacency. Formality had not put a lid on her howls of laughter. If she felt like dancing, she danced-wherever she was. If she wanted to sing, she sang-whatever song happened to drift into her head. When she had an urge to smell your hair, your cheek, or a magazine, she leaned over and sniffed. She was in every sense of the term a free spirit.

You know that freedom that free spiritedness is something that persons with cognitive disabilities can bring to the church. The joy of life. The freedom of being unconcerned about the judgement of others.

In Becoming Human, Jean Vanier has a chapter called "The Path to Freedom." In it he writes,
We set out on the road to freedom when we no longer let our compulsions or passions govern us. We are freed when we begin to put justice, heartfelt relationships, and the service of others and the truth over and above our own needs for love and success or our fears of failure and of relationships.

The Church could learn these things if persons with cognitive disabilies were regularly in their midst. But in the same manner as Secret Girl, we have sent them away, at least in terms of not having them in our midst.

Molly Bruce Jacobs talks about how her sister asked her, "How was your vacation" because that is what her sister had been told as the reason no one had ever come to visit her. Your family is on vacation...for 30 years. Her response upon seeing her sister was not and angry "Where have you been for 30 years." It was a loving, and Jacobs argues, forgiving, "How was your vacation."

How was your vacation, Church?


Monday, March 20, 2006

Proverbs and Jeremiah

Proverbs 3:5
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowlege him and he'll make your paths straight.
Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Oliver (1990) states,
They also see themselves as pitiful because they are socialized into accepting disability as a tragedy personal to themselves.

There is a disconnect between the ideas presented above, at least there is for the Christian.

In all our life circumstances we are encouraged to trust in the Lord, because He can be trusted. He loves us and has a plan for our futures. However, disability seems to totally throw us into a tizzy. We loose our balance. We, due to our socialization, accept disability as a tragedy. Now clearly tragedy enters the lives of people. I just wonder sometimes about disability, as tragedy. Does tragedy happen which causes disability? Of course. There are car accidents, and violence against people. But for the moment, lets consider congenital disability. That is disability that people are born with. I am not naive enough to say that life with a child with a disability is always easy or even mostly easy. I just wonder about how I think about disability when the Bible which I claim to base my life upon tells me things like the above. I also wonder to what degree the socialization of disability as tragedy is reflected in the life of the Church which claims to be built upon those same verses listed above?

Disability brings challenges. We have translated challenges into tragedy. Because we have done that, they truly do become tragedy. Because the Church has not stepped forward to support all members, including persons experiencing disability and their families, the likelihood that disability will become tragedy is increased. If I can trust the Lord, and if my Church will support me as I move through the challenges of having a family member experiencing disability, then the works of God will be made manifest (in family members, the person experiencing disability, and the larger Church community) (see 4/1/05 blog entry). However, if I interpret disability as tragedy, what is there to do but mourn and try to make the best of things. Somehow I don't think that is our calling. It definately has become our behavior, our experience, but I don't think it is our calling.

There was this totally spurious method of working with persons with severe disabilities several years back. I don't want to give you the name of those who advocated it or the name of the procedure as I don't want to give it any support whatsoever. However, the upside of the approach was that it brought the community together to help the family to help the child with severe disability. That aspect of the program was truly inspiring and remarkable. Imagine a group of people coming together to support a family in the same manner, only their support was not based on some false approach to working with people with disability, it was based on God's word. The results would be amazing.

Once again, we need to not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (see blog post 3/17/06). Interesting, isn't it, how what has become the "obvious" might fall away in the light of the truth of the Bible, if acted upon by the Church.


Friday, March 17, 2006

"Don't be conformed to this world..."

Romans 12:2 says,
Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.

It takes courage for pastors to embrace a ministry to persons with disabilities. I mean to REALLY embrace such a ministry. It causes ministry structures to change in order to be inclusive of all who might wan to participae in the programs of the church. It takes courage because there will be resistance to change generally, resistance to people who haven't yet and perhaps never will master social skills, and many congregational members may feel uncomfortable. At least they may at first. Some may complain and claim they are not "being fed" (meaning, I guess, that the bottle has fallen out of their mouths). The response is not to exclude, but to change the way that things are done such that more individuals can be involved. The fact that current ministry structures do not include persons with various disabilities implies that they were developed without the involvement of persons with disabilites in the first place.

For example, there is a church that I know of whose youth program is held on the second floor of a building with only stairs to the second floor. This is more than just an ADA issue. Clearly there are times when ministries will be designed for specific groups (recovering alcoholics, victims of various forms of abuse) but the more "generic" programs should be reflective of a perspective that errs on the side of being inclusive of all who would choose to attend.

People with disabilities, particularly those wih physically obvious differences (like down syndrome) are an easy target. I can see the outward evidence of their disability in their facial appearance. I can link their cognitive disability quickly to a physical appearance and dismiss them. It is harder to design ministry that aims at and forsters a wider range of "normal."

I have heard pastors wonder aloud, "What do you expect me to do?" Well, I expect you to speak about persons with disability from the pulpit, to advocate for their inclusion in the programs of the church. To encourage the congregation to get out there and bring them in. I first expect pastors to use their pulpit to develop awareness. I would then expect them to be involved in the ministry, if only making an occasionally appearance, or taking the time to interact with class members. I remember a pastor of mine, Dr. Paul Cedar, once chose a man with developmental disabilities to be his weekly prayer partner for midweek Bible studies. This was a year long committment. This spoke volumes to the congregation about who he felt persons with disabilities are. I expect pastors to not be conformed to the patterns of the world as they are reflected in the structures of the church, but to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. What would a church look like who truly included all individuals who would choose to paricipate? What demands would be placed on the congregation to ensure that persons who do not have a driver's license got to church? It is easy to say you will include me if I come when you know full well that I have no ability to get there other than perhaps hours on a bus.

Then an issue that I continue to struggle with is what would inclusive programs look like? I don't think that the whole church should revolve around any particular group of potential members, but what changes might be implemented that would both indicate to the congregation that these individuals are a priority, that they are worthy of our time, and also would not exclude them on the basis of contrived criteria for program involvement? To what degree is intelligence (for example) a criteria for involvement in the Christian church? If it is a criteria, what does that imply about our programs, who we want to be involved in our programs, who we think the church is for? Clearly intelligence (continuing to use this example) is important for attending college, or being able to perform in some jobs. But is intelligence critical for church involvement? Is intelligence critical to being a follower of Christ?

We need to step back and consider the way we do things in the Christian church. We need to reflect on the degree to which our programs, our structures are reflective of something other than a renewed mind, under the control of God's Holy Spirit. Are we doing things because they are the best way of doing things or are we doing things because we either cannot or will not be transformed by the renewing of our minds?


Thursday, March 09, 2006

"They'll know we are Christians by our lack of experience"

It struck me this week how inexperienced the average person who attends a church is about persons with disabilities. I know a wide variety of Christians at various stages in their spiritual development who attend various denominations within the larger Christian church, but I always am somewhat surprised about how little they have been around persons with disabilities of various types. Now I wouldn't necessarily have the same expectation of those outside of church, however, it occurs to me that the lack of experience, knowledge, interactions of Christians with persons with disabilities, rank and file Christians, is further evidence of the Church's lack of inclusion of persons with disabilities in local churches. Can you imagine having a church in the Greater Los Angeles Basin, where I live, and having no experience with people of Hispanic descent, or people who are primarily Spanish language speakers? Wouldn't you think it strange for people to recoil at people with that background when the region enjoys such a significant Hispanic population?

Yet the US census tells us that 20 percent of the population experiences a disability, but I can introduce a Christian person to someone with mental retardation and it is an entirely new experience.

As I have said elsewhere, we should be leading the way in reaching out to devalued people with love, and inclusion and respect, and service, but we have missed it somehow, and do not even think it strange that our experience in this area is so limited. It is an indictment on us as a Christian church that we lack experience with such individuals who should be in our midst on a regular basis, at least once a week you would think.


Monday, March 06, 2006


March 11, 2006 will be the second annual meeting of the National Association of Christians in Special Education. This year the meeting is once again being held at California Baptist University. We are blessed with an excellent group of presenters dealing with subjects ranging from state of the art special education, to ways to integrate persons with disabilities into the local church, to parents sharing their experiences of joy and frustration with state agencies and schools, and unfortunately the Christian church as well. It should be a great day! Check out the website at http://nacsped.com

I am going to try to rally the forces to continue pushing for a movement of lay professionals to change the church. We aren't doing half of what we might being doing if we made the effort. I was reminded of this this past week. A woman who attends our church who experiences a cognitive disability, moved from her residence in town to a group home in a neighboring community. In that community there are several very large, I mean VERY LARGE churches. I was contacted by the woman who runs the group home about information regarding our church as my friend wanted to continue coming to church. After providing the information I asked the woman whether there would be any others at the group home who would enjoy attending church. To make a long story short, we will hopefully have an additional 10-20 adults experiencing cognitive disability coming to our church.

I was in another neighboring community to pick up a friend at his workshop and was once again amazed as the adults experiencing cognitive disabiities filed out how few of them I knew. I pray that they have a church home somewhere. There are opportunities to reach out to individuals like these, many who are unchurched and would love to have a relationship with the Lord. However, we set our sights too low, and become satisfied with the status quo in our churches. We do some small thing and congratulate ourselves, when God gives us the opportunity to do great things through faith and obedience.

That is the part of this equation that is missing. I have done research myself about the number of churches in my region who have persons with developmental disabilties who attend. The result was 85% which is great! However, there were largely only 1 or 2 per church, and they were at the church because they just showed up at the doorstep of the church. Why aren't churches out looking for those individuals so they can minister to them and facilitate their sharing their gifts. Just based on the US census, there should about 20% of church membership comprised of persons with disabilties, with about 9% of that group having severe disabilities. Is 9% of your church's congregation comprised of persons with severe disabilties? If you have a church of 200, you might expect about 40 persons with disabilities to be in the congregation, 18 of which have severe disabilities. And, I will tell you, if they are not there, it is not because they do not want to come. They are most likely not there because they simply have not been asked.

May God bless us in our efforts to grow an army of lay professionals to change the church. With obedience will come blessing, I believe.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Listening to the spirit of the world

A frequent respondent to this blog who contributes under the name "impossibleape" wrote the following (see February 22, 2006 entry).
Our church administrator told me today that if the Holy Spirit directs them to serve the disabled they will but apparently the Holy Spirit has no more interest in my children than the board members do.

You know, I am very skeptical or have become very skeptical of those who claim to have such a connection to the Holy Spirit that He frequently whispers in their ears, particularly when He whispers things which are contrary to the revealed Word of God in the form of the Bible. It appears to me that the spirit they are listening to is attempting to subvert the Word of God. It occurs to me that because the Holy Spirit inspired the word of God, maybe those who claim to be hearing his voice are rather reflecting the voice of someone else who is whispering in their ears. It could be the spirit of this world which is a scary thought. Actually I wonder if the spirit they are listening to is an even more debased spirit than others as the secular world has done much to include and integrate persons with disabilities, particularly in public schools.
In relation to the issues we discuss on this blog, there are too many churches, pastors, leaders, administrators of churches, etc. who are listeing to a spirit of the world. How could one truly be seeking to hear the Spirit of God on this issue and express no interest, no priority? How evil to blame our lack of caring and love on a lack of prompting by God's Holy Spirit? In other words they are saying, "It is the fault of the Spirit of God that I am not caring for persons with disabilities. It is not the desire of God's Spirit that I do so."

Matthew 12:31-32
31 "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.
32 "And whoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age, or in the {age} to come.
Mark 3:28-30
28 "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter;
29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--
Luke 12:10
10 "And everyone who will speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him.

Sure each of us are prompted in various ways to minister and to use our gifts in different ways. However, we are talking about an agent of the Church. The Church with a capital "C" that is saying it has not been guided by the Holy Spirit to respond to a group of potentially hurting people who are in need. I don't know who these leaders think people experiencing disabilities are or where they came from. That perhaps they fall from the sky, or crawl from under a rock. NO, they are parts of families and as the church ministers to families it needs to minister to all the members of the family. The Bible says we are to minister to those who are poor. Do a need a sign from God, or the Holy Spirit to speak to me in an audible voice to minister to the poor when the Bible is replete with allusions to me helping the poor? If a church leader told you that he hadn't received the prompting of the Holy Spirit to minister to the poor, what could you think other than that he is out of touch with God's Word and God's Spirit? If he said God Spirit hadn't directed him to share salvation with all people, only some, what would you think?

No, lets call this what it is. It is disobedience.