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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Disabled man / Christian man

As I have mentioned before, I have a friend, a man who uses a wheelchair who challenges me to think about many issues related to disability and Christianity. As he works through various issues in his personal life, he asks me what I might suggest, how I might counsel him regarding the various issues he is grappling with. On several occasions, he has asked me, "Why is it that the disabled person has to change and not the nondisabled person?" My response typically is "I am not speaking to you as a disabled man, I am speaking to you as a Christian man." I hope that is encouraging to him.

But I have been wondering lately, how does being a disabled man impact being a Christian man? Does being a disabled man change one's expectations regarding what that person might be able to be as a Christian man? Clearly if a person has a cognitive disability, has mental retardation, there will be some limits in terms of knowledge, or specific ability levels. However, I have known people with mental retardation who althought limited in some areas, were very gifted in areas of faith, forgiveness, loyalty, and love among other things. So on the one hand, to limit a person with a disability is wrong. I limit others at my peril, in terms of not being Christlike in my interactions with them. Because there is more to disability than just the outward signs of physical or mental disabilities, I must see those people as I see myself. I too have strengths and weaknesses, some related to differences in my abilities, some related to differences in my abilities, some related to my sinful condition. But overall, we are the same.

Now clearly, I cannot expect self-control from a person who is mentally ill, or emotionally disturbed. They may have the desire to be self controlled, but they lack the ability to be so. It is no different in a person with mental retardation wanting to read the Bible, but lacking the ability to learn to read. But I wonder whether there are other aspects of being a disabled man which may limit a person's particular abilities. Jean Vanier speaks of the wounds of persons with disabilities. Wounds which Wolf Wolfensberger expands upon, breaking them out into specific types of wounds. See the March 21, 2007 posting for more specifics on wounds. If I were to have a stab wound in the arm, you would hardly expect me to throw a baseball, or use a hammer. I might desire to do so, but I am unable because my wound has incapacitated me.

So thinking about the particular wounds faced by a person with a particular disability, I might find that that person would face limits due to his wounding. Wolfensberger talks about diminishing wounds, attempting to limit them to the degree possible. His goal generally is largely to simply limit the wounds a person has to face, out of caring, out of concern out of love. I, however, would also argue that as we work to diminish the wounds of our disabled brothers and sisters we empower them to grow in various aspects of their Christian faith. We enable them to forgive, we enable them to love, we enable them to do a myriad of things they would desire to do in order to be Christlike, but are unable to do because of the wounding they face.

In summary, we must work to diminish, to attend to, to love those who are wounded. In doing so, we literally heal the wounds that prohibit them from being all they can be as Christians.



Anonymous said...

Hello !
I wrote to you (quite awhile ago). Sadly, things are even worse for us now at my church than when I first wrote. It does encourage me a great deal to read your blog - but I have to admit it's a bit depressing at the same time. There seems to be so few sharing your passion and understanding on the topic. I try to keep my faith on my own, something I've had to learn to do on many other fronts, but I wish things were different.
Anyhow, I wanted to comment on the use of the word 'we'. It would be great if more folks realised they could be 'us' in a few short seconds. 'We' ARE you. There is no 'we'. It's that simple. Far as I see it, everybody's disabled in one way or another - just a matter of visability and degree. Absolutely no one is physically and/or mentally perfect. ALL of us need to stop with the labels. 'We' and 'them' labels put our brothers and sisters in counter productive and isolating situations. It serves no purpose other than to ensure those in the box stay there - far away from those who might want to take someone out of the box or maybe peek into the box and discover it's not real. :0) Jesus didn't love people at a distance. He was hands-on and up close. No boxes. Pretty much turfed the boxes.
The deceptively simple stories and parables Jesus used to teach us partly serves to unapologetically plops the 'we's' into the 'us' box. He wanted the social order reversed. Who are the pharasees and saducess (sp) nowadays ? Pastors, Bishops and elders of churches, academics and politicians. Most of the time, they those considered the most devout, and have authority over those in boxes. If Jesus attended one of our churches, He'd still face a lot of disapproval and might be called a bleeding heart. That should be shocking to us as Christians ! It's still easier and nicer for some if 'them' stays in their box. Dealing with the box is distasteful and unpleasant to them. Jesus' simple and straightforward admonition to "Love one another" will always be the bottom line, yet His children still refuse to learn.

The Editor in Chief said...

Wow! What a great comment. I am glad to be encouraging to anyone. Hopefully, the times we experience will be the kind of thing we share with people in the future as a ...remember when the church used to exclude people with disabilities? That is my prayer.

I also think your comment on boxes is right on. I think that one of the changes that needs to come is for the church to examine its "structures" the ways it does things, boxes you might say. Those boxes need to be examined as as appropriate abandoned. Tradition is only good if it perpetuates a good thing. Discrimination and exclusion are not good things.

God bless you as you work toward making the changes that need to come. Be tough and continue to fight the good fight. God's heart is on our side.

D.Ibarra said...

This is the first time ever writing on a blog so forgive me if it doesn't sound clear...I was thinking about your question “Does being a disabled man change ones expectation of what that person might be able to be as a Christian man? I do believe that it is God that changes us into the Christian that we are impressed to be, disabled or less disabled(since we are all disabled in one form or another). We should not have expectations on what those with disabilities might be, that is in Gods hands. Our focus should be to bring them into alignment with God, bring them to the church, so that they can receive what god want them to receive. It is our Effort and our Faith, that God uses to reach those with disabilities. It is in our Effort, that God uses to send his message to them. Just as in the story of the lame man that was lowered through the roof to Jesus. Jesus told the man “ It is by Their faith you are healed. Through our Effort our Faith they will become the Christian they are meant to be, we can ask no more of them.
One may ask, because of their cognitive disabilities, can those with disabilities understand what it means to be a Christian? Who better, if what you say is true, as I am finding out, they are “gifted in faith , forgiveness, loyalty, and love” They have wisdom in their words if we listen, and they model the qualities that all of us should be looking for.
Now I find that I start looking at myself and ask How does God see me? As a Christian man, am I being all that I can be?