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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sitting at the feet of people with down's syndrome

I have been writing about and wrestling with and reading articles on the topic of inclusive Christian religious education. As I have thought through issues, obviously one lesson we should be teaching in any form of religious education is love. People need to learn how to love. The Bible is largely a book about the love of God for people. In religious education circles, we do learn things about love and we do study love. But it feels to me like we study and learn about love like we would learn and study about baseball. I can know a whole lot about baseball and still be a lousy baseball player. To become a good baseball player, or good at anything for that matter, requires practice at that thing. For the Christian, the idea is not to simply learn about love, it is to practice love and become good at love. To sit at the feet of people who really do love their neighbors.

It also struck me recently, what the well known passage in 1 Corinthians 13:2 says,

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I
am nothing.

Isn't it interesting that Paul would juxtapose knowledge with love? He puts two things together which I can only assume have the potential of being confused. That is, I can have all knowledge, but without love I am nothing. So people can become confused thinking that knowledge is more important than love, that the development of knowledge is more important than the development of love. Note also that the opposite is not true, "If I have all love, without knowledge I am nothing." In the church, particularly as it relates to religious education, I think we have gotten this one wrong.

I once had the honor to meet Jean Vanier. I asked him, "How is it that the church has missed people with disabilities in terms of ministry and inclusion?" He responded something to the effect, "The church has been focussed on the rectitude of doctrine when it should have been focussed on the rectitude of love." He too saw he church's confusion about the focus of their efforts. What are the greatest commandments? Jesus said to love God with all your heart mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Once again it is important to note that he didn't say, memorize 100 Bible verses, and read the complete works of the Niebuhr brothers. That is not to say that those things are not important things. It is just that they are far and away not the most important things.

So where might I go to learn love, to see it acted out? I would honestly say to go to a place where there will be people with down's syndrome. I should "sit at the feet of a person with down's syndrome" because it is there that I would learn about loving other people. I wish I had the love of most of the people with down's syndrome that I have known in my life. They may not entirely understand love but they sure do love well. We criticize their love saying that they are disabled, that is why they aren't as discriminating as we who are not intellectually disabled. So we put ourselves in the position of criticizing someone who loves his neighbor by saying he should discriminate more. That makes a lot of sense.
If I have all knowledge and not love, I am nothing...

If I could have the knowledge of a theologian or the love of a person with down's syndrome, what would I choose? Wrong answer again, Church and Christians and world. In our world today, we not only choose to not learn love, we choose to kill those who might teach love to us by their example. We go so far as to prevent them from even being born. We have such a rabid desire to not change that we will even prevent the birth of those who might change us. In our lives, knowledge trumps love and that is a mistake.


No comments: