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

Friday, April 27, 2007

Disability Sunday 4/29/07

Here basically are the notes for comments I plan to make this Sunday at my church. We are celebrating our second Disability Awareness Sunday. I am sharing the pulpit with Pastor Mark Borwn, our great college pastor, an all around good guy. He will be talking about the story of Mephibosheth (check it our if you haven't read it before...use your concordance or look online). I will give a couple of brief parts of the larger sermon. Anyway, this is the gist of what I plan to say.

Viewing the disabled with dignity/Seeing people as like me
I have an impairment, I wear glasses. Without my glasses, I would not be permitted to drive a car, and many of you would look much better to me.

How many of you have some mental or physical impairment? We have got a lot of impaired people in here.

Impairments vary, and their seriousness to your life is a matter of degree. A matter of
-what it is
-when it occurred

But the impact on your life is much more related to how society perceives the impairment than it is to the actual impairment

For many of us, glasses have made our vision problems pretty much irrelevant to our lives. Yet we probably grew up with taunts of 4 eyes, or egghead, or were made to feel we were either not entirely a man, or an unattractive woman. These experiences are a simple example of how society dictates the experience of impairment. Now, if this is the experience with wearing glasses, imagine the experience of using a wheelchair, or being blind, or having cerebral palsy, or autism or mental retardation. People can do fine with these impairments if society will allow them to. People can do fine if the church will support them.

These types perceptions taught by society are the kind that make Mephibisheth, grandson of the King, refer to himself as a “dead dog” (1 Samuel 24:14)

We compare ourselves with others like children, “Who do you love the best?” “Who is your priority?” We judge people on the basis of their social skills. But God cuts us to the quick
-I love you all (Revelation 1:6)
-You are all created in my image (Genesis 1:26) We look in the mirror, that is obvious…but we look at the person with a disability and wonder
-Who made your mouth? (Exodus 4:11)
-My grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9)

One of my friends in the Light and Power class is a man named Eddie. When we are together, Eddie has complete access to me any time. As a result, just about every week, in the midst of our lesson, Eddie will come up to me, put his face forehead to forehead with mine and together we talk about hot dogs, or pizza or toys or Christmas. I stand there as a university professor with a Ph.D. from a prestigious university. Eddie stands there as a man who has experienced severe mental retardation all of his life. As we stand there together...
-We are both loved exactly the same by God
-We are both equally created in the image of God
-We were both made by God
-God’s grace is sufficient for us both.

In my mind, if I am uncomfortable with him, it is MY problem. I need to change to see him as God sees him.

The more time you spend with people with disabilities, the more you see them as the same as you.

Treating the disabled with dignity
In thinking through how we treat people with dignity, a good verse to reflect on is Micah 6:8. The verse says, "He has shown you, O man what is good and what the Lord requires of you. But to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Micah 6:8
1. Do justice
Here is a quote from Paul Longmore's essay, "Why I burned my book." He states,

I-and most disabled Americans-have been exhorted that if we work hard and
"overcome" our disabilities, we can achieve our dreams. We have heard that
pledge repeatedly from counselors and educators and "experts," and from our
government too. We have seen it incarnated by disabled heroes on television,
those plucky "overcomers" who supposedly inspire us with their refusal to let
their disabilities limit them. We are instructed that if we too adopt that
indomitable spirit and a cheerful attitude, we can transcend our disabilities
and fulfill our dreams.
It is a lie. The truth is that the major obstacles
we must overcome are pervasive social prejudice, systematic segregation, and
institutionalized discrimination. Government social-service policies, in
particular, have forced millions of us to the margins of society.
The church has tremendous opportunities which have been laid before it to do justice and facilitate justice for persons with various disabilities. We need to work to part of the justice doers, not a contributor to the injustice.

2. Love mercy If mercy has been done to you, you will love mercy. If you love mercy, you should also do mercy. Matthew 25, tells you the kind of things that mercy does.

It gives a drink, or something to eat.
It provides clothing.
It visits those who are alone or invites strangers in.

These are not difficult things to do.

My son Josh has developed a friendship with a man named Mark. Although Josh lives in a different city, Mark always talks about Josh as his Chipotle buddy because they go to Chipotle together. Josh is able to take Mark out probably once a month or so. Yet Josh must be the topic of a third of Mark's conversation. Do you see how important such a small thing as taking somebody out for a burrito can be? The burritos are great, but it is the friendship, it is the nickname, it is knowing that you are thought about and remembered, it is the caring that comes with one meal a month that brightens the live of another human being.

People with disabilities often as a result of society's treatment of their impairments, live in poverty. They may be the poorest people in your church. Does the Bible encourage us to help the poor?

It is also a Biblical principle to do mercy particularly to those who cannot do mercy back to you.

Joni and Friends estimates that 95% of persons with disabilities are unchurched.

3. Walk humbly with God

Once again, God tells us that people with and without disabilities...
-are both loved the same by God
-are both equally created in the image of God
-were both made by God
-grace is sufficient for us both.

John 9:3-5 says,"

Neither this man or his parents sinned" said Jesus, "but this happened so that
the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do
the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work (NIV).

Jesus said this in response to his disciples asking about a blind man they encountered, "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" The disciples were wondering who's sin caused the blindness. Merril C. Tenney, the Bible scholar wrote that this passage might be translated in a different way. Here is Tenney's translation.

Neither did this man sin, nor his parents" said Jesus. "But that the works of
God should be made manifest in him, we must work the works of him that sent me,
while it is still day; the night cometh when no man can work.

We show grace to people when we give them our time. We honor people when we give them our time. We say, "You are important to me."

Jean Vanier says valued people hardly have any time while devalued people have lots of time. We are God's hands in giving grace to people who need it through what we do with our time, although small.

We have generated a list of small things you might do to help a devalued person that is available outside at the table.

SMALL THINGS…But look again at Matthew 25, as apparently it is these small things that God appears particularly interested in.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

being certified as a volunteer

Over the past year or so, I have been trying to consistently visit a group home for adult friends with cognitive disabilities in my community. Most Monday nights, I show up with a couple bottles of coke and some kind of snack (ice cream, crackers or whatever) and just hang out with the folks for an hour. We will play a board game, or have a catch with a baseball, or sometimes I will bring my guitar (I have just started to learn to play at my advanced age). The people who run the group home are great! They are wonderful people, and Christians at that.

It was interesting, however, that last night I was asked to be fingerprinted. No rush, or no questions about my motivations or anything, just the protocol of the group home's certifying body. I mean it is no problem for me to get fingerprinted, and I will get it done right away, but as with a lot of procedural things, it caused me to pause a bit.

On the one hand, I am happy that those who oversee the lives of persons with disabilities are cognizant of the potential of abuse by people in the community. I am confident that there have been those who have abused the trust given to them and have done evil things to vulnerable people. On the other hand, however, it bothered me that to be a friend who is involved in the life of a person with mental retardation, I can't just be a friend. I have to be "certified" by an agency as a "volunteer." Maybe I should be honored that I have spent sufficient time to be designated as a volunteer. I guess I will now be an official volunteer. At the same time, it concerns me that I cannot have a relationship with people who I see as friends without some form of government regulation, even if it is a simple fingerprinting. What does this imply?

Does it imply that someone who wants to be the friend of an adult with
severe mental retardation is so unusual that they are suspect?
Must the lives of adults with severe mental retardation be so regulated
that friends from the community must be fingerprinted to be their friends?
What would I think as a resident of the group home if I understood that
fingerprinting was a requirement for long term friendship and interaction with

These and other questions flooded my mind as I thought about the request.

As I said, I will happily be fingerprinted and will continue to visit my friends at the home. But I feel almost like I have been sullied or dirtied by the state. I am no longer just a friend who visits friends who live at a particular address. I will now be listed somewhere as a certified volunteer, who has been fingerprinted and that upsets me. I refuse to allow the process to change my relationship with my friends, but the state has changed me from a friend to a volunteer and I am not happy about that.

When a "volunteer" visits persons with disabilities, it implies a distance from the residents that is not felt and nor wanted. I understand the why of the process. But it is important to recognize that it takes the natural, people and their friends enjoying being together, and regulates it.

Without concentrated effort regulation cannot help but change relationships in some way. There is research that actually indicates that when the state gets involved in the natural, the natural either is changed or dies. The natural hardly ever remains the same.


Monday, April 23, 2007

April 23, 2007

It has now been three years since the birth of this blog. I have made 256 entries (not as much as I would have thought in three years) and much has happened over the three years.
-We have seen the taking of the life of a person with a severe disability by starvation and dehydration in our own country. We have come to the point where we now call giving someone something to drink and something to eat "medical procedures." We have done that so that we can talk about removing medical procedures from a person. Our language is not to say we are going to "starve this person to death" we say we are "removing medical procedures." That is evil. In the United States of America, a defenseless person can be starved to death and people will argue, "that is what she would have wanted." I know of no one who wants to be starved to death. Perhaps they do not want to be kept alive artificially, but is giving someone food and drink keeping them alive artificially? If so, I and you are being kept alive artificially.
-We have seen a young woman have her growth and development stunted via surgery so that she will be easier to care for. If I were to do this to anyone other than a person with a severe cognitive disability, with mental retardation, I would find myself in jail. But because the person has a severe disability, I can change the rules and do unusual things to the person for my own convenience.
-The Supreme Court of the United States upholds the partial birth abortion ban. If you are unsure of whether or not this is a good thing, you should get a medical textbook and just read a description of the procedure. No politics. No agenda. In response to the stopping of this evil, we have politicians who group the upholding of this ban with the murder of 32 people at Virginia Tech.
-The Joni and Friends organization founded by Joni Eareckson-Tada build and now occupy an international center on disability as a launching point for ministry and programs of inclusion. This is another exciting next step.
-I think we are beginning to see the Christian church moving a bit as it awakens from its slumber over inclusion of persons with disabilities. I hear some pastors speaking about it, and little things are beginning to happen. I could be that three years from now, there is an even greater awareness and response. That is my prayer.

In my own little world...
-My own church will celebrate its second disability awareness Sunday! It should be awesome with participation of people with various disabilities, parents and leaders. My church has made great strides, largely having nothing to do with me, but with people within the church catching the vision and running with it. I has been an interesting and exciting time. But there is still more to do. As we met to plan the service, I said, "This is what this service will look like in 5 years and this is what it will look like in 10 years." Yes we have made great strides but there is so much more to do.
-The National Association of Christians in Special Education conference (NACSPED) was held at Azusa Pacific university and 120 people attended! We hope to have the conference at Azusa again next year, and perhaps in San Diego the following year. Little NACSPED is growing and one of its major goals is that special educators would go to their churches and get them to include people with disabilities. This is very encouraging.
-California Baptist University will be offering an MA in disability studies from a Christian perspective. This is very exciting and quite novel, I believe. We hope to make further announcements about collaborations we are working on in the near future, which will be an incredible blessing should the Lord allow the collaboration.
-Opportunities for writing about persons with disabilities and churches are increasing. This implies to me that there is a growing interest. Even five years ago, there were limited opportunities for such writing.

There is so much more to do, so much further to go, but we are seeing change and growth. God is waking a slumbering church. Be a part of the change.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A confession

I have a friend named Thom who is a person who has a cognitive disability. You might even say it is a severe disability. I have known Thom for probably 8 years. He comes to my church and I visit his group home. Our interactions have largely revolved around him saying things like,
"I got paid this week. A hundred dollars!"
"You know that man on the radio? He sings good!"
"I was good this week, will you give me a hundred dollars?" (he means one dollar)

These phrases are repeated over and over and over. My interactions with him over the past years have revolved around him approaching me and repeating one of the above statements. I would respond, hopefully, in a friendly affirming manner, but no doubt distracted manner.

But a couple of weeks ago, I had him visit the campus at Cal Baptist with me. He had my undivided attention for several hours. The result was that I realized how I had never given this friend of mine sufficient time to express himself to me because he never had my undivided attention. I was impressed once again by this last evening when I visited him at his group home. We shared a bag of jelly belly jellybeans and discussed everything from changes in his room, to his friends at work, to clothing he liked to wear, to baseball, to the jellybean flavors we were sampling together. I left the group home in repentence over the fact that I had never given this person whom I referred to as my friend, the time I would have given other friends of mine. I am now committed to working on our friendship, by being the friend to him that he was trying to be to me. His repetitive statements were efforts for me to see him as a person, as a person who wanted to be my friend. However, with his limited intellect he could do little more than repeat phrases that he probably had learned would get a response from me. I enjoyed his statements about his paycheck or the music he listened to, and I often gave him a dollar.

A student of mine shared with me something I had shared with her and my class on many occasions. That is, that the more time you spend with people with mental retardation, the more "normal" they seem to you. The fact of the matter is that they ARE normal, just different than most everyone else who are all the same. It is true that I at times enjoy my friends with mental retardation more than my friends without. It is true that I am growing more impatient with people without disabilities as I grow in friendship with people with cognitive disabilities (probably not a good thing, but reality nonetheless). It is true that Thom seems more "normal" to me because I have been taking the time to talk with him and be with him and really get to know him. Untill I did that, he was always a little crazy. Now I recognize that I am too busy, he is not crazy.

Another friend of mine wondered about when we could get together. I responded I would love to (I really would) but at this particular moment in my life, I am very busy. His response, probably out of frustration with me and others like me was "Busy, busy, busy. Everybody is too busy." He cut me to the quick. I communicate to him how important I think he is by the amount of time I spend with him. It is almost like he is telling me, "I am a person worth getting to know, worth being your friend, worth your time. You are missing out on my friendship."

It is true that I am.

I have danced with the idea of buying a different home with many rooms so that people would be in more of a community together. But I have got to understand that I cannot do it all as much as I might want to. That is why there is a church. In the same manner that my church cannot meet the needs of all the people with disabilities in my region of the country, I cannot meet the needs for friendship of all the people in my community. The church needs to step up and do the simple thing of taking the time to make friends.

May God help us to do so.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The servant and devaluing roles

I was thinking again about the training I received in social role valorization (see March 21, 2007 entry). As Christians we are called to be the servant of all. The servant role is, in our society, a devalued role. There is value in being served, not in serving. Serving implies that someone else is "better than me" where being served implies that I am "better than someone else." At least that is what I think our society might say. Politicians like to refer to themselves as public servants, but I think most would agree that is more rhetoric than truth.

Jesus, however, saw things differently. In John 13, he was interested in teaching a lesson to his followers when he washed their feet. "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
Peter understood the ramification of Jesus taking on a devalued role (at least he thought he did) and would have no part of it.
Jesus responded, "Unless I wash you, you have not part with me."

It is amazing, but Jesus forever changed the meaning of washing someone's feet (no doubt, a commmon although devalued role in his time, as once again evidenced by Peter's statement). I suppose in non-Christian societies, it would still be considered demeaning. In Christian societies, it has ever since been associated with servanthood and being like Jesus. The devalued role has now become associated with something beautiful, and it is an example. Jesus even labels is as such "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you...Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

In our society, serving persons with severe disabilities might be considered a devalued role. Teachers of students with severe disabilities will have the experience of being told by their own families, "Why would you waste your time with those kids?" For that matter why would anyone "waste their time with such people?" If the church would embrace persons with severe disabilities (I mean SEVERE disabilities) we would change the meaning of such service. We would bring it honor in the same way that Jesus did via his example of service. We would be in the honorable position of setting an example such that others should do as we have done for others. So we would make the role valued by our desire to do it.

Jesus' washing of the disciples' feet also brought honor to them. Peter recognized that Jesus should not be washing his feet. However, by Jesus washing their feet, he not only taught a lesson to them about servanthood, he brought honor to them. Imagine being one of the 12 people who ever lived who had the Lord of the universe humble himself to wash your feet. Pretty elite group. The point, however, is that I bring honor to people when I serve them. Those I serve may be just as lacking in understanding as Peter was, but I understand what I am doing.
I understand that I am setting an example.
I understand that I am elevating that form of service.
I understand that I am demonstrating the worth of those I serve via my service.
I understand who I am in relation to the person whom I am serving. They are not above or below me, they are my equal.
If I allow myself to be inconvenienced, or better yet, choose to inconvenience myself in the name of service to another who society has devalued, I contribute to the valuing of that person. Particularly if I am a person of stature in the community.

It is amazing to think about the depth of meaning than can come from a valued person washing the feet of others. It is amazing to think of the depth of meaning I have the potential to bring to a situation when I as a person who has value in society's eyes, serve those who society has devalued. Perhaps I will bring value to them. Cool.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Helping those who can't repay you

Luke 14:14 "Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the
resurrection of the righteous."

When I am speaking to groups, I often ask the question, "When was the last time you did something for someone who was unable to pay you back?" I also always give the caviat that I am not talking about your elderly parents (whom you are paying back) or your infant children (who will hopefully pay you back). I am talking about strangers or strangers who have become friends over time. People with whom you would typically think you have no particular reason to develop a relationship...no reason other than Jesus' words in Luke 14 and elsewhere that your life as a person will be evaluated at leasted partially on what you did for those people. Well I guess I do have a reason if I am going to be evaluted on that basis. In fact that is probably the major basis for the evaluation of my deeds in life. In Matthew 24 the difference between people will be as obvious as the difference between sheep and goats, at least obvious to the Lord. If you look at the response of the sheep (the good guys, although I personally do have an affection for real goats, not the scriptural illustrative type) they appear to be somewhat oblivious to the fact that the people to whom they were showing kindness, ostensibly without repayment, were in fact Jesus in many different forms.

It is interesting that earlier in the Luke 14 passage, it even cautions you that the people you help might repay you or may be able to repay you and so you will be repaid. It is almost as if you should avoid helping those who can repay you (not really, but there is a priority on the nonrepayers). Wow, so we as Christians should be seeking those people out. I should be thinking, "Sweet! I got to help someone who has little ability to help me back!" It sure gives you a different perspective on helping.

I was talking one of the pastors at my church the other day, a really great guy. I think in the course of our discussion we both concluded that within the group of people with whom he works, it is not necessarily the superstars that he has helped who are the "jewels in his crown" so to speak. They were probably in pretty good shape anyway, on the fast track to successful lives. But rather it is the autistic man or the cognitively disabled woman that he has helped who are his glory, his claim to fame. He can proudly state, "I helped a man with mental retardation be a loved and respected member of a group of Christian peers. I helped an autistic woman feel like she had a place where people wanted to be with her, where she was accepted."

But I guess in the cosmic, kinda spiritual world of things, those people give us the greatest of all gifts. They allow us to please our Lord through our actions. But hear me clearly. The opportunity for service to another human being is what I am talking about. The Christian life is not about earning credits toward my salvation (which I already have through faith in Christ). It is not about pity or charity or whatever. It is about being like God in showing mercy and facilitating justice in the lives of the powerless. The ultimate result of being with devalued people is that I see myself for who I am. In a Micah 6:8 way, I learn to walk humbly with God and with my fellow human beings.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Disability studies at CBU

California Baptist University in Riverside, California, has just had an MA degree approved by the university curriculum commitee. This is the first step forward in this direction and we are very excited. By its very nature, disability studies is an interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary program of study. This is reflected in the faculty who have participated in the development of the program, coming from political science, education, nursing, theology, law, and ministry areas. We hope to expand the various disciplines which will participate in the program as it develops. The MA degree will offer three foci for study: leadership, policy development, and ministry. Courses range from Intro to disability studies, to Biblical anthro with an emphasis on disability, to organizational leadership, to sociology of disability, to research methods. Within the concentrations courses are offered regarding Christian thinkers on disability, disability ministry, developing the disabled leader, policy development and social role valorization.

Pending accreditation approval, our hope is that the MA will begin to be offered in the Fall of 2008. There will also be a distance education option for people who are not in the immediate area of Southern California. Our goal is to have couses offered online as soon as possible in order for people across the country and around the world to participate. For more specific information, please contact me, Dr. Jeff McNair at jmcnair@calbaptist.edu

Please be watching for further announcements about this degree program as they occur at this blog. This degree program is particularly innovative as we will be one of the few if any Christian universities offering study in this area, and we will be unapologetically Christian in our approach. Exciting times are ahead. Please pray for God's guidance as we develop in this exciting area of study.