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

Monday, March 10, 2008

Missing love

I just completed Resurrecting the person by John Swinton which I would highly recommend, particularly if you are interested in ministry to persons with mental illness. Many of the issues apply to ministry to anyone, whether or not they experience disability.

In the final chapter of the book, Swinton says, "Perhaps the strangest thing about this process of liberation is its ordinariness" (p. 207). The process of liberation is the change that needs to come over the church such that it will embrace persons with mental illness (in this case) but also persons with various differences in general. The ordinariness is in no way ordinary largely because it is not typically present. However, when you come to understand what the basic changes need to be, you find that they are quite ordinary.

When distilled down, the change that needs to occur is that we need to love our neighbor. It occurred to me that when we have "difficult" people in our midst, like those with severe mental illness, our lack of love is highlighted, it is felt like putting your finger in a wound. However, I wonder if the fact that we are missing love for the difficult group is evidence only that we lack love for those people, or is it an indication of a greater lack of love for all people, unless they are easy. Easy to love people are those who cross my path, tell me everything is fine, make no demands on me, ask me how I am doing, shake my hand or pat me on the back and then leave me alone. Those are the kinds of people I like to populate my world with. They are the easy to love. The other end of the spectrum are those who have poor social skills, or want my money, or want my time, or cause me to have to do things like help them in the bathroom, or wipe their snotty nose, or call me all the time, or disrupt my meetings and so on and so on. They are hard to love. I don't like to populate my life with those kinds of people because they don't leave me alone. Too often, I think, the church is populated with the former and not the latter.

But it is pretty obvious who of the two above will grow me as a person, will grow me as a Christian. I am not called as a Christian to social niceties, independence and being left alone. I am called to messy relationships with difficult people who are unsatisfied with my helping, no matter what I do. I do not learn love through unfettered independence. I learn love through messy relationships, and difficult people, and those who do not praise me for my minimalist love efforts.

However, as I look at the church, it appears to be designed around and largely populated by people who want to be independent, and grow in their independence. I don't want to be a part of the vine, in a relying on others sense, I want to be a branch alone. I don't want to be a part of the body, in a dependency sense, I want to be a foot alone. As I am successful in my independence, I will move further and further away from love. The ideal of love is replaced by the ideal of independence. Those who are dependent are also disdained because of the the demands they make.

However, what might 1 Corinthians 12:9 mean? Paul asks God to remove his thorn, his disability.

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is
perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my
weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

How is this premise acted out in churches? The power of Christ dwells in Paul through his weakness. This is something to try flesh out in another blog entry, however, could the reverse be true? If I boast about my strength, could it be that the power of Christ does not dwell in me? If I am independent, if I am unconnected with others through my own and their need, does the power of Christ not dwell in me? Our independence, our disconnectedness from those who would potentially sap our strength for love and service is a symptom of a disease that has permeated the church. "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Corinthians 13:13). Are we missing the greatest thing? Are we missing love?



Anonymous said...

I was directed to your blog a couple months ago by a friend who is interested and active in loving people with special needs. In my experience, there are few people like you, actively advocating for better ministry to these people in our churches. I appreciate and admire your work.

It has been some years since I have had frequent contact with anyone considered to have a serious developmental disability, although I had the privilege in school of being part of a program that helped regularly in the classes for severely disabled students. We are now in a somewhat small family-oriented church with two autistic teens. The parents have recently asked for help supervising one of them during service. Your postings have convicted me of my reluctance to do what I know is not hard, although my will still resists, and I've offered to help out a bit. I have no doubt I will love being with these kids, as I once did.

My post is anonymous so as not to draw attention to myself. I just wanted you to know that this blog is achieving its purpose on the other side of the nation. Thank you.

bethany said...

This post is so great. It is really hard though, especially in a church (like mine) where there are lots of people, many with mental illness, who ask for lots of time, energy, and attention; but where there is not a value in the whole community for loving your neighbor. (Or, maybe, it's that most of the people just answer the question, "Who is my neighbor?" by saying, "It's the people I naturally like and want to be friends with.") When we are not able to rely on the whole community to care for its members (and for everyone, with our various limitations to contribute our gifts and care), and the burden is put on just a few individuals, it is hard not to just get tired and burned out.

This issue makes me think of the story of the 4 people bringing the man with leprosy to Jesus, and lowering him through the roof to be healed. It wasn't just one person carrying him to Jesus - because the job was too heavy for one person. Yet, I think sometimes in the Church we somehow expect one person (or a very small contingency) to carry a whole group of people. It just doesn't work.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, Annetta was kind enough to direct me to your blog. My husband Lee has put a link on his blog to your blog. We think your blog says some very important things. God has called you to do this very special work with some very special people. Essentially, you have become the voice out in the desert.
I am not sure if we met at the barbeque out in the canyon in January where I was able to meet your family. If not, I am sure we will.
Clarissa and Lee Stewart

BT said...

bt said
In response to this Article on Missing Love I am in total agreement that has displayed a lack of love in regards to the disabled and those that suffer with mental illnesses. As a minister in the church and has often counseled those that suffer with depression and have been diagnosed with bi-polar and one had confessed to hearing voices. These people are often isolated, have had abuse and need the love of God shown through God's people. Church should be a place for all to feel comfort and love, however many have become an elite group that choses to love and fellowship with those of its own rather is based on ethnicity or social-economic status, many feel excluded. Jesus said, this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one anothe. If we profess to love God then we must love all of God's people. Including those with disabilities or have any differences of any kind.

Anonymous said...

You've raised some interesting points in this blog. First, there are unlovable people in the church. People with disabilities were singled out as being some of those difficult people. I concur that the the church has neglected the call of Christ to reach out to these people but I also believe that the same could be true for the non-disabled. There are folks out there who simply drive us completely crazy, but as was stated, God's grace is sufficient to get us through those sticky messy relationships. Jesus ministered to the undesirables of the culture and if we claim to be in Christ, we must walk as Jesus walked. The church is indeed missing love when it comes to the undesirables of society. But why is that? Have we as a church lost focus of who we follow? Have we begun to put ourselves and our own comforts above the will of the Father? Or have we become so calloused to the world around us that all we concern ourselves with is our own comfort and satisfaction? This problem can never really be solved until the root behind the behavior is uncovered and eliminated.