See June 21, 2007 and May 19, 2008.
I was sharing the story of the young man with autism and the restraining order with a colleague and friend, Dr. Danny Blair, and he responded that it is the 99 and 1 story. You remember it, from Matthew 18:12-14. In case you don't it says...
10"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
12"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders
away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one
that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier
about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In
the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones
should be lost.
So the example is to leave the "ninety and nine" to go after the one. Well what if the lost one, is really lost, like lost in autism, a disability that largely is a language disability (have you ever been in a setting where you can't speak a language that everyone else is speaking and even have difficulty communicating because you don't understand even the gestures people are using around you...if you have, you will know what it is to feel lost), lost in exclusion and lost in social isolation and perhaps lost spiritually as well. So you come to a church whose God has given the example of leaving the 99 for the lost one, and if you are able to understand the meaning of Matthew 18, you might expect that you would be welcomed.
But instead, perhaps you are asked to leave, or even arrested "for God's sake" (I choose my words carefully) if you attempt to not be lost. You have to wonder if that group has ever read the Bible they claim to represent.
As I have said elsewhere in this blog, I would love to have a person with disabilities evidencing some form of inappropriate social skill, like talking out, or standing up and sitting down, or making a noise, and hearing the pastor to say, "In the spirit of Matthew 18, lets see if we can tolerate, can live with this distraction and in a spirit of love continue on with our service."
As a person who played a lot of basketball, I have always been surprised at people who golf. When I was at the free throw line, I heard every comment possible screamed at me and people deliberately trying to distract me so I would make a mistake and miss the shot. But then there is golf where if you make a sound, even the people around you will shush you. Imagine people deliberately trying to distract a golfer? Both athletes are doing something that requires concentration, however, one has to do it with the roar of a hostile crowd. My point is not that we should heckle our pastor or any other teacher as she/he teaches. My point is that we have the ability to perform under a variety of conditions, and absolute silence is simply a preference it is not a necessity as a condition. I mean for goodness sake, visit an African-American church. We once had a black pastor speak at our church, and he made the comment something to the effect, "Speak up every so often so I know that you are listening" because everyone sat in silence like you are supposed to in most predominantly white churches. Great comment!
The presence of noise at a church service is a cultural thing, and cultural things can be changed, and at times should be changed in particular if they result in people being excluded. I can change the culture of my church, it is not a God ordained program for people to sit in silence, largely motionless for 40 minutes. We can change if we want to. So if people with autism or any other disability cannot fit our structures, our structures can change. And in a Matthew 18 kind of way, we can leave the ninety and nine behind and go for the one who is "lost," however he may be lost, be it socially, communicatively or spiritually.
What could possibly have been the point of Jesus telling the story of the ninety and nine and the one, if not to impress upon us the importance of the lost one? "...your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."
Are you? And if you are, what are you willing to do to see they, and their families will not be lost?