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

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Like a child

I haven't been blogging as much lately because I have been writing articles for several outlets. I am excited about the articles. Here is a cut from one article that has to do with Jesus and disability. I am sure the final will be much different from this passage, but it was helpful to think through this issue, even though it is still in rough stages. Here goes...

Let's begin this discussion with a story. The first author once interviewed a man with intellectual disabilities in front of one of his classes. When asked if he had a disability, the man responded, “I don’t know, I don’t think so.” The author responded, “Do you know anyone with a disability?”, knowing that the man knew many others with intellectual and physical disabilities. He looked up in thought, paused and thought for a moment. “I can’t think of any,” he replied. That, the authors would argue, is how God sees people. It is not that differences are not seen or even ignored. Is that disability is not the defining characteristic of a person. Persons have value because they are persons, not for the skills or abilities that are brought to the table. In reality, it is those who are most dependent who might be God’s preference. “He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:28 & 29). Also, “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8 & 9). There is equality among people, and those who are the most gifted in terms of ability should not be catered to if the Christian or the Christian church is to reflect God’s preferences. If anything, those who are typical or above average are warned, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).

Jesus also makes several allusions to people becoming like children and welcoming children or those who are like children. One must tread carefully as the point we are trying to make here is not that individuals with intellectual disabilities are children or should be treated like children. There is a danger in juxtaposing people with intellectual disabilities with anything that is child oriented as it feeds into inappropriate and wrong social constructions of who people with disabilities are (Wolfensberger, 2000). But Jesus tells us that we should have childlike faith, that we should humble ourselves like a child (Matthew 18:2-4) and that we should welcome little children (Matthew 18:5). Let’s consider each of these points briefly.

People with intellectual disabilities often do evidence a childlike faith in that they believe what they are told about God by those around them in a very unquestioning manner. Intellect, although a great blessing, may interfere with the childlike faith Jesus is referencing. This is not to say that faith is not based upon intellect, but that the complete trust in God, like a child trusts her parents, is what is desired. There is a questioning that comes with intellect that may interfere with a wholesale giving over of oneself to the person in whom one has faith, be it religious faith or just faith in another person. However, from the authors’ experience, this wholesale faith is able to be developed in persons with intellectual disabilities. It is unwavering and is an example to those who know individuals with such faith.

Then, Jesus celebrates those with the humility of a child. What is childlike humility? It is the basis of the relationship between a parent and a child. The parent is in charge, the child does what he is told to do. The child submits to the parent in all areas of life. This characteristic, once again, is something that is desirable in a follower of Jesus. It may be due to the dependence of people with intellectual disabilities on their families or care providers. Perhaps they recognize their need for support and direction, or perhaps they have simply accepted the fact that they have been relegated to the social status they experience. Either way, they model the humility that Jesus wants people to evidence in a faith relationship with him. Undoubtedly, the fierce independence and individualism of people with typical intelligence, are an impediment to the development of humility leading to faith, which God desires in his followers.

Thirdly, we are to welcome the little child. People with intellectual disabilities can be excellent at welcoming. As indicated in the story above, they may not even see a person’s disability, which is very childlike in the most positive of ways. Young children, in particular, are pure in the manner in which they do not reflect the social constructions of a society that will be taught to them intentionally or otherwise as they grow. These constructions cause people to be characterized in particular ways, specifically as acceptable or unacceptable. Because of a lack of understanding of social nuance, or their not being a part of the “in crowd” they may not be taught the concept of “other” and its impact on relationships. They most likely have experienced being treated as other, but even this notion is misunderstood as people just being unkind for no particular reason. People who treat me poorly because I am a person experiencing a disability, are not seen by me as reacting to my personal characteristics, but rather as just not very nice people.

From the perspective of the welcomer of a little child, some of the same issues that revolve around welcoming children relate to welcoming individuals with disabilities. We are not excused from welcoming should a person have social skill deficits, or not understand particular ideas, or need direction, or need support, or make demands on someone’s time and so forth. Rather, as with meeting the needs described in Matthew 25 “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). Welcoming someone with childlike characteristics is welcoming Jesus.

More to go on this but that is where it currently stands.


Melissa said...

There was a line in this blog that really stuck out to me, “disability is not the defining characteristic of a person.” This quote is so true and I feel like people often forget this in people with disabilities. It is like the only thing they see is a disability and nothing else. And I understand that it can be hard at times to see past the disabilities but this aspect really needs to be worked on. Also, I agree so much with the fact that just because people are disabled, does not mean that they are children. Yes, at times they may act like a child, but that is no reason to treat them like a child all the time. And in that sense, I sometimes wish that I had that child like faith so many disabled people have. It is just this innocence that warms my heart in so many ways. I know that I have faith, and am a firm believer in Jesus Christ, I just have gone through so many different experiences that at times hinder my faithfulness.

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that we live in a society that values a person because of what they look like or how much money they have, instead of just because they are a human being. How lucky we are that God doesn't think the same way we do. Acts 10:34 lets us know that God is no respecter of persons. He sees us all the same. I am convinced that when God looks at a person that is physically or intellectually disabled, He sees a perfect creation formed in His image. Since we are supposed to strive to be Christlike in all of our ways, we should see the disabled just like God does, a mirror image of Himself.

In many ways the intellectually disabled are way ahead of us. Christ does want us to come to him with child like humility and pure of heart, but for a lot of us it's extremely difficult to do this. For the intellectually disabled, it comes natural. They are already in a position that is pleasing to Christ. Their child like innocence is perfect for the fostering of true faith in God, while the rest of us struggle to believe in someone we can't see.

As Christians, we are mandated not only to welcome those who have these child like characteristics, but to develop them ourselves. In doing so, we welcome Christ into our lives. It is to our benefit to take care of the disabled.