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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "reality of one's condition"

I was recently reading from a curriculum on disability. Under the heading of "Grief and Depression" was the following statement. "Acceptance does not change the reality of one's condition." As I pondered that statement, for some reason it didn't sit well with me.

As I think about the "reality" of a disability condition, I wondered about the reality functionally and the reality socially. I think that one can actually change the reality of one's condition. The reality functionally has been changed through curb cuts, TDD, and electric wheelchairs. Universal design has at times changed the environment such that the functional reality has indeed changed. Being someone with quadriplegia no longer means that I must live my life relegated to a bed, or unable to move about the community. Through creativity of people, the functional reality of many aspects of disability has changed and increasingly, people experiencing needen't accept many of the functional aspects of disability. Clearly, many aspects may never change. However, many aspects are truly due to an unimaginative environment.

The social reality is equally difficult to change it seems. How does one change the enviornment such that it sees people first? I have friends who have intellectual disabilities, yet they hold jobs, live in their own apartment, receive support from a variety of people, and generally enjoy their lives. Yet they are not seen as typical because the environment imposes a social reality on them that they have great difficulty escaping.

Clearly there is overlap between social and physical reality so that the distinction might be somewhat arbitrary. And the negative effects are clearly cumulative.

However, we as the church should be on the forefront of changing the reality of a disabling condition.
If I babysit for a friend's child with a severe disability, I have changed the reality of disability for those parents.

If I take a man with an intellectual disability out for lunch, I have changed the reality of disability for that man.

If I make a previously inaccessible building accessible, I have changed the reality of disabilty for anyone endeavoring to enter that building.

If I seek out persons experiencing various disabilities in an effort at evangelism, I change the reality of disability for those people regarding the Christian church.

Some aspects of disability must be accepted. Some aspects of disability need not be accepted if only the environment, in particular the Church would be what it was meant to be.


Garbage in the heart

Yesterday was the first day of the fall 2000 and semester at California Baptist University where I teach. At one of the meetings I was sitting with a colleague of mine Dr. Keith Walters. We were thinking through some issues related to disability. The focus of the faculty training after coming back from summer vacation was the issue of diversity. In the process of one of the meetings where we were discussing diversity, disability came up as an aspect of diversity that is not necessarily addressed. When I mentioned the issues that the church faces relative to individuals with disability, some of my colleagues were absolutely astounded. They couldn't believe that the types of things I described would actually be the case within the Christian church. Later in sitting down with Keith he made the comment that we, as Christians, are totally unaware of the garbage in our own hearts. Now to me, on some level it is a gift from God that I am unaware of the garbage in my own heart. If I were actually aware of the garbage, the specific types of garbage, the amount of garbage in my own heart I would probably just sit in a corner somewhere and cry at my despicable state. So God in his grace perhaps protects us by not fully displaying to us our entirely sinful condition. He conforms us gradually to this image.

Another aspect of this is that I have observed is that often times people will carry the façade of a behavior or language that they know is acceptable. They then go through their lives and think of themselves as good people doing the right thing etc., because they are never confronted by anything that causes them to necessarily divulge what is actually in their heart. In relation to disability, I have often found that the even though in communities and individuals there is an appearance of the smooth kind of surface where everything is fine, running underneath the surface are either negative attitudes or attitudes which reflect socially constructed notions of disability in our society. Then what periodically happens is that the community or individual is confronted with some traumatic event, some demand for change on their part or some other intrusion on their smooth surface that causes them to actually live out the exterior that they appear to have. When this confrontation comes, what happens is that the negative attitudes, the negative perceptions, the social constructions that are under the surface bubble up to the surface and we find out what is going on inside a person's mind or heart. We see the garbage that Keith was talking about come to the surface.

At times when the negativity comes to the surface, it may just bubble up in a little comment or something similar that is barely perceivable. At other times, however, it's a full-blown geyser of negative attitudes that explode forth and we are shocked at what is actually going on inside of a person's head. In the church, one of my desires is to confront individuals, groups and organizations with the presence of people with disabilities such that these underlying hidden types of things which are floating below the surface may come to the surface and therefore be addressed. It's easy for me to say I love all people. Or as my students will often find when they interview pastors relative to the people with disabilities at their churches, “We would welcome people and love people if they came to church.” That's an easy thing to say because the people are not coming and so therefore these churches are not actually being confronted with the presence of people with disabilities and the changes that their presence might cause to occur.

These confrontations which cause our character to come to the surface may be evidenced in the form of temptations. We see in the Luke Chapter 4:1-13 the story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. His integrity and faith in God comes out through the temptations that are thrown his way by Satan. We find from that story, that the exterior that we observe in Jesus is actually supported by an interior life of faith, prayer and of study of the Scriptures which allows him to respond the way he does.

But in many churches I sometimes find that the exterior that we see is an exterior that has not been confronted by the demands that people with various disabilities might place on the church. If the church, for example, never has an individual who uses a wheelchair present, they are never forced to find out what's below the surface relative to having the commitment and wherewithal to make the church accessible. If the church has never had a child with an intellectual disability in the church, then the church may never have been confronted with what faith development in a Sunday school class for example might actually be. Instead it is living on in practices which are much more knowledge oriented. If the church is never confronted with an individual with a severe form of autism, they may never have to come to grips with what inclusiveness might require them to do relative to the Sunday morning service or other programs within the church. As a result when people with autism do show up, the negativity that's hiding below the surface bubbles up. Sometimes it is evident in comments that your child can stay if you keep an eye on them the whole time. It bubbles up in outright rejection where parents are told they need to find a different place to worship or comments that there is no longer a place for you here.

But the upshot of these confrontations can be good though they're not necessarily beneficial to the families who experience them. They can be good for the church because I suspect even though negativity may be bubbling to the surface, at some level those who are expressing the negativity must be saying to themselves, “This is not right” or “This negativity is not what I should be engaging in” or” I am not reflecting the example of Christ through this negativity.” So the confrontation of disability once again awakens the church or individual Christians to some of the garbage in their own hearts relative to acceptance of people that have not been accepted in the past. And if this garbage in the heart is actually exposed to view either for the individual to view themselves or for the group to view, there is the potential that changes might come in the individual or in a group as a result of seeing that garbage.

I at times have been in a situation where I have confronted a church or the leadership of churches regarding heart garbage relative to individuals with disabilities and their ongoing rejection. Unfortunately, sometimes those in churches cling to the garbage in their heart rather than saying when this garbage is exposed, “This is something that I should not be doing” or “This is something that I need to change.” I would like to say that more often than not there is a spirit of repentance and a desire to want to know what to do, a desire to want to figure out how are we can be more responsive. But it is definitely not always the case.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Lorna's faith story

Please note the new viedeo below which is a woman's faith story from our Light and Power class. I never tire of hearing about how someone finally finds a church home who did not have one, whether or not they have a disability. But that they struggle to find a home is still an indictment on the church. Very sad.

If any of you who read this blog are available and interested, we are having a celebration of persons with disability at my church this coming Sunday, 8/8/10. Should be fun. I will have a very small part of the service but happy to support those who are putting it together. We will also be having our typical Light and Power class, so stop by for that as well. The church is, Trinity Church in Redlands, CA. 1551 Reservior Rd. Here is the website. http://trinityonline.org
Our church is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we are trying to be obedient in the area of removing exclusive practices as they relate particularly to people with disabilities.

So come by if you are available.