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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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 fa├žade 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.



MamaPoRuski said...

God is so faithful to discipline and refine his own children. At times, I wish I were less aware of the garbage in my own heart!
I am however grateful that this life is as close to hell as I will ever get as a child of God. I cannot imagine it being the closest thing to heaven if I were not!
Praying for another fruitful year for you and the students!

Anonymous said...

It has been seen that negative circumstances often reveal what is going on in a person’s heart and mind. I completely agree that this may be seen in regard to individuals with disabilities. I too am disappointed in the lack of effort within the Christian church to not only welcome those with disabilities into the body but also to undergo the necessary changes in order to make the church accessible for those with disabilities. The church I previously attended is one of the few churches I have seen that implements this action to the fullest. There was one family with a young boy who had a severe disability that confined him to a wheelchair. He was not able to speak, eat, or take care of himself. Everything had to be done for him. His mother was his soul caretaker so to speak. When the family first started coming to our church, we welcomed them with open arms and provided an area for them in the sanctuary where all of them could worship including the young man in the wheelchair. Every week that this family came, hundreds of people would greet them as they did every other family, and though the young boy could not speak or understand what was being said to him, he heard every word that people said and often turned his head in the direction of the person speaking. The women, myself included, would come up to hug him and kiss him on the forehead all the while saying that they were praying for him to be healed. Witnessing and participating in this act was truly a humbling experience as I realized how blessed I am to be able to live, move, and breathe like an average human being. This church continues to accommodate any and all those with any type of disability and welcomes them into the congregation. It is amazing to see how God works through His people to reach out to those in need of assistance and His love.

Monica said...

Last year the Lord put one of the students in the conformation class I was teaching deeply on my heart. She had a disability which I did not understand and had no real knowledge of. I felt that I really wanted to help but I was afraid to get involved with her or her family. So I thought the best thing I can do is pray for her. But really I never gave much thought of interacting with her outside of class. By the grace of God a few months later she came up to me and says, I pick you to be my mentor and help me walk with God. I was stunned, I had no idea how to take it, I was flattered but at the same time scared. I was scared because I had no knowledge of what it was like to be emotionally disturbed or what she was going through, I wondered how I was going to help her walk with God. It will be one year this December that she and I have come to know each other very well and have a wonderful relationship. She has truly blessed me more than I could ever bless her. Looking back now to the initial desire God placed in my heart to help her, I can't help but see the garbage in my heart. Yes I was fearful but I was also lazy. Lazy in the sense that I didn't take the time to research her disability or even ask her how she felt about herself. Lazy because I did not want to get out of my comfortable bubble of what I considered normal. I wonder how many hundreds times I or others have missed out on having such fun and great relationships because of the garbage in our hearts.

Jeff McNair said...

Great story

Wesley said...

This is a great example of the differences between secular and Christian life teachings. The big underlying idea that is being taught throughout the U.S. is tolerance. The big idea that is taught throughout the bible is Love. These two issues are not in agreement with one another because tolerance does not include caring about the well-being of your neighbor. Love deals with caring about your neighbor, getting to know them, and taking steps through life with them. This seems like a large task but it is the task that God has given Christians to do. God’s Love should enfold every act you do and be at the forefront of every thought in your mind as a Christian. This causes two clashing agendas in the mind of an American Christian. We as Americans are supposed to tolerate everyone. We as Christians are supposed to love everyone. Some Christians believe it is ok to not love someone as they should and instead tolerate them. This is easy to do considering there are many different types of people around us. We need to put off tolerance and love the people in our communities that are different. I believe that this will help clean up some of the garbage in our hearts and present a better church to the community.