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

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me"

This was the second part of the 23rd Psalm that I was to report on to our group. We were studying Keller's, "A shepherd looks at Plsam 23."

As I went through this book, I was impressed with the idea of the sovereignty of God. That is something that is very difficult to accept in my life, particularly when I don't understand what is happening to me. In a Proverbs 3:5 way, I lean on my understanding. So much about disability and the acceptance of disability in oneself or one's family is about accepting the sovereignty of God. As someone who does not face a significant disability myself, or in my children, accepting God's sovereignty is probably easier for me. I do not wake up many evenings with my child with autism. I don't sit at the beside of my daughter with cancer and wonder about our future together. I don't face alzheimers disease in myself or my spouse and worry at the changes life has in store for us. I don't have these experiences at the moment in my life, but it is my prayer for myself as it is for those facing those life experiences now, that they will lean on God and trust him when the reasons cannot be understood because he is indeed sovereign.

In the book, Keller talks about why sheep would be walking through dangerous valleys. Sure, one might get lost and wander into dangerous places, but the point here is that the shepherd is taking the sheep to greener pastures, to a better place for them. So in reality, the shepherd is leading the sheep through the valley of the shadow of death. The shepherd took them there. And death is not imagined, it is there casting a shadow. However, the shadow is cast on the sheep and the shepherd. The shepherd is there with the sheep as he takes them through the valley to the greener pasture. This is an easy principle to describe, but it is perhaps the most difficult of all principles to live, to accept. Paul promises that in all things God works for the good of those who love him(Romans 8:28). That is encouraging, but that doesn't make life any less difficult. It will hopefully strengthen my faith such that I will trust in the Lord with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding. But having faith in difficult situations of life, like the facing of disability is hard.

Like a shepherd taking the sheep to a better place, a greener pasture, I trust God's sovereignty in the most difficult of sitiuations that life throws at me. Joni Eareckson-Tada is the greatest example of this to me, in terms of a real flesh and blood person. After 40+ years of living with quadriplegia, she is diagnosed with cancer. What is her response?
"For years I have hoped that my quadriplegia might encourage people struggling with cancer...now I have a chance to truly empathize and journey alongside, affirming that God's grace is always sufficient for whatever the disease or disability."


On some level, that is what the green pasture looks like when we get to the other side of the valley of the shadow. Through faith in God and her trust in God's sovereignty, Joni is fearless. Of course she fears, she is a human being. However, her response is to trust God because she understands that He is leading her!

The experience of disability is dead in the center of God's sovereignty and the need for faith. I pray for those whose experience with disability challenges your faith. I also pray that each of us will come alongside of those facing the difficult aspects of the experience of disability to reduce the social consequences, to reduce the discrimination, and to become a part of the process of the church (meaning Christians) becoming the green pasture that people desperately need.


"He makes me lie down in green pastures..."

This past week, I was a part of a group studying "A shepherd looks at the 23rd Psalm." I was assigned chapters 3 and 7 in the book and thought I would share what I learned here.

Chapter 3 takes the part, "He makes me lie down in green pastures."
On page 33 of the book, Keller says that in order for a sheep to be willing or able to lie down, they must be free of fear, free of friction with others, free of pests and free of hunger. If these conditions are not met the sheep will not lie down. More on this later.

He also talks a bit about the idea of "green pastures." He says that pastures can be existing/natural, or they can be made or prepared by the shepherd. At least part of the notion of green pastures for the Christian is the idea that God and his church are the green pasture. My relationship with God is more of the natural one, where no one needs to do any preparation. I can approach God on my own, and feel the refreshment that comes from a relationship with him. The church on the other hand, is more of the prepared pasture. It has to be made green. As I thought through this, I reflected once again on the research that indicates that parents of children with disabilities feel supported by their individual faith (the natural pasture) but not by their corporate faith (the prepared pasture, or I guess the pasture that has not been adequately prepared).

Keller goes on to talk about how a pasture is prepared (p 41). Once again as He went through this, I thought about the parallels with the church relative to people with disabilities and their families and how the church needs the same types of preparation.

Scriptural verses came to mind...
-Clearing of rocky land: Jesus did a lot of this (see Luke 6:4, 11:39-44 and Mark 7 about corban)
-Tearing out brush, roots and stumps: Matthew 15:13
-Deep plowing and careful soil preparation: John 9:3-5
-Seeding and planting special graines and legumes 1 Corinthians 12:22
-Irrigating: 1 Corinthians 1:25-30
-Taking care of crops: James 1:27

In order for the church to be a green pasture for people with disaiblities and their families: a place of refreshment, relaxation, support, without fear, friction, pests or hunger many changes need to happen.
We must remove fear, particularly fear of rejection, judgement and social isolation. No one who fears what might happen at the church will ever come to the church let alone consider it a green pasture.

We must remove friction due to intolerance of social skill differences, the program changes that might be required, and the general flexibility that must happen.

We must prevent/remove pests. The pests of state agency/school problems, lack of understanding of the behavior of people with intellectual disabilities, mental illness or autism, and understand the differences of life experience if I am a person with disability or a family member.

We must address provide opportunities to address the hunger of those who would come in areas of worship, Bible study, membership, acceptance and the provision of respite.

The more we endeavor to do the above, the more the church will actually become a green pasture. In a previous post, I commented on the phrase I read in a curriculum that states, "Acceptance does not change the reality of one's condition." Creating a green pasture is the creation of an environment that changes "the reality of one's condition." In particular by addressing the social consequences of disability. At least socially, the church can become the pasture that those affected by disability long for.