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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Helping those who may not realize they are being wounded

Leviticus 19:14.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.

I have written about this verse elsewhere in this blog but in discussions with my disability studies class last night, I was struck once again about one aspect of this part of scripture. If someone curses a deaf person, there is a good chance that the person who is deaf will not know it. If someone puts a stumbling block in front of a blind person, there is a good chance that the blind person will not know the stumbling block was deliberately placed there. In each of these cases, those who are being victimized do not know they are being victimized. The deaf person doesn't know that they are being degraded before the society in which they find themselves if I curse them. The blind person would simply assume that there was a stumbling block that happened to be in their way even though I might have put it there to entertain myself or those observing the situation when the person trips and falls down. There is thus a protective function that people in the environment must play in the lives of people with disabilities (or those experiencing other forms of devaluing) although those who are experiencing the devaluing may not realize they are being devalued or teased or victimized.

I stop someone from cursing a deaf person whether or not the deaf person knows it because I understand the ramifications of allowing someone to be victimized by the environment. I prevent someone from placing a stumbling block before a blind person because I recognize the effect of allowing people to make fun or sport of a person who is potentially defenseless against such taunting. I do it because I understand the ramification of not doing it even though those who are the victims may not directly perceive the ramifications because of their disability.

I have intellectually disabled friends who talk to me about how some people are nice to them and some people are not nice to them. The situations they describe reveal that people are unkind in ways that reveal their taunting of a person with a disability...their taunting is disability related. My friends do not make that connection, the connection to a personal characteristic that they have, but simply just see the other person as randomly nice or not nice.

As an advocate, I must be aware of the ways in which a person is wounded (search this post for the 18 wounds) and do what I can to prevent the wounding, whether or not the person with disabilities is aware of the fact that they are being wounded. I know people with high functioning autism who are unaware of the way they come across socially. Because of their consistent experience socially with the world whereby they are treated as if they were strange or weird, I attempt to mitigate social situations such that relationships are less tempered by the environment's perception that the person with autism is strange. They may not be aware, I am. Through my efforts it is hoped that the wounding ceases, independent of the perceptions of the person with the disability.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"...compel them"

In the Luke 14 passage about the Parable of the Great Banquet, when the host is rejected by his invited guests, there is the following interaction between the master and his servant.

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

On a recent trip to Uganda, I was talking about this verse when I was struck by the word "compel" in the passage. There was a large athletic man who was one of the attendees at the training. I wondered aloud to the audience, "Could I make James come with me to church?" They all shook their heads "No," as nobody could easily, physically make James do something that he didn't want to do. It then struck me that the idea could be that of a compelling argument. Kneeling before James, I said, "Please come to the banquet. We will give you good food. We will treat you with respect and not embarrass you. We will make you feel like a friend and this will not be the last time we ask you to be with us. You see our Master wants you to come. He sees you as desirable and wants you to be among those who fill his banquet hall, his house. You will be given the same food as everyone else. Please come with me. My master will be disappointed with me if I cannot convince you, cannot compel you to join me."

If there was further hesitation, I would ask, "What can I do to change your mind so that you will give the banquet a chance? Perhaps I can bring you a taste of the food or bring others to you who have been to the banquet and had their fill. Please come with me as I don't want to disappoint my master who has commanded me to compel you to come to the banquet! He is already angry at those who have been invited and have rejected him."

If people were at society's margins (the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame), one would think that an invitation to come to a banquet would be all that would be required. One might think they would be clamoring to get into the banquet. So to have to direct someone by saying, "...compel them to come in" indicates that the master knew that they would NOT want to come in even though they were poor and living on the margins of society. This reveals more about how the Master had been represented then it does about those who were invited. If I have to compel you to do something as positive as attending a banquet, it implies that it is something that you are not predisposed to do, that you would typically not choose to do. Perhaps your personal experience tells you, "Don't trust those people who invite you." No, you must be compelled. Perhaps if you are able to be convinced then you might give them another chance, you might change your perspective.

There is a saying that insanity is to do the same thing over and over again thinking "It will work this time." That people would need to be compelled to fill the Master's house, tells us that these people are not insane but are likely very rational, perhaps having given up on going to the Master's house. "Compel them to come in that my house might be full" is the command from a Master who knows his servants, AND those whom he desires to come into his house: "the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame."


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Lessons from Uganda

I just returned from a couple of weeks in Uganda. I was there with a friend and colleague, Dr. Rick Langer, speaking on issues related to Christianity and disability, at 3 different universities. Each of the three have an interest in increasing their work in the field of disability through offering either majors or minor programs of study. In speaking to these groups, it is always rewarding to "connect the dots" for people. People who have perhaps grown up in church and have a sincere desire to serve God but who have been largely blind to the presence of persons with disabilities in their communities. We left feeling that perhaps we have sparked greater interest and desire in first being aware of persons with disabilities, understanding a bit of their life experience, and then planning for next steps such that they would be included as integral parts of the church body.

At one university, we were invited to visit the home of a woman whose son had severe disabilities, including hydrocephalus which had been treated later in his life such that he was largely bed ridden. The mother told of how she is largely alone in the young man's care, with little help from anyone. As we stood on the porch of her home, one could see the steeple of the Catholic church, perhaps 50 yards from her home, and the gates of the university 100 yards away. As we addressed the students, we repeatedly spoke of how there were people desperate for help, only 100 yards from the gates of the school. The students were studying in the school of theology/child development (an interesting combination) and were very interested to learn that they could have a positive impact on a family and learn about children with disabilities simply by taking a short walk.

Other children were sequestered in rooms or parts of small stores. One grandmother was raising 10 children, one of whom was a girl with disabililities by trying to sell chickens that she raised in a small 6x6 pen. You could see the struggle on her face. Once again, this woman was in the community close by to the University where students could have a huge impact on the family.

It is my hope that should I return to this part of the world, things would be different for these families. There was an incredible gathering of people in the know, who didn't know each other but together comprised a critical mass to get things done.

We left each session very encouraged and very excited about what the future holds.