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

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Segregation feeds self-interest and integration fights self-interest"

At the meeting of the ministry directors of Joni and Friends today, Doug Mazza, CEO, made a very powerful statement.  He said,
"Segregation feeds self-interest and integration fights self-interest"

Such a powerful statement that cuts to to the quick about what are too often the motivations for segregation.  If I don't have you with me, you cannot make demands on me, so I can continue on in my own self-focussed self-interest.  I can claim that your segregation is in some way what is best for you, but in reality it is all about me. I will not need to change to accommodate you.  I will not be inconvenienced by you and your need to have me do something for you.  I won't have to change my programs, or my schedule, or make room for you in my car.  I don't need to find out about your life, the challenges you might face from agencies or the community and that makes me happy because I am focussed on self-interest.

Integration truly is the enemy of self-interest because if you are with me, I have to consider your wants, your needs, YOU, in the things that I do. Your presence, integrated with me, will make me feel uncomfortable about my affluence if I you are poor.  Your presence, integrated with me, will make me worry about whether you are being treated well by the community.  Your presence, integrated with me, will make me wonder whether you have friends and whether I perhaps could be your friend.  I start thinking about all kinds of things that take my mind off of myself. 

I have heard people at times complain about their inability to worship when people are present who are typically segregated because of their social skills, or behavior, or even appearance.  This should point to the fact that even worship is at times all about self-interest, once again.  I should be able to worship in the manner in which I have become accustomed because you have not been with me.  Don't know where you have been, but it is better for me if you are there.  Rather than coming to the inclusive definition of worship that would come with integration, I prefer the self-centered notion of worship where you are segregated.

When I think about the example of Jesus and the people who crowded him, the people to whom hs spoke, the people he interacted with and healed, I can only think it must have been a very integrated, third world group.  Yeah, people would tell others to "Shut up!" but Jesus would call their name and ask them to come and meet him.  I want to be like that.  I want my life to be integrated as much as I am can: not choosing to segregate myself from others out of my own self-interest.  I wish I was better at that then I am.  I want my lifestyle of inclusiveness to be a soldier that is truly fighting the battle of defeating my self-interest because anything that can help me to do that, will make me more like Jesus, will develop my faith, will model the reality of how life should be.  In the same way that devalued people need to be with me, I need to be with devalued people.  Not because of what I can do for them, but for what they can do for me in defeating my desire for comfort, desire to be left alone, desire for my own self-interest.

Memorize Doug's phrase.  It will impact your day to day life and how you understand the life of the Church,


Friday, September 14, 2012

"Rights without opportunity is meaningless"

"Rights without opportunity is meaningless" is how Zola (1988) characterized the issues he was discussing in reference to independent living for individuals with disabilities.  However, the same could equally characterize the right to religious freedom purportedly given to those with disabilities who live in residential facilities.
"Sure, you have the right to religious freedom, but I am not taking your to church."  Or as I have heard recently, "We are taking a break from church."  How can someone who is responsible for the lives of persons with disabilities in a residential setting say to people who have been expressing religious faith by the attendance at a church, "We are taking a break from church?"  I am about to press the issue with a particular home, but it indicates the depth of the problem.  People can be attending church for a long time (in this case, probably 10 years) and suddenly have that opportunity taken away from them on a whim by their "care providers."  Where is the state protecting their religious freedom?  Do their agency workers even know that they attend church?  If community integration really was a desire of human service workers, be they the directors of a group home or those who monitor the group homes, or those who are the social workers for the persons living in the group home, they would want to know whether those who have chosen to attend church are actually doing so.  That they don't know or care is a part of the problem.
Those who run homes have pervasive power over the lives of those who live in the homes.  I don't believe this is how the system was meant to be.  If it was meant to be this way then it needs to change, and change dramatically.  I have seen the individuals who are hired as group home "parents" and not all are great people.  I remember one home where several women lived, where the man who was the "parent" would at times show up at the front door in his boxer shorts.  Yet these are the people who are making decisions about what a person living in a group home may or may not do.

But thinking again about religious freedom, if you have such freedom, but are never given the opportunity to attend a religious group, never have the opportunity to meet people who attend religious groups, never have the opportunity to hear or learn about religion, then you truly do not have religious freedom.  In reality, you are largely trapped as the person who exited school and entered the home by the plan that was developed for you at that time.  How many of you who are reading this blog are the same person you were when you exited High School?  In these plans, there seems to be little expectation for human growth and change.  How many of you have not explored other ideas which have influenced the way you are as more mature adults today?  Additionally, the life of a student in public school, even if in special education classes, is much different than that of a disabled adult in the disability care system.  In school there was at least the possibility that you would see nondisabled peers.  Chances are the increased time you spent with your family would allow you access to people with whom you could be integrated.  However, the adult service system is almost entirely cut off from community integration, relegating people to a segregated existence with those who are paid to be with them.  Unfortunately, I think that is how people in human services want it to be because it is easier for them.  I think too many group home providers would prefer to not have community members in the lives of their residents because they bring the dangerous ideas of autonomy and rights, and the things that cause a person to have a real life.

If we truly believe that those whose lives are regulated by people who are regulated by agencies deserve rights and freedoms, then we must provide opportunities for them to exercise those rights.

Otherwise, as Zola states, rights are truly meaningless.