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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back...

Well I heard it again today, hadn't heard it for a while.  Had a conversation with a gal living in Mississippi who told me of her experience with her child.

"Why don't you discipline that kid!" some church leaders and members said about her autistic child.
"We will have a ministry if you start it and stay with your child!" so why come to church?
"Your child is not a priority of ministry!" a church PASTOR told her.
"We are not interested in serving the people at the ARC group home that is across the street!" another church leader told her.

You know, just when you feel like we are finally making a bit of progress, you hear the same stories people have been hearing from US, the CHRISTIAN CHURCH for who knows how long.  It is disgraceful what our leadership will say and do. God forgive them and us.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how the exclusion of persons with disabilities is a church wide problem. It is SO foundationally wrong. It illustrates an attitude that is SO far away from what we are called to be. But the thing that I have been thinking about is that if this is a church wide problem, then there is a church wide problem in the way we are being taught. There may even be a church wide problem with our theology. How could we choose to NOT love devalued people if our theology was correct? How could seminaries train leaders who would freely exclude people if they had not been taught incorrectly?

I have come to the conclusion that there is a system wide problem with our leaders, our understanding of spiritual truth and our theology. People will ask me when I say that, "What is the problem?" I don't know. I am working on trying to understand what it might be. I just know it is pervasive. Pastors will chide me saying there is nothing wrong with our theology and I respond, "Then why don't we care about people who are largely suffering because of the way we treat them? They have been devalued by our society, inside and outside of the church?" I wish they would get angry at me and defend something, but they just kinda shrug and say, "Well we will never get everything right because of our sinful condition."

I think I am going to try that explanation out on my wife.
"Well honey, I haven't done the dishes in 35 years, cause, you know I will never get it right because of my sinful condition."
"Yeah, I punched my boss and lost my job, but you know, I will never get it right because of my sinful condition.'

Of course we are sinful and of course we will never get it right.  But wash the dishes every so often and learn to control your anger.  Add to the list, MAYBE WORK ON TRYING TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!  Yeah loving my neighbor is hard but that is I what I am called to do. That is also what my leaders should be relentlessly focussing on me doing. Leading by example, providing opportunities, and making me feel a bit of guilt if I am not loving my neighbor. But I guess they don't want to love their neighbors either because it is hard for them as well.

I have related this before, but I once met a famous theologian (can't remember his name it was in 1988). He spoke on disability related issues. Afterwards, I asked him how the church has missed this? His response was,
The church is disobedient.
That statement forever impacted me. It isn't just that I just screwed up, it is that I don't want to be obedient. Friends, we need to call our churches to obedience in this area and remember we are talking to people who too often do not want to be obedient in this area. Why would our leaders not want to be obedient? I go back to what I said above about wrong traditions and theology. For a theologically trained leader (like the lady I spoke to today described) to say the types of things he said implies that either they have an obviously wrong theology or they don't believe the theology they claim to be teaching me.

Sorry for the rant.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My friend Michael

My friend Michael passed away last night. He was one of those people in your life that you immediately make a connection with. I wouldn't see him much more than once a week at church or at special gatherings but we were great friends nonetheless.
I have often said that he is the type of person everyone should have in their life. Whenever I would see him, independent of where we were, he would shout out "Hey Jeff!" I would shout back in response, "Hey Michael!" I will miss that aspect of our relationship.  Total abandonment of social rules when we would see each other for the first time in any setting. Our recognition of each other was the MOST important thing. It was as if he was saying,
"I don't care if I disrupt you, my friend Jeff is here and I want to acknowledge him!"

Michael would always remember to ask for prayer for his bus driver and teacher each week, if prayer requests were sought. Others would roll their eyes at his repeated request, but I am confident that when Michael arrived in Heaven, the fruit of his faithful request for prayer was made known to him.
He was not a perfect man, at times his temper would get the best of him and when we were together I would talk through actions of his with him to help him to grow in his faith. He loved to wear a tie and jacket to church each week sometimes in the most random combinations. I loved seeing him dressed up but would help him to straighten up his tie and jacket. I don't know if he liked the attention, but he would allow me to make him look "perfect" as I would tell him.
Every week he would ask me for a dollar which I would give to him so he could buy a soda at his work the following day. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, it also caused me at first to pause, before I knew him.  But then, we would sit together and talk about whatever happened to be on his mind. 
He loved sweets, particularly chocolate.  I remember the last time I saw him, Sunday, he had just eaten a chocolate iced donut. As a result he had chocolate all over his hands which I showed him he could lick off of his fingers. He also always wanted to take something home from church each week. Whether it was some bread donated by Panera, or a flyer about a church activity or whatever. He was VERY adamant about receiving something that he could take home with him.

This morning I was at the director's meeting at Joni and Friends when I received the message about his passing last night. I thought that I would be able to share his passing in a controlled manner, but once I began with "A dear friend of mine died last night..." I lost it. I thought about stopping my presentation (we describe our activities for the previous week at those meetings) but thought what better place than to share my grief over my dear friend with disabilities then at the director's meeting.
I cried through my description of Michael and then apologized for my emotion. But they were touched and said no apology was necessary.

In the few minutes since that meeting, I wondered how many men, living in a group home, working in an adult day care setting have someone who weeps over their passing: someone who was just a friend in their life, who knew them, and will miss them. My faith tells me Michael is with the Lord. I have great confidence in that. But I will miss him because he was my friend.  His calling out to me to greet me is unlike any other friend I have ever had, or will probably ever have again. His friendship was a tremendous gift to me! As a friend at Joni and Friends told me, his friendship probably meant more to you than to him! I like that thought although I hope he delighted in my friendship as well. It is my prayer that more and more, persons with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, with intellectual disabilities will have real friends in their lives who will mourn their loss. Not just family members or people who have become accustomed to them because of the paid services they provided to them, both of those are great. But people who were really their friends and were with them because they enjoyed the human interaction that any friend enjoys.

I will miss you Michael!