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


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Talking to your church leaders about starting disability ministry

In the great book, Lead like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, there are many great insights. One struck me as I was rereading it recently. On page 191-192 they state,

"Whenever we are asked to do something different in life, the change agent - whether a manager, a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a colleague, or a friend - usually starts off by attempting to convince you of all the benefits of the change you are being  asked to make. Yet it's been found that the benefits - the impact and the "why" of change - is the fourth-ranked concern people have during change. People are first interested in information concerns. "Tell me what you have in mind. What is needed? What is wrong with the way things are now?" When you have information concerns, you don't want to be sold on the change; you simply want to understand it. Next, people are interested in personal concerns. "How will doing this affect me? Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?" Here the focus is on the details involved in making the change a reality. Third, people have implementation concerns. "What do I do first, second, third, etc.?"

This is an important set of observations for us who who are endeavoring to facilitate change within the church. I immediately saw myself as jumping down to the number 4 concern about the impact in my interactions and I think that I would agree with the authors that that is a mistake. Just to help to see the progression, let me list the questions in order.

1-Tell me what you have in mind.
  What is needed?
  What is wrong with the way things are now?
2-How will doing this affect me?
  Do I have what it takes to integrate the suggested change in my life?
3-What do I do first, second, third, etc.?
4-Here are the benefits of the change that I am asking you to make.

Think through this progression before the next time you are attempting to influence someone about the benefits of inclusive ministry.

McNair

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Definition of disability ministry

I wanted to post the following mostly to receive input from anyone who might be interested. Here is a first draft of a definition of disability ministry.


Disability Ministry


Disability ministry is the label given to efforts to address disability (definition provided in a separate document), in the Christian community.

Ministries first endeavor to create greater confidence in Jesus Christ among persons affected by disability (definition provided in a separate document) by discipling Christian individuals…


1). So that they understand what the Bible says. For those with intellectual impairments, that they comprehend at their level of understanding.


2). By teaching and modeling Christian behavior so that people can produce Christian behavior (including worship, prayer, evangelism, service, and discipleship).


3). By facilitating people’s understanding and expression of their individual gifting in loving service.



Disability ministry also works to facilitate the discipling of Christian environments…


4). To begin with repentance, recognizing that historically the Church has not always loved its neighbors with impairments.


5). To see all people as who the Bible teaches they are.


6). To actively facilitate the expression of everyone’s gifting.


7). To assume persons with disabilities are to be fully included in all Church social environments and then to work towards that inclusion.



And finally…


8). To advocate for cultural change within the Church to reflect all 8 of the above.

Thank you for any input you might provide!
McNair

Friday, April 28, 2017

Meowoof

I have been receiving much positive feedback on my juvenile fiction novel called Meowoof. It would be great for young people or adults interested in exploring what it is to be different in some way. Here is what I wrote about it last November when it was about to be launched. Please consider picking up a copy! 

Meowoof is a new book from Jeff McNair. It would be great to give to a young person who feels different in some way, someone with a disability, or parents of a child with a disability. It is juvenile fiction so it is easy reading and fun. But there are very deep ideas behind the engaging story. Great also for a discussion group interested in discussing differences in people.

Here is the description that goes with the book.

Meowoof invites you into a world of dogs! Of course it is filled with licking, sniffing, biting and chasing. It is no doubt a fun and amusing place to visit. But life is not without its challenges. 
Barney, a beagle, and his mate Inky, a dachshund are just a young couple looking to start a family and live a typical life. But there is something unusual about one of their pups. He is like no pup they or any other dogs have ever seen before. Skip and Rosie, friends of the family do their best to support them as does His Howliness, the leader of the Moon Howlers, but they are up against attitudes deeply held by doggy society. Barney and Inky find out how those around can change when someone is not like everyone else. Those who understand the experience of being different will fearfully whisper about how dogs are taken over by the Grumble, an evil living inside of everyone. How does one battle against something everyone has inside of them? Dogs like Skip and His Howliness refuse to be put off by differences in others and will bear their teeth and fight the Grumble. But the Grumble is not that easily defeated. 
What is it to be different? What happens to you and those around you when you are not like everyone else? You are different. In a truly unique way, Meowoof begins a story about those who are different and what their lives are like.  
  • If you are a little different you will see yourself in this story. 
  • If you love someone who is different, you will more fully understand your experience. 
  • And, if you struggle with those who are different, perhaps you will begin to understand why.
McNair

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Treating persons with intellectual disabilities in an age appropriate manner

Last year, I spoke at a conference attended by persons interested in theology, disability and disability ministry. Many were arguably disability ministry leaders. The main topic of my presentation was related to age appropriateness in ministry approaches to persons with intellectual disabilities.  I have to admit I was surprised when I received a lot of push back from the group about treating adults with intellectual disabilities as adults. You see, when you treat adults as children, this reveals more about who you are then about who they are. So these leaders reflected more about who they were which was what was somewhat shocking to me. Like any form of discrimination, actions can reveal discrimination. You have a characteristic which in most ways should be considered irrelevant to my interactions with you. I, however, see your characteristic as something which I feel I should elevate to a level which I feel allows me to act toward you in ways I would never act towards others.

Without naming specific programs, there are those who attempt to celebrate the lives of persons with intellectual disabilities by treating them in age inappropriate, demeaning ways. Imagine any group who has been discriminated against in some way by the larger society. The larger society then recognizes that those individuals have experienced discrimination. So in "repentance" they celebrate you in the same ways in which you have historically experienced being demeaned. This happens with age inappropriateness. Society has treated adults with intellectual disabilities as children. But when it comes time to try to celebrate them, they actually denigrate them by treating them as children. Once again that reveals who they are, not who those with disabilities are.

Now I recognize that people will do these things with the best intentions. Segregated ministries are developed similarly, with the best intentions. However, intentions when leading to flawed programs or activities do not justify the flawed programs or activities. I would like to care about your intentions, however, I am more interested in what you actually do. In the same way that if you segregate people with the best intentions and are dead wrong, if you treat adults as children because they have an intellectual disability you are wrong. If you want to read more on age appropriateness, see these past blog entries.

My wife Kathi and I have facilitated ministry at local churches for 40 years. In the past 27 years of our group called the Light and Power Company, we have made every effort to ensure that adults are treated as adults. I remember one visitor to our program commented, "Your program is different in that you treat them as if they were your peers." Well Lord willing, we do not treat them AS IF they were our peers, we treat them as our peers because they are our peers. They are adults and therefore should be treated as adults. Once again, if I do not treat adults as adults, it reveals things, negative things, about me. Such treatment is not reflective of anything about the individual with intellectual disability.

I am working on an article at the moment on age appropriateness. As ideas develop I will share more here.

McNair

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prayer by persons with severe disabilities


It might seem obvious, but a critical aspect of ministry is to teach people to pray. In assisting adults with intellectual disabilities to grow in their faith, one thing we have desired to do is to teach them to pray. Too often the prayers we hear from people are full of words, full of directions, as if God isn't really sure what to do so he needs us to tell him what to do.
I have addressed this a bit in a past post called Help Me.

The class my wife and I facilitate at our church is called the Light and Power Company. At times, we have hosted an all church prayer meeting. The meeting are sparsely attended by around 30 people, but they are always a great time.

In preparing for the event, it occurred to me that prayer would be a great leveler of persons within the church. As stated above, God is not honored by many words repeated. Our prayers are equal. For me to go on and on about the surgeon's training and hands and whatever else comes to mind does not make my prayer any more effective than that of someone who simply says, "Help Sally get better" or even more simply, “Help Sally.” At the same time, however, who knows if the faith of persons with intellectual disability may cause a qualitative difference between my and their prayers.

Perhaps consider instituting a prayer session sponsored by the persons with disabilities in your church. It gives teeth to the lesson that we really are all equal at the foot of the cross. It also should raise the esteem of persons with disabilities in the eyes of other members of the church. There are people who will literally not be prayed for if not for the prayers of persons with disabilities. We had a class member who would ask every week that his bus driver and his teacher would be prayed for. These were two very important people in his life. So we prayed for those people every week. We have no idea the ramification of those prayers, however, one has to believe that they made a difference.
Teaching persons with severe intellectual disabilities to pray is very powerful. I have often been told by someone, someone with a severe intellectual disability, that I was prayed for by them. One friend would greet me every week by saying, "I pray for you Jeff! I nice to you Jeff!" I would always express my appreciation for his prayers. He delighted in praying for me and I delighted in being prayed for by him.

In my work, I do a lot of international travel. I used to ask our class members as a group to pray for me in just a general announcement. One day a woman named Amber came up to me and said, “I pray for you Jeff.” So I sat down before her as she placed her hands on my head. She prayed, “Help Jeff. Help Jeff” several times. She then closed by saying, “I’m trying to be a good girl.” What an incredible prayer. Since that time I always seek her out to ask her to pray for me when I travel. When I am facing challenging times in my life I will also ask her to pray. Sometimes her prayers will be different. One time she actually wept as she prayed for me. Another time she suddenly said, “Devil get away from him!” That was a little frightening. I relish her prayers. At times now, now that she knows she has "permission" she will just approach me and say once again, "I pray for you Jeff." I stop what I am doing, hold her hands or she puts her hands on my head or shoulder and I submit to her ministry of praying for me.

A couple of last comments about prayer. First, when I humble myself before Amber, I honor her and provide her the opportunity to express her gifting by praying for me. Her prayers for me are real to me and valued by me. But I also demonstrate her gifting to those who are observing. Forgive me, but at times I deliberately ask her to pray for me in locations where there are other people around. I want them to see how I value her prayer. Perhaps it will cause them to reflect on who she is in God’s sight as well.

McNair

Monday, March 06, 2017

More on the Good Samaritan: "Who is not my neighbor?"

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I find the story of the Good Samaritan very very rich. Particularly, I find it rich as it relates to ministries that include persons with disabilities. Here is a link to past posts where I have discussed or mentioned the Good Samaritan passage.

But I love to learn new things about any passage which has become familiar to me. This happened recently in a conversation with a colleague, Dr. Chris Morgan. Chris is the brilliant Dean of Christian Studies at CBU. Hopefully I am representing Chris' comments correctly, but he indicated something very interesting to me about the story. Chris said that the question asked of Jesus by the Lawyer was not really to identify who his neighbor is, but rather who his neighbor is not. That may have been obvious to you but it sure wasn't to me, at least not in that way. It also says he was trying to justify himself. Why would he be trying to justify himself? He wanted to see if his non-neighbors were the right group. The Lawyer's assumption obviously implies that in his mind, that although there were people who were his neighbor, there were people who were not his neighbor. So he just wanted to see if those who he didn't see as his neighbor were the same ones that Jesus wouldn't see as his neighbor. I hope I got Chris' point correct.

As I thought through his observation, it also seemed to me, that Jesus was then providing an illustration for the Lawyer of what it looks like if you don't choose an individual or a group of people as your neighbor. Both the Priest and Levite did not see the man who was beaten and left half dead as their neighbor, probably for a variety of reasons. In contrast, the Samaritan saw people of a different ethnic group, who were considered "enemies", who were in great need, who potentially put him in danger, who could do nothing for themselves, as his neighbor. This is much more in line with the Leviticus 19 passage which the story references (Leviticus 19, especially verses 9-18). Jesus asks the Lawyer, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" The Lawyer responded "The one who showed him mercy" possibly responding that way because he didn't even want to use the word Samaritan. He was still trying to separate people into the two groups of

1- My Neighbor
2- Not my Neighbor

I think we can sometimes do that in reference to persons with disabilities. We ask the question, "Who is my neighbor?" and then answer it "Those with disabilities are not my neighbor" justifying (like the lawyer) our lack of concern for persons with the characteristic called impairment. I have actually heard people say that people with disabilities are not a priority for ministry, ie. they are not my neighbor. So this is a real distinction which may at times continue today.

But from a disability perspective, Jesus totally blows up the restrictive notion of who our neighbor is. He describes the man beaten and left half-dead as our neighbor. Think that through a minute. He was a man who could do absolutely nothing for himself. He is not described as doing anything at all for himself, not even calling out. So once again the answer from a disability perspective to, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus describes someone with very severe disabilities at the moment and perhaps into the future.

McNair

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

"If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it"

1 Corinthians 12 talks about the Body of Christ as a metaphor for the church. Members are represented as hands, eyes and feet in order to illustrate our connectedness. We are a part of each other, whether we realize it or not, in the same way that your hand, eye or foot is a part of your body.

I have often remarked in reference to verse 28, "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it", no we don't. I say that because I know of persons with disabilities who have been seemingly cut off or excluded from the Body of Christ, the church, and we don't seem to be participating in their suffering. A colleague of mine, however, said to me that we are actually suffering, but we just don't realize it. As he shared that perspective with me, I immediately thought about leprosy where the sense of pain is lost. But as I think about it, it is more than that perhaps. How can I be suffering and not even know it?

Maybe it's because I have lived my life in a suffering state for so long, I don't know what it is not to be suffering in a particular way. Suffering in that manner becomes the norm for me. So for example, I have lived my life since age 5 wearing glasses. I have seen the world, looking through lenses for 55 years. I have on some level become used to the scratched, smudged experience of seeing the world. I don't realize my impaired vision from wearing glasses until I get new glasses. Then for a while I have the clear vision experience (although I still am living my life feeling like I am looking through a window rather than having an unobstructed view of the world). But after a while, I ultimately go back to the imperfect, scratched, smudged glasses experience. I get to the point where I don't know what it is like to not be that way. But in regards to this Bible passage, how might the body be suffering and know knowing it?

Maybe I am suffering from accepting living in a form of the Body of Christ where we don't love our neighbors. I could live in a beautiful, though demanding, social environment but I don't because I have become accustomed to the way the social environment has developed and found its way into the Church. Even though I may have an idea of what life might be like if I and the rest of the body loved our neighbor I have never fully experienced it. So I suffer though I don't know what it is I am missing.

Then, maybe I suffer from missing out on what the social environment might be if everyone was provided the opportunity to experience their gifting. We speak in the Christian faith of purpose in what God does. So in reference to disability we would say that God either causes or allows disability. However, if the purpose in the way people are, the giftedness in what they are as they are is not given opportunity for expression then I suffer from an incomplete expression of the sovereignty of God. It would be as if there were no musicians in the world because people with characteristics leading them to become musicians were excluded from us. I don't know what I am missing because a particular gifting set (potentially) is never expressed. Once again, we suffer from missing out on that set of gifts. We suffer from no music because we have never had music. If we had music and then had it taken away, then we would suffer from the beauty missed. But if we never had music, we are suffering from something we were intended to experience but have never experienced because of our exclusive choices.

We also suffer from living in disobedience. Of course we are all the victims of our sinful condition in myriad ways, most of which we probably have no idea about. But with each step with which we grow in obedience, we may find out how we have been suffering, what we have missed out on by living in our disobedience. We experience this personally but we also experience this corporately in a similar way. When we as a group make decisions that are sinful in nature, like excluding people or showing favoritism, we lose something. We suffer something, although we may not realize what it is.

So yes, I agree with my colleague. Whether we realize it or not, we do suffer in ways we were not intended to suffer. Perhaps our awareness of these things will cause us to remember the pain, re-experience the pain and move away from the behavior that causes the pain.

McNair

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Are we loving or persecuting Jesus?

There is an interesting connection between what we do to people and what we do to Jesus. We have heard about ministry to devalued people is ministry to what has been called the "hidden Christ." Typically in this regard we think of the Matthew 25 passage which says in verse 40
"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'"
Then in verse 45 it says,
"And he will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'"
It recently occurred to me that this sentiment is also stated elsewhere. In Acts 9, when Jesus appears to Paul on the road to Damascus, having persecuted Christians, and on his way to persecute more, verse 4 says,
"He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?" "Who are you lord?" Saul asked.
And the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!"
I mentioned in an earlier post, the passage from James 2:1 which says,
"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?"
It is as if to say, when you favor one group over another, you love one group over another and Jesus is a part of both groups. So maybe by showing favoritism you are actually not loving him.

This favoritism is something we need to take to heart. It is not necessarily that some people are more valuable than others. However, it appears that the way we treat others is tantamount to the way we actually, not metaphorically, treat Jesus. When Saul is persecuting Christians, Jesus' question is not "Why are you persecuting my church?" or "Why are you persecuting my followers?" He asks why Saul is persecuting Jesus himself. When we help or don't help others, we are actually doing it or not doing it for Jesus himself. There is some kind of deep, spiritual connection between the Lord and his followers that perhaps we don't fully understand. If we did understand it, we would make greater efforts to love and include our neighbors.

This is an important message we need to take to heart.
McNair