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


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The sin of the social environment


In Mark 7:1-13 there is a telling interaction between Jesus and a group of Pharisees.  In verse 5, Jesus is asked, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders…?”  They were asking about the fact that the disciples didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before they ate. Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah saying, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (ala Romans 12:2).  That is pretty damning.  But Jesus follows up by saying in verse 8, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”  He goes on to tell of how in this case, they do not honor their parents.  “Thus you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down.”  He concludes in verse 13 by saying, “And you do many things like that.”  Their traditions, in this case, did not honor a group of people they should have been honoring.  There are traditions which contribute to functionally impairing people, socially and otherwise, via an unwillingness to make the changes to the environment, the traditions, that would better reflect the commands of God.
If we as “these people who honor me with their lips” do exchange the commands of God for the traditions of men, we are guilty of the sin of the social environment. Fill in the blank as to what that particular social environment might be. It could be the school, the restaurant, the church or the local park. Our traditions seem to teach us to treat people with disabilities as different from those without disabilities. We also seem to have a hierarchy of persons with disabilities as well in that people affected by disability can also fall into this kind of social environmental sin. I addressed this a bit with a post back in 2007 called "Don't hate the player, hate the game." But to blame our behavior on the way we have been socialized or that everybody acts in a similar manner, is childish. I am responsible for my own actions and if the social environment is behaving in a wrong manner, that is not an excuse for me to behave similarly. 
I am responsible for my behavior toward others.
I am responsible for my language toward others.
I am responsible for my exclusion of others.
I am responsible for my not choosing some people as friends. 
Your personal characteristics, whatever they might be, didn't MAKE me do anything. I just took the opportunity of your presence to express a form of ugliness that resides within me. I took the opportunity of you being someone different from me in some way (personal characteristics, ideology, etc.) to embrace the the ugliness within me and celebrate it. In my novel, Meowoof, I talk about this as the Grumble. It is something that lives within us. So in reality, I am the ugly one, not you. I am the intolerant one, not you. But if my blaming you for my ugliness is not called out, then it will be encouraged and only continue. 
Take responsibility for your own participation in the sin of the social environment and stop it. 
McNair

Radio interview with Judy Redlich on "Encounter"


Today an interview I did with Judy Redlich, is being broadcast on the radio program "Encounter" Join Judy Redlich Tuesday 1:30 p.m. 

You can tune into Encounter weekdays at 1:30pm on KSIV AM 1320 or FM 95.9 for Christian perspective, world view and stimulating conversation. Judy also works for the Joni and Friends office in the St. Louis area. Please tune in for an interesting discussion. Here is how the interview is described.

"Looking for a Sunday School curriculum that could reach developmentally disabled adults at your church?  Meet Jeff McNair, its author, and national disability advocate.  Learn about new tips for advocating for persons with disabilities and their families."

Thanks for listening in!

McNair


Monday, April 16, 2018

Sin and social skills - (Edited Repost)

TUESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2007


Sin and social skills

So, a person with a intellectual, emotional, or mental disability approaches you. He stands too close to your face. He asks you questions that you think are inappropriate. He touches you too much. He doesn't get your hint that you are feeling uncomfortable. He doesn't understand your language indicating that you want to end the conversation. He will not let the conversation end. Finally you break away. When you get with a friend, you comment, "That guy is weird. He's a mess. He doesn't get it at all, he was like standing too close and touching me and couldn't take a hint."

The question is...who just committed the sin?

He doesn't get it, you do.
He is flailing around in attempting to be loving and friendly. You aren't nor do you want to be loving or friendly.
He will talk about you as his friend. You talk about him as weird and how he doesn't get it.
He will look forward to a chance to talk with you again. You will avoid him in the future.
He will give you all the time he has. You will give time only out of some feeling of guilt.

So who is committing the sin?

It is amazing what we, what I, will do or think about a person just because their social skills are not all they should be. The person is not being evil, the person is not doing wrong, the person just doesn't understand many of what are truly the subtleties of social skills. My response is to reject him and perhaps 90% of my friends and 90% of church members would probably agree with my rejection of him. We as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, condone, understand, accept, advocate, discuss, follow through on rejection of people with various disabilities because of their social skills.
May God forgive us.

Yet as I approach the Lord, of course  my social skills are flawless. To the Lord, interacting with me is no doubt "a day at the beach!" How fortunate for him that he is able to be in my presence (being the Lord, and being omnipresent, he kinda doesn't have a choice but to be in my presence). I am confident that the three persons of the trinity do not huddle together and say to each other, "McNair is weird." But you know, in reality God's interactions with me, and my prayers to Him are "a day at the beach" because the Lord loves me. He loves me not because I am "a day at the beach" but because out of his love he has chosen to make interactions with me "a day at the beach." He has chosen to make me feel like I am "a day at the beach! " In spite of all my problems, my sins, my poor social skills, my pride, the crap that is in me and circles me like flies because of the choices I have made, HE LOVES ME! You see that is the example he provides. 
He shows me, ME, as the example of loving someone who is difficult to love, 
and then He loves me.

Do you think he cares about the social skills of the person who bothers you? Please! No, he treats him like he is "a day at the beach" just as much as he does to me.

So do you get it? Social skills deficits are not sin. If I reject another on the basis of social skills, that is sin and I am the sinner. We, I, need to learn about love. True love is not easy. It is messy and inconvenient. It makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes demands on you. I pray that when I am put to the test, when God asks me to show real love to another human being, I will not be worrying about that person's social skills. I hope my concern will be whether I am reflecting the kind of Love that God shows to me. I pray that I will be worried about the sin I am tempted to commit by rejecting another person who God truly loves.

McNair

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Senior men's class visit


Every year on Easter, just to experience something different I like to go to a different church. I found one not too far away and thought I would try it out. As I walked up to the building, I was greeted enthusiastically by a woman.
“We are so happy you are here!”
“Thank you” I responded.
“Have you been to this church before?”
“No, I go to a different church and thought I would just visit yours today.”
“Well we have a perfect place for people like you! You will have the opportunity to meet and make many new friends.”
I looked at her quizzically and said ‘”OK. Great.”
“There is a special place for folks like you to sit in big church. It is in a section over there” where she pointed to other 60ish men sitting together.
As I looked around, I saw lots of people sitting and talking waiting for the service to begin in the main area of the sanctuary. But I followed directions and moved toward the area populated by men with grey hair (those that had hair) who were a similar age to me.
She accompanied me and got me situated. “After the singing, you will go out to your class with the other men.”
“My class?” I asked.
“Yes the class for people like you.”
“Like me? What do you mean, like me? Couldn’t I just stay here and listen to the sermon? I’d be happy to sit with the other people if that would not be too much of a distraction.”
“Oh no!” she responded happily, “you will be happier with the way we have everything ready for you and the others.”
As I looked around, the others smiled at me and back at her. With that she moved away.
A guy sitting behind me tapped me with his iphone. “After the singing, we can go to the class and color pictures of Jesus while we are waiting for everyone to arrive. Last week we made popsicle crosses.”
“What? Why do you guys color pictures of Jesus?” I asked. “I’ve never been to a church where I was given pictures of Jesus to color.”
“I guess it has to do with the way they see you here.  You’ll get used to it after a while.”
The service started and the other men and I participated in the singing and bowed our heads for the prayer. As the sermon was about to start, the friendly woman came back and said, “OK guys time to follow me.” They all got up so I did too. People waved to us as we exited and went to a classroom where colored pencils and pictures, more like cartoon pictures, awaited us. The other men sat down and immediately started to color.
As I looked around the room, I saw a friend of mine who was a high school math teacher named James. “Hey James, how long have you been coming to this church?”
“For a little over a year. I’ve gotten good at the coloring. My wife likes putting the pictures on the refrigerator.”
I looked at him and kind of shook my head, but shortly he was back at coloring.
The teacher came in. “I want to talk about work today. How many of you have jobs?”
Everyone’s hand went up including my own. I’m a professor.
She turned to Bob a couple of seats down from me, his hand raised.
“What kind of work do you do Bob?”
“I work at a marketing firm which specializes in commercial real estate.”
“Good for you!” she responded. “That’s wonderful! Commercial real estate is VERY special. How about you, Sam?”
Sam was sitting right next to me.
“I’m a police officer.”
“Do you ever get to work with the animals? I bet that would be fun.”
“No, I do more traffic enforcement.”
"Cars go so fast. Please be careful out there!”
“Thanks, I will.”
As I sat there, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and seeing.
“We are going to have a snack shortly. You will be able to choose the kind of cookie you would like.”
As she turned away, I grabbed Sam. “What is this?”
“What do you mean?” he replied.
“This class, the things you do, the way she talks to you. How do you stand it?”
“Isn’t this the way all Sunday school classes for senior men are like?”
Agitated, I responded, “NO, it’s not the way all Sunday School classes for senior men are like!”
“Really? It is all I have ever known.”
“You are kidding, right? NO they aren’t like this. Men are treated like men, like adults. They get to sit wherever they want to. Why should 6o year old men be treated like this?”
“Isn’t that who we are?”
“It’s not who I am.”
We were interrupted by guitar music.
“EV-ry BO-dy SING! If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands” followed by clapping.
“I’m not happy and I know it!” I said to Sam sharply.
“I feel like the way we are treated is the way these people here in this church see us. It feels a little strange to me as well, but I don’t know. Maybe there is something in the Bible or something that causes them to act this way towards us. It’s like the only place I go where I am treated this way. I definitely don’t get treated this way at the precinct. Maybe this is the Christian way of interacting with men like us.”
“It's like they don’t respect you. How can you stand it?”
“Well is there any place else I could go where I would be treated differently?”
“You should come to my church. Don’t put up with this…”
“What kind of cookies do you have?”

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Two stories about Jesus, healing, and disability

There are two particularly interesting passages related to Jesus' healings in the Gospels. They seem to reveal at least an aspect of His perspective on persons with disabilities.

The first is Mark 10:46-50. This is the story of Bartimaeus a man who was blind. We are told that when Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by, he began to shout "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus tells his followers to call him. When he came to Jesus, He asked him, "What do you want me to do for you?" That is an interesting question from Jesus. Because He had healed people, everyone in the crowd knew what the man wanted, no doubt including Jesus, yet he asks the question. Now we learn later after Bartimaeus says, "Rabbi, I want to see" that Jesus tells him, "Go, your faith has healed you" meaning that he was a man of faith. This is critical. A man who already has faith in Jesus, comes to him asking for mercy. Perhaps Jesus sees that he already has the most important thing, his faith, and that is why he asks what he wants.

In contrast, we can look at Mark 2:1-12 the story of the paralytic who is lowered through the roof. Interestingly, the passage says in verse 5, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" He doesn't comment on the paralytic's faith as the reason for the forgiveness of his sins but rather on the faith of those who brought him. This raises many questions about this interaction and how it occurred. Did his friends just take him or did he want to see Jesus? Clearly the friends were men of faith. But Jesus doesn't ask him or his friends what he wants. He sees their faith and says to him your sins are forgiven. Now once again, it seems obvious, perhaps, why his friends brought him to Jesus. Maybe they were trying to develop his faith, but more likely they wanted Jesus to heal him of his paraplegia. The healing itself also appears to be the result of the thoughts of the teachers of the law who were present questioning Jesus' authority, not specifically because of the man or his friends. It is also noteworthy that the man once healed later in the story, doesn't say anything. He just got up, took his mat and walked out.

In both of these stories of interactions between Jesus and a person with a disability, it appears that LIKE ANYONE ELSE, the critical factor is their faith.

McNair

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Mental Health and the Church




I have just completed reading Dr. Steve Grcevich's new book Mental Health and Church. In a nutshell, I highly recommend it for any reader. Steve takes his incredible wealth of knowledge and experience as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and applies it to the Christian community. The book is so practical and takes the mystique out of the question of "What do I do?" in relation to inclusion and ministry with persons with mental illness.

I particularly enjoyed Part 2 where he helps the average person to "overcome" in a variety of areas leading to an inclusion strategy. But chapters 10, 11 and 12 really grabbed me. As chapter 12 exhorts, we have some apologizing to do to those we have excluded before we can ask them to trust us to the point of being among us.  Chapter 11 points out the hardship of social isolation while at the same time providing, dare I say obvious or intuitive ways, we can assist people to not be socially isolated. The ways are obvious but they are things we are NOT currently doing, so perhaps they are not as obvious to most. Then chapter 10 speaks of developing friendships among other great suggestions.

I walked away from Part 2 feeling like there can be no excuses for not taking the next steps toward an inclusion strategy. Steve, once again, removes the "I don't know what to do" excuse and replaces it with so many great ideas.

McNair

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Leading social change


I was reviewing an article I wrote with Jennifer Baca that was published in 2013. In that piece, we comment on an article by Hutchinson published in 1990. The author describes six new roles for professionals in human services. Here is how we translated those proposed roles.
"A 1990 paper by Hutchison proposed six new roles for professionals in human services.
First, formal services should recognize their limitations for relationship development and rely more on connecting people with informal community groups.
Second, rely less on getting people into programs exclusively for persons with disabilities which rarely lead to development of community relationships.
Third, traditional volunteer programs should be evaluated and changed to be better vehicles for friendship development.
Fourth, attempt to develop more reliance on community members for “services” rather than being completely reliant on paid services.
Fifth, remove segregation in services such that there would be enhanced possibilities of participation with community members.
Sixth, recognize the limitations of human service professionals to actually facilitate friendships, looking instead to age peers, community members with common interests, and others who are already community-connected.
McNair (2008) described the church as playing the role described by Hutchison (1990) in the community. Human service workers would be wise to consider employing churches in their efforts to develop friendships for their clients."
(Baca & McNair, 2013 based on Hutchinson, 1990)

The church offers so much potential for facilitating microcosms of social change, reflecting the direction and vision we have for the larger society in the future. As we embrace inclusion of persons with disabilities in the Christian community, we have the incredible opportunity to demonstrate the way things should be. We can do the six things listed above. We have the potential to not just be relevant in the societal change that inclusion would bring, we could be the leaders.  We should be the leaders!

McNair

Hutchison, B. (1990). A qualitative study of the friendships of people with disabilities. In B. J. A. Smale (Ed.), Leisure challenges: Bringing people, resources and policy into play. Proceedings of the Sixth Canadian Congress on Leisure Research, May 9-12, 1990. Ontario, Canada: Ontario Research Council on Leisure. Retrieved from http://lin.ca/Uploads/cclr6/CCLR6-12.pdf 



Saturday, February 17, 2018

New curriculum on Romans from The Light & Power Company


As many readers of this blog will know, I have taught an adult Bible class at my church on Sunday mornings for the past 27 years. This class is somewhat unique in that it includes adults with various disabilities. I have collected those lessons and at times have made some of them available on the internet.  We are now in the process of publishing the lessons in a series of volumes. This second volume is devoted to the book of Romans. It contains 35 lessons. These lessons were developed, then taught, then revised, then taught again, then revised again. It is now available on Amazon. This Romans curriculum accompanies volume 1 which we published last year on the Psalms. Here are links to the two curricula.

If you have followed this blog over the years, you will know that Kathi and I have a very specific approach which is age appropriate treating adults with the respect they are entitled to. The material covered in these lessons are the same types of concepts you would teach any group of adults. 

There are also videos to accompany the curricula. You will be able to see how I teach some of the lessons.  A link to a 360' video from the Psalms curriculum is available here. You go to this site and then there is a link there with a description of the video.

So please take a look a the curriculum. It might be useful to you in your ministry.


Friday, February 09, 2018

Social skill deficits in people without disabilities

In an article published by Wallin (2004) he discussed categories of social skill deficits, in particular related to the experience of ASD. His categories were

Social indifference
Social avoidance
Social awkwardness

As I thought about those categories, it reminded me not of autism but of those without disabilities in their interactions with those who do have some form of impairment. If you think about it, people without disabilities have social skill deficits in the way they interact with persons with disabilities.

Perhaps at first they are socially indifferent. Maybe they really don't know about persons with disabilities. Because they don't know they are kind of indifferent, not really caring one way or another. But then something happens in their lives where they are confronted with the reality of the experience of disability. Because they are inexperienced or scared or just don't want to be bothered, they then move into social avoidance. They know, but they avoid any involvement. Ultimately, perhaps they cannot avoid interactions with someone with a disability so they move into a phase of social awkwardness. As we have discussed elsewhere in this blog, if I am in a situation with someone with a disability and it is socially awkward, chances are, I am the one bringing the awkwardness to the situation. See  "I bring awkwardness to the situation."The person with the disability is fine. Those three areas are where Wallin left off, and he once again was talking about social skill deficits. But these social skill deficits in those without disabilities may indeed be a progression and perhaps they lead to a fourth category, social involvement. I care now. I want relationship now. I am involved now.

So perhaps it is a progression from indifference to avoidance to awkwardness to involvement. Are you on this progression? Work through YOUR awkwardness and find your way to involvement. People with disabilities are just people. Maybe if you choose one of them as your friend, that person will choose you back.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

"Maturity is increased depth of relationship"

"Maturity is increased depth of relationship" is how my friend Bryan McKinney phrased this thought. Hopefully we are all interested in maturing in our ministries whoever the focus might be. For their to be increased depth of relationship, there must be a definitive discussion on the part of those in relationship to commit to relationship and depth thereof. Maturity implies change. If it is maturity, the changes are the changes that bring relational depth. Maturity implies change.

What then are things that lead to relational depth and thereby maturity?
Time given freely, in seeking the good of others and finding out what that good is. "I didn't know" implies the potential for growth in maturity.
Knowledge of someone, who they are, what they need, what they can contribute and then facilitating that contribution.
Commitment, in that one is in the relationship through good and difficult times, embracing the changes that one needs to make in themselves in order to make relationship work.
Resources dedicated to depth of or deepening relationships, recognizing and embracing  personal cost.
Sacrifice in the willingness and conviction to give one's life for another as Christ did for us (Phil 2:1-11).
Vision for others as an aspect of spiritual maturity for all believers independent of personal characteristics (Colossians 1:28-29).
Desire for relationship and depth in relationships too.

The word increased, implies movement toward an objective that has no point of achievement or arrival. We are constantly striving, seeking betterment, seeking improvement, seeking intimacy, and constantly striving.

How does change occur? It comes through awareness intentionally, unafraid of change and of being changed, knowing Biblical plans and God's plan moving toward a vision. Knowing where you currently are so you can move forward toward a Biblical understanding of relationship among all people. Being reflective about relationship is a critical aspect of change. Intentional shepherding and care of everyone, not just from the leadership, but the responsibility of all towards all.

Some of these aspects of maturity might seem a bit redundant, but it is like a multifaceted stone that you turn around and around looking at the same thing in different ways, sometimes perhaps feeling like it's the same thing but actually revealing different facets of the the stone.

McNair

Monday, January 15, 2018

Be a thought leader

The term "thought leader" has come into vogue and is often used to describe someone who is providing leadership in the way that people think about things. If you search the term, there are lots of ideas or recommendations about how you can be a thought leader in your particular area of expertise.

In the area of disability ministry, if you are attempting to lead the ministry of a local church, you must do the work to become a thought leader. You need to understand the why of what you do. If someone were to ask you a question, you must have a response that indicates that you have thought it through. If you are unsure of how to respond to a particular question, it could mean that you have more investigation to do. Not every question has an answer, but if you want to lead others in the changes that ministry to persons with disabilities will bring, you need to have a response. And there are people available who will give you input about how to answer specific questions if you will only ask.

People don't know what to do when it comes to including persons with disabilities in the church. Sometimes because they haven't thought through the issues sufficiently, they can lead a group of people in an entirely wrong direction. I would argue that segregated ministries reveal a lack of thought. I would argue that age inappropriate ministry reveals a lack of thought.

We may have a vision that is not entirely attainable at the moment. I do! But we still must work toward the changes that need to come to achieve that vision. Sometimes thoughts lead behavior and sometimes behavior leads thought. I might tell you something that can influence your behavior. But I might also give you an experience that will change your thoughts and behavior.

I have mentioned before in this blog how I bring adult friends with intellectual disabilities to some of my university classes. I interview them briefly and then just facilitate my students having a meal and conversation with the folks. At the end of the evening they tell me how so many of their preconceived ideas were changed just with a friendly interaction over a meal. No scripted questions, nothing orchestrated other than people chatting together over a meal. This is just one way to provide thought leadership without a sermon or list of readings. If you understand the ways that change can occur, you facilitate those ways. But once again, questions will come back to you and you need to have done the requisite work to respond in a way that guides people. That is thought leadership.

McNair