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

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Matthew's Ministry

I first heard of this story from my friend and colleague Dr. John Shoup a scholar in the area of leadership who read about it in Kouzes and Posner's Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge. The Frankford District, Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church placed this retelling on their website. http://www.fewpb.net/users/frankfdist/devotion.html I provide a copy of it here below.

"MATTHEW'S MINISTRY Philippians 4:10-13

Adam Hamilton tells the story of visiting a woman (family) that had visited his church a week earlier. She informed him that her family had relocated from Texas. Though she appreciated his visit, she informed him that her family would not be attending nor joining his church. Why? She pointed to a child with multiple disabilities sitting in a wheelchair who had special needs as the reason why. The church in Texas had a ministry for such children that allowed parents to worship and be a part of ministry. Adam asked the woman that if she would be willing to attend the church if it could provide support for Adam during worship. She said yes. He said give me two weeks. He went back to the congregation and shared this experience and asked if persons would be willing to volunteer for an hour or so once a month to sit with and watch over Matthew. Several raised their hands. This was the beginning of Matthew's Ministry at Church of the Resurrection. Today, there are 35 persons in this ministry where children are watched and cared for while other family members worship and attend Sunday School.

Hamilton tells this story against the backdrop of an operating principle of his church of doing whatever is necessary for ministry to take place. Is this not a part of our calling. To sit with and watch over one another. An on-going lament of many churches is woe is me (us). We do not have the expertise, facility and know how to do these things. There is a mentality that we could do so much more if only we had the resources. God has already shown us what is good: to look over and care for one another. There are so many ways in which we can be in ministry with minimal financial resources. As you enter into a period of planning and resourcing ministries for the coming year, please be reminded that we need not impose parameters of why we cannot do certain things. It is my heart desire and prayer to God that you continue - please note the word continue - to be open to the many ways that we can be in ministry with one another and others. Peace and Grace. "

It all seems so easy, so obvious. We truly, "need not impose parameters of why we cannot do certain things." Obviously God can use experts, however, he doesn't need experts. See 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. God chose "the things that are not" to accomplish his purposes.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Big Fish

I must admit that I am intrigued by Tim Burton's films. They all have an edge and seem to me at least to have many lessons. In "Big Fish" there is a comment made by Edward Bloom which resonated with me. Before I share it with you, I must tell you that I don't agree with the statement, although there is an aspect of the statement that I very much agree with. Bloom says,

"It was that night I discovered that most things you considered evil or
wicked are simply lonely and lacking in social niceties."

They are "simply lonely and lacking in social niceties." There are some things which are perceived, maybe not as evil, but as deviant or devalued which fit that description. To be deviant is often to be lonely. To lack in social niceties is to be perceived as different in a negative sense. The tolerance by society of minor social skill deficits is limited. In fact, research in special education in the 1980's indicated that the reason most persons with disabilities lose their jobs is due to minor social skill defecits. Persons who are lonely and lack social skills are devalued by society. Persons with cognitive disability are often lonely and are characterized as a group as lacking in social niceties, social skills. They also find themselves devalued.

A question that might be asked, however, is whether loneliness the result of poor social skills, or are poor social skills the result of loneliness? Persons with cognitive disability have been characterized as having minor social skill deficits. Could it be that these deficits are partially the result of limited contact with the general public? Could it be that these deficits are partially the result of loneliness? I know of no research supporting either of these notions, however, it is definately arguable that contributions to the social deficits of persons with cognitive disability might be made by loneliness.

But the other part of the statement is that the speaker says that things he considered evil or wicked were the reslut of loneliness and social niceties. People have perceived persons with disablity as evil or wicked because they didn't understand them and didn't take the time to understand them. We also have very little tolerance for anything outside of the expected socially.

I need to deal with this notion in further depth at a later time, however, the environment, society needs to change. Not all of the tolerance blather that is currently advocated is worth listening to. However, tolerance to minor social skill deficits on the part of society should be something that most can champion. If you give people a little latitude, you will often find that they are great people, much more like you than different from you. However, we as members of the environment need to change. We need to broaden the definition of normal to include those with minor social skill deficits.

We may not be able to completely address the social niceties part of the equation, but we can definitely do something about the loneliness.


Tuesday, January 11, 2005

U.S. Catholic Bishops: Final Statement

May God Bless the U.S. Catholic Bishops for the vision they describe in the "moral framework" communicated through their 10 statements. These folks are no fools; they recognize that they are describing a vision for the Christian church which we are not currently experiencing. Their statement also empowers those who would work within the church (particularly the Catholic church) to make changes which would result in their statement being a reality. I know this is the case as I have used it myself for that very purpose.

You can say they are unrealistic, but doesn't God often call us to be unrealistic? Is our unrealism a reflection of our vision for the church which in some ways reflects God's vision for the church, or is it a lack of faith on our part to believe that the church could be all that God would want it to be.

You see, in any discussions, when you talk about including all God's children in the church, you have God's heart. I know that when I say that the church needs to be more caring toward persons with disability I am not just Jeff McNair speaking. I have full confidence that I am reflecting the God of the Bible. People will say that we need to be realistic, but I honestly don't know what they mean by that.

I often think people who say those kinds of things assume that I know as little as they about the issue and so they can therefore give me a snowjob about costs, or time committment, or some other reason for why we do not need to include persons with disabilities. It is not just me that they try to convince, it has become the standard response to just about anyone who attempts to call them into account for a heartless approach to persons with disability. The problem is, however, that those responses (cost too much, no facilities, etc.) have been used so successfully in the past, they HAVE become the reason for limited programs (in reality, a lack of caring).

But it's not just me who knows better. The leadership of the Catholic church in America knows better, and it is my hope that they will educate members of their church and the Christian church generally so that the pat answers for a lack of caring which have been so successful in the past will be regarded for what they are.

TASH, The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps used to have a button that said something like, "When someone says, lets be realistic, it means that someone is about to get screwed." I am tired of the church being realistic. I want the church to be faithful.


U.S. Catholic Bishops part 10

The following is from the "Doctrine and Pastoral Practices" website sponsored by the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. http://www.nccbuscc.org/doctrine/disabilities.htm

"10. Evangelization efforts are most effective when promoted by diocesan staff and parish committees which include persons with disabilities. Where no such evangelization efforts exist, we urge that they be developed."

It is true that for many forms of disability (blindness, hearing impairment particularly deafness, and physical disability) the inclusion of persons with disability on "diocesan staff" would be helpful. These folks might be perceived as more accessible to others having similar disability.

But it might also be felt that the role of the disabled staff member is to work with the congregational members that were disabled. Using that rationale, we need a white guy for the white people, a black gal for the black people, a bald guy for the bald people and so on. I wonder at the phrase that "evangelization efforts are most effective . . . committees which includes persons with disabilities." Please don't get me wrong, I am in favor of inclusive practices. I understand the need to relate to the community, to identify with the community, to have the community identify with those in any form of leadership. But we must not fall into the trap of patronizing people or seeing them as a Hispanic person or a tall person or a disabled person. We first see them as people. Should there be an evangelist amongst them who wants to serve on the committee, great. But, the person in the chair is on the committee because she is the best person for the committee. She is an evangelist (in this case) who moves about in a wheelchair.

Persons with various disabilities should feel that they have access to the same whatever, the same everything that those without disability have access to. But being in a wheelchair doesn't make a person an evangelist to others in wheelchairs. Placing a person with blindness doesn't not mean we now have a blind ministry. It does mean, however, that we see people for the gifts they bring to the table, and blindness is not a disqualifying factor.

Are there some disabilities which would disqualify a person with that disability from some aspects of Christian service? Absolutely. A person with mental retardation should probably not be the leader of the Bible study. Particularly if he can't read the Bible, or understand the subtleties of the scripture his cognitive impairment makes difficult for him. Should such a person serve on the evangelization committee? Maybe. Is he an evangelist?

Can you imagine if someone asked you to serve on a committee because they didn't have anyone who looked like you on the committee. Say it was a committee discussing particle physics, or some other obscure matter that you would have little knowledge of, and probably little to contribute. I for one would last about 10 minutes before I would say,
"You know, I'm sorry, but I really don't have a lot to contribute
here. I mean science is great and particles, sure, I'm in favor of
particles, but you are not taking advantage of my gifts, and frankly, I just
don't understand what you are talking about."
"But we want someone who looks like you on our committee so we can be
"You know, that's great. I am all in favor of diversity. But I
would rather have the best people possible, whatever they look like. It
sure is nice to know that people who look like me are welcome on your committee,
but there must be someone else who looks like me who could participate. If
not, then I am happy to support your work, because the main thing is that you
have people who can do the work, not people who look like me."

Now the flip side, however, is that if I am a great candidate for the committee and you don't choose me because of what I look like, well, thats another issue. Thats called discrimination. But like section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973 says, "No otherwise qualified handicapped person should be denied access. . . " The key is the otherwise qualified qualifier in the statement.

I must admit, however, that the notion of having persons with various disabilities on the evangelization committee could have its upside. Perhaps this is an effort on the part of the church to begin ministry to persons who they have ignored in the past. Perhaps this is an effort on the part of the church to say,
"Hey, we have gotten our act together and are doing better on this issue.
We will prove it to you by placing a person with disability in a position of
leadership. Look, there she is on the evangelization committee. In
the past we would discriminate against persons such as her, but look at us
now! We are doing much better than we did in the past!"
Now that I like. Its like allowing the cognitively disabled man to be an usher, or to serve communion. Its like hiring a staff member who is being PAID to develop ministries to persons with disability (whether or not the person is disabled herself). Its like having support staff available to support a child with autism who happens to show up some Sunday morning. From this perspective, it represents a change on the part of the church, an effort to reach out by correcting past wrongs.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

U.S. Catholic Bishops part 9

The following is from the "Doctrine and Pastoral Practices" website sponsored by the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops. http://www.nccbuscc.org/doctrine/disabilities.htm

"9. Often families are not prepared for the birth of a child with a disability or the development of impairments. Our pastoral response is to become informed about disabilities and to offer ongoing support to the family and welcome to the child."

It is interesting the the Bishops in response to a family being unprepred for a child with disability, say that it is the pastor's own responsibility, the pastoral response to become informed about disability. Wow, what an incredible response. The point is that although the family may be unprepared, the Bishops and their representatives within the church are not. Priests have received training and developed experience to assist families. Pastors and leaders in any type of a pastoral position recognize that in order to have a pastoral response, they must become informed about disabilites in order to offer ongoing support. The goal is to 1) support the family and 2) welcome the child.

As I have interacted with the Bishops' statements, it has become increasingly clear that these statements are a vision the Bishops are describing, not the reality of the situation "on the ground." I am reminded of a presentation I did a while back at Wright State University's Religion and Disability Issues Symposium. I built the presentation around comments made by Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, and the response of those requesting charity. Dickens dialogue goes like this. . .
“Are there no prisons? . . .And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge . . .”Are they still in operation? . . .The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?”. . . “Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” . . .”I wish to be left alone” . . . “since you asked me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer” . . . “I help support the establishments I have mentioned – they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Besides – excuse me – I don’t know that.”

“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.

I sometimes feel like those requesting money in the Scrooge vignette. There is sometimes a bluster which comes from the pulpit which reminds me of Scrooges response. People in positions of leadership make decisions to exclude and in so many words are saying that they didn't know they were making the decision to exclude, implying that those around them are in error to confront them on such issues. The response by the "gentleman" is wonderful in simply saying that although you do not recognize the contribution you are making to exclusion, to in some ways worsening the problem, ". . . you might know it." The information shared on this weblog, for example, is not something that is hidden from people, or is the result of significant training on my part. One needs only dig a bit into the response of the church to persons with disability to quickly recognize that there is significant failure at nearly every turn. The Bishops recognize that the knowledge required to be pastoral towards persons with disability and their families is knowable. How people can be supported is not only knowable, it is as a rule pretty easy.

I cannot tell you how many times, how many situations I am in where I am confronted with the perceived enormity of the task of supporting persons with disability on the part of those, particularly those in Christian leadership, when alerted to the need. It is going to cost so much money, or it is going to take so much time, or it is going to require so much physical change to the facilities and on and on. Bottom line, is that these protestations are simply unfounded.

Finally the Bishops speak of welcome to the child. Pastors have told me of a church member having a child with down syndrome, and not knowing what to say, or commissurating in the horror of it all. This is not an informed response to disability. As I have said elsewhere, persons with down syndrome are some of the nicest people in the world, and the problems they face typically have less to do with them than they have to do with the society around them. If I were to grieve at the birth of a child with down syndrome, I would grieve more for the inappropriate manner in which society will often treat the child than I will grieve for the child himself or for his disability. This comes from knowledge and experience. ". . . becoming informed about disabilities" through interactions with persons with down syndrome and their families.

The fact that pastoral leaders are not informed is indicative of the lack of persons with disabilities and their families within their churches.


Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Critical Reflections on Stanley Hauerwas' Theology of Disability

I am excited about the release of the book, Critical Reflections on Stanley Hauerwas' Theology of Disability: Disabling Society, Enabling Theology (edited by John Swinton).

I am personally looking forward to reading responses to Hauerwas from, Jean Vanier, Michael Bérubé, John O'Brien and Ray S. Anderson among others.

I was honored to play a small part in the book as one of the respondents. Specifically, I interacted with the article, "The Church and the Mentally Handicapped: A Continuing Challenge to the Imagination."

The book is scheduled for release shortly from Haworth press. A link is provided below should you be interested.