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

Friday, March 31, 2006

"Points of insubordination"

I have been reading some Michel Foucault (which may worry some of you). Actually, I am reading the writings of others who are translating Foucault for me, and I am not just talking about the French. One of the most interesting ideas shared is that of "bio-power." I quote an article from Tremain's book, Foucault and the government of disability where Martin Sullivan quotes Foucault,
In short, rehabilitative medicine fits Foucault's description of subjecting power insofar as rehabilitation is "a form of power...which categorizes the individual...attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which he must recognize and with others must recognize in him. It is a form of power which makes individuals subjects" (1982, 212).
Later in that same article, Sullivan mentions Foucault's idea of rebelling against subjecting power through acts which are called "points of insubordination...which are a means of escape." by virtue of their birth, individuals with various congenital disabilities fall under subjecting power which identifies them, ascribes an identity to them, imposes a "law of truth" on them which he and those around him must submit to. The problem with most of the evidences, the "behaviors, objects and language" (Berger & Luckman) of this subjecting power is that unfortunately, they are untrue. The only way to break out is through points of insubordination, by not going along with the program. The people with disability, particularly cognitive disability, haven't the ability to recognize their subjugation, and wouldn't know what to do if they did.

Burton Blatt wrote an interesting book many years back called "Revolt of the idiots" about a group of residents of an institution who revolted against those in charge of the institution. It was of course pure fiction but it resonated with me. In terms of changing things in their lives, persons with cognitive disabilities are rarely going to be able to be their own advocates. I recognize there are many excellent self-advocates in the disability movement, but such advocates are rare.
It is we who are the ones who must recognize the subjecting power being applied inappropriately to persons with disability and we who must engage in "acts of insubordination" on their behalf. Let me give you two examples of what I mean.

One happened many years ago. I approached a pasor at my church and told him that I wanted to begin a ministry to adults with disabilities. His response was that it is not a priority. In some ways, he was using subjecting power on both me (in my disire to do ministry) and persons with disability in categorizing them as not a priority. My response to this subjecting power was to engage in a point of insubordination. As Kathi and I left the meeting, I remarked to her, "It will become a priority when I start bringing adults with disabilities down here." Kathi didn't punch the pastor in the nose, but our attitude and ultimately behavior was insubordinate. I don't vilify that pastor anywhere, in fact he is a friend of mine, but I was not going to go along with the subjecting power that was weilded.

Then recently, I had the opportunity to speak in a chapel at a local Christian school. The focus of the week was on calling, so I was to tell them how I came upon the calling I believe I have. I briefly shared how I felt God had led me to the calling of including persons with disabilities in the Church and its agents. I then went off on how a person with disability could never attend that school. That although that school sets itself up as one which represents Jesus Christ to that community, in reality it doesn't because of its exclusion of persons with disability. Once again, an example of insubordination. I didn't burn the school down, I just wasn't totally obedient.

I believe we need to engage in these types of behaviors on occasion in order to get people's attention. As Christians, we can sometimes be so nice that no change will come. I would encourage you to be insubordinate if it opens your church to persons with disabilities. However, remember that as with the message of Christ, the message might be offensive but we are not to be. I confront, but not to ridicule or embarass. My attitude has to be one that calls the Church to obedience.



Anonymous said...

Hi--thank you for this article. It is excellent, like all the others I've read here. I'm new to this forum but have been enjoying reading a lot of your archived articles. My disability is adult ADHD and I am exploring ministry to persons with disabilities of all kinds. I will complete my MA, Licensed Professional Counseling degree either in May or December this year--depends on whether I passed my comprehensive final last Friday or if I must remediate in October. The testing accommodation I pursued and received for my ADHD made all the difference in my education; however, in the three years I've been in this program I've become more and more aware of the lack of accommodations made in the general community for persons with different abilities--especially in most churches. I'm praying about a new direction for employment that is also ministry in some form. Currently I'm an administrative assistant at a substance abuse facility, where I also did my internship. I'm 50 years old, a minister's wife, and we are in a rural community in central Illinois. I've really enjoyed your comments and I hope this is the appropriate place to request your insight and suggestions for exploring the possibilities of working in a field that advocates for persons of different abilities--in a job that makes a difference, which is what ministry really is to me. Thank you for your time, and for all you've written to educate persons like myself. Gail Beard

Anonymous said...

Wow, McNair, insubordination indeed! I am (as you know) at a similar point in my own church; as I feared nothing happened yesterday, couldn't even locate the Pastor I needed to speak with. It seems courageous and bold to be so, what?, provacative? Not many have the courage to accuse the emperor of nakedness, but if he is, is it not a service to him to point it out? I may lose my head,but I have things the "emperors" at my church need to see right now.

You correctly point out that organizations recognize needs when they become an unavoidable, persistant presence. I will attempt again this week to diologue with my church's leadership Tuesday or Wednesday. I get that they see the issue, but there is no urgency. I'm ready to deliver a van load of urgent presence.

Jeff McNair said...

Hello Gail-
Thanks for your contribution. Send me an email at jmcnair@calbaptist.edu and I would be happy to interact with you about your career ideas/options.

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