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

Monday, June 26, 2006

Swearing at the people

About a year ago, I was just coming out of a Mexican restaurant with my family when I heard this guy standing by the restaurant's dumpster, swearing loudly at people passing by. His language was such that you could tell that he was someone with mental illness. I went over to him and asked him gently, "What's the matter?" Through a lot of jibberish sprinkled with references to me as "Officer" he related that he could really use a pack of cigarettes. I told him to wait there a minute as I went across the parking lot to a convenience store where I bought the cigarettes and came back to him with them. He was very grateful, saying over and over, "Thank you officer!" I left him by saying, "Please don't swear at the people. Please say after me, 'I won't swear at the people.'" After several more "Thank you officer" I left him sadly.

I have often thought about that interaction. The fact that he was standing by the dumpster like so much human garbage. That he called me "Officer" perhaps because most of the people he interacted with in the community were police officers responding to a complaint. The fact that he interacted with people by swearing at them, perhaps out of frustration with people. Interestingly, he placed himself where there would be people as he obviously wanted some human contact if only to be told to stop swearing or to get the cigarettes he ultimately got for me. What a difficult life he appeared to be living. And as I always ask myself in these types of situations, I wondered "Where is the church?"

Why did I not feel uncomfortable with the man when many others might? True I am a large man, but I think my lack of fear is more related to the fact that I have spoken to many people like that man before. I have experience with people like him. I definately did not get that experience at church which is a problem. I mean Jesus went out of his way to talk to people like that man (see the Gereseen demoniac story). But I don't see people like him at my church, or pretty much any church for that matter. From a strictly humanistic perspective, imagine the good it would do for a man like the one I met to find himself in a church where people loved him and talked to him and listened to him.

One of my favorite people in my life was my wife's grandfather, Russel Searer. He was a kind gentle man who loved God deeply,and had a great wit. Toward the end of his life, however, he developed alzheimer's disease. I think it would embarass his wife that I would sit and talk with him whenever we were together. He would repeat things over and over and over and over. He would talk about nonsensical things. I enjoyed being with him because I knew I was learning about people like him; I had a professional interest. But I also knew that I was in a very small way contributing to his self esteem, his feeling that someone loved and cared for him. That was very important to me. That is the kind of ministry that the church should be about. If I am present with people like Russel, I protect him from those who would do evil to him. By spending my "valuable time" I say that I think he has value to me and ultimately value as a human being. I choose to be with him. I want to be with him.

It seems the church doesn't want to be with people with mental illness unless a person's mental illness is under control to the point that it is hardly recognizable. It doesn't want to be with mentally retarded people, and I am not sure why. If we spent time with them, they wouldn't be the crazy person outside of Walgreens, they would be a person who has been rejected by society but who God says he loves as much as he loves you or me.

When will we as individuals and the church reflect this aspect of the character of God?



Impossibleape said...

I really love your ministry because apparently it is your life.
You have deeply learned that Jesus is still among us and we get to interact with him everday. He isn't a disembodied presence (that is the Holy Spirit) he is the poor,and sick, and outcast we see (and try not see) everyday.

Thank you for loving these people because when you showed compassion for that person by the dumpster, I think you were loving all of humanity in that moment.

I know I felt it.

Anonymous said...

I am 50 years old and worked in the construction trade all my life. I don’t think there is a word or vulgarity that I have not heard used, directed at me, or used myself. There are probably a few that I have personally coined. Working in the air-conditioning and refrigeration trade has caused me to spend a lot of time working alleys, behind stores and on roofs. There have been plenty of times that I have to wake a man or woman living in a cardboard shake built next to an air-conditioner that I needed to repair. These people for the most part were just people. Some cursed me some sat and chatted with me while I worked. They for the most part accepted me and what I was doing, as long as I treated them as a person and not scum. Your story of the man in the dumpster and how the church ignores these people reminds me of the story how the early Calvary Chapel got started preaching to the hippies on the beach. The “regular” church didn’t want the shoeless, dirty, long hairs worshiping with them at the typical service. One could not be a good Christian if you weren’t dressed correctly. A few pastors had the vision to start a church that was geared specifically towards those people that didn’t meet the “standard”. Wouldn’t it be grand to see that happen again with a church that was specifically geared towards the mentally ill and homeless? I understand there are plenty of missions like the Fred Jordan Mission in LA that work with the homeless and this in turn incorporates the mentally ill, but, to have a group that is universally accepted by “The Church” and can draw upon resources for outreaches would truly be a sight to see. One can always hope and pray. Maybe push a little.

Anonymous said...

Your support and advocacy for people with disabilities is an example to us all but most of all an example to the church. Adults with disabilites need our support and love as much as children with disabilities and I know that your teaching has influenced the way I perceive adults with disabilities. It is sad that most churches have chosen not to minister to those who tend to be the most invisible in our society. Your example of treating people with all types of special needs with basic human kindess could well be heeded by the church, as well as by most of society.

Anonymous said...

I admire your courage in going out of your way to talk to this man. Most people, even myself, would have walked far around him and maybe even called him crazy. You are absolutely right in that it is the church's job to be reaching out to these people. They should not have to be sitting by a dumpster swearing for attention, but should be at the church getting the attention they need and being shown God's true love. The church is lagging in this area in a huge way. I think the "church" would be better off if there were more like you who would take time out of their day and get the courage to show kindness to the disabled and even moreso, getting them into the church. We, even as Christians tend to ignore these people who we look at as crazy...although we won't admit it. We are so quit to go street witnessing and pass out booklets to the nicely-dressed "approachable" people who might give us the time of day but are very reluctant to reach out to the ones who are ignored on a daily basis and who probably need the Church's attention the most.

Anonymous said...

I am really amazed how helpful and true to the heart Dr. Jeff McNair is. I really think we need a lot more people like you Dr. McNair, and the world would be a better place. The Exceptional Child class and your outlook on teaching and helping others has really made me look at myself and how I carry myself around people who need help. My mother works with the handicap and disabled and she loves it! I have always been 'afraid' to be around them, for reasons unknown. Now I know those reasons are ridiculous and I was pretty much ignorant until now. I do agree with you when you get upset about why the church doesn't help much with those who need it. It reminds me of walking into a church in Riverside where all the people look perfect. I actually felt as if I didn't belong there. The members in the church look as if they didn't have a problem in the world. I felt as if I was walking in the church with all the problems in the world. I felt really discouraged and didn't want to attend that church. I can only imagine how someone with a disability or special needs feel.

Anonymous said...

Going up to a random person on the street is intimidating but adding on his cussing at people would make me walk in the other direction. I really admire people who have a heart to go up to people like that. Those that can see past the outside front of others and care for them have a gift. I am the first to admit that I do not find it easy to approach the out of the ordinary type of people. I am or was one of those who never thought about the disabled at church. There is a lot of compassion and self sacrifice that goes along with reaching out to the disabled, perhaps its lack of experience or just ignorance that got the best of us at church. To me it seems like a bit of a never-ending cycle that was present even during the time of Jesus. The lame and the poor were out on the streets or brought to Jesus while he preached. I haven’t yet read a story where Jesus came across a lame man who was hanging out with the Rabbi’s at the synagogue. My point is that throughout history people have always been concerned with their best interests, even the "rightous ones", and that’s why when a person shows as much concern for a group of people as you do, it is seen as a gift. And I think your gift is inspirational! Following Christ’s example is tough, and trying to juggle righteousness while fighting temptations must have somewhere along the way caused the church to let our responsibility to the disabled slip through our fingers, still thats not an excuse. I hope that one day the there will be a change in the hearts of enough Christians so that the disabled will one day be just as much a part of our congregations as we are.

Anonymous said...

Mr. McNair, I have a question. You have a lot of experience with disabled people of all kinds. The vast majority of other people do not. I know that in my church, if there is a family with someone who is handicapped (mentally or physically) in it, that that family with all of its members is welcomed with loving, supportive, open arms. And we are taught that if someone visits our church who is not dresses in "sunday best" or who is different in some way that we should welcome them as well. What do we do, though, as a general populous of inexperienced people, when someone who is severly mentally hanicapped attends church and is maybe loud and diruptive in a quiet meeting. I'm thinking that most physically disabled could not come to church without the aid of someone who knows how to help them and the same with the mentally handicapped. In which case the diruption could probably be calmly attended to by the caregiver. But it sounds to me like you are wanting to bring any large group of any miscellaneously disabled persons into a church building without the people with the where-with-all to know haw to assist them properly. I feel uncomfortable with that idea. I am not saying keep them out. I am asking if you know what you are asking the general public to do? I know that anyone with any disability would be warmly welcomed by my church, and they are. They just usually come with families and maybe that is why I am stumped. I guess I have not conciderd the handicapped with no family to bring them. It is just a lot of responsibility. I am imagining myself with my 3 young children bringing someone else, who needs my care, to church with me. It would be dificult. What exactly are you suggesting needs to happen?

I have read the other comments for this post and mine is a completely different vein. My intention is not to offend anyone. I am just curious as to what, Dr. McNair, your actuall concern is.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to respond to your ending question, "When will we as individuals and the church reflect this aspect [loving acceptance] of the character of God?" I believe that the church is basically made up of fallible human beings and that Christians do not have it all together as some may think. For example, as a Christian, I still have a sinful nature, but I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and because I have accepted Him as my personal Lord and Savior I am saved by grace. Nevertheless, I do agree that the church should embrace the fact that the disabled community is an area of ministry that is not being served.

In addition to the church, which only represents the Christian responsibility, I believe that the public school system also has a responsibility to teach children at a young age to accept those who are different from them. Perhaps full inclusion is the way to accomplish this goal. In other words, have children with all types of disabilities taught in the same classrooms as the general school population all the way through high school. Today, schools have become so politically correct in accepting other cultures to the point of excluding Christianity as seen by changing the terms Easter Break to Spring Break and Christmas Break to Winter Break. So, I will end with the question,
"When will it be politically correct to accept the disabled culture?"

Anonymous said...

I find your view on the church and the disabled very refreshing. I have never even given it a second thought in my entire life about what my church or other churches are doing, or in many cases not doing for the mentally disabled community. I have met several people throughout my life just like that man you met outside of that resturant by the dumpster. Sometimes I just igrnore them and kept walking, or I might give them a dollar just so they would stop bothering me. I always feel bad for them because I know I have been blessed throughout my life and for no reason, and there they are alone on the streets begging. I am reevalutating my life and see that changes need to be made. I am going into the field of speicial education and know that it is now my time to stop being a bystander and do my part. Thank you for being a example.