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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You decide who I am

A student of mine at Cal Baptist, Melinda, stopped by tonight during office hours. We had an interesting discussion about issues related to the class, but in the midst of talking she made a very interesting point. Basically people are who they are perceived to be. So, you approach a young woman and just see her as an attractive woman. I approach the same woman and see her as my daughter. You project a person who is attractive, but strange to you. I project a person who is as important to me as just about anyone else in my life. She is an attractive stranger to you. She is my daughter to me.

A man approaches you who has down syndrome. Perhaps he is not even much of a person to you, or someone who has a poor quality of life, or someone even to be feared. To me he is Ryan, my friend. I am aware of his disability in the same manner he is aware of my height (I'm 6'7"). His down syndrome doesn't add or detract from our friendship and neither does my height.

People become what they are projected to be by their environment. Melinda told me of a group of students she knew who were put in a program basically for trouble makers. Those around them then perceived them as such, as did they of themselves. They now saw themselves as trouble makers and lived up to the part.

I am reminded of the story (might be apocryphal) about the teachers who were given their students locker numbers and told the numbers were the students IQ scores. Students then proceeded to achieve on the basis of their locker number.

If I invite people with disabilties into my church, their perception of themselves will change. They will see themselves as worthy of friendship, wanted, valued. As a church member I also will learn to see them as worthy of friendship, as wanted and as valued. Exclusion, or absence of those people projects the image of unimportance, irrelevance, other, among other things. No wonder parents of children attending Christian schools will fight children with disabilties being in their Christian school. What have they learned to project on people with disabilities? How has the Church taught them to percieve persons with disabilities?

It goes to comments I made in an earlier entry to this blog. Others can be a detriment or a value added. It has more to do with me, with my perceptions, with my projections than it has to to with anothers characteristics. I know people who love particular people with specific characteristics and others who dislike those same people. What is different? The object of the perceptions is the same. What those making the perceptions of other bring to the interaction is what is different. That is why it is so important to change churches, to make them more open. As we do that, perceptions will change so that the same man who was once ostracised is now accepted because the environment changed.


Monday, November 27, 2006

God owns disability

At the Joni and Friends "Through the roof summit" recently in Pasadena, Joni Eareckson-Tada made a comment something to the effect at the moment, "Satan owns disability." Make no mistake, Joni was reflecting the perceptions of many regarding people how people with disabilities are perceived, and the ramification of those perceptions. My understanding of the context of her statement is that disability is often accompanied by such things as fear, depression, despair, anger, frustration, family break-up, hopelessness, loneliness. In the face of these experiences all too often a part of being a person experiencing disability, the Church is largely silent, not very interested, unwilling, ignorant. Together, the result is that Satan has a foothood in disbility. People are depressed and frustrated and we are ignorant. People are scared or ignorant, and we have nothing to tell them from our experience. People are angry and despairing, and we are not very interested and unwilling to do anything that will change our patterns of operation, or cause us any discomfort or change in our schedule. The more I think about it, the more I agree with her.

Her response, however, was to say that it is time for the Church to take back disability. To encourage the depressed and despairing, to be there for them in friendship and support. To empathize with the angry and frustrated, and love them unconditionally. To prove to them that we will not reject them. To end hopelessness by providing hope, not just for eternal life but for life. To fight despair with friendship. Jesus was crystal clear on who he felt should own disability. We, however, give territory that Christ died for over to the enemy without a fight. As stated elsewhere in this blog, we are complicit in Satan's ownership of disability.

But it shouldn't be that way. The God I serve tells me that my life is equally important to anyone elses, independent of their conditions, their abilities, their physical characteristics. To not understand that, is to not understand one of the most basic of all precepts of the Christian faith.

Satan owns disability...but not for long! C'mon Church we have to fight our ignorance, we have to fight our apathy, we have to fight our silence. Through our fighting, we wrench disability out of the enemy's hands and return it to the Hands of the Lord, to the hands of the Church. "That the Glory of God may be seen, we must work the works of Him who sent me" (John 9). The alternatives are enemy ownership or God's Glory. Amazingly we have the ability to make one of the two a reality.

How beatifully will God's Glory be seen, when we finally work the works.

(note: I had to change the title of this blog entry. God is in control.)


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Church of England supports killing the innocent as long as it is "with manifest reluctance"

The headline states,
Outrage as Church backs calls for severely disabled babies to be killed at birth

The article begins...
The Church of England has broken with tradition dogma by calling for doctors to be allowed to let sick newborn babies die.

Some other quotes from the article...
And the Bishop of Southwark, Tom Butler, who is the vice chair of the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council, has also argued that the high financial cost of keeping desperately ill babies alive should be a factor in life or death decisions.
Morality is a financial decision.
In the Church of England's contribution to the inquiry, Bishop Butler wrote: "It may in some circumstances be right to choose to withold or withdraw treatment, knowing it will possibly, probably, or even certainly result in death."
The church stressed that it was not saying some lives were not worth living, but said there were "strong proportionate reasons" for "overriding the presupposition that life should be maintained".
The bishop's submission continued: "There may be occasions where, for a Christian, compassion will override the 'rule' that life should inevitably be preserved.

So now we are advocating taking the lives of babies who were able to survive prenatal diagnosis and abortion out of Christian compassion. But we are not saying that their lives are not worth living. This only condemns us further as we are taking lives that are worth living. Why would we as Christians even want to enter into an argument as to whether or not lives are worth protecting, are worth living? We are not going to convince the detractors, and entering into the argument only justifies the argument on some level.
The church said it would support the potentially fatal withdrawal of treatment only if all alternatives had been considered, "so that the possibly lethal act would only be performed with manifest reluctance."
So as my life is being taken, I can smile knowing that those who are killing me are doing so with "manifest reluctance." You see they really don't want to kill me, but their Christian compassion informs them that they are forced to do so, ostensibly because the Spirit of the Lord is whispering in their ear, "Kill the baby. Kill the baby."
The submission says: "The principle of humility asks that members of the medical profession restrain themselves from claiming greater powers to heal than they can deliver.
So saving lives or attempting to do so shows a lack of humility. Using their argument, it is prideful, therefore it is sin to attempt to save the life of a disabled newborn.

There are those in the United States who aspire to be Europe in so many ways, not the least of which is the post-Christian culture there. Now the remnants of the Church are making determinations on the quality of life of disabled newborns. To whom do they think they are appealing with such pronouncements? Will people now begin coming back to the Church of England because of its stand on euthanasia? "I go to that Christian church because they kill the disabled babies!" "That's the kind of Lord that I want to serve!"

We have a choice to make as Christians about people who are experiencing disabilities. To date, we haven't been the greatest advocates for them, for their lives, for their inclusion in fellowship with us. Will we follow the Church of England and take the final step of preventing their lives? Killing disabled newborns is only the tip of the iceberg, and would most definately place us on the proverbial slippery slope. Will the church now come out in favor of physician assisted suicide? After all, it is expensive to support people who experience depression, and wouldn't Christian compassion call for the taking of the lives of the depressed as long as we evidence manifest reluctance. "Manifest reluctance." What a morally sinister phrase that is.

Who will be left to protect the fragile, the devalued, the vulnerable if not the Church of Jesus Christ? Once the Church of Jesus Christ goes over to the side of death, death will come unrestrained to any and all. It will justifiably come to us. Christians themselves will be the target of death. It is not like Christians have not been the target of death in the past. We play into the hands of our adversary, the evil one, when we become what Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger refers to as "deathmakers." Particularly when we kill the innocent, and claim we are killing reluctantly out of Christian compassion.

This is desperately evil and a horrible disgrace.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An example of a servant

I received word last night that a woman who had been attending our group died suddenly. She was a person who used a wheel chair, and had been surviving breast cancer although it seemed her condition suddenly worsened. I remember the day that a friend of mine, a man who experiences a cognitive disability decided to move in with her and out of town. They made the decision with guidance from a community supports agency, although I felt the agency handled the situation very poorly (facilitating his move away from his entire support network which continues to be a problem for him as he has to take the bus about 1 1/2 hours each way to get to church). He and I used to have coffee together once a week and enjoyed a friendship which was made more difficult when he moved. Of course there were the questions of the two of them living together from a Christian standpoint as well, which I also felt the agency stepped all over through their recommendations. The whole situation could have handled much better, which I communicated to the agency. My hope is that with her passing, my friend will be moving back into town again so we can enjoy coffee together again.

However, if it hadn't been for my friend and his selfless service to his girlfriend, I don't know what her life would have been like. When he first met her, she was living in a group home, only because she lacked the ability to take care of her basic needs. The physical nature of her disability constrained her. By my friend coming along side of her, her world was opened. She could now have an apartment with significant independence in the community. She had someone who could help her to move about the community, pushing her wheelchair from place to place. Her significant hygienic needs were handled well. I cannot remember my friend ever offering so much as a complaint although he had to get up most nights to change her when she soiled herself in bed, or wet the bed. He would transfer her to the bathroom, clean her up, clean up the bed and then go back to sleep. What dedication! What love for her! In many ways, he literally sacrificed himself in service to her with the result being a much more normalized life for her.

Towards the end of her life, she became impatient with those around her, no doubt because of the discomfort and pain she was feeling. I would at times get upset with her, I must admit. He, however, was nearly always friendly, always compassionate, always caring. Like any other relationship, they would at times get upset with each other, but the kindness and compassion always shined through the clouds.

I am unsure that he realizes all he did for his friend. But I plan to make sure that I express to him for her, the tremendous difference he made in her life. He was an example to me of what a servant is. I pray I will be as caring and compassionate with the people in my life as he was to his friend.


Monday, November 06, 2006

New wineskins/church structures

I was thinking about the whole new structures for the church in terms of a verse out of the book of Mark. Specifically Mark 2: 21-22 which says,
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. and no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins (NIV).
As I thought about this, I wondered about new wineskins/old wineskins and new structures/old structures.
At times it seems to me that the inclusion of persons with disabilities into traditional church structures is tearing the old structures. The old structures are being torn
-through frustration of leaders, persons with disabilities, and their families
-because of advocacy of people who "get it" for persons with disabilities
-from people being uncomfortable
-because of need for providing "extra" support to persons with disablities
-over challenges to the traditional excuses for doing nothing
-through tolerance for a very limited set of social behaviors
-by confusion over theological "curriculum" versus theological "practice"
-by groups breaking up over membership of persons with disabilities
-because of the desire to maintain the status quo
-and so on and so on
I think the old structures are being challenged by the Spirit of the Lord who has finally gotten the attention of dense people like me.
I guess you might develop new structures through the changes that the presence of excluded people bring. I mean, the reason that we know old wineskins don't work, is because people tried to put new wine into them and the old ones burst. We know that we shouldn't use unshrunk cloth for repairs, because people have ruined old garments by sewing unshrunk cloth into them. But perhaps there needs to be a time when structures get torn and burst for a while. In that way, we will then see that we need new wineskins, new structures to house the new inclusiveness we are evidencing for all people. We are in the sewing new cloth patches on old garments and putting new wine into the old wineskins phase. Hopefully, this will not lead to our rejecting the new wine, but rather to us making new wineskins to house the new wine.

The Way online, makes the following statement.
The parable of the wine and the wineskins is about putting new wine into a suitable vessel or container, and there are two vessels or containers that the Holy Spirit dwells in today:
The Church.
The believer.
So to use their example, we need new wineskins within the church and we also need new wineskins within each believer. I think they are mutually effective on each other. Believers will effect the church and the church can effect believers.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Church structures

The Oct. 31, 2006 posting entitled "Value Added" touches on the notion of church structure. This is something I have dealt with a bit in other entries in this blog. But I have been thinking a lot more about it lately. Where do new structures come from? Where will new structures come from?

Although I speak of the structures of the church not necessarily being helpful to inclusive ministry for persons with disabilities, I must admit that I am not entirely sure of what kinds of structures I would advocate for. For example, if you look at the "Value Added" entry, I describe a woman with mental illness attending a local church. It is clear that the existing structures are not working. I think that our typical response would be to exclude her from many of the activities of the group. That is what we have typically done. I know that because I don't see a lot of people with mental illness attending church. If they were in our midst, that would imply that the structures have changed in some way.

Changing structures begin with the decision,
"I want people with mental illness to be able to attend church."
"I want people with disabilities to be able to attend church."
Once that decision has been made, the rest becomes just logistics. How will I be able to include peopel with mental illness? How will I remove the exclusion (as Arthur Seale says) that keeps people with disabilities from being enfolded? Once again, the fact that the people with mental illness or other disabilities are not in our midst implies that we have not made the basic decision that all such people should be able to attend church.

Now there may be people out there who are clever enough to plan changed structures ahead of time. I don't claim to be clever, but I have a few ideas. But largely, the structures will develop as we work to bring people into church, as we work to make our programs no longer exclusive. Even as we strive to understand what ministry is.

In the Sept. 18, 2006 entry, I quoted Vanier's statement about the rectitude of doctrine vs. the rectitude of love. Instead of studying love, how to love, the different types of love, how much better to attempt to get love right relative to a person who is mentally ill, who wants to be in our midst.
"No, you can't be in our group because we are studying about love. We will not be able to cover all the material, or you might distract us too much should you attend. We want to be able to complete the love passages by the end of the month, so I am sorry but you can't participate."
But by having a person with mental illness in our midst and making the decision to keep her there, we will develop structures that will work. I repeat that the structures haven't developed in the past because we haven't made the decision to include in the past. I am also sure there is not a single answer; there are many ways in which inclusive ministry might be done.

New structures will develop when the existing ones are no longer working. I would argue that if people with disabilities cannot be in the typical Bible study group, then the typical Bible study group is all wrong. The person with the disability is not wrong, the structure, the "way we have always done things" is all wrong.

Please, for Christ's sake, invite the person with the disability into your group, remove the exclusion, and work to see what structures He will develop in your group that serve all. If God truly believes what Paul wrote,
On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor (1 Corinthians 12:22-23)
maybe we should believe it as well.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Deja Vu all over again

Well it happened again. I was visiting a dear friend of mine, Ed, and went with he and his great family to his church. The worship service was amazing and I was touched by the pastor's (a gal!) revealing sermon on forgiveness, healing and moving forward with God. She was so insightfut, so right on, and it caused me to really reflect on who I am. I will be chewing on her message fro some time to come.

Anyway, afterwards we went to the welcome area where I met several others in leadership. At one point, I related to another gal in leadership about my interest, my passion for people with disabilities to be embraced by the church. Earlier, in a Sunday school session, her husband, another pastor, spoke of how ministry shouldn't be like a buffet where we pick and choose what we will and won't do, or who we will or won't serve. Which of God's requirements we will or won't respond to. I related that I would be quoting him (but based upon his response, I won't). I told him about the church and people with disability relative to his statement about the buffet. He appeared to become very uncomfortable when I said THE church, not necessarily HIS church, was disobedient in regards to those with disabilities. After sitting through a training earlier where he spoke of first impressions at church and putting on the positive face to the public even if you don't feel like it, he suddenly expressed a great interest in getting out of the conversation. He was particularly interested in getting home so he could watch football on TV. So in other words, "Don't bother me with the needs of desperate ignored people in my community, I have a football game to watch." Deja vu. So the ignorance perpetuates.

Prior to him joining the conversation, his wife had been literally pummeling me with questions. It was like when I mentioned disability I turned a switch on for her...
Who are these people?
Where are these people?
How did you find these people?
How can we find these people?
What does your church do to help them?
What kind of programs do you have?
I could barely get a response out before she was asking another question. Her interest was so exciting and so encouraging. But in a moment, we moved from her sincere interest in disability to his, the pastor's, trumping and surpassing interest in football.

I think it was an old Phil Keaggy song that said,
Seems as if we've lost the nerves for feeling
and no one's in the mood to want to know
I've got news for you this is not a game
I've got news for you are you listening?
I've got news for you we are all the same
and when that is understood we can start to live again
Will this particular church ever get it, relative to persons with disability? I sure hope so. It is a fantastic church with its finger on the pulse of culture, it seems. The messages I heard from the leadership both touched me and moved me. My deepest prayers are with it for its success and growth. I would definately be going there myself if I lived in the area. No doubt!

But it will NEVER acheive all that God intends for it if it is more interested in football, or music or presentation or whatever else than it is in seeing ALL Gods people. ALL.

I truly do love what God is doing among young people in churches through the use of music and technology which are so much a part of what those in their teens through 30's are about. But without a deeper change, they are making the exact same mistakes that the churches they are replacing made. It is generational ignorance. They see themselves as hip. They think they are novel and up to date. They are not.
They are the exact same thing all over again.

But how about something truly different. How about including all of God's people. It seems we and particularly many in church leadership are oblivious to and don't want to know about disability. Especially if the Eagles are playing on TV.