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

Friday, February 23, 2007

"Does the church let you to do that?"

Because we facilitate a class for persons with disabilities at our church, Kathi and I often receive phone calls from people interested in our church because we attempt to include people with disabilities.
Yesterday, Kathi got a phone call from a woman wondering about the ministries at our church. Our group called "Light and Power" which is specifically focussed on adults, was the point of her question. She described her son's disabilities, and then asked whether he would be welcomed in the class. Kathi replied that the class includes both people with and without disabilities.
"Really?" she replied. "Does the church let you do do that?" (That is, mixing people with and without disabilities).
Kathi replied, "Sure!"
She then asked, "What time does the Light and Power group meet?"
"We go to the regular church service at 9:30, and then..." Kathi replied.
"Does the church let you to do that?" she interrupted. (That is let the people with disabiliteis go to the regular church service).
"Yes" Kathi replied.
Obviously, this woman's response is a bit funny, but it must also be informed by something. Something that has grown out of her personal experience. Perhaps she and her adult son have been told "You aren't allowed to do that at this church" when she wanted to have her son in a regular church class, or attend the regular worship service. The confused responses of this mother of an adult son is an indictment. Imagine someone honestly wondering whether an organization (the church) which claims to represent Jesus would allow people with disabilities to attend the regular church service, or even house an integrated (people with and without disabilities) class on the campus.

Its a little funny but its a lot sad. It is particularly sad in that this mother herself may be a person who experiences a disability. Her questions and responses kind of make me think that is the case. Also I find that those with mild disabilities often will be turned away with excuses like that. Those without cognitive challenges would typically speak up. Others without the ability to argue their point are more easily turned away. Which is another insidious aspect of her responses.

Hopefully she and her son will soon be attending our church.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

...and to love mercy

In Micah 6:8, the famous passage talks about loving mercy. I have been thinking a lot about this passage lately. What might it mean to love mercy? I suppose I could love the concept of mercy, not giving someone something they might deserve, or forgiveness. But I am tempted to think about loving the acting out of mercy. I love that God is merciful, and I love that people are merciful to other people, sometimes.
Why would I love mercy?
If I have experienced mercy, I will love mercy.
If I want others to know about God and receive His mercy, I will love
If I want to be shown mercy, I will love mercy.
If I accept God's mercy and give myself to Him, I will love mercy.
If I understand mercy, I will love mercy.
If I understand worship, I will not only love mercy, I will do mercy.
If I understand worship, I will do mercy.

Mercy implies an object, a person to whom mercy is shown. Jesus on several occasions, makes the statement "But go and learn what this means...I desire mercy not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). You might think that He had said just the opposite when you look at how churches do worship. We talk about the "sacrifice of praise." Oh, please. I think it may be more of a sacrifice on God's part to listen to it, than it is a sacrifice to give it. I suspect our singing voices will be much better in Heaven. We focus on sacrifice. God focuses on mercy. We raise our hands in praise (which is fine to do). He wants us to do that but to also look around for someone to whom we might show some mercy. You see, we show our love to God by what we do for other people. James 1:27 says that true worship is to look after widows and orphans. As I have been the recipient of mercy, I offer myself to God "as those who have been brought back from death to life" (Romans 6:13). God's greatest gift to me is mercy. Perhaps my greatest gift to God is mercy as well. Obviously, I cannot really show mercy to God, but I can show mercy to people, the ones to whom He gives mercy, his greatest gift. In the most positive of ways, I become like God, when I show mercy to other people.
When it comes to worship, what does God need from me? Sure in heaven, we will worship in various ways, but we will worship in a different form. You see there aren't any poor or disabled or disenfranchised people in heaven. There will be those who were poor or disabled or disenfranchised while they lived a human life on earth. Perhaps they will have a memory of their poverty or disability or disenfranchisement while they lived out their human life. But there will be no one who is poor or disabled or disenfranchised any more in heaven. Our worship there, will therefore no longer need to have the mercy component it must have here on earth. I can sing songs to God for eternity when I get to heaven. While on Earth, I need to take care of widows and orphans. I need to show mercy to people as an act of worship while I am here on Earth. My worship should be significantly different as an Earthling.
This has been a revelation to me. I have commented elsewhere in this blog that I am confused by worship. I have been confused by church, music based, sermon based worship. But when my son goes out of his way to take a man with disabilities out to lunch, by making the man's day, by filling his stomach with great tasting good food that he would not otherwise be able to affort, I am not confused about the worshipful nature of that act. It is an act of worship, as God desires mercy.

I have shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee...to love mercy.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Good news

If you are a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas like I am, you will remember the scene where the mayor of the town drives his car through the streets proclaiming, "Good news! Good news!" I have kinda felt like that the past week. Little old Cal Baptist University, here in Southern California, has the potential to make a significant contribution to the world of disability, particularly from a Christian perspective. More details will be provided as things develop but some pretty amazing things (from my perspective) are in the offing, Lord willing. Please keep us in your prayers!


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Spiritual Development

Picking up on the last posting about the story of the 3 Russian monks, I was thinking about what "spiritual development" might mean and how it is achieved. I have known people with graduate degrees in divinity, who were spiritually lost. Their lifestyles were devoid of anything that would represent a Christian faith, or even a Christian world view. People who could quote passage and verse, or could share the thinking of Bonhoeffer, or explain Niebuhr's Christ and Culture, but lacked a basic faith.

I have also known people who could barely write their own names, perhaps have memorized a couple of Bible passages, but were an example of a profound faith in God that impacted every area of their lives. Their conversation revolved around God and church and faith. Their questions were largely about how they could grow in faith, or as one friend often asks, "Do you think I am doing better than I used to do?"

As I think about the kind of Christians I want to help develop, I would have to choose the latter. But I wonder sometimes about the kind of Christians our church structures are currently developing. I have said this before, but I am even more convinced that if we want to learn about love, we should learn by doing more than talking about love, or memorizing passages about love. We will produce a certain type of Christian when our knowledge is not developed in a more hands on type of a situation. Everything is one step removed from reality with the assumption being that if I read 1 Corinthians 13, I will be able to make the connection on my own. That I will generalize my learning, to use a special education term. But we have learned in special education that in order for some learning to take place, it must occur in the actual situation. That is, if you want to teach me to exchange money in a store, you need to take me to the store, or I won't learn. I cannot learn some things under simulated conditions...I need to be in the actual situation.

So I guess what I am advocating is a kind of a spiritual curriculum. A curriculum that is not knowledge based as in a public school classroom (what much of religious education looks like) but a different kind of approach. One that is more practical, more applied that teaches me in the actual situation so I don't need to generalize my learning. I am learning directly and will therefore be able to make the direct application.

Take love for example. What does a situation look like where people have to really make an effort to love others? What occurs in such a situation that changes people? What if I was taught about how to love people with challenging people in the room, in my midst? I will then either learn to love those people, or I will exit the difficult to love person or exit myself. Largely, in the past it has been the difficult to love person who has been asked to leave, and I have not learned the lesson about love. It is also useful to consider situations where we are not confronted with people who have been characterized as "difficult to love" and think about what people are learning in situations where "difficult to love" people are excluded from places where people are being taught about love?

People who act atypically, for whatever the reason (disability, sin, whatever) teach me about love. I think about the students I taught who were emotionally disturbed. In their rantings and swearings at me, I came to understand that their rantings and swearings were their disability talking. I wasn't always perfect, but I was softened by them, and learned to love them. Their rantings and swearings were less threatening to me because I came to understand them and love them in spite of their emotional disturbance. I was changed, I learned to love. I am now drawn to such people. I am still rejected at times, and I still am impatient, but I was forced to learn to love them, and I was the beneficiary of the lesson (I hope they were to some extent as well). The end result is that I was softened. I learned another aspect of the love of Christ. I could have studied love all day long, but the real learning came to me when I was confronted with people who caused me to put my head knowledge, and the faith I claimed to have into practice.

People with various disabilities will do that. I don't say that because I find them particularly difficult to love, but they will act atypically, they will take me out of my comfort zone, and as a result, I will grow. I want that growth for everyone in the church. For such growth to occur, there needs to be a change in the way that we do church, the way that we do Sunday School, the way that we do Bible study, the way that we do missions, the way that we do most things in the church. Instead of learning about how to love people, love people who others have not loved. In order to help the poor, don't have speakers come to tell you about the poor, have poor people come to your church and be in your Bible study. They may know a great deal more about faith and how it is acted out in daily life than you do with your 60K per year income. We may know the head knowledge, but they just might know the faith knowledge.

McNair (fcbu)

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Walking on water

In the book, The road to Daybreak Henri Nouwen relates the following story, attributed to Tolstoy.
Three Rusian monks lived on a faraway island. Nobody ever went there, but one day their bishop decided to make a pastoral visit. When he arrived he discovered that the monks didn't even know the Lord's Prayer. So he spent all of his time and energy teaching them the "Our Father" and then left, satisfied with his pastoral work. But when the ship had left the island and was back in the open sea, he suddenly noticed the three hermits walking on the water - in fact they were running after the ship! When they reached it they cried, "Dear Father, we have forgotten the prayer you taught us." The bishop, overwhelmed by what he was seeing and hearing, said, "But, dear brothers, how then do you pray?" They answered, "Well, we just say, 'Dear God, there are three of us and there are three of you, have mercy on us!'" The bishop awestruck by their sanctity and simplicity, said, "Go back to your island and be at peace."
Nouwen then comments in regard to three handicapped alter servants at the L'Arche community where he was staying,
When Louis saw the three handicapped altar servers, this story came immediately to his mind. Like the three monks of Tolstoy, these men may not be able to remember much, but they can be holy enough to walk on water. And that says much about L'Arche.
You see, we are confused by this. Faith is so linked with knowledge and intellect by Christian society, that we cannot imagine a person of great faith not knowing the Lord's prayer by heart. How can someone be a growing, believing, faith filled Christian if they lack basic intellect? But that is the lesson of the story, isn't it? Nouwen saw the connection. We don't. The men in the story were in a place where nobody ever went. When the bishop finally did go there, he saw their limitations in regards to how he understood church should be. With his limited yet prideful understanding of "church" he attempted to change the three monks. They, in their humility took what he had to offer hoping it would help them to grow toward their Lord. But in reality, it was they who should have been the teachers. When they ran to the ship, it was to regain the knowledge they had never quite gotten, not to teach the bishop how to walk on water.
I am beginning to understand the truth of this story. The simple faith of my cognitively disabled friends outpaces my own faith in so many ways. Rather than putting them into the prideful straight jacket I call Christian faith, a straight jacket they will never be able to wear due their limitations, I should learn from them, remove my straight jacket and allow them to soften me.

He has shown thee, O man
What is good and what the Lord requires of thee
But to do justly
And to love mercy
And to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8


Thursday, February 01, 2007

The battle...metaphor?

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evin in the heavenly realms... And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:12, 18)

As I was driving to various schools this morning, I was listening to my ipod blast "The Gates of Delirium" by Yes (I have ripped every Yes CD of mine onto my ipod). The 21 minute song is basically the depiction of a war. As I listened, I reflected on many recent experiences I have been having.

Could it just be that I am in the midst of a challenging time in my professional life, and just have to work through it? I suppose it could be. But I wonder if there is something more going on right now. You see, not only am I a huge Yes fan, I am a JRR Tolkien fan, and have read The Lord of the Rings probably 15 times. It resonates with me because evil is not shrouded, that is the source of evil, the dark lord, is in the open, so to speak. Frodo knows he is fighting against a real evil. He is awakened from his pastoral existence in the Shire to that realization. Now in LOTR Frodo has a most critical part to play, but he also recognizes that we are all in the battle, all playing a part, whether it be a moth that Gandalf speaks to at Isengard, or a returning King in the form of Aragorn. Tolkien recognized this as well, as in one of his letters, he speaks of the hidden depth, the reality of the spiritual nature of human interactions. He understood, for example, what he meant when Jesus says that when you do something for the least, you do it for Him. It is the unseen reality. It is a strike in a battle for God and against evil.

Well, I feel as if I am in the midst of a battle at the moment. I have been tempted to rage, and confrontation, and just throwing up my hands and walking away. But then I reflect on the Ephesians statement and realize that I may be on the verge of a victory in the unseen battle, but am being confronted as Watchman Nee says in The Normal Christian Life, to look in the wrong direction. Will I keep my eye on the prize, the furthering of the Kingdom of God (as I understand it), or will I allow my pride, my rights, my whatever to allow a victory for the enemy? I have to choose, and I have to be prayerful and alert, and keep on praying. You see, the attacks can come from the saints themselves. But if I am prayerful in the Spirit, and I am alert, recognizing that I am tempted to look in the wrong direction and that there are bigger things potentially at stake, and if I pray for the saints themselves who are potentially a part of the attack, perhaps I will be given the honor of making "known the mystery of the gospel."

The battle is not a metaphor. The battle rages.

It is hard to see something that apparently many others do not see particularly when you think it is a critical part of the "mystery of the gospel." To see others being encumbered in the larger fight for the truth to the point of being a tool of the other side is difficult and obviously is not an easy thing to point out to them. So I need courage and I need wisdom. I need to be alert and I need most of all to be prayerful. Please be prayerful too.