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

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What is the standard?

I had an interesting interaction with a friend the other day. He is a man who uses a wheelchair who attends an adult Bible class I teach at my church. He was sharing some challenges he faces in his life with relationships with various people. In response I would tell him what I understood to Bible to prescribe. So if he is interacting with a person who is impatient, the Bible would say that as Christians we should be patient...we are the Christians in the situation. If another person who is a Christian acts in a nonChristian manner, we are responsible to still act as a Christians. Independent of what the other person does in a relationship, we are still responsible to act as Christians.
A couple of days later, we were having lunch when he asked, "Why is it always the diabled person who has to act like a Christian and not the nondisabled person?"
I thought it was an interesting question on a variety of levels. My immediate response was, "I am not speaking to you as a disabled person or as a disabled Christian, I am speaking to you as a Christian." I think that was enlightening to him (although disheartening to me in that I must project to him that I see him as a disabled person). But it is true that we expect more and better from people with disabilities I think. It is true in special education. When we write objectives we either pull criterion percentages out of the air, or we have too high or too low expectations for a person we are hoping to educate. I have always tried to tell the teachers I am working with to look at the environment that the person you are working with is going into. If it is time on task at work, how much time does the average worker spend on task. If it is accuracy, how accurate is the average worker at the task. There is also discrimination which must be taken into account, however.
There is the research study about the man with mental retardation who was about to loose his job. People from the agency facilitating employment asked why. The response was that he repeated topics at break too much (which is an indication of the discrimination of the workplace, not the skill deficits of the man). Anyway, the researchers determined how often the man's coworkers repeated topics, and worked with the man till he did not repeat topics any more than any of the coworkers. When he was repeating topics at the same level as coworkers, they asked the boss how he was doing. To their dismay, the boss said there had not been any significant change. You see it was a problem with the enviornment. The environment needed to be changed.
I think that is what my friend was getting at. It didn't matter how good he would get at being a Christian, he would always be expected to be better, and would be vilified for the smallest of infractions because of the difference he brought to any interaction, because he uses a wheelchair. So there is a sensitivity there that relates to the previous post about wounding. A sensitive individual who has acquired a disability will become even more sensitive because of the other wounds which are piled on the functional impairment. I compare how I would respond to a situation with how my friend who uses a wheelchair responds, and I say to him, "Lighten up!" A much better response would be for me to address the environment to soften it, to help it become more sensitive to devalued, wounded people. It would also be good to encourage the person experiencing the disability.
I think my words to my friend were encouraging to him. He was quiet for a minute after I told him how I see him, what I was thinking as I counseled him. But sentiments like, "I am not speaking to you as a disabled person or as a disabled Christian, I am speaking to you as a Christian" need to be repeated sufficiently often that both the person with the disability and I myself will come to believe and practice that sentiment.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Social Role valorization and wounding

At the end of February, I had the opportunity to attend a training in social role valorization offered by Training Institute for Human Serve Planning, Leadership & Change Agentry in Syracuse NY. For those of you familiar with the work of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger, his thinking was first published in Normalization in the early 1970's. The book was foundational to much of what has happened in changing the manner in which persons with disabilities are treated. In the early 1980's, Dr. Wolfensberger built on his normalizaton ideas and developed what he calls social role valorization. As a result of his work, there are many articles and book which have been written as well as an International conference held every four years. I would highly recommend the training.

Social role valorization begins by recognizing that people are devalued and wounded. In fact, the SRV training lists 18 wounds.

Wound 1: Bodily impairment
Wound 2: Functional impairment
Wound 3: Relegation to low social status/deviancy
Wound 4: Attitude of rejection-disproportionately/relentlesly the more rejecting party has higher values and is more likely to...
1. Repress awareness out of consciousness "their faith tells them they shouldn't do it"
2. Harm is inflicted on the rejected party in unconscious, indirect and subtle forms
3. Negative behaviors are explained as having positive motives.
Wound 5: Cast into one or more historic deviancy roles...social status causes devalued roles or vice versa (we have touched on these roles in this weblog in the past)
So people can be considered...

1. Non human
a. pre human
b. no longer human
c. sub human (animal, vegetative/vegetable, insensate object
d. other "alien" non human but not sub human
2. A menace/object of dread
3. Waste material, garbage, discard, offal, excrement
4. Trivium
a. not to be taken seriously
b. object of ridicule
c. joculaor, jestor, clown, etc.
5. An object of pity - accompanied by desire to bestow happiness on people and associated with the victim role. Person is "suffering"
6. A charity recipient
a. ambiguous/borderline role of object of charity "nobility" in helping
b. burden of dutiful caring "cold charity" entitled to only the minimum/should be grateful takers-not givers
7. A child
a. eternally
b. once again
8. As a sick/diseased organism (leads to handicap) "medicalization of everyday life", "psychiatrization of deviance"
9. In death-related roles: dying, already dead, as good as dead, should be dead,
should never have lived

Wound 6: Symbilic stigmatizing, "marking", "deviancy imaging", "branding"
Wound 7: Being multiply jeopardized/scapegoated
Wound 8: Distanciation: usually via segregation and also congregation...major forms
Wound 9: Absence or loss of natural, freely given relationships & substitution with artificial/boughten ones
Wound 10: Loss of control, perhaps even autonomy & freedom
Wound 11: Discontinuity with the physical environment and objects "physical discontinuation"
Wound 12: social and relationshp discontinuity & even abandonement
Reasons for relationship discontinuity
Wound 13: Deindividualization, "mortification" reducing humaness
Wound 14: Involuntary material poverty, material/financial exploitation
-stripping what you have
-preventing people from acquiring things
Wound 15: Impoverishment of experience especially that of the typical valued world
Wound 16: Exclusion from knowledge and participation in higher-order value systems (eg. religion) that give meaning and direction to life and provide community
-lack moral guidance
-solace and comfort
-participation in community therefore reduced participation in society
Wound 17: Having one's life "wasted"...mindsets contributing to life wasting
Wound 18: Being the object of brutalization, killing thoughts & deathmaking

It was particularly interesting to see how these wounds tend to accumulate in the life of a person who simply has a bodily or functional impairment of some type. But the SRV folks would say that anyone who is devalued will experience these wounds to a greater or lesser degree whether your devaluing is due to impairment, or race or ethnicity, or religion or whatever.

The church needs to take the role of first of all recognizing the wounds of devalued people and then doing what it can to address the wounds in some way. I found it interesting that wound 16 is "Exclusion from knowledge and participation in higher-order value systems (eg. religion) that give meaning and direction to life and provide community." That is, Wolfensberger has identified the exclusion from religion or religious groups as a wound that is inflicted on persons who are devalued. The training is very careful to present the material in a very empirical fashion. That is, they do their best to just present the facts. They simply say, "If you do this, this will be the result." So if you exclude people with disabilities from participation in religious activities, in the church, you wound them.

It was also noted in the training that people who are already wounded will often feel wounds, be they slight more than those of us who are not devalued. I have noticed this fact with friends of mine whom I just suspected were very sensitive people. Yes they were sensitive, but I am coming to believe their sensitivity is due to their pain from being the brunt of so many of the wounds described above.

The church can do much to attenuate the wounding of persons who are devalued, particularly persons with disablities, particularly by just preventing wound #16. Just as there is a kind of a cascade effect with many of the wounds, there might be a positive cascade effect as we attempt to alleviate the wounds. Facilitating church participation might be a significant start in healing persons with impairments, and lead to a diminishing or total healing of the many wounds.


Thursday, March 15, 2007


Last weekend was the third annual conference of the National Association of Christians in Special Education or NACSPED. The conference was held at Azusa Pacific University, and they could not have been better hosts. The conference met in the beautiful Wilden Center, with the keynotes being presented by Dr. Rick Eigenbrood of Seattle Pacific University, and Mr. Steve Bundy, Director of the International on Disability for the Joni and Friends organization. The confernce theme was "Looking beyond disability," the implication being to see the person and not just the disability the person is experiencing. We had a total of 35 breakout sessions which were very well received by the 120 attendees. I was also proud in that at least 4 of our presenters were persons with disabilities. All in all it was a great day.

If you would like to join NACSPED, visit our website above, and come join us at our next conference to be held again at Azusa Pacific University, March 8, 2008 (we have developed a pattern of holding our conferences for 2 years in the same place before moving on).

NACSPED's mission is to ...
...facilitate the integration and participation of people with disabilities into the Christian community.We accomplish this change by:
-challenging Special Education professionals to exemplify faith through vocation
-providing professional development opportunities based on best practices.
-challenging Christian Special Education professionals to use their experience and training in the church.
-advocating for access to a Christian school education, for students with disabilities

We are also endeavoring to begin a movement of lay professionals to work to change their own churches, and make them more open to people with disabilities.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Traditions of the church

Mark 7 is the passage where the famous verse in Isaiah is quoted by Jesus. He says,
These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men
That section has always grabbed me as I wondered how I am guilty of that indictment, and also about how the church is guilty of that indictment. However, as I read on in the passage, there are several other comments by Jesus that really grabbed me. He is talking about the practice of "corban" but I think the passages still apply. Think about these sections as they may relate to the church's ignoring of persons with disabilities, the exclusion of people with disabilities, the traditionally often heard perspective that people with disabilities are not a priority for ministry. In verse 8

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of

And then in verse 13
Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition, that you have handed
down. And you do many things like that.
Jesus confronted the theological experts over their tradition of corban. He says "you have left the commands of God and are holding onto the traditions of men." The Jews has fallen into generations of missing the point and doing the wrong thing. Sound familiar? What is the result? "...you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down."

The church has left the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men in regards to people with disabilities. In fact in some ways, the traditions of men have changed and the church remains entrenched in a past form of the traditions of men. And what is the result? We are nullifying the word of God. No wonder that when a friend from the East coast was asked to receive counseling from pastors at a particular church, he responded "They do nothing for people with disabilities. Why should I receive counseling from them?" It would be as if someone had recommended in Jesus' time that someone go to the Pharisees to receive counseling in the ppractice of corban. The leaders presented themselves as respresenting God, however, as Jesus says, "you have let go of the commands of God...you nullify the word of God by your tradition." We as the church, nullify the word of God through our discriminatory traditions. We nullify the word of God through our prioritizing traditions. We nullify the word of God by our distancing of persons with disabilities in our traditions. We nullify the word of God by making church membership only accessible to those who can meet criteria based upon intellect. I wonder how people ever evidenced a faith in Christ prior to our times of saying the right phrases. All people had to say to Jesus was I believe and he accepted them. Today you have to behave a certain way, have certain social skills, memorize certain statements, assent to certain theoligical positions, and so on and so on. Now understand, I am not saying we just become a place where people believe in anything. At the same time, however, if our traditions are contrary to the word of God, and are actually nullifying the word of God, we have got to scrap our traditions.

Our traditions are exclusionary, and discriminatory, and intollerant of people with individual differences. It makes for an interesting Bible lesson when you are teaching people who don't have the greatest of social skills or don't quite understand how the traditional dynamics of a class should be acted out. But it also is very refreshing to be in a place where you comments are valued, whether they be about the impact of the Bible verse you are teaching, or to ask you for a dollar, or to discuss hot dogs and pizza.

It is time, in my humble opinion, that we step back and examine our traditions within the church. Tradition is not always the best reason for doing something. Tradition may be the absolute wrong reason for doing something, particularly if it nullifies the word of God.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

40 years but no membership

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day who related an interesting yet sad story. Apparently, she had an uncle who was a pastor, who had a son with down's syndrome. Anyway, the man with down's syndrome was a regular attender of his father's church for nearly 40 years. My friend related how he loved the church and loved God. The man literally would sleep on his hymn book every night. The sad part of the story was that the man was never offered membership in the church. My friend's assumption was that he wasn't offered membership because he was unable to memorize the church's creed, or relate particular faith statements in a manner sufficient to justify his actual membership.

What does a person need to do to express faith in a way that will lead to acceptance in the Christian church? Is faith only expressed through achieving some level of cognitive knowledge? Or can I love God and love my church so much that I literally sleep on my hymnal, possibly as an act of worship?

Obviously we don't give away the farm to anyone who believes anything, but we can also be exclusive in the most negative of ways. I suspect that the man, now a resident of heaven, didn't have the same criteria applied to him there. So he could be a member of God's family in heaven, but not a member of his local church.