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

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kindly patitudes versus the truth

I read a story the other day sent out by a person in the disability community whom I respect. I won't share the story here, but the jist of it was that a religious leader said something that was encouraging when others were being discouraging about this leader's child with a cognitive disability's presence in the worship service. Obviously the words that were shared made the parent feel good, good enough to share the story with others. Some of the reaction from others, also leaders in the disability community was also positive. I just kept silent.

You see, it doesn't help if we share platitudes, no matter how kindly they sound or how kind our intentions are if they aren't the truth. I have been in settings were a severely disabled person was screaming or making very loud noises while someone was trying to teach a class. Kind people around will say, "He's praying" or something to that effect. Well I have been around a lot of people with severe to profound disabilities, and I will tell you that many do not have the cognitive ability to pray, or to talk or to understand a great deal of what is going on around them. Some scream for a particular reason and some just scream. For me to even say they are praying when they are screaming is really to demean them, to treat them like some kind of a child or something because if I was screaming you wouldn't think I was praying. The point is, if someone is screaming, they are screaming they are not praying. If someone is swearing, they are swearing they are not praying or something else. The question is, how do we make places for people who because of the severity of their disability will scream or swear or do whatever it is that they do?

Could I be in a worship service where someone in the audience was screaming? Not if I am supposed to sit quietly and listen to someone teaching me. Worship would have to change, or the teaching would have to change, or the person would have to get quieter or be removed. As a church, our response has been that the person has to be removed or get quiet. My response is not to say they are praying and should stay when they are screaming. My response is that the way we do worship needs to change, or if it is a teaching situation, the teaching situation would need to change such that a person who is screaming would be able to be a part of the teaching situation. Now not everyone should be a part of every teaching situation. I have trouble enough with teaching or taking college classes when the students are quiet. There are settings where screaming people are not welcome because of the situation. Unfortunately, church worship services as designed, are such places. There is a problem with that. The one time during the week when we gather as Christians, the church service, is the most socially restricted of any of the times we gather as Christians. Worship has largely become a time where I sing, or sit or stand, but otherwise I am to be absolutely silent (I recognize that is not the case for all Christian worship gatherings, however, largely it is).

It would seem that the largest gathering would be the time when there would be the MOST latitude in behavior, or openness in what is accepted socially. So if I attempt to be a part of the larger gathering but can't because of my disability, I would have to argue that it is the Church's fault. Particularly when as a person with a cognitive disability, there is literally no other place for me to go, no place for me if I am a screamer, or whaever my social difference is. My best hope is to be where the most people are, and unfortunately that is where the most restrictions on behavior are present.

We have got it entirely backward. Sunday morning worship should be the most wide open time. It should be noisy and joyful. Maybe there is some instruction, but it is understood that there is going to be a lot of activity in the midst of the instruction. People might be walking around, or talking to each other, or even interrupting the speaker with questions. But it is a jubilant time where we celebrate our gathering together as all Gods children with our slight or significant differences. Then if you want to parse out the scriptures in a quiet place, we go to a classroom, and that is were particular behaviors are required. You might have to know Greek for a class or you might have to be a parent or have some other characteristic. That is the place for discrimination, not the greater group gathering of the church. And there should be a place for everyone in one of those smaller classes or groups. Literally, anyone who would come to church should have a place where he can be himself (in terms of differences of disability) and be accepted. That is were we need to go in terms of changed structures.

It does no good and it is untrue to say people with mental retardation who are screaming are praying. Don't offer platitudes no matter how kind, about who they are. Rather, make a place for them and open things up a bit. Worship settings should not be the most brittle, the most socially restrictive of all church settings.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Church asks mom, disabled child to leave"

The following is a link to an article forwarded to me by a colleague, Kara, available on Unionleader.com entitled "Church asks mom, disabled child to leave." Please read the article and the comments.

The first question you must ask, is why this would be considered newsworthy? I think it's the old dog bites man is not a story, man bites dog is a story. Church is kind to the disabled would not be a story (that is what would be expected) but "church asks mom, disabled child to leave" is a story even to secular people, because it is not what you would expect from a church. Even a secular newspaper/website has sufficient understanding of the Christian faith to know that that shouldn't happen. Why are Christians themselves so slow to understand? Why are church leaders so slow to understand?

But I would refer you to the comments made by people in response to the article and there are many. Interesting to see the defensiveness at times and the outrage at what is deemed unChrisitan behavior.

If they only knew...

Articles by Jeff McNair

If any of you who visit this blog would like to receive a small packet of articles I have written on disability/disability ministry, email me with you regular address and I would be happy to send them to you.

You can email me at jmcnair@calbaptist.edu

Thank you for your interest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Article link from ESA online.

An article I wrote a couple of years back is part of a features section of ESA (Evangelicals for Social Action) online. You can view the article here There are no retarded people in St. Louis

Let me know what you think?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Institute on Disability Studies at California Baptist University

I am excited to share that this past week, California Baptist University approved The Institute on Disability Studies. Although we plan to work in a wide variety of areas related to disability, one of the distinctives of The Institute will be that it will look at disability/disability studies from a Christian perspective. I am unsure if there are other (if any) similar institutes at other Christian universities. If we are one of the first to develop such a program, it is our goal to be the first of many in the future.

The foci of The Institute will be faciliting disability studies research, facilitating graduate programs in disability studies at CBU, development of research materials and facilities, various training opportunities, and providing outlets for research in disabilty studies.

We are currently seeking funding for The Institute, and hope to very soon have further announcements to make concerning partners/collaborators in our Institute work. If you represent a funding organization and would like to work with us, we would be pleased to dialogue with you. The Disability Studies Institute at California Baptist University is truly a new and unique funding opportunity, heretofore largely unavailable anywhere. As we develop, website information will be provided at this blog and elsewhere. You can also contact me at jmcnair@calbaptist.edu

May God bless our efforts!


How to ask the questions?

Michael Oliver is an author in disability who I really enjoy reading. He makes me think. In his book with Bob Sapey, Social Work with Disabled People (2006, third edition) he relates two sets of questions asked of persons with disabilities. One set from a 1986 disability survey and the other a set of alternative questions he (Oliver) developed in 1990. He makes the point that respondents are influenced by the way surveys ask questions. In particular, he relates that the particular survey done in 1986 causes respondents to think of themselves as inadequate by the way questions were asked. I want to juxtapose the two sets of questions so that you can see the difference clearly. These questions and the discussion surrounding them can be found on pages 60-61 of the book.

1986-What complaint causes your difficulty in holding, gripping or turning things?
1990-What defects in the design of everyday equipment like jars, bottles or tins causes you difficulty in holding, gripping or turning them.

1986-Are your difficulties in understanding people mainly due to a hearing problem?
1990-Are your difficulties in understanding people mainly due to their inabilities to communicate with you?

1986-Do you have a scar, blemish or deformity which limits your daily activities?
1990-Do other people's reactions to any scar, blemish or deformity you may have, limit your daily activities?

1986-Have you attended a special school because of long-term health problem or disability?
1990-Have you attended a special school because of your education authority's policy of sending people with your heal problem or disability to such places?

1986-Does your health problem/disability mean that you need to live with relatives or someone else who can look after you?
1990-Are community services so poor that you need to rely on relatives or someone else to provide you with the right level of personal assistance?

Oliver advocates for what he calls "the social model of disability". He states, "The argument for a social model of disability is that the causal relationship begins with the reactions of mainstream society to people with impairments that oppress and exclude them. Part of this oppression is the imposition of an understanding of disabiltiy that blames the individual" (p. 60).

I had the opportunity to address a small group of people this past week at Community Christian College in Redlands, California. During the question and answer time at the end, a gentleman asked an interesting question. "Why do you think people with disabilities don't go to church?" The question, although a good one, reminded me of some of the questions above.
What is it about people with disabilities that causes them to not be church goers?
What is it about being disabled that makes you not want to go to church?

The answers I provided seemed unsatisfactory to several in attendance. You see my answers related to church attitudes, or leadership attitudes, or changes which needed to occur within the church. Those unsatisfied wanted me to provide answers about the people with disabilities. The only answers I could provide were things like, people don't like to be around other people who are impatient with them, people don't like to be around other people who don't they are important, people don't like to be around other people who wish they weren't there, people don't like to be around other people who don't want to have to change the things they do in order to make a more accepting environment. Or even something as simple as people will not go places where they are not invited to go. The answers had little to do with the people with disabilities and much more to do with the unacepting environment. I could tell the questioners rejected my response saying they couldn't or wouldn't believe that churches were like that. Obviously churches are loving and caring and accepting places. Therefore if disabled people were not in churches in numbers reflecting the community, there was something wrong with the disabled people.