“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.



Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your viewpoint on this. I hadn't thought about things in in that way before.

Pilgrim said...

I also think that is an interesting thought. I wonder if church's could go to three services instead of the two they often have: contemporary and traditional.
The third could be: everyone's welcome. Literally.

Neil said...

There is a revolution that needs to occur in the worship service - not only a change that would be including of all ie: those with disabilities, but would 'include all' a living in relationship with God and each other community. The original intent was a gathering that shared all things in common, but also bore all things in common. I believe (speaking as a Pastor) we have lost our compass point of what the worship experience was (and is to be) about - a struggling broken community encountering a life changing, restoring God. We've made worship more about form than function. Screaming stands out in form - it's disruptive, a distraction to be elimiated - as function, it is opportunity - to minister to the individual, to the family and open the door into the community - but it means that I must accept worship is more than about me - it isn't worship unless it's about Him and us.

Anonymous said...

I am delighted you are connected! Please continue to contribute. This is the diologue you asked for last week.

I think Jeff has it right on: The largest gathering is the one that should have the greatest latitude, be the most inclusive. We can, and should have, break out groups where particular agendas and behaviors are importannt and appropriate.

Wouldn't you agree that any meeting to which the whole body of the Church, the Body of Christ is invited should be one, in which, "Everyone's welcome. Literally?" How could it be otherwise?

God bless you and your open mind sister.