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

Saturday, August 25, 2007

European Society on Theology and Disability

Well, I am off to the first meeting ever of the European Society on Theology and Disability to be held in the Netherlands. The group was organized by Dr. Hans Reinders (author of The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society which is a great book) and Dr. John Swinton of University of Aberdeen (see his article Building a Church for Strangers). If you have the inclination, please pray for this meeting, this new organization and the conference. I will provide a report here when I return.

God Bless,

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Leadership in ministry to people with cognitive disabilities

Who should be in leadership of Sunday School classes or groups for individuals with developmental disabilities? Typically it is people without disabilities although there may be a few leaders among those with disabilities in the group. Perhaps someone in your group witha cognitive disability immediately comes to mind. Perhaps we have people on the leadership team, some with specific roles. Others participate in leadership meetings because their input is valued, but one could ask why they are participants any more than anyone else. I think we need to be sure that leaders are in leadership positions. I am also confident that we could hurt feelings if someone was not invited to be involved in leadership because we felt they were not leaders. For example, there are those who would feel that they should be at any and every meeting and that her comments are essential to the functioning of the group. Others, might feel they are just missing out on a good time. But if the meetings are for purposes of discussing the future of the group, truly leadership meetings and not just social outings, there will be exclusion.

Because some of our group at my church have cognitive disabilities, and I am in a position of leadership in that group, I do not have a problem excluding them from the leadership meetings, as their disability on some level limits their contribution there. That is a judgment on their leadership skills, and their cognitive abilities which would imply that they are not gifted for participation in leadership, or teaching, for example (Ephesians 4:11). Obviously, I do not say there was no place for those people, only that their options could be limited by their disabilities and that would be a determination made by people with and without disabilities. I for one, have never been asked to sing before the church, or to have involvement in financial matters of the church. I have no problem with someone telling me that I am not gifted for those activities of the church because it is true, I am not. I also do not feel the need to have people with cognitive disabilities present in leadership meetings simply for reasons of political correctness. There are those with cognitive disabilities that I love dearly, and that I enjoy long conversations with, however, they will not be holding a position of leadership in our group. People with cognitive disabilities have very much to offer the church, but because of their cognitive or other disabilities aspects of their service may be limited.

Another basic aspect of the disabled/nondisabled dynamic is that people with cognitive disabilities cannot help but look to people without cognitive disabilities for leadership. Every cognitively disabled member of the group at my church looks to a non-cognitively disabled person for leadership in areas such as finances, travel, work, relationships, spiritual issues, etc. I have no problem with that as well. That is our responsibility as those without cognitive disabilities toward our brothers and sisters in Christ who experience cognitive disabilities. It is, however, a fine line to try to walk.

In our group, we have in the past and will do a better job in the future, communicated that all of those without cognitive disabilities are in leadership, if only informally. We need to note that, support that and praise that. That aspect has been one of the greatest points of growth in our group, for example, over the past year. I want people to be considered leaders in the class because of the positive impact their informal leadership has on members of the group. Others have a very quiet role in the group, but are leaders nonetheless through the way they come alongside of many people to talk and encourage them, love and support them. Those without disabilities are often totally invested in the group, and I think would do just about anything we could ask for the group. In that way they are an important part of the leadership. We, as those without cognitive disabilities, are responsible to help those who are cognitively disabled. Those without, or with less severe disabilities enjoy the group for themselves, but they also see it as a ministry role in a much different way than those with more severe disabilities typically see their involvement. I want to encourage the ministry view without disparaging the attendance view. I mean, I participate in groups where I am largely the recipient of ministry and that is fine. The key is that all should have the opportunity to be on both sides of the ministry equation (givers and recipients) although leadership in ministry might not be available to all.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sin and social skills

So, a person with a cognitive or emotional or mental disability approaches you. He stands too close to your face. He asks you questions that you think are inappropriate. He touches you too much. He doesn't get your hint that you are feeling uncomfortable. He doesn't understand your language indicating that you want to end the conversation. He will not let the conversation end. Finally you break away. When you get with a friend, you comment, "That guy is weird. He's a mess. He doesn't get it at all, he was like standing too close and touching me and couldn't take a hint."

The question is...who just committed the sin?

He doesn't get it, you do.
He is kinda flailing around in attempting to be loving and friendly. You aren't nor do you want to be loving or friendly.
He will talk about you as his friend. You talk about him as weird and how he doesn't get it.
He will look forward to a chance to talk with you again. You will avoid him in the future.
He will give you all the time he has. You will give time only out of some feeling of guilt.

So who is committing the sin?

It is amazing what we, what I will do or think about a person just because their social skills are not all they should be. The person is not being evil, the person is not doing wrong, the person just doesn't understand many of what are truly the subtleties of social skills. My response is to reject him and 90% of my friends and 90% of the church would probably agree with my rejection of him. We as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, condone, understand, accept, advocate, discuss, follow through on rejection of people with various disabilities because of their social skills.

May God forgive us.

Yet as I approach the Lord, of course my behavior is obviously perfect and my social skills are flawless. I have nothing to hide, and to the Lord, interacting with me is no doubt "a day at the beach!" How fortunate for him that he is able to be in my presence (being the Lord, and being omnipresent, he kinda doesn't have a choice but to be in my presence). I am confident that the three persons of the trinity do not huddle together and say to each other, "McNair is weird." Surely they talk about how fortunate they are to have McNair on their side. But you know, in reality God's interactions with me, and my prayers to Him are "a day at the beach" because the Lord loves me. He loves me not because I am "a day at the beach" but because out of his love he has chosen to make interactions with me "a day at the beach." He has chosen to make me feel like I am "a day at the beach! " In spite of all my problems, my sins, my poor social skills, my pride, the crap that is in me and circles me like flies because of the choices I have made, HE LOVES ME! You see that is the example he provides. He shows me, ME, as the example of loving someone who is difficult to love, and then He loves me.

Do you think he cares about the social skills of the person who bothers you? Please! No, he treats him like he is "a day at the beach" just as much as he does to me.

So do you get it? Social skills deficits are not sin. If I reject another on the basis of social skills, that is sin and I am the sinner. We, I, need to learn about love. True love is not easy. It is messy and inconvenient. It makes you feel uncomfortable. It makes demands on you. I pray that when I am put to the test, when God asks me to show real love to another human being, I will not be worrying about that person's social skills. I hope my concern will be whether I am reflecting the kind of Love that God shows to me. I pray that I will be worried about the sin I am tempted to commit by rejecting another person who God truly loves.


Monday, August 20, 2007

People with down's syndrome and Arthur Miller

A friend of mine sent me a fascinating link to an article in the Vanity Fair magazine. It is about the famous playwright, Arthur Miller (Death of a Salesman, The Crucible) and his inability to accept, come to grips with, the birth of a son named Daniel who had down's syndrome. This was apparently a particular surprise to many because of Miller's voice of morality. As Vanity Fair states,
The Denver Post called him "the moralist of the past American century," and The
New York Times extolled his "fierce belief in man's responsibility to his fellow
man—and [in] the self-destruction that followed on his betrayal of that

Yet, he struggled with the acceptance of his son.

The article is excellent reading. It is fair to Miller, I felt, yet still wonders at the decisions he made about his son and the relationship he had with his son. Clearly we are looking at the situation through 2007 eyes which are very different from those of the 60's and 70's. We must hedge in casting judgement at Miller's decisions, at least some of them, which reflected the recommendations of professionals at the time. Yet as the article tells, Daniel's mother, was qouted as saying about her visits to Southbury Training School,
Inge said, "'You know, I go in there and it's like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.'
That was the image she gave."

This is a good description of the institutions at the time.

God bless the older couple who took Daniel under their arms and loved and supported him. Apparently he now has a wing built onto their home where he lives.

The article ends with the following
Some wonder why Arthur Miller, with all his wealth, waited until death to share
it with his son. Had he done so sooner, Daniel could have afforded private care
and a good education. But those who know Daniel say that this is not how he
would feel. "He doesn't have a bitter bone in his body,"
says Bowen. The
important part of the story, she says, is that Danny transcended his father's
failures: "He's made a life for himself; he is deeply valued and very, very
loved. What a loss for Arthur Miller that he couldn't see how extraordinary his
son is."
It was a loss that Arthur Miller may have understood better than he let
on. "A character," he wrote in Timebends, "is defined by the kinds of challenges
he cannot walk away from. And by those he has walked away from that cause him
remorse." (emphasis added)

Daniel, who "suffers" from down's syndrome as the story relates, "doesn't have a bitter bone in his body...he is deeply valued and very, very loved." How very sad for Arthur Miller. The lost relationship, the communication of no value to Daniel. God bless Daniel for his heart of forgiveness, and apparently irrepressible love for his father. As the article relates, who knows what plays were not written by a man the article states could be the greatest American playwright of the last 100 years. What great good he might have done in his own life, the life of his son and the life of his family. The article also gave me a new appreciation of Daniel Day-Lewis (I hated him in Gangs of New York, or I should say his excellent acting made me hate him!), who married into the Miller family and as the article relates is the "most compassionate about Daniel. He always visited him."

The Arthur Miller family is a famous family in America, but they are just another family in Daniel (their son's) mind. A family who he loves although he lives with a couple who loved him for who he was. A family like many families whose patriarch feared down's syndrome, probably would have aborted the child had the option been provided to the father. A family probably coming to grips with their legacy, informed, yet misinformed.

Why is it that we look back on situations such as the one with Daniel Miller, the son of Arthur Miller we look back with regret for what might have been. We judge Arthur Miller for not being a father to his son because his son had down's syndrome. We praise the family who came alongside of Daniel and took him in. But I suspect the Vanity Fairs of the world will also support abortion of persons like Daniel. They will blindly talk about choice, or those who "suffer" with down's syndrome, not knowing about what they speak. People who know other people who have down's syndrome tend to like them, tend to think they are nice people, tend to think they are loving people, tend to think they are friendly people. But in the future we may never know this because of our efforts to wipe out people with down's syndrome.

The article ends once again with the statement, "A character," he (Arthur Miller) wrote in Timebends, "is defined by the kinds of challenges he cannot walk away from. And by those he has walked away from that cause him remorse." Will the Christian Church walk away from the challenge of down's syndrome, the challenge of disability or with integrity will we say that we cannot walk away? If Arthur Miller committed a "crime" in his relationship with his son, it was a crime of reflecting society. Perhaps he went where the rest of society is going now. What is Vanity Fair's response for his taking this path? It is probably our response. It is lamentation, shaking our heads in sadness, and perhaps judgement. I doubt Mr. Miller had any notion that his relationship with his son would be the subject of a Vanity Fair article, or discussed by an obscure Christian blogger.

May Arthur Miller's name forever be linked with the term down's syndrome and the name Daniel Miller.

It seems that Daniel Miller was born and Arthur Miller saw down's syndrome not Daniel Miller. This should be a warning to me, a warning to all of us, lest we make the same error.

In our world today, Daniel Miller is anticipated. Daniel Miller is conceived, Eighty percent of Daniel Millers will be aborted. Down's syndrome was the challenge Arthur Miller walked away from, hopefully with remorse. Our society is running headlong toward the elimination of people with down's syndrome.

Lamentation, sadness and judgement will be the response of those in the future to what we are doing to people with down's syndrome now.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Wyatt, Doc and difficult friendships

I like to wake up on Saturday mornings and watch old cowboy movies. This past week Wyatt Earp was on. There are two scenes that struck me. One, is when Wyatt and Doc Holiday meet for the first time. Doc asks Wyatt, "Do you believe in friendship?" He responds, "Yes" and their friendship begins. The movie portrays scenes from that friendship over the years. At one point, Doc and his girlfriend Big Nose, get in one of their typical drunken fights where they try to kill each other. Wyatt breaks the fight up and and attempts to sober Doc up. As he begins to regain his senses, Doc says, "Its not easy to be my friend, but I will be there for you when you need me" or something to that effect.

Do you have friends like that? Friends it is not easy to be friends with? Some of my cognitively disabled friends are like that (I have a greater tendency to not work on relationships with nondisabled people if they are hard to be friends with for some reason). Sometimes helping my friends with mental retardation, being friends with them is "messy." They have problems that I can't solve, and they impolitely do not keep their problems to themselves. They tell me their problems, make demands on me, and expect me to help them or solve their problems. Even keeping in contact with them is difficult because they don't follow the social etiquette I am used to. They will call me at 11:30 at night or 6:30 in the morning. They will call me 7 times a day or everyday of the week. My response has been to tell them "Please don't call me after 10 or before 7 unless it is an emergency. I will also tell them, "Please just call me once a week just to talk." I have gotten to the point that I will tell them, "You have already called me once this week. Unless this is an emergency, I will talk to you later." I may even have to hang up after ensuring there isn't an emergency. It might seem unkind, and perhaps it is, but it is what I have come to. But I like the fact that others in my church are facing the same challenges in their friendships with the people with cognitive disabilities who attend our church. These individuals are now on their radar screen. They are also someone else who can be called once a week just to talk for a few minutes.

Some of the messiness of the friendship comes from the social skill differences of my friends with cognitive disabilities. Some of the messiness comes from differences in my friends' life experiences that I may not be not used to. My friends with disabilities have to deal with...

-Access (busses they reserve to take them places), and
-conservators (who may or may not be very interested in them, but
nontheless have control over their lives),
-unscrupulous people who sell them things (cell phones can be the biggest
-being alone except for people who are paid to be with them
-dealing with human services and human service rules (in other words, the
-a lack of friends
-too much time and too few things to do
-and so on

In attempting to be a friend to some people, I find myself in the position of negotiating, or being in the middle, or whatever. They are not friends who I can call to come over, or meet for a ball game, who then go home and solve their own problems. They can be high maintenance.

The whole social skills thing is another aspect of the difficulty of some friendships. Some of my friends I am sure impact the potential of friendships with others. People I love have told me that friends of mine are "wierd." Those who are not afraid to be politically incorrect and tell me what they really think will sometimes say that, which makes me think that others with whom I am not as close probably think that as well, but just don't say it to me.

So as Christians, what do we do about this? Are we called to befriend those who are more difficult to befriend than the average person? Are friendships about us only? Do we befriend others to benefit them? Is friendship something that is easy? I must admit that I have at times asked myself Doc Holiday's question. I have wondered if I believe in friendship, or just friendship that is easy for me.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Website changes

Well as you can see, I have been busily making changes to the website. I think this will in some ways be easier to negotiate than the old format. Hopefully you will feel the same way.

One cool change is that I am going to gradually upload a variety of video. Currently there is one about the ministry to persons with disabilities at Trinity Church in Redlands where I attend. This was just a kind of awareness video that was shown to the congregation. Enjoy. Others to come!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Description of a nightmare

A friend of mine is a man who attends my church. He is a big guy, about 6'1" and wide as well. He likes to work out. He has been attending the church for about 7 years. Yesterday at church he pulled me aside (true story).
"I had this terrible dream last night...it was a nightmare!" he said.
"What happened?" I asked.
"Well I dreamed that nobody in the church loved me anymore."
"Well, you know that isn't true" I quickly replied.
"Oh sure, I know that. Everybody loves me down here. It was
just a dream. It was just a nightmare."
I have had that nightmare, most often when I am awake, and it doesn't have to do with me personally per se. I am glad that for my friend it is only a dream and when he awakes he knows that it was just a dream. For too many people, however, the dream is that they have a place in church and are loved. The nightmare is when they are awake, when the reality of their situation where they are isolated and in need of love and companionship visits them again.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Call for papers: Inclusive Christian Religious Education

The following is provided FYI. the Journal of Religion, Disability and Health is putting together a special issue on Inclusive Christian Religious Education.

Call for Papers:
Thematic Double Issue Inclusive Christian Religious Education Among the many important aspects of congregational life are the opportunities designed to foster people’s spiritual growth; learn the teachings, practices, and expectations of the Christian faith; deepen their relationships with others traveling along the same journey of faith, and grow in their relationship with God. Indeed, most congregations strive to provide an array of quality religious education offerings to their members, including Sunday school classes, programs for children and youth, men’s and women’s groups, preparation classes (e.g., confirmation, membership), and small group activities. Yet, most congregations struggle with exactly what it looks like to meaningfully welcome and weave children and adults with developmental disabilities into these core aspects of congregational life. The largely cognitive orientation of most religious education activities can leave people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities participating only at the margins or excluded altogether. This special issue of the Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health will be devoted to the topic of religious education, exploring the myriad ways that congregations can thoughtfully support the full participation of children and adults with developmental disabilities (e.g., intellectual disabilities, autism, multiple disabilities) in the life of their faith community.
We are seeking to capture the innovative work being done in this area, to challenge congregations to see people with developmental and other disabilities as an integral part of their communities, and to articulate a vision of what their programs could and ought to be for all participants. To this end, we encourage submissions addressing, but not limited to, the following topics:
• New and innovative models for inclusive religious education
• Program approaches focused on specific age groups: Early childhood and elementary programs Youth ministry and youth groups o Adult programs and small group activities
• Curricular and pedagogical approaches that promote learning, growth, and belonging for everyone
• Analysis of the fit in using traditional educational approaches to providing religious education involving persons with or without various disabilities
• Strategies for designing and implementing religious/educational support
• Expanding participation in ‘rites of passage’ and other preparation programs
• Supporting the participation of children and adults with challenging behaviors, emotional disabilities and/or mental illness
• Empirical studies exploring factors that support and/or hinder the meaningful participation of children and adults with developmental disabilities in religious education programs
• Perspectives of people with developmental disabilities and/or their families on the importance and impact of inclusive religious education in their lives
• Effective partnerships among congregation leaders, lay volunteers, and the disability service system
• Approaches for preparing teachers and other lay volunteers for inclusive religious education
• Contributions and barriers of church “structures” to the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in religious education
• Exploration of the relationship between education and “faith development,” particularly for individuals who may not evidence “spiritual growth” in the same ways as other congregational members
• Examination and evaluation of the goals of religious education for persons with and without disabilities
Our desire is that this issue will reflect the range of pioneering ideas, creative approaches, and progressive responses taking place across diverse traditions within the Christian faith.

This special issue of the Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health will be co-edited by Dr. Jeff McNair (California Baptist University) and Dr. Erik Carter (University of Wisconsin-Madison). If you are interested in submitting to this special issue, please contact the co-editors to discuss your proposed contribution. We encourage you to contact us with specific questions about this special issue. The deadline for submission is November 30, 2007. Please consult the author instructions located at the website of the Journal of Religion, Disability, and Heath (see http://www.haworthpress.com/).

Guest Editors Jeff McNair, Ph.D. Dr. Bonnie G. Metcalf School of Education California Baptist University 8432 Magnolia Avenue Riverside, CA 92504 (951) 343-4489 telephone jmcnair@calbaptist.edu
Erik W. Carter, Ph.D. Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education University of Wisconsin-Madison 432 N. Murray Street Madison, WI 53706 (608) 263-5750 telephone ewcarter@wisc.edu

Less honorable need abundant honor

...And those members of the body which we think are less honorable, on those we
bestow abundant honor. (1 Corinthians 12: 23)

So, a man with mental retardation lives for 60 years. He gets up in the morning, goes to a job, comes home, and spends time with friends or family, and goes to bed. This scenario is somehow different from people without mental retardation who get up, perhaps go to a better job by comparison (more responsibility, more money, etc.) come home to family or friends and go to bed. How is the life of the person who is a waitress or a mechanic or a teacher or a professor or a doctor different? Is the difference based upon how much money they make or their contribution to others? Distinctions are artificial.

So we react when "stay at home mothers" are regarded as less than working mothers. Then we decry the effect on children of poor parenting. If some salary figure is our criteria for life well lived, stay at home mothers are criticized. If well adjusted children are our criteria, then working mothers are criticized. The critieria we set will determine whether we are successful in the evaluation. But I must look critically at those inside and outside of the group I am evaluating if I am being honest. For example, the need to be served might be a criteria to elevate someone to inclusion (special honor) not only a reason to exclude.

Self-sufficiency, the Bible would imply, causes people to not trust in God, to think they don't need God. Yet how do we convince self-sufficient people that they need God? Perhaps we put them in situations where their presumed self-sufficiency is inadequate. Put them in situations where they are once again forced to trust in God and not in their wealth (for example). People in need, people who need to be served have the potential on many levels to teach us about faith. Those we think are less honorable might actually be worthy of honor for a variety of reasons.

1) through their own faith
2)through the way they cause others to try to reconcile disability and faith theologically and philosophically
3) through the service they demand (causing one to decide whether or not he
will serve God)
4) what are the essential elements of being human or being made in the Image of God
5) what is is that makes a life valuable or well lived
6) why should I or my life be considered more valuable than that of a person with a disability
7) God's soverignity
8) support within/among the Body of Christ

The ability to teach lessons about faith might require special honor.

So the giving of honor might be less an artifact of our simply being obedient (although that is sufficient reason) but might actually be due to people if we use the correct criteria to do the evaluation. In thinking about having honor or giving honor, we might define honor in the following ways (the first five definitions from Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 1966):

1. good name or public esteem
- so people may have no good name or receive no public esteem, but we would give it to them
- we give them a good name through our social capital
- we recognize their contributions such that they receive public esteem

2. a special prerogative
- so we give them special prerogatives in overlooking social skill differences in the same manner we would overlook the social errors of our loved ones
- we facilitate the opportunity to provide honor by giving the opportunities to make decisions about their own lives, rather than approaching with a we know best attitude

3. person of superior standing or importance
- we begin by recognizing as a person as having equal standing and importance
- recognizing strengths we may begin to see superior standing
- through relationships we may begin to see importance

4. one that is of intrinsic value
-we honor by fighting for the disabled person's intrinsic value, that is, value that is not determined by ability levels, etc.
-we honor by having a realistic picture of our own value, intrinsic or otherwise

5. an evidence or symbol of distinction
-we honor by giving the same symbols of distinction to those who are disabled that we would give to anyone
-we honor when relationships with persons with disabilities are no longer a symbol of distinction

Our society decides about what it will choose to honor and then honors it. We honor physical appearance and athletic or other abilities. The Bible calls upon us to think differently about what honor means. One distinction of being a Christian is that within the Body of Christ, we reject the worlds criteria for honor, and honor whom we choose to honor. Paul chides us to give special honor to those whom we would typically think are less honorable.

Perhaps there are things worthy of honor if we would see people through God's eyes, using God's evaluative criteria. Perhaps we are to treat those we think are less honorable with abundant or special honor because in the deliverance of that honor we will begin to see the honor we should have been giving but missed in the first place.