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

Friday, September 07, 2007

Forms of faith expression

I have been thinking about the ways in which faith can be expressed by an individual. I was once an elder in a church, and when we would interview potential members, we would look for key phrases both positively and negatively. For example, if we asked the question, "If you arrived in heaven, why should you be let in?" we would look for responses like, "I believe that Jesus saved me from my sins" or "Only because of faith in Christ would I be allowed in" things of that sort from the positive side. Negatively, if someone said, "I have tried real hard" or "I have been a good person" these would indicate that the person didn't really understand the work of Christ, and at the very least needed some instruction on those aspects of the faith.

But what of the person who cannot communicate via words, spoken or written (see Jamie video below for written expression). What if they lack the cognitive ability to understand the work of Christ even to the point of saying that "I have done bad things and Jesus has forgiven me." How does one with that level of disability express faith?

Well, we don't allow anything to count as faith, but I think we should look for indications of faith amongst those people. First of all, God can be trusted in this whole discussion. He will love the people I am trying to love more than I can even imagine, so he is out for their best. I think I am wanting to affirm people at their level that they are expressing faith when they are expressing faith. This can get a bit wierd where we are projecting things on people. Where, for example, people make random statements, or speak incoherantly, or other random behaviors which those of us without disabilities take for expressions of something totally apart from what they might actuallty be doing. But there is a level of awareness that might be achieved by those who are helping people with disabilities in their faith, which can encourage and guide them.

I remember for example trying to teach a man with cognitive disabilities the Lord's prayer. In the beginning I would have him repeat the phrases after me. Each time the things that he said were unrecognizable to me as the statement I had just made. But then I began to realize that each of the statements was consistent and unique. So if I said, "Our Father" he would respond with an unintelligible, yet unique phrase which he would always repeat when that was the phrase he was to produce. "Who lives in heaven" same thing thing, unique and consistent phrase. I came to the conclusion that he was repeating the Lord's prayer, however, he was repeating it in a way that I could not understand due to his speech impediment, but I am sure was understandable to God. I have know others, however, who produced random statements in response to learing a Bible verse who I am sure had no idea about what they were saying.

Another aspect of this is the ability to respond to the degree you are able, or to the degree you have been given the opportunity to respond. So I know people who have grown to love coming to church. Sure there are social components to church attendance (which is obviously NOT the reason for many attending church who are not disabled), however, the desire to come to church, to be with other Christians, even to be in "God's house" are all evidences on some level of a faith committment. I have mentioned at other times in this blog Fowler's book on the Stages of Faith. There are stages I will probably never attain myself, however, there is a stage at which I am currently functioning, and hopefully I will grow in my faith. That is the same for persons with cognitive disabilities. We help them at the stage where they currently function and attempt to assist them to grow in faith. A critical aspect of this is I need to look for expressions of faith, not so I can judge, but so that I can reinforce and facilitate the spiritual development of those with disabilities.



Anonymous said...

I just watched your videos with Brad and Mark. It is wonderful to see them succeeding on their own. Thank you for trying to help us to better understand and accept individuals with disabilities.
God bless.
Anita Cooper

Jeff McNair said...

Thanks Anita for your comment! So fun to hear from you and to have you comment here.
God Bless you as well,

Anonymous said...

I have friends with cognitive disabilties,some of them your friends as well, who pray in the most amazing ways. The prayers may seem disjointed, unorganized and, well, random. In fact, they are direct and to the point,full of emotion, but easy to understand. I know from personal experience that the Lord hears and responds to those prayers.

What a glorious place heaven is going to be when the Jamies and Marks of this world are able to understand each other with perfection. I wonder whether their current impairments will be "healed" or if our differences will no longer be significant--perhaps a little of each.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this blog because you brought up some interesting points about faith and spiritual development. I believe that everyone, disability or not, has a different way of expressing their beliefs about faith. The important thing should always be that they do have faith.

You brought up a good point about not being able to understand someone due to a speech impediment, but that God most likely understood. I believe that this is so true and more people need to realize that it's not our words that express our faith, but the love that we have for God in our hearts. Whether one is disabled or not is not important becuase as long as the love for God is present, then the faith will shine through.

I attend a small Methodist church in Riverside and we have a few members with physical and cognitive disabilities. These amazing people have the desire to go to church and share their love for God just as I do every Sunday morning. It makes no difference to me that they may not be able to repeat the Lord's prayer or sing the hymnals along with everyone else. I truely believe that God sends his messages to us all in different ways so we can understand His message and continue to grow in faith.