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

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The confrontation of disability

People with disabilities in the church will not allow us to be something other than something much more of what we should be. Not by specific efforts on their part, but more by their simply being. By them simply being themselves. If we want to be what God calls the church to be we can have them everywhere, or nearly everywhere, or we can be something that is not the church. We will be a church, but we will not be the church, at least not as the church God meant us to be. It will change us...we cannot be what we currently are, we cannot remain as we currently are. We will have to change.

How do we come to understand what it means that we have not yet changed? What do we do with the knowledge that inspite of knowledge about disability, we refuse to change? We can take an exhortation to heart and become something different, or we can kill the exhorter; even though he speaks to us in a righteous anger that strikes us at the heart of our traditions, at the heart of the way we have always done things, or at the heart of the way we have come to do things.

Jesus faced this question when he entered the temple at Jerusalem and saw all the money changers and sacrificial animals being sold. At face value, he might have said, "These church leaders are simply trying to make things easier for those who are here to worship." But he saw what was actually happening. He saw the sin that is so much a part of who we are that we are not able to see what we should be. We embrace our sinfulness to the point that righteousness is rejected because it not even recognized as it stands before us. What else could the reason be for the rejection of persons with disabilities? Particularly in the light of information about the treatment of people with disabilities by society.

In a whole variety of ways, people with disabilities confront people around them by their very existence. They cause changes in their environment, but only if the environment chooses to accept them. If they are rejected, no change is necessary.
A child with a disability is born and is sent to an institution.
A mother is pregnant with a child with down's syndrome and has an abortion.
A child is born with a disability and the father runs away from his family.

The church and its agents have to change...
A man with mental illness comes to a church and is rejected.
A girl with down's syndrome comes to a junior high youth group and is rejected.
A woman has a mild disability and is rejected by the Bible study.
Mothers of children with disabilities come to a nationally known Bible study group and are rejected. The leader is confronted but the rejection continues. Rejection not only continues... rejection is embraced by the leadership.

The confrontation of disability should cause change, and the change would move us in a direction which would lauded by God himself. Jesus would turn over the money changing tables and drive out the sheep. We gather the sheep up, set up the money tables again and kill Jesus.



Unknown said...

I have noticed the fear of change and wonder if its more of a cultural thing than religious. The spiritual implications of rejecting those with disabilties does truly fly in the face of Biblical examples set forth by Christ and yet here in the States especially, we tend to shun those who are not understood, or who can't help but wear their disabilities on the outer exterior God has created them with. If every member in leadership at a church had their own inner disabilites caused by the sin in their lives exposed on their exterior shell, I am sure society would reject them just as quickly. It's hard without the insight of God to seek change in the culture for fear that stepping out and voicing such opinions as you have in this post will ultimately result in similar treatment as received by our disabled friends in the church.

Anonymous said...

I found your blog by doing a search on the phrase "Don't hate the player." Your post from May 11 of 2007 was in the results. I read that post and then decided to check out what you had written recently. What I found was your October 7, 2007 post—the one to which I’m attaching this comment. I’ll start with comments about the May post and finish with the connection you made in your October post.

If I read your May post correctly, you are saying that we need to take a look at the games we play (consciously as well as unconsciously) and make a thoughtful decision about whether those games should be played at all. I completely agree. Just because the game exists (and it matters not to me whether it has been played for centuries or weeks) doesn't necessarily mean that we should blindly opt in as players. The existence of the game alone is not sufficient reason to excuse anyone from choosing to play. But, frankly, that's exactly how the phrase, "Don't hate the player, hate the game," is often used. It's an excuse for choosing to play a game we know shouldn't be played. The phrase is often used in an attempt to say, "I didn't make these rules. I didn't decide this is how it works. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE. It's just how it is."

The fact of the matter is that when players refuse to enter the field, when no one sits at that table, there is no game. But we all have wants and needs and desires. When we see someone else on the field or at that table who holds the things we too want, we make our choice about how to get our share. All too often, "the game" appears as the quickest, slickest path of least resistance toward our goal. So the game is chosen. Chosen not because it’s the only way, but because it’s the easy way. Because reaching our goal some other way would take greater effort than we want to give, or demand honesty we don’t want to confront, or require a deeper faith than we’re willing to offer. So we play the game, and then say, “Don’t hate me, hate the game. I’m exempt from needing to be a better person, the game tells me so. Everyone plays this game and they always have and that makes it okay.” It’s a built-in, always at the ready, pre-planned defense for being a less honorable person.

Leaving the May post behind, let’s consider the October post. The similarity of points to ponder is amazing. The game and those who play it are brought into focus again. And for the second time, you kindly offer the lesson in a way which doesn’t too harshly offend the palette. It gives the reader an “out.” In May, you mention Social Role Valorization and collective unconsciousness. In October, you say this…”He saw the sin that is so much a part of who we are that we are not able to see what we should be. We embrace our sinfulness to the point that righteousness is rejected because it not even recognized as it stands before us.” In both instances, the reader is brought to the problem of confronting how they play the game. And in both instances, the reader is given some comfort by suggesting they may not be, indeed are not, aware they are even playing the game.

I certainly can not say there are no instances where people act without critical forethought. Where people conduct themselves in good faith during a damaging game they don’t even know they’re playing—and it’s in good faith because that’s what they saw played yesterday and have every reason to expect they will see it played that way tomorrow. In good faith, because they assume someone else has thought about the rules of this game and decided that’s how it should be played. In good faith, because they didn’t mean any harm. They just sat down at the table like everyone else and did what everyone else was doing and no one was suggesting something was wrong so there must be nothing to worry about.

But I contend that all too often the player plays the game even when they know it’s not the most honorable course of action because the game offers the least intellectual or emotional or social resistance. They willingly perpetuate the game and absolve themselves of accountability by saying, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” It allows a most comforting sense of false security because it doesn’t challenge the status quo, it doesn’t demand an effort to do better, and it most certainly doesn’t imply any questions about whether their good neighbor acted with enlightenment, or compassion or honor.

Just because it’s always been done that way, just because everyone does it, just because we’re popularly told to not hate the player but the game doesn’t make it acceptable. It’s not an excuse for playing a game we know shouldn’t be played. It’s time to take personal responsibility for the weakness of that position. It’s time to reflect, and question, and dialogue. It’s time to take that long, hard look at “the game” and really consider whether playing that game elevates our humanity. It’s time to admit to and meet head on our collective consciousness. It’s time for us to reject not only the game but the player as well. Neither exists without the other, and it’s time to break the cycle. I believe we have the knowledge and we have the power. The question is whether we have the will.

Anonymous said...

Although I have worked with children with disabilities for some time, I have never understood the exclusion they experience in daily life, and in the church, mainly because I never thought about it. I think that there are many people out there who are much the same as I: they have never thought about people with disabilities in church . . . probably because they don't see them there, or anywhere in their daily lives for the matter. This is unfortunate because this is the case due to exclusion in the social world and in church. I do believe this should be changed, and that it is sinful that they are not included in the church due to decisions made by the people who run them.
It seems like a completely daunting task to bring about awareness concerning the lack of people with disabilities in the church . . . but then isn't it the same when we are talking about people who are poor, on drugs, homeless, living in sin, etc.?
I always think of Casting Crown's song regarding the church as a body, asking "why aren't its arms reaching?" when I think about the exclusion many people face in the church. However, I will be the first to say I am not the model Christian in this area of my spiritual life; and of that, I am ashamed. But, as many people say, it all starts with one person.

Anonymous said...

Dear Professor McNair,

" When the STUDENT is ready, the TEACHER appears"...

I am most grateful for encountering this site and reading your postings, for it opened up a world of new beginnings and new possibilities for me. These writings forced me to confront my own biases toward mentally disabled people, and even though I have never thought consciously that I could have been so limited in my own thinking and so callous, as to completely exclude this particular group of people from my circle of influence and social interaction, I have to honestly admit that I DID, and I'm guilty of it. Please, don't ask me how that happened... At this point it doesn't really matter if I did it mindlessly, without even thinking much about it, or taking time to ponder this issue, or if this was a fully rational decision and a choice of convenience on my part, or if I maybe made that resolution on a somewhat subconscious level and then implemented it in my everyday life. The fact remains, that until now I did not have even one person with mental disability whom I have embraced and befriended on a long term basis, with whom I spend quality time together, or whom I invited into my life and treated as an equal human being, with plenty of love and compassion, offering to share the best of myself. I feel deeply ashamed that I have been so selfish for so long, and that I could probably find thousands of excuses to justify my attitude and my own lack of constructive action when it comes to people who are affected by any kind of disability. But Thank God, the earth moved, and the walls of self erected prison built on false belief and unsubstantiated fears that have kept me separated from others - who may need me, and whose life I can touch in meaningful ways, and who in return can teach me how to love them unconditionally and brighten my days with joy, - finally collapsed. I recently had this life - changing light bulb moment, when THE WORD OF GOD spoke to my heart, and in consequence, it completely changed my awareness. Now I have a clear understanding of what is required from me as a Christian in relating to persons with disabilities or their families, and what I need to do to change the status quo all around me: in my place of work, in my place of worship, in my community - in the way I function where I live, and in my home. There is so much that can be done on a personal level, and in the local Church to change priorities, especially toward those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Evidently, I was not ready to see it before, but I'm ready now. I would like to say THANK YOU FOR INSPIRING ME, for helping me to open my eyes a little bit wider, so I could come to this realization.