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

Friday, May 23, 2008

The 99 and the 1

I now have posted two blog entries where a person with disability and his/her parent were asked to leave a church service (and in the one case be arrested if they came back).
See June 21, 2007 and May 19, 2008.

I was sharing the story of the young man with autism and the restraining order with a colleague and friend, Dr. Danny Blair, and he responded that it is the 99 and 1 story. You remember it, from Matthew 18:12-14. In case you don't it says...

10"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

12"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders
away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one
that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier
about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In
the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones
should be lost.

So the example is to leave the "ninety and nine" to go after the one. Well what if the lost one, is really lost, like lost in autism, a disability that largely is a language disability (have you ever been in a setting where you can't speak a language that everyone else is speaking and even have difficulty communicating because you don't understand even the gestures people are using around you...if you have, you will know what it is to feel lost), lost in exclusion and lost in social isolation and perhaps lost spiritually as well. So you come to a church whose God has given the example of leaving the 99 for the lost one, and if you are able to understand the meaning of Matthew 18, you might expect that you would be welcomed.

But instead, perhaps you are asked to leave, or even arrested "for God's sake" (I choose my words carefully) if you attempt to not be lost. You have to wonder if that group has ever read the Bible they claim to represent.

As I have said elsewhere in this blog, I would love to have a person with disabilities evidencing some form of inappropriate social skill, like talking out, or standing up and sitting down, or making a noise, and hearing the pastor to say, "In the spirit of Matthew 18, lets see if we can tolerate, can live with this distraction and in a spirit of love continue on with our service."

As a person who played a lot of basketball, I have always been surprised at people who golf. When I was at the free throw line, I heard every comment possible screamed at me and people deliberately trying to distract me so I would make a mistake and miss the shot. But then there is golf where if you make a sound, even the people around you will shush you. Imagine people deliberately trying to distract a golfer? Both athletes are doing something that requires concentration, however, one has to do it with the roar of a hostile crowd. My point is not that we should heckle our pastor or any other teacher as she/he teaches. My point is that we have the ability to perform under a variety of conditions, and absolute silence is simply a preference it is not a necessity as a condition. I mean for goodness sake, visit an African-American church. We once had a black pastor speak at our church, and he made the comment something to the effect, "Speak up every so often so I know that you are listening" because everyone sat in silence like you are supposed to in most predominantly white churches. Great comment!

The presence of noise at a church service is a cultural thing, and cultural things can be changed, and at times should be changed in particular if they result in people being excluded. I can change the culture of my church, it is not a God ordained program for people to sit in silence, largely motionless for 40 minutes. We can change if we want to. So if people with autism or any other disability cannot fit our structures, our structures can change. And in a Matthew 18 kind of way, we can leave the ninety and nine behind and go for the one who is "lost," however he may be lost, be it socially, communicatively or spiritually.

What could possibly have been the point of Jesus telling the story of the ninety and nine and the one, if not to impress upon us the importance of the lost one? "...your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost."

Are you? And if you are, what are you willing to do to see they, and their families will not be lost?

Monday, May 19, 2008

The ultimate in legal rejection

Sometimes I post things on this blog and people don't believe me. "It can't be as bad as you suggest" they sometimes say. It is always my prayer that I am wrong, that there is much more going on than meets the eye. But, for example, if there are 100 churches in the area of the country where I live (the Inland Empire of Southern California) who are working to reach out and include people with disabilities, then that means that only 10-12% of churches in my region of the country are reaching out to people with disabilities.

At times, we are also doing just the opposite, and at times the ridiculous nature of what we are doing is hit by the light of day. Why would the story about a child with autism's relationship with a local church be noteworthy? Was it because the church had dramatically changed the way they do things such that such individuals could be involved? Could it be that special programs were developed so that children with autism could be involved at the church? Those stories could be written, but all it takes is one of the following stories to short circuit the wonderful work of other churches.

The following is in reference to an article is by Terry Gruca, a reporter at wcco.com. In it she describes how a church took out a restraining order to prevent a 13 year old boy, who is a big guy from the description given from attending the church because he becomes violent or has loud outbursts. If such a child attends church, at least the church in the article, he is to be arrested.

As comedians sometimes say, "I couldn't make this stuff up." But this is not funny. This is tragic. It says that for some people there is NO place within the Body of Jesus Christ. If fact if you attempt to be a part of the Body of Christ, we will arrest you.

Talk about resistance to change.

This church is representing to the community that my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, would arrest disabled people for attempting to go to church. I wonder about the violence and loud outbursts. I mean loud outbursts are 50% of the reason why this young man would be arrested for attending church.

All I can say is God bless and God protect the mother of this man for her desire to take him to church, and her faith in God, in being unwilling to reject God in the way that what would be self-describing followers of God have rejected her.

"Sure you are critical of this situation, but what would you do, Jeff?"

Lets assume for a moment that the young man is violent and it remains to be seen what violence means in reference to a person with autism. But even so, does violence justify a person being excluded from the Body of Christ? My answer is NO. Don't expect me to have the young man working with the babies or children, however, I will create a place for potentially violent people so that they can be a part of the Body of Christ. I will not file restraining orders against them.

This is so very sad. May God forgive his church for such acts.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Joni speaks at Cal Baptist graduation/Disability studies MA

California Baptist University was honored this past week by having Joni Eareckson-Tada as the speaker for the graduate commencement. Of course she was wonderful. She has the ability to speak in a deceptively friendly, almost folksy kind of way. However, her insights are deep, her biblical knowledge broad and she challenges her audience to live the Christian life as it was meant to be lived.

She was given an honorary doctorate degree by Cal Baptist (her 5th I believe) and she was gracious and grateful. Afterwards I had the chance to speak with her a bit and she was excited and honored.

One of the reasons she consented to be at Cal Baptist, I believe, has been the developing relationship between Joni and Friends and Cal Baptist in the development of an entirely online MA degree in Disability Studies. Joni was particularly interested in coursework related to disability ministry and pastoral counseling as it related to persons with disabilities. Of course her writing will be a staple in those and other classes and we were delighted to receive her input in the design of those classes. She actually began her remarks by telling those in attendance about the new degree which if not the first of its kind, is one of the few of its kind. We were honored to receive her endorsement. We are still awaiting WASC approval, but are hopeful we will receive it in the next month or so.

The MA degree in Disability Studies at California Baptist University will be offered entirely online. Students will be able to specialize in areas of leadership in disability (including understanding leadership development of leaders experiencing disability), disability policy study, and disability ministry, including studying Christian perspectives on disability.

As a part of the relationship with Joni and Friends, we hope to afford students opportunities for internships and other opportunities. Because Joni and Friends is an international organization, opportunities will be available internationally. Because the MA is online, students will be able complete the degree from just about anywhere in the world where they have decent internet access.

I am personally excited about the opportunities this degree offers for people around the world. Should you desire more information, please contact me, Jeff McNair at jmcnair@calbaptist.edu
With accreditation, we will launch our first cohort with the Fall semester of 2008. That will be a historic first cohort!

Please keep us in your prayers over the next days and weeks as we move through accreditation and program planning.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

A spritual disconnect

Rec'd this link from a student of mine, Geoff. http://www.ragamuffinsoul.com/?p=4757
The link depicts a man holding up his adult son with cerebral palsy while they are worshipping together. Check it out...you will have to scroll down the page a bit.

After the picture and the brief story, there are many comments. Listen to a few of them...
  • what an awesome example of what it really is all about.
  • beautiful… Jesus hands and feet
  • THIS this is worship.
  • I’m humbled.
  • Your post really touched my heart. May we all take lessons from Matt and Jefferson
  • True worship sacrifice! Amazing! Thanks for hitting us over the head again.
  • Wow. That is beautiful.
  • speechless…
  • Amazing… Grace… Compassion… Authenticity…
  • Unreal man. Completely amazing.
  • absolutely beautiful.
  • i think the entire Church can learn true authenticity from this picture.
  • … tears i my eyes …
  • This is the best thing i’ve ever seen. this is the best thing I’ve ever seen. this is the best…
  • Sometimes God sends people like that along for us to wake us up
  • Wow! That is precious! THAT is what it’s all about! Sacrifice - Worship - Praise - Hope! Yes. And so the question is almost.Was he real?Was he an angel?
There is a disconnect here for me as I see the picture and read the comments. Yes it is wonderful that a father would love his son and assist him to participate in worship. But there are thousands of people who have no "father" to assist them in worship. The comments almost feel like posing sometimes because if people really felt it was so wonderful, why wouldn't they do it as well? The comments should read, "I think the entire Church can learn true authenticity from this picture and I am going to find a disabled person that I can help too." or "This is the best thing I have ever seen and I am going to be a part of it by helping a disabled person." or "THIS this is worship and I want to be a part of facilitating worship for someone else." Is it only if you have a son with a disability that you facilitate a worship experience for someone? Would you ever facilitate worship for someone with a disability if you didn't have that person as a son or daughter?

If we are "Real" we will not just recognize the beauty of the situation, we will be a part of the beauty. If I tell you that your service to the poor is beautiful but never help with my giving or my time, I am a poser. If I am "Real" I will do something.

Another side of me that is disconnected is that a man assists his son who is disabled at at church and this is amazing. Why is it amazing rather than commonplace? It would be commonplace if it is happening all the time. Is it amazing that a father is helping his son? No, fathers help their sons all the time. I am confident that the father himself would say it is no big deal and in many ways, he is right.

Well, then...
Is it amazing because it is too infrequently observed at a church?
It is infrequent that disabled people are worshipping at church in community numbers.
Is it amazing because a disabled man's worship is being facilitated by someone else?
It is infrequent that someone assists another in worship.
Is it amazing because one man is having his worship "interrupted" in order to facilitate the worship of another?
It is infrequent that a disabled person's worship is a priority for someone else such that
worship becomes something other than an uninterruptable individual experience.
Is it amazing because worship becomes transformed into something that it typically cannot be because we have been taught that worship is something that I do by myself and if someone for whatever reason imposes himself on me (through noise, or activity, or functional disability, or whatever) he should be removed so that I can worship?
It is amazing because it is worship in a different form. It is two men who are achieving an
apparently nontraditional form of worship which entails one loving, being patient with, and
facilitating the worship of another. However, in that service, the one being served also
transforms the worship of the servant.

Probably to most people at church, the presence of a person with disability "imposing" themselves upon them, "interrupting" their worship is a cause for complaint. "How am I supposed to worship when so and so makes me have to hold him up so he can sing and dance along with everyone else?" "How am I supposed to worship in song when so and so sings and mostly is just making a loud, off tune noise?" "How am I supposed to worship during the sermon when so and so will not sit quietly and listen?" "How am I supposed to worship when so and so bothers me continuously with their inappropriate social skills?" I mean people complain if the music is not the right genre for goodness sake. You see these things are linked. It is supposedly so beautiful to see a father be imposed upon by his son and DELIGHT in that and us it as a means of service to his son. It is supposedly so beautiful that a son would not be ashamed of his need for assistance but would DELIGHT in the assistance he needs in order to participate in worship.

Lets not be posers, Christian. If service is beautiful when I see it in someone else, it is also beautiful for me. If "interrupted" worship is beautiful for someone else, because it displays love in a kinda way it is supposed to be, then I should be more open to interruption. Worship needs to adapt to the impositions of imperfect people who are socially more imperfect than I due to their disabilities. My level of imperfection is acceptable, theirs causes me to reject them.

Lets be truly "Real," Christian, and do the thing we celebrate without excuses. Lets make the beautiful, the amazing acts of love commonplace such that when we see them, we still appreciate them but we are not amazed by them because they are not the rarities that they presently are. If it is beautiful to be loving and patient with people, lets make that the mundane within the Church.