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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Texas plans to cut chaplains

Apparently, the State of Texas is cutting funding for chaplains. I received the following (from an email) and posted it here for you to take action should you desire.

Dear Ministry Friends:
Here is the ugly reality facing Texas:

1)The primary budget cutters do not value what Chaplains do. They have cut the entire department. These trained professionals manage the religious programs at each Texas Prison.

2)If they are cut, the program will have to be managed by a correctional officer or a secretary. (They will be pulled from their other duties -- little savings, huh!)

3)Chaplains also provide "Pastoral Care" for everyone in the institution. It is difficult to find a community of 500 people in America which does not have pastoral care. Such care will be very hit and miss without the Chaplaincy Department if it occurs at all.

4)All a Chaplain has to do to recoop his entire yearly salary is influence one prisoner a year to give up his/her criminal activity. The state will pay more on the person's next incarceration than is paid to the chaplain in a year.

5)The very effective Religious Programming which we now have in Texas prisons, does not happen automatically. Religious Volunteers must be recruited and managed. That is the task of our chaplains. Without them, the programming will become very uneven, if it is able to exist at all.

My friend Chaplain Xxxxxxx Yyyyyy reminds us of the importance of this grave matter and how time sensitive it is:

HB 1 has Chaplaincy listed as "zero funded" ... which means if it is not "funded" in House Bill 1 (the Appropriation Bill), and not "funded in Senate Bill 1( the Finance Bill), in a couple of months both the house and senate will appoint from the Senate Finance Committee and from the House Appropriations Committee about 3-4 from each body. They will form the Conference Committee which works out the differences between HB 1 and SB 1. It could be TOO LATE if chaplaincy is not "funded" before the conference committee. The Key is encouraging people (constituents) to get with their Rep and Senator and express how important it is to you and how it is good for Texas to continue the Chaplaincy Department with at least one chaplain at each prison. Say to them: "Don't Let Chaplaincy fail to get Funded on your watch" - "If we lose it here, we may NEVER get it back."

Action Plan:Contact by personal visit, telephone call, letter, fax or email your State Rep and State Senator.
1) The address of your State Representative is: The Honorable (Name), Texas House, P O Box 2910, Austin TX 78768-2910

2) The address of your State Senator is: The Honorable (Name), Texas Senate, P O Box 12068, Austin TX 78711

Also please contact your Statewide Officials:
1) The Honorable Rick Perry, Governor's Office, P O Box 12428, Austin TX 78711 (no email, must contact through his website)

2) The Honorable David Dewhurst, Lt. Governor's Office, P O Box 12068, Austin TX 78711, phone, (512)463-0001, fax (512)936-6700, david.dewhurst@senate.state.tx.us

3) The Honorable Joe Straus, Speaker of the House, P O Box 2910, Austin TX 78768, phone (512)463-1000, fax(512)463-1064 joe.straus@house.state.tx.us

Other people will be contacting the state officials about this issue. In this case "More is Better." We want to stack up communications on the Austin Desks about this issue. If you personally take time to contact these 5 people, you are standing up for our cause!

Do not forget to Pray for guidance as you make contact with those who represent you in State Government!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Does disability = suffering?

When a child is born to you, you have many expectations of what they will do of who they will be. Things you always wished you could do. Things that you never had the opportunity or aptitude to do. But children may "disappoint" because they were not the person you expected them to be. Perhaps you are a musician and your child gravitates towards athletics. Perhaps you are athletic and your child gravitates toward art. You are a person who enjoys being outdoors and your child likes nothing more than to sit and read. Some expectations die because they are exceeded in different ways. Some expectations die because they are unfilfilled, perhaps because the child hasn't the requisite abilities. The disconnect between expectations and reality causes a kind of "suffering" for those with the expectations although the child may be oblivious to the disconnect and "suffering" because unless it is communicated to them that they are not meeting our expectations, they grow, happy with their lives, their interests, etc.
Now to want an athlete and have an artist may bum you out a bit, but to desire a typical child and have a child with Down syndrome, for example, has thrown people's lives into total disarray.

Parents may feel great fear when a child is born with an intellectual disability. I know of mothers who have abandoned their children on this basis. I also know the abandoned individuals with disabilities as adults, many of whom may have an apartment in the community, hold a job and other than wishing they had more money (a common malaise) are quite happy with their lives. Those same mothers who could not face having a child with an intellectual disability, actually lived an identical life to the child they abandoned.

This leads us to the point of the way the child with Down syndrome, for example, is perceived. Yes they will make increased demands on their family in terms of supervision, in terms of not being able to have a decent job and so forth. However, in their own minds, they will see themselves as doing fine. With children with disabilities for a while at least, they may be oblivious to their difference because they know of nothing other than their life experience. As they grow and notice the differences in those around them, this may cause an internal dissonance or actual suffering created by the environment or how they perceive themselves in reference to the enviornment. Sure, many will desire such things as getting married, having their own home, etc. and depending upon their ability levels as well as the ability levels and creativity of those in their enviornment, this may or may not be a possiblity. The issue is the problem of equating disability with suffering particularly at points where they are not necessarily related.

Metaphorically,it reminds me of issues related to racism. For many groups of people at different times in different places, racism causes or caused them to experience discrimination and that causes suffering. It is important to state that there is not suffering in simply being a member of a racial group in and of itself (which can be a significant difference in making the comparison to disability in some of its forms). Suffering comes from being a certain ethnicity in the midst of a society that is discriminatory against that ethnicity. If I were to equate suffering with race X, you might correct me saying that that may be the experience of people of race X but it needn't be their experience. To always discuss race X under the heading of suffering would imply to the outsider that there is indeed something of a connection between race X and suffering that is unavoidable. Suffering is not the societally imposed consequence of being race X, it is simply an observed characteristic of being race X, because look at all the people in history who were race X who experienced suffering (albeit imposed by society). That does not diminish the reality of the suffering experienced by race X. It was and is real. However, if I take the next step and purposefully link race X with suffering, to some degree I may be complicit in that suffering. In the case of persons with disability, say Down syndrome again (who are arguably not physically suffering from their disability), people will then try to eliminate suffering they assume people with Down syndrome are experiencing using what they would call "humanitarian" means through such practices as abortion.

I do not want to deny that when people are suffering, they are indeed suffering. There are specific conditions that persons with disabilities might have that would cause physical suffering in a variety of different ways and I do not want to trivialize that suffering. There is also the kind of suffering that parents of children with disabilities might face which is also very real. Parenting children with autism, for example, can be incredibly difficult.

However, I do not want to project suffering onto people when they are either, 1) not suffering in their own minds, their own experience, or 2) are suffering because of something that I am doing that I can stop doing.

As stated, people may suffer when they have a disability for a variety of reasons. I may suffer due to my actual disability, perhaps it causes pain to me. I may suffer because of the disability of my child who has a disability as might my family suffer with this child. People may suffer due to the social consequences of disability to themselves or to their friends and family.

We must be careful, however, not to equate disability and suffering, particularly in situations when it is the social consequences of disabilty that lead to suffering. To equate suffering and social consequences indicates a giving over to societal effects of disability. Now I can understand that social consequences are the reality, however, at the same time if I refuse to equate suffering and disability on this level, perhaps I take the first step in changing what is considered common sensical and conventional wisdom. "Of course people with disabilities suffer from their disability" we say. But that is not necessarily true. Many people with intellectual disabilities, for example, are unaware they even have a disability let alone being distressed about it. I know of others who have physical disabilities who have come to understand themselves with their differences and are not suffering physical pain from their physical disability. They themselves have told me that they are doing fine and just wish "People would treat me like I am normal." We must be careful, therefore in equating suffering and disability and only talking about diability in the context of suffering.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Differences called disabilities

I just had a fun lunch with a colleague of mine. We discussed a variety of theological issues related to disability. One of the points that I was making was the intersection of the sovereignity of God in relation to disability. The question is whether God causes disability or whether it is just the natural order of things as a result of the Fall. We came away with different perspectives on this issues and had a wonderful time discussing them.

One conclusion that I drew from our discussion, however, is that as Christians we run the risk of characterizing "disability" in the way the world does, a largely negative fashion, and then will say that God could not cause this negative thing. We call a characteristic of people negative and then say that God does not cause negative things to happen to people, therefore it is not of God.

If society were to take a person with Down's syndrome, for example, and as a society say that people with Down's syndrome are wonderful, loving people (which they are, although society does not agree when you look at the rabid efforts to prenatally diagnose and abort those with the syndrome), would we now credit God with the creation of Down's syndrome and thank him for it rather then say it is caused by natural processes and God just allows it? I think the answer is that "Yeah, we might do just that." If in my limited understanding, I can only see negatives in Down's syndrome, independent of where the negative comes from, I therefore will not be able to imagine that God would be the author of Down's syndrome. It is difficult when people suffer, whatever the cause. However, if people experience suffering related to their condition only because of the way that society treats them because of their condition, I need to rethink any fear of "blaming God" for the condition.

Now of course there are disabling conditions that are coupled with pain and suffering. God's sovereignity could be discussed in these cases as well. However, these are something different. Sin of individuals in society is typically not the cause of suffering in this case.

Yet in the case of many types of differences, called disabilities by society, the social consequences may be worse than the condition itself. I find this is particularly the case in those with intellectual disability. I have little difficulty seeing intellectual disability (as it is labeled by society) as an aspect of the creativity of God, and therefore the sovereignity of God. I can see God's sovereignity at work in the beauty, the change these individuals bring to those around them.


Thursday, January 06, 2011

More on integration

I once taught a Sunday school lesson on poverty to a group of people. In the group was a homeless man that I had known for several years who had been living on the street. Although the information that I had been sharing about poverty from the Bible was all good and truthful information as best as I could discern it, the presence of a homeless man living on the streets made me be much more circumscribed in the information that I would present. I almost felt as if I needed to be careful about the information I was sharing because there was an expert so to speak, a person living in poverty listening to me. The presence of this person changed the dynamic of the delivery of information from the person who was the instructor, changed the dynamic of those in the room in terms of their appreciating and understanding poverty and possibly impacted the individual living on the street themselves in that here was this person in a room full of people with resources that were talking about poverty and this dynamic had the potential to impact the degree to which this man continued to live or not live with limited resources. The people in the room had the potential to provide significant additional resources perhaps not to the degree that the man would no longer live in poverty but at the very least to the degree that the man's life would be much improved in terms of having consistent meals, in terms of having decent clothing, in terms of having social relationships, in terms of having the potential for transportation, the potential for involvement in families among other opportunities. So although these people living in poverty or homeless people are amongst us living potentially on the street, it's only when they find their way into our actual social spheres that they have potential to impact us and we have the potential to in some way impact them.

I believe the same is true with individuals with various disabilities. Initially our desire should be to bring them into the church setting for the same reasons indicated above relative to the homeless man. I cannot talk about the sovereignty of God in the same way potentially if I have people whose life experience would cause those around them to perhaps question the sovereignty of God in the room. That's not to say that I will change the truth of the gospel or the truth of the scriptures that I see relative to understanding the sovereignty of God, but perhaps there is a humility that comes with speaking of the sovereignty of God to a group of people who are affected by disability. I won't be so cavalier in just saying all we all need to trust God in the midst of our difficult times when I have an individual who is living life under the social consequences of disability and wonders about this sovereign God and why his life experience seems so different from my experience. This kind of connection, this kind of humility only comes with the presence of these individuals about whom we might be speaking. So, one of the benefits of inclusive churches is the way that the churches are changed by the presence of individuals devalued by society. It's difficult for a pastor to talk in the same way about people who have disabilities if the front row of the church is filled with people with disabilities. It's difficult for the pastor to talk about people who live in poverty in any kind of a glib manner if the front row the church is filled with people who are living in poverty. The presence of these people changes things in the way that material is delivered and the way that people interact with one another. Now I could take all the homeless people and put them somewhere else or take the people with disabilities and send them somewhere else in some sort of the segregated setting and think that it's identical to having them present with those who are not affected by poverty or disability but I am only fooling myself. And that is what groups will often do.

I remember in the town in which I live there was a meeting of community leaders to discuss the homeless situation. It seemed that there was an influx of homeless people coming to the community and the community leaders were concerned about what to do about that. One suggestion was to build a homeless center. This would be a place where you come to live for short periods of time where there would be food provided there would be places for showering etc. It would be a way of reaching out to the homeless people to assist them with their needs. But interestingly the answer to building this homeless shelter was that it should be built in the next town over such that the answer to serving the homeless people in my town was to build a homeless shelter in another town. Now no one was being fooled in terms of understanding why the homeless shelter should be built in a different town. Was there compassion and in building a homeless shelter? Of course there was. However, there was something else going on in terms of saying we want to serve the homeless people in a different town not in our own town and everyone in the room knew exactly what that was about. The same type of problem occurs when we take individuals with intellectual disabilities, for example, and say we want to serve them in a totally separate segregated setting. Is there compassion in serving individuals with intellectual disabilities? Of course there is. But at the same time in the same way as the desire to serve homeless people in a different city there is something additionally that is communicated when we say that we want to serve intellectually disabled people at a different time or a different setting apart from the larger church group and people may say that this is irrelevant but I think they're fooling themselves. If you were to come to my church and I were to say to you people with your characteristic, whatever that might be (particularly if it was a characteristic thought of negatively by society), go to a program in a different setting in a different time you would rightly be unhappy. Now if that characteristic was that everybody at that time spoke Spanish or everybody at that time were just women or were just men in terms of having additional special program offerings, that may be acceptable. However, if the only opportunity for participating was at a separate place and time you might wonder, “Why I can’t be with everybody else?” “How come I have to just with other people who have this perceived characteristic?”

In the same way that the presence of people living in poverty has the potential of having their need met through the resources of those in the larger group, the presence of people with various disabilities also provides the potential of their needs being met through the resources of the larger group. Now people will say I didn’t know of their need or I didn't know of their presence in the community and on some level I would agree as people can live their lives and have limited contact with people with particularly more severe types of disabilities. However, at the same time one must know of the presence of these people in the community and if they don't, the only way that they will know is if the environments that they are in are less segregated. So, segregated religious settings for people with disabilities in no way contribute to people moving out from an ignorance of the needs of individuals in the community. It's only by having people together in a setting that I began to become aware of the needs or even the basic presence of people with these characteristics in the community. Those who would segregate individuals with disabilities do little more than remove the potential of changing the lives of all of both those with disabilities who hold various resources and the lives of those without disabilities who hold various resources from coming together to the benefit of both.

A further problem with segregation of individuals with disabilities is that if the only way someone can be served is in some sort of the segregated setting or the only way that someone can participate is in some form of a segregated setting in a different time and place, that communicates to the larger community that there something wrong with these people and that they have no responsibility towards people with a particular characteristic and only furthers the negative stereotypes the society may have already laid upon these individuals. This is not something that the church wants to be a part of. If anything the church wants to be opening up the potential for relationships with people, particularly people who society has devalued. By the church segregating people, it contributes to the devaluation and negative stereotyping, actually affirming the negative societal attitudes towards people with disabilities. It actually exacerbates the negative social consequences of disability when there is no reason that it needs to do those things. It seems that those who segregate on the basis of disabilities are oblivious on some level to the lives of people with disabilities. Although people with intellectual disabilities for example may not understand the fact that they are being segregated, the higher functioning a person with intellectual disability is the greater the likelihood that they will desire things of a more typical nature. They will desire living on their own, they will desire of jobs in typical community settings, they will desire friendships with a variety of different types of people. If we as those who are not intellectually disabled understand these facts why we would we continue to play on the fact that those who are intellectually disabled do not understand these fact? Why would we continue to play on the fact that people, particularly with intellectual disabilities, don't know what they're missing when they are segregated when we were not intellectually disabled to understand what they're missing by being segregated and yet are unwilling to facilitate the integration that would potentially ameliorate some of the negative effects of self-segregation?

The scriptural principles that underlie this perspective are so obvious they almost would seem trite to lay them out. Principles like loving my neighbor or helping people who are devalued by society or reaching out to the least of these or the importance of every member of the body of Christ. All these most basic of Christian principles underlie and provide a foundation for the notion of integration of people with disabilities into the larger body of Christ. Which is why it's so surprising that there are so many who would move forward with programs of segregation in the face of these basic types of scriptural principles. But I understand the lack of understanding by many in the Christian world on these issues. A colleague of mine in talking about special education in Christian schools felt like he did not want to use the term special education because of the negative connotation it would have been Christian schools. Now this was not necessarily a philosophical orientation or a philosophical objection to the way that special education has developed in America or something along those lines. Rather, it was a gut level, negative feeling about the presence of children with disabilities in schools and that this notion was encapsulated with the term special education.

As I've said before in this blog the way to begin with integration starts with simply taking a position. The position is that people with disabilities belong in the church. But the next level of that position is that people with disabilities need to be integrated as much as is absolutely possible within the programs of the church. Once these positions are taken, once that philosophical decision is made the rest becomes logistics. How do I integrate people? How do I change the way that we do Sunday school? All those are good questions with myriad answers. People will come to me and say, “Jeff how they do I do integration?” My response is always “Has your church decided that they want the people there?” If the answer is yes then it's just a matter of coming up with ideas for how we can do integration, how we can be more inclusive. Simply coming up with ideas and trying them out. Those are all logistical issues. However, if the church has not made the decision that it wants the people there and not only wants them there but wants them included, then we can make suggestions all day long and they won't make any difference because the logistics will become too hard as the basic decision to want the people there has not been made. Once that decision has been made, that doesn't mean that the logistics become simple. However, it does mean that people are more willing to interact with logistics and different ways of meeting a need than they would be if the decision had not been.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The divide of theological certainty

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21 (NIV)

The Christian world is divided in myriad ways, however, as I look at those endeavoring to develop ministry to persons with disabilities there are arguably 2 groups. There are what might be called the evangelical Christians and those who are the nonevangelical Christians. It is interesting to me how convinced members of each of these groups are that they are right to the exclusion of other Christian groups. I am sure that I am naive, however, if that is what the study of theology brings you to, unrestrained criticism of those with whom you do not agree, then I am pretty sure I want to continue to NOT know the things that those people know. (I would also say that theologians have been a huge disappointment over the years because they will argue over various positions, but they as a group cannot get the most basic of all things, love, right as it applies to loving those with disabilities. I stick to the position that we as a church have largely gotten things wrong from Sunday school to seminary. But I digress). When a Lutheran friend tells me that he is a believer in Jesus Christ, I am good with that. I need not find points of disagreement and discuss them. There is a haughtiness in theological certainty. Every denomination does this. Living near Loma Linda an adventist community, I noted a man driving with a bumper sticker that said "Saturday is the Sabbath, get it right." So lets find the one thing that I might not agree completely on with an adventist Christian, and make that the point of our discussion...I digress again. If I as a special ed professor am haughty and puffed up about what I know about special education, that is one thing. It is wrong for me to be filled with pride about the knowledge I have. However, it is something completely different to be puffed up with knowledge about the things of the Lord.

My point is that I have become aware that there are those in the Evangelical world who are doing wonderful things in disability ministry, and there are those in what might be called the nonevangelical world who are doing wonderful things in disability ministry but the groups are completely disconnected because of theological differences. They are even unaware of each other and this seems silly to me.

A friend of mine, well known in disability ministry circles once said to me, "Lets get the people with disabilities included in churches. Then we can figure out who is right." I couldn't agree more. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that Dr. Jean Vanier once told me that the church has been working on the rectitude of doctrine when it should have been working on the rectitude of love. These two sentiments really nail the issue for me. If we truly worked on loving others, we could perhaps get past our theological differences. However, we prefer to argue theological differences and forget about love.

Now don't mistake my position as anti-intellectual. I am a professor for goodness sake. But I am confident that the Lord Jesus would want us to be collaborative in our efforts to love our fellow man, collectively, as the church. Must I ignore the ideas of Henri Nouwen because he was a Catholic Christian and not a Baptist? Must I ignore the wisdom of Joni Eareckson-Tada because she is an evangelical and not a Lutheran?

I once had a pastor of a church I attended, a Church of Christ, who told me that if people were really serious about their faith and studied the scriptures that they would go to the Church of Christ. This has always struck me as the height of pride. It has always stuck with me that many with significant theological education think,
"If people were only serious about their study of God's word, then obviously they would agree with me because I know have studied harder than they, have gained greater insights than they, have a stranglehold on the truth when they do not."
Personally, I try hard to walk humbly (Micah 6:8) in issues of theology, because of all the brilliant people, Christian people, I have met in my life who were serious about their faith, really studied the scriptures and came away with different perspectives from one another.

Perhaps the love that must be learned to include people with poor social skills, or love those who make demands on me for my time could be the rallying point that would allow me to get past theological certainty. Perhaps I will release my stranglehold on my perception of the truth long enough to listen to someone else's perspective. Maybe I will learn something if, for example, after growing up in a Baptist home, going to a Baptist school, college and seminary, I listen to the words of a Nazarene Christian who loves the Lord.