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

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Mark and David: Unconditional friends - video

I was blessed to be a part of a Joni and Friends television episode on friendship. Below is the description they provide on their website.

Mark and David - Unconditional Friends
This is an inside look at the lives of two adult men with intellectual disabilities, one single and one married. It includes insightful interview comments from Dr. Jeff McNair, Director of Public Policy at Joni and Friends and Professor of Education & Director, MA Disability Studies at California Baptist University. The viewer will gain new insights to the challenges faced by adults with intellectual disabilities living in our communities, and the limitations placed on them from cultural misunderstanding and perception.

Here is the link to the actual program.
Link to Mark and David - Unconditional Friends

God bless and enjoy!


Monday, October 27, 2014


Imagine a boy is born into a family. But the family didn't want a boy, they wanted a girl. So they give the boy a name that disrespects the fact that he is a boy.  Maybe they call him Sally. Sally goes through his life, living with the message that he is unwanted, that he is a disappointment. He may be gifted, but the the family will never know of his gifts because they see him through eyes that communicate their understanding of who he is; a disappointment. When he becomes what is projected upon him by his family, no one is surprised. In fact it is exactly as everyone thought, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Within the family this perhaps does not seem unkind because they are so convinced of their perceptions about Sally that they cannot imagine him any differently.

When I go to the movies, I enter the theater to a blank, large, white screen. As I sit there, I am hoping something memorable will be projected upon the screen. I may see love on that screen or I may see violence. I may see beauty or I may see horror and want to turn away from the screen. In the case of the screen, it has no qualities in and of itself, other than its ability to show what is projected upon it.

People can be treated like screens. They become to us and others what we project upon them. If we project sorrow, they are sad. If we project uselessness, they are ungifted. If we project beauty, they get a second look. But people are not like screens, we are told they have basic value, in themselves, independent of what we project upon them.

I project you have no value, the reality is still, that you are indispensable.
I project you are ugly, the reality is still, that you are created in the Image of God.
I project you are dishonorable, the reality is still, that you are worthy of special honor.
I project you are sinful or evil, the reality is still, that the purpose of your life is that the works of God might be seen in and through you.
I project you are a mistake, the reality is still, that you were knit together in your mother's womb.
I project you are other, the reality is still, that you are the same as me.
I project you are a bother, the reality is still, that your mere presence reveals who I am and corrects me.

If your understanding of individuals with disabilities is that they are in reality the ways people have projected on them who they are, then the problem is YOU it is not THEM. And the problem most often is YOU and it is ME.

Would we blame the child who is raised in an abusive family for their abuse? Should we blame our misunderstandings of who persons with disabilities are on them?


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

"If this...Then that"

In a 2011 article, Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger laid out a series of interactions between two events. The article citation is provided below. In part it tries to propose connections between two "events". If we do something (if this) we might expect something to occur as a result (then that). We might also think in reverse in that if we see something occurring (then that) we might expect that something happened leading to the outcome we see (if this).

Clearly things are improving in the world of inclusion of persons with impairments within the local church. There are pockets of brilliance and still pockets of complete failure. Even where there are things happening, there is significant room for improvement or what might be called "maturity in ministry" (see this link for a good article that helps to explain maturity and provide a bit of a roadmap towards attaining maturity What Would Be Better?). What is it that has to God's glory been changing in recent times? It is not coming from the seminaries, at least not overtly. Disability is still not generally a topic for training there. Seminary training is not leading the way in teaching us to change in our love for our neighbors with impairments. They, as the "if this" are more likely to perpetuate the currently experienced "then that." Arguably it is not coming from our leadership. Yes there are organizations like Joni and Friends among others who areproviding leadership and working to facilitate the change. There is leadership in that way, from the few Christian disability organizations out there.  There are some denomintions providing leadership as well. But it is almost as if it is a grass roots movement that is causing the leadership, the basic practices and traditions to change. The change, should it come as I pray it will, will change the church in very dramatic ways. But as I have often said it will be a corrective.

As I have often thought about the universal misunderstanding and lack of desire for change across all permutations of the Christian world (Baptist, Catholics, Penecostals, etc.) it has struck me how universal the misunderstanding of persons with disabilities and the response of the church has been. How could it be that ALL permutations of the Christian church have gotten this wrong for so long? That is, there is or at least has been, something universally wrong with Christian theology, or traditions, or teachings (the "if this") that have led to the experience of persons with disabilities that we see or have seen (the "then that").

I have a long way to go on understanding this, but would be interested in any ideas people may have about why this is so. Ideas I have thought about thus far relate to the training of our leaders and the lack of understanding of those who train them. Training of whomever at almost every level evidences this problem. Once again this "poor training" of whomever is universal within the Christian church which is breathtaking. I wouldn't expect that there would be that much unanimity in this area across all the denominations. The outcomes of this training have at times caused people to desire to start new disability friendly churches from scratch in order to address what they see as the fundamental problems of the churches they have experienced. It is the old joke "How do I get to Chicago?" Response, "You can't get there from here!" This response indicates that the "if this" is so strong and pervasive, we need an entirely new starting point in order to get where we want to go because we cannot get where we want to go from our starting point; the existing way of doing things. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I understand the position nonetheless. I have related in this blog a conversation I once had with Jean Vanier where he said we have been focused on the rectitude of doctrine rather than the rectitude of love.  I resonate with this, but as Bishop Nazir Ali of the Anglican Church also once shared with me, if we had the right doctrine we would have the right love. So perhaps this fundamental "if this" problem is in part our doctrine. Yet, once again because of the universality of the problem within the Christian church, I wonder.  Could past or present exclusion of persons with impairments be the one thing that we agree upon across doctrines and denominations? Our experience might tell us that.

There is much more of my thinking that I could share here, but I won't at this point.  Once again I would welcome any input from anyone who happens to read this. I think it is something important to understand as we move forward.

God bless,

Wolfensberger, W.  (2011) An “If This, Then That” Formulation of Decisions Related to Social Role Valorization As a Better Way of Interpreting It to People. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities: December 2011, Vol. 49, No. 6, pp. 456-462.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back...

Well I heard it again today, hadn't heard it for a while.  Had a conversation with a gal living in Mississippi who told me of her experience with her child.

"Why don't you discipline that kid!" some church leaders and members said about her autistic child.
"We will have a ministry if you start it and stay with your child!" so why come to church?
"Your child is not a priority of ministry!" a church PASTOR told her.
"We are not interested in serving the people at the ARC group home that is across the street!" another church leader told her.

You know, just when you feel like we are finally making a bit of progress, you hear the same stories people have been hearing from US, the CHRISTIAN CHURCH for who knows how long.  It is disgraceful what our leadership will say and do. God forgive them and us.

Recently I have been thinking a lot about how the exclusion of persons with disabilities is a church wide problem. It is SO foundationally wrong. It illustrates an attitude that is SO far away from what we are called to be. But the thing that I have been thinking about is that if this is a church wide problem, then there is a church wide problem in the way we are being taught. There may even be a church wide problem with our theology. How could we choose to NOT love devalued people if our theology was correct? How could seminaries train leaders who would freely exclude people if they had not been taught incorrectly?

I have come to the conclusion that there is a system wide problem with our leaders, our understanding of spiritual truth and our theology. People will ask me when I say that, "What is the problem?" I don't know. I am working on trying to understand what it might be. I just know it is pervasive. Pastors will chide me saying there is nothing wrong with our theology and I respond, "Then why don't we care about people who are largely suffering because of the way we treat them? They have been devalued by our society, inside and outside of the church?" I wish they would get angry at me and defend something, but they just kinda shrug and say, "Well we will never get everything right because of our sinful condition."

I think I am going to try that explanation out on my wife.
"Well honey, I haven't done the dishes in 35 years, cause, you know I will never get it right because of my sinful condition."
"Yeah, I punched my boss and lost my job, but you know, I will never get it right because of my sinful condition.'

Of course we are sinful and of course we will never get it right.  But wash the dishes every so often and learn to control your anger.  Add to the list, MAYBE WORK ON TRYING TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR!  Yeah loving my neighbor is hard but that is I what I am called to do. That is also what my leaders should be relentlessly focussing on me doing. Leading by example, providing opportunities, and making me feel a bit of guilt if I am not loving my neighbor. But I guess they don't want to love their neighbors either because it is hard for them as well.

I have related this before, but I once met a famous theologian (can't remember his name it was in 1988). He spoke on disability related issues. Afterwards, I asked him how the church has missed this? His response was,
The church is disobedient.
That statement forever impacted me. It isn't just that I just screwed up, it is that I don't want to be obedient. Friends, we need to call our churches to obedience in this area and remember we are talking to people who too often do not want to be obedient in this area. Why would our leaders not want to be obedient? I go back to what I said above about wrong traditions and theology. For a theologically trained leader (like the lady I spoke to today described) to say the types of things he said implies that either they have an obviously wrong theology or they don't believe the theology they claim to be teaching me.

Sorry for the rant.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

My friend Michael

My friend Michael passed away last night. He was one of those people in your life that you immediately make a connection with. I wouldn't see him much more than once a week at church or at special gatherings but we were great friends nonetheless.
I have often said that he is the type of person everyone should have in their life. Whenever I would see him, independent of where we were, he would shout out "Hey Jeff!" I would shout back in response, "Hey Michael!" I will miss that aspect of our relationship.  Total abandonment of social rules when we would see each other for the first time in any setting. Our recognition of each other was the MOST important thing. It was as if he was saying,
"I don't care if I disrupt you, my friend Jeff is here and I want to acknowledge him!"

Michael would always remember to ask for prayer for his bus driver and teacher each week, if prayer requests were sought. Others would roll their eyes at his repeated request, but I am confident that when Michael arrived in Heaven, the fruit of his faithful request for prayer was made known to him.
He was not a perfect man, at times his temper would get the best of him and when we were together I would talk through actions of his with him to help him to grow in his faith. He loved to wear a tie and jacket to church each week sometimes in the most random combinations. I loved seeing him dressed up but would help him to straighten up his tie and jacket. I don't know if he liked the attention, but he would allow me to make him look "perfect" as I would tell him.
Every week he would ask me for a dollar which I would give to him so he could buy a soda at his work the following day. As I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog, it also caused me at first to pause, before I knew him.  But then, we would sit together and talk about whatever happened to be on his mind. 
He loved sweets, particularly chocolate.  I remember the last time I saw him, Sunday, he had just eaten a chocolate iced donut. As a result he had chocolate all over his hands which I showed him he could lick off of his fingers. He also always wanted to take something home from church each week. Whether it was some bread donated by Panera, or a flyer about a church activity or whatever. He was VERY adamant about receiving something that he could take home with him.

This morning I was at the director's meeting at Joni and Friends when I received the message about his passing last night. I thought that I would be able to share his passing in a controlled manner, but once I began with "A dear friend of mine died last night..." I lost it. I thought about stopping my presentation (we describe our activities for the previous week at those meetings) but thought what better place than to share my grief over my dear friend with disabilities then at the director's meeting.
I cried through my description of Michael and then apologized for my emotion. But they were touched and said no apology was necessary.

In the few minutes since that meeting, I wondered how many men, living in a group home, working in an adult day care setting have someone who weeps over their passing: someone who was just a friend in their life, who knew them, and will miss them. My faith tells me Michael is with the Lord. I have great confidence in that. But I will miss him because he was my friend.  His calling out to me to greet me is unlike any other friend I have ever had, or will probably ever have again. His friendship was a tremendous gift to me! As a friend at Joni and Friends told me, his friendship probably meant more to you than to him! I like that thought although I hope he delighted in my friendship as well. It is my prayer that more and more, persons with disabilities, particularly those with severe disabilities, with intellectual disabilities will have real friends in their lives who will mourn their loss. Not just family members or people who have become accustomed to them because of the paid services they provided to them, both of those are great. But people who were really their friends and were with them because they enjoyed the human interaction that any friend enjoys.

I will miss you Michael!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

"Natural like home"

In our Light and Power Company group, we often talk about how we feel more like a family than like a class or a group that meets at church. People are accepted as they are.  Sure we make demands on each other. But the overriding theme is acceptance, overlooking differences like social skill deficits, thinking the best of others, trying to be affirming, praying for each other, caring for one another and so forth. These are the kinds of attributes we find in families that are functioning well.  We rejoice with the successes of our family members, we hurt with them when they hurt. It is like we recognize that we are in this life together, as a family. In families, you don't necessarily choose each other, but you love one another nontheless. When you enter a group like our Light and Power group, you become a member of a family of people who chose the group initially, but then just accept others as the family grows. It is kind of like the idea of America being a melting pot (although we seem to be struggling with that at the moment as many groups don't want to relinquish their rights to be a part of the American family, they want to change the American family to be like them), where you come in as whomever you are and then become a part of the family, whatever personal characteristics you bring.

On our recent trip to Australia, we discussed this idea with Lindsey Gale, a groundbreaker in helping churches to be open to persons with disabilities. She made the comment in one presentation that the experience of being in a church should be, "natural like home." Church should be an extension of the love and acceptance I feel in my home among my family. As she went on to say, if disability is different at home than it is at church, that indicates a problem. If I do not feel at home, I am not experiencing the hospitality that I should be feeling.

I have been thinking that churches should be regularly reviewing their level of hospitality towards people...all people. Not the high performers who would be celebrated in any environment.  But hospitality toward those who experience devaluation for any number of reasons, not the least being disability and the poverty that too often accommpanies it. It is the presence of those people who can be like the "canary in the mineshaft" to tell us how we are doing at hospitality.  If those people are not in your church, if they do not see your church as "home", then some serious self examination needs to occur about who you are as a church. Are you a church of Jesus Christ who would welcome devalued people, or have you morphed into something else that self-examination would cause you to make excuses for?

Do you have the courage to ask those with disabilities or those who are familes with members with disabilities about whether your church feels like home to them? It is a scary question. (see this past post on scary questions) But it is a question if answered honestly will provide guidance for the church such that it will become hosptiable to all.  So it would be "natural, like home."


Monday, July 21, 2014

"God has a mission so the mission has a church"

A new friend, Rev. Phil Gale (husband of CBM's Luke 14 Director, Lindsey Gale), in one of our many great discussions, turned me on to the thinking of Bishop John McIntyre of the Anglican church.  His comments about the "missional church" were really interesting in particular as they relate to ministry that includes persons with disabilities.  I quote Bishop McIntyre from an article in the July 2014 issue of TMA (The Melbourne Anglican, p. 11).  All emphases are added by me.

"To be a missional church, he said, was "simply in integretity to be Christlike and in grace point to Jesus Christ in all we are and all we do."
It is to be present in community with an integrity of being that assures all those whose lives we touch that we are there alone for their wellbeing; that we are committed to peace with justice, mercy and inclusion. Where we can live out that demand, I am convinced people will be drawn anew to faith in Jesus Christ. Then our churches will grow as we participate in the mission of God in the world."
One reason Anglicanism is Australia was hampered in its capacity to be genuinely missional was because in the past "we have essentially been an associational church rather than a missional church" - "just another association of people who happen to be religious," he said.
The problem was exacerbated when church people assumed the associational view of church as well, so that "what we call 'mission' then becomes finding new ways at attracting people to become part of our association." But the "mission of the church is not to grow churches," he said, "It is to live under the rule of God; to live in allegiance solely to Jesus Christ.
"God's mission has a church. If we make growing churches our aim, we are trying to do God's work. Our aim is to live in singular allegiance to Jesus. When we do that with integrity and grace, God grows churches as the means by which God's way is extended in God's world. Others come to faith in Jesus Christ and join us."

"...we are there alone for their wellbeing..." Imagine if that was our reputation as the Christian church in the lives of persons with disabilities. What things might we do for people for families? What example might we be to the community?

Once again, "God's mission has a church." The way Phil restated the bishop's words is that
"God has a mission so the mission has a church."
That resonated with me as different then the way we often understand church. It implies that we are up to something, that we are active, kinetic, doing something of worth in the community that draws people to want to join us in our mission and become followers of Jesus Christ. They will learn about what we believe, but our mission by God's grace causes us to be irrestible. In order to achieve our mission, we have a meeting place where we are trained, where our wounds suffered from trying to love our communities are ministered to, and we are prepared to be sent out again. The church meeting is not the focus of the mission, not the end all of the mission.  The church meeting, the Sunday morning service, simply becomes a part of the mission. We are not being prepared at that meeting to go home because we have done all we need to do for the week, untill the following week when we come in and sit again. It is a rallying point for our onging, difficult activity of loving our neighbor.

If the above were the case, we would be prepared to find our neighbors with disabilities in need of assistance or simply love and friendship. When was the last time you heard a sermon about loving your neighbor with disabilities? Unfortunately, that is currently not a part of the mission as evidenced by what we are not being prepared to do (assuming we are being prepared to DO something) and by the people who are not sitting in the chairs next to us.

We have a church because God has a mission and the mission is not our comfort.


Monday, June 16, 2014

People with their backs against the wall

I recently came across a wonderful book called Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. Rev. Thurman wrote the book in the 1940s out of his experience as a black man growing up in the 1920s and 1930s and his conversations with his grandmother who had been a slave. His writing was no doubt influential to leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King. Although he largely discusses the experience of racial discrimination in America, his ideas about what "the readings of Jesus have to say to those who stand at a moment in history with their backs against the wall...the poor, the disinherited, the dispossessed" has broader applicability. His grace in describing his experience at that time and his strong desire to live the religion of Jesus is in contrast to the discrimination he experienced in his life. But I think he is writing about discrimination in a much larger sense.  Some of the most memorable passages, to me, related to issues of integration and segregation.
Here are a few.
''Segregation can apply only to a relationship involving  the weak and the strong. For it means that limitations are arbitrarily set up, which. in the course of time, tend to become fixed and seem normal in governing the etiquette between the two groups. A peculiar characteristic of segregation is the ability of the stronger to shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity and a kind of mutually tacit sanction; while the position of the weaker, on the other hand, is quite definitely fixed and frozen." (p. 42)
"It is necessary, therefore, for the privileged and the underprivileged to work on the common environment for the purpose of providing normal experiences of fellowship. This is one very important reason for the insistence that segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil. Whether it may do for those who dwell on either side of the wall, one thing is certain: it poisons all normal contacts of those persons involved...The result is that in the one place in which normal free contacts might be most naturally established-in which the relations of the individual to his God should take priority over conditions of class, race, power, status, wealth, or the like- this place is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers." (p. 98)
When people can "shuttle back and forth between the prescribed areas with complete immunity" when others cannot, there is something implied in the relationship between the two.

He boldly states that"segregation is a complete ethical and moral evil." Relationships are indeed poisoned by segregation.

But the part that really condemns is his comment on the church when he says that the church is one of the chief instruments for guaranteeing barriers. In the 1940s and today, there continue to be issues of racial segregation in the manner that Thurman describes. But for our purposes, here in this weblog, his sentiments highlight the kinds of changes that continue to need to occur in the church.

Early on in the  book he states, "It has long been a matter of serious moment that for decades we have studied the various peoples of the world and those who live as our neighbors as objects of missionary endeavor and enterprise without being at all willing to treat them either as brothers or as human beings" (p. 13). He goes on to say, "But it is one of the subtle points of a religion which calls attention to the point of overemphasis..." In this case in a negative manner. Any differences are overly elevated and then unfortunately naively applied resulting in segregation.

Ministry with personswith disabilities suffers from this malaise. Seeing people as the object of ministry rather than the subject of relationship is arguably the greatest problem of disability ministry at this current time.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Follow Me Session #3 - Light and Power Company

Follow Me Session #3 - Light and Power Company

In our Light and Power group, we are studing the "Follow Me" Bible study curriculum. This curriculum is being studied church wide in the Sunday sermon and weekly Bible studies. Here is the session for the third week of Follow Me. It is about a half hour.
This will also give you a feel for how we run our weekly teaching time.

Special thanks to Pat and Curtis Hall for putting this video together.


Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Follow Me Session #2 - Light and Power Company

Follow Me Session #2 - Light and Power Company

In our Light and Power group, we are studing the "Follow Me" Bible study curriculum. This curriculum is being studied church wide in the Sunday sermon and weekly Bible studies. Here is the session for the second week of Follow Me. It is about a half hour.
This will also give you a feel for how we run our weekly teaching time.

Special thanks to Curtis Hall for putting this video together.

Light and Power Company - Follow me session #2

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Follow Me Session #1 - Light and Power Company

In our Light and Power group, we are studing the "Follow Me" Bible study curriculum.  This curriculum is being studied church wide in the Sunday sermon and weekly Bible studies.  Here is the session for the first week of Follow Me. It is about a half hour.
This will also give you a feel for how we run our weekly teaching time.

Special thanks to Curtis Hall for putting this video together.


Light and Power Company - Follow Me Session #1


Friday, April 18, 2014

The "special" label

A student of mine, a woman with a physical impairment, recently wrote in an article synopsis of her experience in her church. The church was one where there were few people with disabilities. She being largely the only one there, was treated as special, was spoken of as special and anything she ever did was regarded as remarkable because she was special. She wrote of how she tired of this designation, wishing she would just be seen as another regular person attempting to live her life for Christ like anybody else. She has challenges in life, they have challenges in life.  She then wrote about how she now attends a different church where many people with disabilities attend, and she is just another congregational member. She is no longer "special".

The word special is often associated with people with impairments whether it is special education or special ministry. Merriam Webster defines it as "different from what is normal or usual; unusual in a good way : better or more important than others: especially important or loved: more than is usual." Is that the truth of who persons with impairments are? If it is, then why are we so desperate as a society to prenatally diagnose and abort people with disabilities? If it is not, then why are we being pitiably pejorative and disingenuous in reference to people with a particular characteristic?
The fact of the matter is that special, when associated with an individual, actually implies distance, unfamiliarity, being something other.
I don't refer to my friends with impairments as special.  They are just my friends. I wouldn't refer to my child with a disability as special, he is just my child. Those who work with students in special education experience the sympathy stigma that Goffman (1963) refers to. People "distance" themselves from special educators by saying they are so special in that they can have an amazing amount of patience towards people with impairments. The distancing is in seeing themselve as not having patience, not being able to interact with people they would designate as special. By labeling those who do not see persons with impairments as different or special, the average person dismisses themselves from interactions with those perceived as different or special. However, if I am willing to change in my perception of others, they may have a speciality in that they are particularly good at something, but I would not allow their impairment to be something that would distance them from me by saying they were special (implying that I am not because I do not have an impairment).

I don't think people with disabilities generally want to be thought of as different independent of the motivation of those differentiating them (out of pity, or paternalism, or even good motives). They just want to be Bob or Sally or Mary or Fred. A human being.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Matthew 25 from Joni and Friends Daily Devotional

The following is from
Joni and Friends Daily Devotional March 30, 2014
"You Did It for Me"
"Then the King will say, 'I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:34-40
The year is A.D. 33. It's late on a stormy Friday afternoon, and I am standing on a rugged hill by a trash heap outside Jerusalem. I huddle with a group of women just a few yards from the cross. Large drops of rain begin to pelt the dust, and I clutch at my head shawl, wiping away tears and rain.
I cannot take my eyes off Jesus. His body is ramrod stiff, covered with caked dirt and blood, back arched, near death, yet hands stretched and fingers splayed. Jesus' head bobs against the crossbar and He groans, "I thirst."
I step out of the group and cock my ear. Did Jesus say He was... thirsty? A soldier, half-drunk, cracks off a stock of hyssop, spears a sponge and, after soaking it in sour wine, laughs and thrusts it into His face.
I am horrified. Wait. Don't give Him wine gone acidic. This is the Lord who is asking for a drink. O, God, if only I had a jug of fresh spring water! But history is written. I am helpless to do anything.
It is this year. It is late on a stormy afternoon. You drive by a nursing home, recalling a community notice mentioning the need for more dinnertime volunteers at the home.
Jesus said that when we meet the needs of our neighbors, we have ministered personally to Him. Hurting people are our neighbors. History can be rewritten -- we can still give the Lord that drink.

Joni and Friends
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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Individuals with Disabilities and Employment Survey

Please consider taking this survey if you are an individual with a disability and meet the criteria below.

Individuals with Disabilities and Employment Survey

The purpose of this survey is to identify the influences and obstacles that have enabled individuals with disabilities to acquire and maintain part-time or full-time employment.
To participate, you must have a disability AND have been working part-time or full-time for at least 1 year. Your feedback is important, entirely confidential, and completely anonymous.

Employment survey

Monday, March 17, 2014

Embracing "asociality"

In thinking through the social structures of the church, the Mark 7:8 & 13 passages become crucial in decision making. What are the commands of God relative to church social structures and what are the traditions of men in regard to these same structures? If we opened the flood gates of inclusion, for example, would the result for the church socially, be something outside of the commands of God? If so, those results would be clearly wrong. However, if they were not, they would lead us to alternatives which have been somewhat unexplored because we have equated tradition with the commands of God. Must the Word of God be shared in a silent room? Does noise in a room indicate a lack of respect for what is being shared? Or, does silence indicate a lack of respect for what is being shared? Do the practices that lead us to being able to achieve the silent room during worship show a lack of respect for what is being shared? Does sitting still and doing nothing indicate a lack of respect for what is being shared? It seems many of our social assumptions need to be revisited.

It is obvious, but must be stated, that we are not talking about questions of morality when we speak of social openness. To illustrate, we are referring to someone talking or talking too loud or standing too close. We are not talking about what might be called “sins” by persons that we now say are no longer sins and then celebrate them.  This is a critical distinction to be made in our current social climate where amorality is equated with morality because either is determined by the social consensus of the moment. For example, racism is wrong in our society... at the moment. But I don't trust our society because it could change because of prevailing events, and people suddenly think that what used to be wrong is no longer wrong. It is not like this has not occurred in the past. Think of the language that has been used to describe our enemies in war. In spite of the fact that there were and are Americans from ethnic groups representing the countries we fought, our language became racist. When there is no immutable moral position based upon truth, one does morality by consensus and consensus changes. Amorality is not what I am talking about.

In contrast, perhaps asociality (as contrasted with amorality) is acceptable, particularly when expressed by someone who hasn’t the ability to know the difference and/act on the difference even when shown to them. Asociality can be annoying because we are conditioned to experience social interactions in a particular way. I can tell you, however, when you spend significant time with people who do not understand typical social behavior, you come to not only find it not particularly disturbing, but actually at times quite refreshing. I recall that the thing that got me interested in disability in the first place was actually that.  In my first interactions with adults with intellectual disabilities there was an openness, a lack of guile, which I found totally engaging. It would be considered inappropriate or strange for me to meet you and instantly tell you “I love you!” or “I hate you!” or even, “You have a big pimple on your nose!” Each of those statements are socially inappropriate according to typical standards and they are entirely wonderful and engaging in their honesty. Honesty, particularly when expressed, is not really socially acceptable behavior, but I love the brutal honesty I receive from my friends with various mental and intellectual impairments. I have grown to enjoy their form of inappropriate social skills over the "appropriate" social skills of others not impacted by disability.

Could the kinds of changes that inclusiveness would bring to the church cause us to develop alternative traditions that would be much more reflective of the commands of God than our current traditions are? I don't know but I am willing to try to find out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Video of Light and Power Company session

My wife, Kathi, and I facilitate (along with many other outstanding volunteers), a ministry called the Light and Power Company.  The group meets at Trinity Church in Redlands, CA.  I invite you to visit anytime! A couple of our volunteers, Pat and Curtis Hall, made a video of one of our teaching sessions just so others might get an idea of how the teaching goes in our ministry. 

As I review it, there are good and not so good things about it.  Things I am happy with and things I will be endeavoring to change in the future.  But anyway, here is an example of what a typical teaching session looks like in our group.

I welcome any comments or questions.

Video of Light and Power Company session

God bless,

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Kindle version of "The Church and Disability" now available

The Church and Disability is a book I put together, with gleanings from this blog over the first few years. In some cases, postings were expanded and many corrections were made. The idea was to both preserve the writing I have done on this weblog and also make it available in an alternative format. The postings on this weblog are searchable, however, the book form was not.  An index was not even available.  However, with the kindle version, one can now have a searchable copy of the book.  This is something I have been hoping for since the book was originally published.

If you are interested, click on the picture of the book.
God Bless,
Link to The Church and Disability

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The virute of apathy

Just finished watching the movie "Se7en". I don't necessarily recommend it.  Very violent and dark. However, there is one point where the two main characters Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Mills (Brad Pitt) are having a discussion in a bar about the killer they are trying to find. Somerset is somewhat discouraged and Mills tries to shake him out of it.
William Somerset: I just don't think I can continue to live in a place that embraces and nurtures apathy as if it was virtue.
David Mills: You're no different. You're no better.
William Somerset: I didn't say I was different or better. I'm not. Hell, I sympathize; I sympathize completely. Apathy is the solution. I mean, it's easier to lose yourself in drugs than it is to cope with life. It's easier to steal what you want than it is to earn it. It's easier to beat a child than it is to raise it. Hell, love costs: it takes effort and work.
I must agree with Somerset's conclusion about a lot of what we see in society.  Apathy is the path that too many people take. They want simply to be left alone in their homes, in their cars and at work.
Earlier he says,
William Somerset: But you got to be a hero? You want to be a champion. Well, let me tell you, people don't want a champion. They wanna eat cheeseburgers, play the lotto and watch television.
I really do wonder if people want a champion. Someone who not only does right, but someone who is an example to them. I wonder if they want to be spurned on to be greater than they are. I think they are more content to allow others to be the ones who put in the effort and work to love. They may be too interested in their cheeseburgers, playing lotto and watching TV. This is a malaise of all of society, the church included.

Jesus is truly a champion, and we are glad we have a champion, but we don't want to be someone else's champion because of the amount of work it will require. Whatever is worthwhile takes work, on my part and on your part.

You don't want to work? 
Then don't be surprised with the world around you. 
You don't want to be someone's champion? 
Then don't be surprised at the lives of others who are in despair.

I truly think we have become a place that embraces apathy as a virtue. But it is not a virtue.
"...love costs: it takes effort and work."


Monday, February 10, 2014

"...we treat with special honor"

1 Corinthians 12 is a description of the Body of Christ. I have written many times about this passage. But I want to pull out a different section for this entry. In verse 22 & 23, Paul writes,
"on the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor."
It is not difficult to figure out how we might treat someone with special honor.  We have all probably done that at one time or another.  Let me provide some examples from my own experience.
  • Once over the Christmas holidays, my wife and I had made many plans of things we were going to do. But, God bless them, my daughter and her husband, as a surprise to us, showed up at a family gathering on Christmas day. Our response was that everything we had planned for the holidays was now tentative till we figured out what their plans were.  We treated them with special honor.
  • My father-in-law towards the end of his life had advanced Alzheimer's disease.  He would do things and say things that were very strange due to his disease. But because of our love for him, just about anything he might do, we overlooked.  We understood that he had great confusion about what was going on around him, but we redirected him, helped him. We treated him with special honor.
  • When my son was a little boy, he loved Sesame Street.  I am not a big fan. However, when the Sesame Street live show came to town, we put his desires above our own and we went to see the show. One of the most fun memories of my life is my 3 year old turning to me after it was through and saying, "Thanks for the show, Dad!" We treated him with special honor.
  • Once in Africa, a friend of mine was giving a presentation at a conference about theology/disability issues.  In the middle of his presentation, he was interrupted because a country dignitary, the only woman/disabled person in the nation's congress appeared. Graciously, my friend stopped his presentation and relinquished the microphone to the dignitary.  We treated her with special honor.

In each of these cases, one person relinquishes his rights in deference to another. Maybe I didn't want to change my Christmas plans or maybe I didn't want to be patient with my father-in-law or maybe I didn't want to see Sesame Street, or maybe my friend didn't want his remarks interrupted. However, in each case people were treated with special honor in the responses.

But the verse starts out saying, "the parts we think are less honorable." Interestingly, Paul is writing so he thinks they are less honorable too by using the word "we". What do we do to/for those people? We treat them with special honor. So, maybe we change our plans on the basis of their presence. Maybe we do things we might not entirely like to do because of their presence. Maybe we are more patient with those who because of a disability aren't entirely responsible for their behaviors/actions. Maybe we relinquish our rights in the name of facilitating something that will be a great benefit to everyone.

In EVERY case, when someone comes into my sphere to whom I must provide special honor, I cannot do the same things that I would typically choose to do.  I have to change. By definition, if I do not change, I am not providing special honor.  Suppose I told my daughter and her husband, "I hope you can work with the plans we have already made, because we aren't going to change them." Suppose I told my father-in-law, "I don't want you with me because you say and do things that are unusual". Suppose I said to my son, "You know, I don't like Sesame Street, so we are never going to a show." Suppose I said to the dignitary, "Sorry, we have a program and you are not on it." In every case someone, to the degree they were able to understand, would have felt offended, and justifiably so.

So, what of the people we think are less honorable? We already dishonor them by thinking them less honorable. Will we follow up that feeling by treating them less honorably, completing the circle? Or would we recognize that our feelings are wrong ("On the contrary" Paul says) and correct our negativity by treating them with special honor, not only for them BUT FOR OURSELVES!  Can you see how this would be a corrective for them AND US!


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Universal social design

Please check out the following link to an article I wrote on the topic of universal social design and some further commente to flesh out the concept a bit.

Universal social design

This is a concept that has huge potential for changing the church if it was embraced. It basically says "I love you and your presence is more important than social etiquette."  All church social settings would become much more "wide open" but people would experience acceptance and people would experience being accepting of others. The value of the individual and showing/receiving God's acceptance would be on display. If one thinks such an open setting would detract from worship or the sharing of God's word they only need attend one of the many African-American churches where interaction during all phases of meetings is beautifully on display. Silence during many aspects of church gatherings is little more that an artifact of tradition that could be changed through the adoption of universal social design principles. It would clearly take some getting used to as does any change but it is a change worthy of serious consideration.

This also related to a post I wrote several years back.

Social healing


Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Alone yet not alone...two interesting articles

Here are two links from two unlikely places...The Huffington Post and Variety Magazine.
I would encourage you to check out each of them.

Huffington post article

Variety article

In spite of the nomination being pulled, it is still fun to follow the aftermath. Joni's response is an example to all Christians of how to respond to a secular world.  She has been gracious, honest and a bit fun actually.

The story of what Joni calls, "The little song that could" continues...


Friday, January 31, 2014


Imagine a man with an intellectual disability. Lets say he is like 45 and doesn't live at home. Just with that description, many people might be able to describe what his life is like. You might imagine...

-he lives in a group home, probably with a roommate only members of the same sex living there. The home is probably in the community but there is little contact with members of the community.
-most of the people in his life are paid to be with him. They are service providers. The friends he has are either those who live with him who have the same sort of life or those at his day program. He may have family contact but it isn't very regular, and may be none at all. He has pretty much no friends who are regular community members. Involvement from community members is rarely seen, rarely facilitated and probably shunned.
-his "work" consists of  either game playing or busy work or "Mickey Mouse garbage (the way Dr. Marc Gold described much of the 'work' provided to folks in these kinds of programs) as the demands and expectations for growth are so minimal.
-probably the leisure recreation activities in his life are watching TV and maybe bowling (all disabled people like to bowl, right? you would think so rather than that being a reflection of the lack of creativity in teachers). He rarely gets to go outside.

The problem with the above is not that this is typical although that is a problem...the problem is that we are satisfied that this is the way it is! We know this is the reality and we don't care, or think it is fine, or just don't know what to do so we do nothing. Human services workers are satisfied, families are satisfied, churches are satisfied. I think all these groups are satisfied because the current system makes minimal demands of all of us. I think the state agencies like the separation from the community because it facilitates their tendency toward making decisions that are administratively convenient for them. Compartmentalization is easier for group management and regulation of people. Integration of people into the community only makes life messy, more difficult, more REAL.
Peoples lives are complicated.  When we make their lives simple, we restrict their lives making them regulated and unreal.

Don't be satisfied with the way things are.

To the Christian I would say, "Don't be conformed any longer to the patterns of the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). Does the current experience of persons with disabilities as regulated by human services represent a Biblical understanding of disability? How  would a Biblical replacement narrative about disability and who people with disabilities are change the typical scenario above? What can you do to help to facilitate that change?


Saturday, January 25, 2014

What is relevant?

We had a discussion in one of my classes the other night about the medical and social models of disability.  You can find out more about those models by searching this blog. But something that came up, that I kept reiterating is that only what is relevant should be relevant. A critical problem with society is that they think some characteristics of people are relevant, when in reality they may or may not be.

If I am riding a horse, the fact that I wear glasses is irrelevant. If I am talking to a friend about whether he should or should not get bifocals, the fact that I wear glasses is very relevant. If I am meeting a friend at a restaurant, the fact that she uses a wheelchair is irrelevant (or at least should be, and generally speaking in the US it is irrelevant). However, if I am asking her to discuss how her disability has impacted her desire to be employed, that she uses a wheelchair is very relevant.

The key is to keep the relevant relevant and the irrelevant irrelevant.

If I have an intellectual disability and as a result I am segregated, that is making what should be irrelevant relevant.
If I use a wheelchair and because of that I cannot find a job, that is making what should be irrelevant relevant.

It is critical for people to look on their neighbors wisely. If something is considered relevant for some reason, it should be logical and defensible. So much of the discrimination people face is the basis of making irrelevant things, ethnicity, gender, disability relevant to judgements about people when it should not be so.

Yes there are aspects of human impairment that are best addressed by a medical model approach. There are other aspects that are best addressed by a social model approach. It is not one or the other. As Tom Shakespeare has related, he cannot blame society and discrimination by society for a bladder infection resultimg from his impairment. He can blame society for making personal characteristics relevant as a cause for discrimination.

The key is understanding the difference and only making personal characteristics relevant when they should be relevant.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Alone yet not alone" Press Release from Joni and Friends


Joni Eareckson Tada Surprised at Response to Original Song Oscar®-Nomination

Joni and Friends founder asked to record ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’ theme song by producers of new faith-based historical film


AGOURA HILLS, Calif., Jan. 23, 2014 Joni and Friends founder Joni Eareckson Tada was as surprised as the rest of the nation to learn that among this year’s Academy Award Best Original Song nominees was one that involved her. Tada was honored by the invitation from the film’s producer to give voice to the eponymously titled song, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” at the invitation of the film’s producers in the Fall of 2013, and was merely looking forward to its nationwide release in theaters in June.

That all changed, however, with the announcement of the nominees last week, bringing attention from across the U.S. to the song and Tada’s performance. Those not familiar with the name Joni Eareckson Tada or her ethereal voice have been surprised to discover that she has been doing her singing from a wheelchair for more than 47 years, having been paralyzed in a diving accident in 1967 at age 17.

Tada recalls the occasion when she was invited to record the song for the film. “Last year when I spoke at the closing session of the National Religious Broadcasters’ Convention, I sang several hymns as part of my message,” Tada said.  “In the audience were some people connected with Enthuse Entertainment, the producer of Alone Yet Not Alone, who later asked if I would be interested in recording the theme song for the movie. 

“When I heard the simple, humble ballad, I wanted to record it.  I really resonated with the words – after all, I sit down in a stand-up world and often feel ‘alone;’ but of course with my faith in God, I'm never really alone!,” Tada explained. “The Bible is filled with stories of God picking ill-equipped, unskilled people for places of great influence, which is how I feel, as a quadriplegic, singing an Academy Award-nominated song.” 

 There has been some surprise in industry circles that a relatively unknown, faith-based historical film has received such attention, but those involved have said the song is deserving of such attention, as both a musical work and for its integral role in the film. “Alone Yet Not Alone” is set in 1755 and features two young sisters who are kidnapped by Delaware Indians during the French & Indian War. It is their faith and a family hymn – “Alone Yet Not Alone” – that help them stay strong and endure such hardship.

Tada hopes to use the recent attention on her and this song to increase awareness and further the work of God through the ministry of Joni and Friends, which she founded in 1979.  “Can you imagine how this might encourage other people with disabilities?  It’s all about ‘God's power in our weakness,’ and I love the chance to advance that message!,” she said.  

Tada’s influence began following the release of an autobiographical book and subsequent movie about her life, both entitled “Joni,” which provided  encouragement to other individuals with disabilities across the nation and around the world.  he and a few friends – many of whom had helped mentor her spiritually – realized from the mail and phone calls pouring in that there was a significant need for such a ministry.

Following the establishment of Joni and Friends to help meet that need, Tada went on to have an important role in determining how individuals with disabilities would be treated in public, in the workplace, in schools, etc., as part of the committee involved in making recommendations for the Americans  with Disabilities Act.

Since that time, Joni and Friends has expanded greatly beyond Tada’s wildest expectations as far as the number of people they are able to serve and the variety of services they provide, but never deviating from the original purpose of sharing the hope of God’s love with a segment of the world’s population that is often overlooked and ostracized.

“From the beginning, we focused on developing programs that would help meet both the spiritual and practical needs of disabled people and their families,” Tada said. “We’ve grown to include an important emphasis on training and equipping individuals to serve the disability community, as well, realizing this would greatly accelerate this type of ministry around the world.”

Tada can be heard daily through her radio ministry on Christian stations around the country, including both a five-minute program, “Joni and Friends,” and a one-minute program based on her daily devotional, “Diamonds in the Dust.” Regular listeners are familiar with Joni’s beautiful singing voice and love for hymns, as she often slips them into her recordings. Both are available online at www.joniandfriends.org/radio. She also hosts the “Joni and Friends” television show available on numerous networks and affiliates here in the U.S. and abroad.

About Joni and Friends International Disability Center

For 35 years, Joni and Friends International Disability Center has worked to accelerate ministry to the disability community, offering a wide array of life-affirming programs to people with disabilities around the world. Joni and Friends does this through the Christian Institute on Disability; the International Disability Center; international radio and television programs filled with inspirational stories; Wheels for the World, which every year sees thousands of individuals receive wheelchairs and the life-giving message of the Gospel, and Family Retreats, where families affected by disability learn they are not alone. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

"I was in prison..."

A dear friend of mine emailed me with this today.

Phil 1:12
I want to report to you, friends, that my imprisonment here has had the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of being squelched, the publishing of God’s word has actually prospered.

This is Paul's response to his imprisonment.  He was active in sharing the Gospel with those who held him captive. But there was something about my friend's email that struck me. My friend is a man impacted by physical disability which causes him, unfortunately, to spend much time alone. But he has used his time alone to have a ministry, through his weblog, of sharing God's word such that the "publishing of God's word has actually prospered." He has an international following. He delights in telling me what country is "in the lead" regarding the visits he receives to his postings. His time he has used to develop a ministry of God's word.

He also told me of how the subject of my previous post, Joni's singing of "Alone yet not alone" describes how he often feels.

There are too many people in general, but people with disabilities in particular, who are lonely. Yes they may creatively use their social "imprisonment" to prosper the publishing of God's word like my friend. Whether that be through blogging, or prayer, or other means. Yes they are "Alone yet not alone" because of God's presence with them. But I wish they had people in their lives who spent time with them and befriended them.

We, the Christian Church, need to do better in this area. To continue to use the sad metaphor of "prison", Jesus in Matthew 25:36 states, "I was in prison and you visited me." Prisons can come in a variety of forms.  Different ways in which people are separated from those around them. The social consequences of disability can be a form of "prison". We are exhorted by Christ to visit HIM in prison. What we do for our fellow people is "done unto Me".

If you don't know someone in "prison" you need to know someone in "prison" and you then need to visit them.  May God make it so!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Oscars: 'Alone yet not alone'

Something marvelous is happening this oscar season unlike anything I can remember.  A song from an obscure move that grossed $134,000 during its 21 day release, and sung by a 64 year old quadriplegic woman was one of the 5 songs nominated for an Oscar. Add to that fact that movie is a Christian movie, and the odds of such a nomination become even more numerically inconceivable.  One must just shake their head and wonder what this is about.

Joni Eareckson Tada, the singer herself said to The Hollywood Reporter, “I’m the least likely candidate to record a song for a movie, I’ll tell you that up front, so it’s amazing,”
But I will tell you that I am someone who has had the pleasure of singing with her! No, dont get the wrong idea. I am among probably thousands of others who have simply been with Joni and have shared in her spontaneous singing of a favorite hymn. She loves music, particularly music that glorifies God! And, she cannot help but sing it.

But observers also can't help but wonder at this nomination. From my own life, when things happen that don't make sense to me, I expect something from God. So, in this nomination, I expect something from God!
Perhaps it is that God just chose to honor a dedicated servant who has been a model of trust through the most challenging of experiences that human life can throw at someone; quadriplegia, cancer. Joni is worthy of such recognition. One of the greatest aspects of "Alone yet not alone" is that Joni is real, sharing her real experience with God who has supported her throughout her life. You can hear the honesty and integrity in her voice. She is not just singing a song, she is telling her story. You can see it in her smile at the end of the video.
Perhaps it is that God is bringing attention to the ministry of Joni and Friends. The Christian church is awakening to the inclusion of persons with disabilities like never before. Joni and Friends has had a lot to do with that. The article linked below speaks of giving out wheelchairs, which is true. At last count, the 100,000th, custom fitted chair will soon be dispersed.  These chairs are donated, reconditioned till they are like new and shipped around the world. They represent 100,000 lives that were changed with mobility and dignity where there perhaps was none before. Growing this and other work of encouraging families and individuals with disabilities themselves, training leaders and advocates and teaching about a Biblical perspective on disability might also be the point of this recognition.
Perhaps it is a witness to the secular world about who God is. There are few events like the Academy Awards that are more secular in their celebration and focus. It is marvelous that a weak, quadriplegic, Christian, woman, has set the awards world on it's ear a bit, wondering how this could have happened. As Joni herself prays in the video, God chooses to use the weak to accomplish his purposes. Joni's weakness will be on display which points to God's power in technicolor!

I have no idea whether the song will win, but I know that God will accomplish his purposes. I personally think it is breathtaking and fun to experience this nomination. I think if I could see the face of God, He would wink and say that in spite of everything, of so many things that appear to be moving to the contrary, "I am still in control!"

'Alone yet not alone' story and link to video