Monday, June 08, 2015

Complete in Christ

Joni and Friends recently hosted an amazing conference called the Global Access Conference. Several friends stayed with us before and after the conference having traveled to SoCal from Australia. One was Rev. Phil Linden. I first heard Phil speak very briefly in Melbourne summer of 2014 and thought that he was a pastor who truly gets it when it comes to disability.

I learned many things from Phil, and I hesitate to quote him as I don't want to get him wrong! But one thing he talked about was how wrong our starting point in relating to others who have some form of impairment can be. Often we will try to relate to people saying "we all are disabled." We are disabled by sin, which I would agree truly is our biggest problem. But for me to just say we are all disabled, seems to minimize the experience of those whose lives are difficult because of their impairment. I have dear friends with intellectual disabilities whose understanding of the things around them is quite limited. They have very regulated lives with limited choices. They may experience a variety of medical problems and are lonely in their societal imposed social isolation. For me, someone with very different life experience to glibly say, "We are all disabled" is arguably offensive and not the correct starting point.

What Phil shared with me is that a better starting point is to say, "We are all complete in Christ." Our relationship with Christ is our starting point. So my starting point with my friend with intellectual disabilities is that "you are complete in Christ" just as "I am complete in Christ." Yes, our lives are very different, our experiences are very different, however, the thing that we bring to the table is that through Christ, we find each other is complete.

On a practical level, we need to work out what comes next in our relationship. But our point of developing next steps is based upon us fleshing out our completeness in Christ rather than our wallowing in some attempt at establishing some joint level of incompleteness. I enjoy interacting with friends to see the nuances in who God has made them. I enjoy trying to understand who God is by interacting with the incredible variety of His human creation. If you believe life has purpose, then you will rejoice in variability and ask the "Why?" question in a very different way.

Completeness also changes my orientation towards another. Yes people will often need some form of assistance. But my approach is not to simply condescend to them in my efforts to do good. My approach is to understand the mystery (because of the way I have been socialized within and outside of the church) of their completeness. It can sound trite to hear people like Henri Nouwen talk about learning more from his friend Adam, a man with profound intellectual and physical disabilities, as if he is just being nice. But I think Nouwen got the notion of completeness in his relationship with Adam. He and Adam were not both disabled, they were both complete which puts us on a path of growth in understanding who God is through relating to those whom He has created.


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