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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Things I learned but was never taught - Presence

I have been thinking a lot about presence. How the presence of persons with particularly severe disabilities changes those around them. Clearly social environments are not the same with or without a person with a severe disability in that environment. I suspect we choose to not have the environment that develops as a result of having the person with the severe disability in it based on the preponderance of environments that I have found myself in. But I also find that when I am in those environments with those people I learn things. It is not like coming to one of the classes that I teach where I discuss lessons from a particular reading, or try to teach my graduate students something. The learning comes from people who actually evidence little interest or understanding of the fact that they have the ability to be teachers to those around them. I have learned so much in those types of settings. But such learning is not at all unique to me.

It was Henri Nouwen who described Adam, a man with severe intellectual disabilities for whom he acted as a caretaker as "my friend, my teacher, my spiritual director, my counselor, my minister." You might read those words and dismiss them thinking, "What a nice thing to say about someone" particularly someone with a disability who has been devalued by most of society. "He is trying to bring dignity to someone who doesn't have any" you might think. But it is not a sweet thing to say about someone, it is the truth. If one submits oneself to such relationships and one is paying attention, there are so many things that are learned. As in the title of this posting, they are things learned which were never taught.

We learn things about society, we learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the person with the disability if we give sufficient time to learn them. Once again it is about presence. Presence changes things, it reveals things. I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog about how the presence of a man beaten and left for dead revealed the character of those around him in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is that kind of learning.
"What will I be willing to do in such a situation?" I learn about myself.
"How will the enviornment change when people who have not been integrated experience full integration?" I learn about the social enviornment, be it the church or other social settings.
"Do I love my neighbor?" A challenging neighbor will reveal that to me.
"Do we as a church love our neighbor?" A challenging neighbor also reveals the heart of those in the larger environment.

Once again there is no effort typically on the part of the person with the disability to teach anybody anything. But the lesson is there and the possibility of learning is there.

Will we allow, no, will we facilitate the potential for this type of learning to occur?

Monday, March 07, 2016

The Church and Disability 2: The Weblog disabledChristianity

The Church and Disability 2 is the latest collection of blog postings from the disabledChristianity weblog. It is gleanings from the past 5 years in a single volume. It includes many of the ideas that readers have told me that they have been stimulated by and have enjoyed interacting with over the years. It is available by clicking on the cover image or from Amazon. It will shortly also be available in a Kindle format.

New Book from Jeff McNair

Jeff McNair

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Neglecting a human being right in front of us

I will at times read books about the church or Christian behavior. I am currently reading a book about the church. It always strikes me how writers can put forward convicting principles but seem to totally miss the connection to people whom society has devalued due to their impairment or disability. They will, for example, be very convicting about those who live in poverty (as in the quote below) but seem to be totally unaware and complicit in the treatment or exclusion of those with disabilities, not seeing the connection with that group of devalued people. Here for example is a quote from a book I am reading at the moment.

Moreover, the rich man in Luke 16 is damned because he ignores poor Lazarus at his gate. His sin is a sin of omission. But this omission is more than a general failure to "do more" or "do enough." His extravagant wealth makes him blind to the needs right in front of him. As John Schneider puts it:

The strong obligation-generating power is in the immediate moral proximity of someone in dire need. What makes the behavior of the rich people in these parables so very hideous and damnable is not that they had wealth, or even that they enjoyed it. It is that they did so, like the rich in Amos, in spiritual obliviousness to grievous human suffering that was as near to them, in the moral sense, as it could be. It was not merely that they neglected "the poor," but that they neglected a human being in need directly in front of them.

Lazarus, not the poor in abstract, was the rich man's test, and the rich man failed.
(John. R Schneider, the Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 178). (Above quote from, DeYoung, K. & Gilbert, G. What is the missio of the church? (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2011).

There is no real mention of persons with disabilities, at least thus far, in describing the mission of the church. They talk about people groups, and the notion of "social justice" in a very general sense. They also make comments or glean and share quotes such as the above. Look at the last sentence of the second paragraph above. "It is that they did so, like the rich in Amos, in spiritual obliviousness to grievous human suffering that was as near to them, in the moral sense, as it could be. It was not merely that they neglected "the poor," but that they neglected a human being in need directly in front of them." That is the experience of many people who have experienced social isolation, and the practice of many churches and members of the Christian community towards persons with disabilities. Human beings in need, directly in front of us, are neglected. They are too much trouble, or they are off putting because of their social skills, or whatever other reason. Additionally, we feel no need to change our behaviors.
Oh that God would open all of our minds such that we would love our neighbors. Oh that we would see those people directly in front of us. They are in the community, everywhere. What if we made the effort to put them in front of us of our Christian community. Our leaders have given us an excuse for not doing anything by not putting people in need in front of us. I guess it is up to us to seek those people out, bring them into our social circles, and further remove the excuses which have been plaguing us.