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

Thursday, December 22, 2016

"Am I a part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?"

In the song "Clocks" the band Coldplay asks the question,
Am I part of the cure? Or am I part of the disease?
These are truly relevant questions for those of us in disability ministry to ask ourselves. The social consequences of disability are brutal. They are pervasive. We may be unaware of them unless we experience something like a disability that causes society to devalue us. Parents will have a child with a disability and suddenly experience what I call in my book Meowoof "the grumble" and wonder why they had never experienced or heard of it before. It was always there, even in they themselves. But they were unaware.

As an aspect of disability ministry we must become aware of these things. We must also be aware of the the way the traditions of our churches can also contribute to social devaluation.

I have seen ministries to persons with disabilities which are truly part of the the disease.
The disease of the grumble.
The disease of devaluation.
The disease of unwillingness to change.
The disease totally misunderstanding who persons with disabilities are, their value, their giftedness, how we as the Body of Christ desperately need then. And how we desperately need them with us, next to us physically and socially.

If I participate in the grumble, I am part of the disease.
If I participate in any form of devaluation, like age inappropriateness, I am part of the disease.
If I am unwilling to change church traditions in order that devalued people can have access,, then I am part of the disease.
If I refuse to change personally so that people with disabilities can have friendships, can make demands on me to love them, then I am part of the disease.
If I refuse to find and provide opportunities for the expression of gifts of severely disabled people, then I am part of the disease.
If I segregate people, I am part of the disease.

I could go on and on with this.

Ministry leader, reflect on what you are doing! I have often done this and saw how I have been a part of the disease I claim to be curing.


Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Preventing speech about the beauty of people with Down Syndrome

A dear friend from Australia, among others, made me aware of a video apparently banned on French TV. It was actually just a TV commercial. It illustrates the suppression of speech that we see growing in a variety of places around the world. But in this case, it has to do with keeping people from seeing the the beautiful lives of persons with Down Syndrome.

Repression of speech has blossomed in the US in universities where the notion of an exchange of ideas is desperately being put down by liberal elitists. Either they are blind to the complete hypocrisy of what they are doing, or more likely, they know exactly what they are doing. For example at conferences which I have attended, liberal faculty will actually say there is no tenable alternative perspective to the one they are purveying. Clearly if they are university trained, you would think they would obviously know better than to say something so stupid. However, it could be that BECAUSE they are university trained that they are so unreflectively and mind numbingly foolish.

Independent of your political persuasions, you must admit that we see this reaction in the response to the election of the US president. If you voted for the winner, many opponents consider you deplorable, among other vindictives because clearly there is only one perspective on any issue and that is the one that held by detractors. So the detractor's response is to tantrum because they have lost the ability to understand that there are a variety of ideas and independent of how hard they believe something, not everyone agrees with them. I am not always right. But when people indicate that they do not agree with me, I throw myself on the floor and flail around like a child.

If I am an adult, however, with as open a mind as I claim to have, I am willing to allow others to hold and express their perspectives. But others unfortunately will not allow me to hold or express my perspectives on these issues.

So as in the commercial mentioned above, go ahead liberal, pro abortion supporters in France. Publicize your desire to terminate the lives of anyone for that matter, who is different from you and advocate for not causing remorse in anyone who you convinced to do something that was evil. Go ahead. That is your right. But then allow me to show you what you have done through the evil that you have propagated ONLY by showing the beauty of the lives you have NOT successfully terminated.  In your rabid foolishness you have destroyed something beautiful. I will not curse you. I will only attempt to direct your eyes to the beauty that might have been there but isn't because of your misguided actions. But even THAT is not permitted.

Truth is not what these people are after. 

They are only interested in forcing an arguably immoral position that they cling to like a drug addict to his needle.


Link to video

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Meowoof A new book by Jeff McNair

Meowoof is a new book from Jeff McNair. It would be great to give to a young person who feels different in some way, someone with a disability, or parents of a child with a disability. It is juvenile fiction so it is easy reading and fun. But there are very deep ideas behind the engaging story. Great also for a discussion group interested in discussing differences in people.
Here is the description that goes with the book.

Meowoof invites you into a world of dogs! Of course it is filled with licking, sniffing, biting and chasing. It is no doubt a fun and amusing place to visit. But life is not without its challenges. 

Barney, a beagle, and his mate Inky, a dachshund are just a young couple looking to start a family and live a typical life. But there is something unusual about one of their pups. He is like no pup they or any other dogs have ever seen before. Skip and Rosie, friends of the family do their best to support them as does His Howliness, the leader of the Moon Howlers, but they are up against attitudes deeply held by doggy society. Barney and Inky find out how those around can change when someone is not like everyone else. Those who understand the experience of being different will fearfully whisper about how dogs are taken over by the Grumble, an evil living inside of everyone. How does one battle against something everyone has inside of them? Dogs like Skip and His Howliness refuse to be put off by differences in others and will bear their teeth and fight the Grumble. But the Grumble is not that easily defeated. 

What is it to be different? What happens to you and those around you when you are not like everyone else? You are different. In a truly unique way, Meowoof begins a story about those who are different and what their lives are like.  
  • If you are a little different you will see yourself in this story. 
  • If you love someone who is different, you will more fully understand your experience. 
  • And, if you struggle with those who are different, perhaps you will begin to understand why.

You can soon purchase Meowoof at Createspace by clicking on this line.
Or you can purchase it at Amazon.com by clicking on this line.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Fear of Dissidents

One of my favorite books by Jean Vanier is Becoming Human. It is great book for anyone to read, not just those interested in disability or disability ministry. It is just as the title implies. It is a book about what it means to be human. When discussing the movement from exclusion to inclusion, Vanier has a section called "Fear of Dissidents." Let me provide a few quotes from this section.
There has always been a fear of the dissident, that is to say, of the one who seems to threaten the existing order. Those who fear the dissident are those who have a vested interest in the maintenance of that order; frequently, money and power, or the need to control others and to feel superior to them, are at the root of such interests (p 74).
The dissident can also challenge comfort and tradition. These are also power bases of a different sort which can be extremely difficult to change.
It is the nature of power to resist change... (p 74)
Change is clearly what we are after. Cultural change within the church. As I have mentioned in the past in this blog, Foucault, the philosopher, has stated that when you experience resistance, it implies that power is being expressed. Power can be expressed from bottom to top and from top to bottom. The resistance we sometimes feel in church leadership is clearly evidence of power attempting to be expressed from the bottom (see The Power of Those Who Seem Weaker article).
There is a deeper issue here, beyond the self-aggrandizement of the powerful. Leaders consider themselves as generally in the right. It is part of the paradigm we have  created: if you have succeeded in making your way to the top, then, by definition, by the law of natural selection, the values for which you stand have been authenticated (p 74).
The path to this leadership also did not include information that those with disabilities would desire to be present in the place the leader would be occupying, the local church. Because there was little to no training in this area, they are even more confident that they are right!
The only point to be made about all this is that it is important for leaders to listen to dissent and try to understand where it is coming from and what is true in it. If history teaches us nothing else, it is that power is borrowed...The principle at issue is the temporary nature of power, and the necessity of service and humility, the necessity of seeing what truth is being cried out in an act of protest ( p 75).
Oh that the Lord would give our leaders the wisdom to consider the dissident within their church. This is a bold statement, but I am positive that the desire we dissent from the church about, our desire to see devalued individuals included and valued is clearly the heart of God on this issue. We will not someday change from our dissenting position to a position of exclusion. But we should expect those in leadership to one day be among the dissenters.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Follow up on "How disability ministry could cause a change in human services."

I was thinking some more about the previous post on the impact disability ministry could have on human services.

The more that the church gets into the lives of people with disabilities, particularly those with more severe disabilities who live in residential settings, a variety of things could happen. The first thing is that churches could bump up against the perceived regulations covering these facilities, get frustrated with their lack of access and then give up. From my experience, that is something that could happen. Community members who endeavor to form relationships with people under the care of the state are not always welcomed with open arms. If one is allowed access, there is a feeling that you are up to something no good. There is also a worry about what you might see and to whom you might reveal what you have seen.
We had a situation once where there was something a bit disconcerting which occurred at a home. We didn't say anything to anyone, but somehow word got out about it and the agency which regulated the group home confronted them about what had happened. The owner of the group home accused us of telling the regulating agency about them and for the next almost year, residents were not permitted to go to church. As I relate in the Sherlock Holmes post the folks who lived in the home, once again they were people with quite severe intellectual disabilities were taught the phrase, "We are taking a break from church." So, you bump up against human services and they restrict church attendance of their residents.

So the second lesson is that we need to be serious about our desire to include people in relationships and then be persistent in attempting to facilitate the changes needed for residents to experience community integration. We are moving from being complicit in large scale social isolation to wanting to facilitate true community integration. No wonder our motives might be questioned. We have not been interested in those folks for a very long time and our change in interest can be misunderstood. So we need to be at homes, regularly, so that we can become known. As prove we are trustworthy, we can then move toward social integration via relationships with real, unpaid, community members.

Perhaps a third lesson if we are unsuccessful in our efforts is to work in some areas of human services ourselves. That is, perhaps we can develop homes people can live in. I know Christian parents who are desperately looking for Christian alternatives where there is the freedom to attend church. Perhaps we can facilitate vocational training and placement with businesses represented by the people who attend church. Perhaps we can facilitate opportunities for service for persons who are friendly and would make great companions but end up either at home all day or in adult day care settings where their lives might be wasted. In a future posting I will describe efforts I am pursuing to develop a certificate in Christian service for adults with disabilities. But rather than relying exclusively on government programs, perhaps we might develop better programs to both serve our community and reflect a Christian perspective.

There are more avenues which might be pursued. Let's keep thinking. Things as they are are not great. There is much room for innovative thinking and the offering of alternatives which could be significantly better for all.


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How could disability ministry cause a change in human services?

As I have often mentioned in this blog, the current system of human services in America are based upon the wrong model of what disability is. Services are exclusively based on a medical model which basically sees disability as housed in an individual and interventions are geared to fix the person. Although this is quite a generalization, I would argue that it is basically true. What we need are also interventions by human services that work toward social environment change through an understanding which has become known as the social model of disability. In reality we need both and an emphasis on one or the other of these models takes us in a wrong direction.

The entrenched nature of human services causes one to feel it is virtually impossible to facilitate change. We appear (even professionals in human services) to be satisfied with the way services are designed, planned and delivered. I can tell you that parents are very often unsatisfied as are individuals who receive the services. But those of us in human services go on our merry way believing we are "God's gift" to those we serve. To not only change that mindset, let alone the services themselves, is once again virtually impossible. Human services' resistance to change is tantamount to moving a mountain. Might there be another way to facilitate changes?

But we could change the church.

Imagine the church got serious about its call to be the Body of Christ. What if we embraced social environment change in a social model kind of way? What if we developed relationships with devalued people rather than always relegating them to various programs? I truly wonder what the effect would be. State delivered services would become redundant at times because they were occurring naturally via relationships. As churches developed places where people could live, used the church network to facilitate employment, worked to maximize people's gifts so the didn't spend their days in adult day care or sheltered workshops, would this cause a change in the way human services are delivered?

I once went to Sacramento Ca. to lobby for a change in the regulations governing the way services to persons with developmental disabilities were provided and funded. In my 30 seconds of fame before the committee, I spoke of how the state should encourage faith groups to get into the lives of persons with disabilities. Not only would the supports be more reflective of a person's needs rather than a menu of services, they could be provided at a fraction of the cost. Now don't hear me wrong. I AM NOT SAYING THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD TAKE OVER ALL HUMAN SERVICES FOR PERSONS AFFECTED BY DISABILITY. However what I am saying, is that human services could be much more "surgical" in the ways they are delivered, just meeting needs in specific areas. If churches were encouraged by the state to be involved in the lives of devalued persons rather than being treated like a pariah because of draconian notions of church state separation, all would benefit. Persons with disabilities would develop relationships and feel caring. States could spend money on network development and addressing discrimination rather than segregating people from the community for the purpose of medical model fixing schemes, protecting them from community members, or simply doing things which are not in the interest of those they are serving but rather based upon what is administratively convenient.

The possibility of changing human services via some kind of full frontal attack of the models on which they are based is worthy of effort. However, perhaps a better way is to demonstrate a model of supporting people, based on scripture, that doesn't entirely rely on government programs but rather on relationships with people.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Favoring others over persons with disabilities

I grabbed my Bible yesterday morning just to do some reading and opened it up to James 2. It is a very powerful passage that I have blogged about in the past (see Favoritism Forbidden). I have been using the New Living Translation in my reading recently. Well the translation of verse 1 kinda slapped me in the face! It says,
"My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?"

I knew the passage addressed favoritism, in particular related to people in wealth or poverty, but the lessons are generally the same for favoring one group of people with a perceived positive characteristic over another with a characteristic thought to be less desirable. James goes on to indicate how this way of treating people is both wrong and actually somewhat foolish when it is unpacked. But I was struck by the power of the translation. You can't have faith in Jesus if you favor some people over others.

I am unsure of what this means for the faith of the Christian church generally because we do this all the time in reference to persons with disabilities. It goes back to a recent posting on this blog related to structural injustice. There is structural injustice and institutional favoritism of some people over others.

I received an email from a disability ministry leader whose name readers would know. She told me of how the criteria for being a deacon in a particular denomination basically would exclude people from that type of service because they couldn't meet the academic nature of the criteria. People who are excellent at service in myriad ways would be excluded from this leadership role because of structures established by the church. Now I can't say that the reason for these criteria was to exclude persons with intellectual disabilities, for example, however that is the result nonetheless. These structures actually teach exclusion, teach favoritism as the acceptable position of the church. Now I get it. I should not be your worship leader because I do not play the guitar very well. I get it. However, poor guitar playing should not keep me from being a deacon, a role that revolves around service. In the same way, theological expertise should also not keep me from being a leader in serving others.

I have told this story in this blog before, but I once attended a church where a man with intellectual disabilities had for many years been one of the people on the rotation to serve communion. When his week/month came up he joined the group who passed the juice cups and crackers to the congregation. However, when there was a change over in the elders of the church, one who was a psychologist said it was inappropriate for the man (who had been successfully serving communion without incident) to participate in this form of service because of what the psychologist described as his "mental age." As an aside, please don't talk about someone's mental age around me as I will confront you about what exactly that means. It is little more than an insult to speak of someone's mental age. So from that point forward that man was excluded from serving communion.

These are the types of things leaders teach congregations. If leaders don't understand they should not show favoritism then we need to teach them that they shouldn't show favoritism. You can cite the James 2:1 verse above. Also ask them about 1 Corinthians 12:21, The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you"  The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you.". You can also look at verses 22-23 of that same passage. Or even 1 John 4:20 which says, for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?

In the notes in the NLT regarding this chapter, it says the following (p 2771).
Showing favoritism. Why is it wrong to show favoritism to the wealthy?
1. It is inconsistent with Christ's teachings.
2. It results from evil thoughts.
3. It insults people made in God's image.
4. It is a by-product of selfish motives.
5. It goes against the biblical definition of love.
6. It shows a lack of mercy to those less fortunate.
7. It is hypocritical.
8. It is sin.

So be bold in pointing out favoritism when it excludes people for irrelevant characteristics. Although it won't make you popular, you will be representing the Heart of God.


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Structural injustice

As a college student, one of my roommates happened to be an African-American guy. I remember once asking him,

"People talk about institutional racism, but being a white guy who is involved in athletics, I don't see it. Do you experience it?"
He looked at me patiently and said, "Absolutely!"
"Will you help me to see it?" I asked in all sincerity.

Those semesters that we lived together were truly eye opening as he relayed daily experiences that I was totally unaware of. I began to see things that I had never seen before. Many of the things were stupid things that could have been easily stopped. But they persisted nonetheless. Although I didn't understand the term at that time, what I learned from my friend was what might be called structural injustice. Sure there are people who can be purposely discriminatory towards someone else. But what he helped me to see was something else. Some thing that was present but sometimes, not always, hidden in the structures.

In the book One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Chief Bromden talks about the combine. It is everywhere, in the walls and it controls everything, particularly in the ward where he lived. It was the negativity the control that he felt. He called the ward where he lived the factory of the combine. The point is that it was pervasive, institutionalized, within the structures which surrounded Bromden both physically and socially.

What are the structural injustices which live within the church as it relates to persons with disabilities? One must first ask if there are structural injustices? Although others might disagree, I have to say that I believe there is such structural injustice. Once again, they aren't always a deliberate act on someone's part to be an agent of injustice. But injustice is experienced nonetheless. I have often used this quote from Wolfensberger in this blog but I will cite him once more. He says, "Thus for many people to all work toward a bad thing requires no deliberate or conscious conspiracy...most citizens are not aware of how they themselves can be totally unconsciously acting out undeclared, large-scale, societal policies in their own daily lives (from "A leadership-oriented introductory social role valorization (SRV) workshop, February 27, 2007). We can find ourselves in an unreflective pattern of living that we have been taught or socialized into. To break out of that pattern requires something remarkable to happen in us; we need to see how we unconsciously "all work toward a bad thing."

In regards to persons with disabilities in the church, we can say that we just didn't know about the structural injustice which might actually be true. If we are brave, we can ask those with disabilities about whether and how they experience structural injustice. And, just as my roommate helped me to see, we can help others and be helped to see things which are actually somewhat obvious once we are made aware. A good starting point would be for me to take my life experience and just compare it to the life experience of someone else. Say for example, a person with intellectual disability or someone who uses a wheelchair. What can I do, what opportunities do I have that he can't do or doesn't have? Why is it that there are those differences? Are they in any way justifiable? If not, why do we allow them to continue? Are there actual structures socially and otherwise which should not be present?

The church should NOT be the agent of structural injustice. Lets look for it reflectively and root it out.


Thursday, August 04, 2016

Podcast of Jeff McNair interviewed by Pastor Nick In't Hout

I was honored to be interviewed by a pastor Nick In't Hout, Associate Pastor at The River CRC of Redlands, California a while back. The interview was fun and covers a variety of subjects.
It is entitled, "Ep. 012 - Dialogue 3: Disabled Christianity".
Here is the link if you are interested in listening.

God bless,

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Programs, relationships and people with disabilities

Programs may lead to cultural change. When there are programs where once were no programs, this is a change in the culture. Whether it is a positive change or a negative change, one that excuses us from doing what is really necessary or one that puts us on the path to further cultural change is the question that must be answered.

There are programs that teach about the change that needs to occur and lead to that change. But there are also programs that are seen as the actual change, as achieving the goal. We must be careful to distinguish between these.

If there is a disability ministry in a church that didn't have one before, it has the potential to begin the cultural change that needs to occur. Excluded people are now present, perhaps spoken about when they hadn't been before. Rarely, however, do churches start out reflecting the maturity that ministries should aspire to. An aspect of that maturity is the recognition of the limitation of programs, by themselves, in achieving maturity. As has often been said in this blog, our desire is to facilitate the changes that come with relationships. But relationships can be very difficult and very demanding on individuals. As a result, we develop programs.

What we are seeking is a cultural change within the church. Programs may help to lead to such change, however, there is much more that needs to surround those programs. Any organization can develop respite programs and recruit volunteers and many secular and religious programs do. This is not to demean these programmatic components. However, the larger question for the church is how these programs are a part of the larger cultural transformation that needs to come in the church.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Societal perceptions about relationships with persons with disabilities and what they do as a result of those perceptions

Here is an excerpt from an article I am working on with my friend and colleague, Bryan McKinney. This is an excerpt from the latest draft.

"When confronted with the possibility of certain types of relationships, the social environment responds in a variety of ways. Let us consider a continuum of responses from the environment then look at how human services have been setting the tone for a significant understanding what disability is, particularly as it relates to relationships. Society has responded in the following ways.
1. Euthanasia
A 2016 article in the New York Post entitled, “Europe’s ‘cure’ for autism is euthanasia” made the following statement,
In early childhood, the Dutch psychiatric patient known as 2014-77 suffered neglect and abuse…He suffered terribly, doctors later observed, from his inability to form relationships…they treated 2014-77 for one more year, determined his case was, indeed, hopeless and administered a fatal dose of drugs (emphasis added).
Doctors observed suffering due to an inability to form relationships. It’s surprising that doctors evaluated interpersonal relationships. Did they then work to facilitate the development of relationships? The authors agree that the inability to form relationships could lead to personal suffering. However, if people “suffer” from the inability to form relationships, on whom can the blame be placed for that experience? If the combination of your impairment leading to social skill deficits (difficult to perhaps impossible to change) and my discriminatory eschewing of relationships with you (potentially changeable via addressing someone’s attitudes), leads to your being alone, shall we exclusively place the onus for change on you, the person with the impairment, and when you cannot change, take your life? If someone is suffering from social isolation to a significant degree because of my attitudes, this should not be the response to their suffering.
2. Abortion
Weil (2006) observed, some parents choose not to be in a loving relationship with a child with a particular characteristic, specifically disability. There are those who chose to avoid such relationships through prenatal diagnosis and abortion. As Rothman (1993) states, “decisions to continue or terminate a pregnancy are never medical decision. They are always social decisions” (p. 63). When faced with these “social decisions”, “About 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion” (Harmon, 2007). Reinders (2000) relates that if a person is suffering from down syndrome, it is often due to the way they are treated by society. So if they do suffer because of society’s discriminatory treatment, our response as a society is to kill the individual with down syndrome via abortion.
3. Segregation into institutions
The development of institutions for persons with disabilities was initially based on the idea that they could be educated to the point that they no longer experienced disability. Over time, it was realized that persons in institutions largely did not improve appreciably and ended up living a life of incarceration under inhuman conditions. However, for several generations before the horrors of institutions came to light, doctors would council parents of a newborn with severe disabilities, “Don’t hold or look at the baby. It will be better for you both if she is placed in an institution. Interactions had the potential to lead to relationships which might cause a family to not place their child in an institution (Scheerenberger,1987). As has been stated,
 “Social skill deficits in persons with disabilities has arguably been the reason for exclusion of persons with disabilities. But if the traditions of those without disabilities leads to the exclusion of those with disabilities, then one must wonder who has the social skill deficits?” (McNair & McKinney, 2015 p. 43)
4. Segregation into community residences
McKnight (1989) has written,
If one would say to the average citizen, “I want you to take five men and buy a house in a neighborhood in a little town where those five men can live for ten years. And then I want you to be sure that they are unrelated in any significant way to their neighbors, that they will have no friends, and that they will be involved in none of the associational or social life of the town.” I think that almost every citizen would say that this is an impossible task. Nonetheless…systems of…community services have managed to achieve what most citizens would believe impossible-the isolation of labeled people from community life even though they are embedded in a typical house in a friendly neighborhood in an average town.
 (McKnight, 1989, p. 2)
When the experience of life in an institution came to light, people were shocked. They demanded that the institutions be closed. As people were exited to community settings, the meager government financial assistance caused them to live in places plagued by poverty. Arguably those responsible were interested in protecting vulnerable individuals from the community. As a result, the type of arrangements typified by McKnight’s description above, were then and continue now to be pervasive. Persons in community residential facilities have a difficult time forming relationships with regular community members largely because they are being protected from the community. Additionally, those vendored to provide such services fear litigation should they allow access to the community and the community access to the residents.
This has been the situation for decades and in spite of concerns voiced about this arrangement, human services appear to be satisfied with these arrangements simply because they continue and minimal effort appears to have been made to alleviate fears of litigation should residents be allowed access to the community.
5. Paid relationships
Human service agency personnel might be enlisted to be in paid relationships with persons with disabilities. Baca and McNair (2013) described the paid agents in these relationships as “almost friends.” They also found severe problems with both agency understanding of friendship and what was permitted, as well as what was or could be done in the development of relationships, particularly friendships between people with disabilities and community members. We will discuss this further, later in the paper.
6. Relationships with other clients
One might also facilitate relationships with other persons with disabilities, particularly those under the care of state agencies. Issues related to this are discussed by McMichael-Pierce (2015). She describes how activities such as several group homes getting together for an activity or two sheltered workshops participating in a party together are considered community integration. These are evidence that state agency level and local human service providers lack understanding about what community integration is (that leads to integrated, unregulated social relationships).
7. Support families in relationship
It is arguable that there is an overreliance on families to be the providers of social relationships for persons with disabilities. Society, even within the church, appears to believe that persons with disabilities are the responsibility of families almost exclusively. Typical society members have bought into this perspective thinking if they pay taxes, programs will be developed and they have no personal responsibility. That this learned behavior is common is sad. That this same behavior exists within the church in spite of Biblical passages about the church as a body (1 Corinthians 12) and our responsibility love our neighbor (Matthew 22:39 and Mark 12:31) reflects the degree to which the church reflects patterns of the world when it should not (Romans 12:2).
8. The development of programs
Related to number seven above, society inside and outside of churches will choose to develop programs over engaging in relationships. Instead of developing friendships with persons with disabilities and their families, we develop programs to meet the needs that friendships would typically meet. We see this, for example, in respite programs. When families need a bit of a break, they will typically ask friends to watch their child and then at another time return the favor. Respite programs are created perhaps because families of children with disabilities do not have sufficient relationships with friends who will watch their child. If there is a program, it removes responsibility from me to develop a relationship which might make demands on me. Respite programs may undermine the kinds of support that grows out of or leads to friendship. Disability then is not addressed by relationships. Disability is addressed with programs, even within churches. Relationships remain unchosen in favor of programs which do not demand relationships.
9. Social skill development
One might also work on social skill development in an attempt to address impairments within individuals which could lead to difficulty in social relationships (Snell & Brown, 2014). This might be considered a medical model intervention (Silvers, Wasserman & Mahowald, 1998). The success of this training might be evaluated on the degree to which persons with disabilities are engaged in and chosen for integrated relationships.
10. Social ramps (universal design for social environmental change) leading to inclusion has been described as an intervention by McNair & McKinney (2015). The goal of this intervention is to help social environments to do the right thing (Wolfensberger, 1998). This might be considered a social model intervention (Oliver, 1990; Shakespeare, 2002).
11. Cultural change
Perhaps the ultimate way in which relationships impaired or unchosen would be addressed is through cultural change. This implies broadening what might be called typical in understanding relationships, and seeking a cultural change in what would be chosen. From a Christian perspective this would be no longer conforming to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:2). The renewing of one’s mind which is also mentioned in this verse would be to reflect a Biblical understanding of who people with disabilities are. This understanding should lead to a cultural change in which they are seen as created in the Image of God, having a purpose, being gifted and under the sovereignty of God for themselves and for the larger body (McNair, 2015). This perspective causes a change to chosen relationships and no relationships truly being seen as impaired. This is not to say that difficulties faced by people who have severe disabilities do not create relationships that cause significant effort, it is just to say that people can learn to see these relationships as desirable, beneficial, and depending upon one’s experience, even typical. The result is that they change to being chosen relationships. The authors have experience this change through efforts to be in relationship with persons with severe disabilities."

This article is in preparation for the Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability. Be looking for it, hopefully, in the Fall 2016 issue of the journal.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Cultural change based on Disability Ministry

I have been having conversations recently with people about the cultural change that needs to occur within the church. There are programmatic changes that would be good, and I am hoping to increasingly understand what they might be in order to advocate for change in those areas. However, the radical, cultural change that needs to occur is more interpersonal.
When I talk to people about what the endpoint, God's vision for persons with impairments in the church, I am sometimes cautioned. Friends will say, "Don't share the vision as you will scare pastors away from wanting to be involved in disability ministry." "We need to minimize the push back by not starting too boldly!" Those are the kinds of cautions I will receive. I get their concern. But let me be completely bold in describing the endpoint.  Are you ready?
The endpoint is that we would truly love our neighbors.
Sorry pastors if I now scared you away from involvement in disability ministry. But that truly is the endpoint. But that is so unbelievably radical, it should scare people.
Imagine a situation where I would sacrifice what I want in order to bless and love others. We hear this kind of language so often that it has become trite. So let me spell out an example. This is what loving your neighbor would look like.
  • I choose a friend with severe intellectual disabilities who lives in a segregated community setting and I visit him, every week, because I want to develop a relationship with him.
  • I find a friend with a disability who needs a regular ride to church in order to attend and some assistance while there and I both pick him up and accompany him while at church.
  • I develop a relationship with a family with a child with autism and a couple of times a month I go to their house and watch their child so that they can do whatever they need to do for a couple of hours.
  • I take a friend out for lunch once per week who although living independently in an apartment in the community, is basically living in poverty such that going out to eat is a big deal.
  • I have a phone call for 40 minutes one night a week where I talk to a friend with limited speech such that the conversation is me asking questions and he responding "Yes" or "No".
  • I bring a friend with a physical disability who has difficulty with transportation to a weekly Bible study that I attend so that she can both get out of the house a bit and grow in her faith.
I could mention dozens of other options. But these are sufficient. You see for a pastor to suggest this to congregational members is considered ridiculous, unrealistic, frightening, etc. You see, programs are great, but the promised land is relationships. I know I will step on some folks toes with this, but have you ever wondered why we need respite programs at church? Probably because there are people who do not having sufficient relationships with friends. Or there are people who have friends who are unwilling to provide respite for them.
It seems that that is too often the case. Program develop, at times, because individuals are unwilling to love their neighbors and do what that kind of love demands.
If my family member has a disability, whether or not I want to, I step up to support them, most often because I love them. But we have been socialized, trained as Christians to think that your family member with a disability is not my responsibility. I will refer you to state agency programs, to church programs, once again which are fine in themselves. However, I make no demands on myself as a brother in Christ to do anything. I have been socialized to think that I have no responsibility. So if I were a pastor and I told you that you DO have such a responsibility, chances are I would get a lot of push back or you would go somewhere else where no demands are made.
You see we minimize the end point that we should be advocating for which is loving your neighbor to the point that it costs you. It SHOULD cost you money, time, emotional peace, doing only things I want to do, comfort, etc. It will cost you all of these things. But that is what happens when you love your neighbor. If you are not paying the price of these things THROUGH THE CHOICES YOU MAKE in terms of developing relationships with people, then I would say you are not loving your neighbor.
It truly is as Kierkegaard  wrote.
 "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."
- Soren Kierkegaard, from "Kill the Commentators" in PROVOCATIONS

Yes the demands of the Bible are easy to understand.
Yes we are scheming swindlers.
Yes pretend to be unable to understand so we don't have to act.

We need to recognize this about ourselves and not accept this about ourselves.
Our leaders also need to get a backbone and tell us the truth!


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Overcorrections from 1 Corinthians 12:22-23

The phrases "seems weaker" and "we think less honorable" are both social determinations. Just to say "seems" implies a not entirely sound determination. Depending upon the task at hand, how I have been socialized, and my experience will determine how I perceive someone. However, there may be criteria for making this determination which are less than obvious or even unknown, needing to be discovered from a Biblical perspective, criteria may need to be taken by faith.
I have quoted this excerpt from The Letters of JRR Tolkien before, but it bears repeating (Carpenter & Tolkien, 1981, #246, p 326). He wrote...
Frodo indeed failed as a hero, as conceived by simple minds: he did not endure to the end; he gave in, ratted. I do not say simple minds with contempt; they often see with clarity the simple truth and the absolute ideal to which effort must be directed, even if it is unattainable, their weakness, however is two fold.
They do not perceive the complexity of any given situation in Time, in which an absolute ideal is enmeshed. They tend to forget that strange element in the world that we call Pity or Mercy, which is also an absolute requirement in moral judgement (since it is present in the Divine nature). In its highest exercise, it belongs to God.
Complexity may be hidden in a variety of ways. However, complexity hidden is still present. There is hidden complexity in people who seem to be weaker being indispensable. Apparently if they are indispensable, they are not weaker on every level, though they may appear so on some or many. In one or more ways, they can't be done without. Apparently, however, people do not perceive this.
Weakness and dishonor may be thought to be related, and may be, depending upon the culture. When rugged individualism was the value in America (seems to be less so today), weakness would be equated with dishonor. So as can be seen, dishonor may be largely socially determined. In another culture, where community is valued, an over emphasis on individualism might be considered worthy of less honor.
Personal characteristics generally speaking, whether the result of choices that people make or personal circumstances out of one's control can lead to dishonor. For our purposes, characteristic which may accompany impairment can cause society to think one less honorable.
However, at the same time, "seems" and "we think" although entirely subjective, may still lead to actions/behaviors based on these subjective determinations. You needn't be weaker for me to treat you as such and my treatment may actually contribute to you not only seeming to be weaker but you actually becoming weaker. And my treatment of you may actually contribute to you not only being though of as less honorable but actually becoming less honorable.
For example, I think an adult with intellectual disabilities is a child so I treat him in that manner, as weaker in the same ways a child is weaker than an adult. That person then perhaps embodies that perception to the point that they become weaker, like a child, as a result of that treatment. Treating someone who is an adult as a child causes them to experience disrespect, dishonor in the thinking of those who are observing, leading to a similar dishonoring (at best) in the observer's interactions.
I spoke at a conference in the US recently, and many of those in attendance could not understand this. The idea of treating someone in an age appropriate fashion was alien to them, and they would not accept the FACT that they were contributing to the devaluation of another person.
To correct by saying the seemingly weaker one is indispensable, is actually a significant overcorrection. He doesn't say that the seeming weaker are "pretty strong" or "actually can do some things" he goes to the absolute other end of the strength/weakness continuum saying they are indispensable.
The same thinking applies to those thought less honorable. We don't show them some patience or a little, rather we give them special honor. Perhaps honor above and beyond what we would typically show any person. Once again this is an overcorrection.
Why these overcorrections? Perhaps this is an attempt to bring things into balance or perhaps this is to make a point. Perhaps to support the statement that begins "on the contrary." The result of this perspective change should be a significant change in behavior. It demands we treat others with special honor now, which is a change in ourselves but also a change in perspective towards others. If ind out I desperately need others when before I didn't realize that I desperately needed them. The implication in both of these statements is that I have to be told about this relationship because my behavior indicates that I don't understand it. What would be evidence that I do understand? A significant change in my behavior. If someone would look at me interacting with someone in a way that reflects these prescriptions, it would cause them to wonder what it is that I see to cause me to act so differently. It may be that I do see something different which guides my behavior. Or it could be that I change my behavior as a result of what I am told and either actually do see or by faith I hope to see the indispensable nature and hope to see the result of treating someone thought less honorable with special honor.
It is as Amy Carmichael said in Things as they are, "...we believe to see, and believing even now we see..."


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Amy Carmichael and cultural change

Amy Carmichael was the famous Irish missionary to India. In her book, "Things as they are: Mission work in Southern India" (1905) she quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poem Aurora Leigh. The poem states, "It takes the Ideal to blow a hair's-breadth off the Dust of the Actual." Amy's response is, "It takes more. It takes God. It takes God to do anything anywhere" (p. 60). Later in the book she expands on this point. She was writing about mission work with Hindus. Think about this in context of our work with persons with disabilities within the church. She writes,
This custom as it stands is formidable enough. Many a man Indian and foreign has fought it and failed. It is a huge and most rigorous system of tyrannical oppression, a very pyramid to look at, old, immovable. But there is somthing greater behind it. It is only the effect of a Cause-the Dust of the Actual.
What can alter the custom? Strong writing or speaking, agitations, Acts of Parliament? All these surely have their part. They raise the questions, stir the Dust - but blow it off? Oh no! Nothing can touch the conscience of the people, and utterly reverse their view of things, and radically alter them, but God.
Yes, it is true, we may make the mose of what had been done by Government, by missionaries and reformers, but there are times in the heart histories of all who look far enough down to see what goes on under the surface of things, when the Sorrow takes shape in the Prophet's cry "we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth."
It is true. We have not. We cannot even estimate the real weight of the lightest speck of the Dust that has settled on the life of this people. But we believe to see, and believing even now we see; and when we see anything, be it ever so little, when the Breath breathes and even"a hair's-breadth" of that Dust is blown away, then, with an intensity I cannot describe, we feel the presence of the Lord our God among us, and we look up in the silence of joy and expectation for the coming of the Day when all rule, and all authority and power, yea, the power of the very Actual itself, shall be put down, that God may be all in all." (p. 68-69)

As I read this, I was touched by three quotes in particular. She says, "Nothing can touch the conscience of people and utterly reverse their view of things, and radically alter them but God."
Later she says,
"But we believe to see, and believing even now, we see..."
Finally she states,
"It takes more. It takes God. It takes God to do anything anywhere."

I was honored to be able to deliver a sermon last week at The Welcome, the church that Amy Carmichael started over 100 years ago. As I prepared for that talk, the above words really impressed on me the depths of the change we are hoping to see happen in the church. It is a dramatic cultural change. Something insidious underlies the "Dust of the Actual." We need to utterly reverse people's views of things. But we can't do that, no one can but God. At the same time, however, through faith, we believe to see. We can to some extant envision what that cultural change would look like. Yes we can work and yes we should work. But for the dramatic wholesale change culturally that needs to happen within the church, change of something tyrannical, and something old and immovable like a pyramid, our only hope is God. It is very unlikely people will embrace changes in the traditions of man in order to embrace the commands of God (Mark 7:8 & 13).

Let's begin to pray in that direction. We can do what we can but once again,

"Nothing can touch the conscience of the people, and utterly reverse their view of things, and radically alter them, but God."


Friday, May 20, 2016

Seeing disability as the change in me

In other places on this blog, I have discussed the question, "What is disability?" I often will settle on saying that it is a combination of the medical model, characteristics of individuals and the social model characteristics of environments. Therefore, when I endeavor to address disability with interventions, I will try to help people with impairments to improve their skills, abilities, etc. and I will attempt to change environments such that they are not discriminatory against people who have the characteristic called impairment.
As I have thought through these effort to address disability, it occurs to me, particularly in the context of ministry, that when my work to address disability changes me, I have experienced success in changing the impact of disability. We often look for changes in individuals (they understand something, or have improved in some way for example as the result of special education) or changes in the larger social environment (such that it is less discriminatory or more willing to embrace integration, etc.). However, an equally relevant evidence of successfully addressing "disability" is the change that is seen in the change agent himself.
If I am more friendly, or tolerant or loving as a result of my efforts, I have experienced success in addressing disability in an individual or group.
Clearly, if our interventions only result in changes in the individual with the impairment, we are not fully addressing disability as defined above. Equally true is that if we only intervene to change the environment and do not work to assist someone with impairments to maximize their potential, we are also not fully addressing disability. However, it encouraging to note that the changes I see in myself are at the very least a small measure of my success in addressing disability.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why secular human services needs the church.

When disability experts try to explain what disability is, they may use two models of disability: the medical model and the social model.

The medical model tends to see disability as a characteristic of an individual. So those in special education, or rehabilitation or other fields, including medicine, see a characteristic of an individual and attempt to improve the person's life who has that characteristic. In special education, for example, innovative methods for teaching reading have been developed to maximize a student's reading ability who might have difficulty learning to read. There is nothing wrong with these kinds of approaches. The problem sometimes comes when disability is seen as exclusively a characteristic of individuals.

The social model basically says that disability is discrimination. That is, I have a characteristic called impairment (whether physical, intellectual, etc.) and because of that characteristic, I am treated with discrimination by the social environment.

In thinking about how to address disability via interventions of one sort or another, it seems that human services (education, social work, rehabilitation, etc.) tend to focus almost exclusively on medical model strategies. They work to improve my skills, or my health or other things related to me personally. It is rare if at all that there are social model interventions undertaken. Let's think that through for a minute.

Imagine we have two individuals. One is the a person who is living in society, but they have no religious interest or are not participating in any kind of religious group. The other person is someone who has a religious interest and does participate in a Christian church of some flavor. How would one attempt to develop social model interventions aimed at diminishing discrimination in each person's social group?

For the individual who does not participate in a religious group, this becomes somewhat difficult. First of all, in which social settings would they find some form of integration? These are limited at best. If I were to attempt some form of intervention to reduce discrimination, it would have to be with the larger community, or city or even state or nation. It is no wonder that these types of interventions are rarely undertaken by human service providers. They are hugely daunting. It may actually be that human services are so medical model based that there is little effort to first of all even work toward community integration or understand what it is (visit this article for more on this), and second address social model issues. So there is probably less awareness over discrimination related to clients being in the community.

For the individual who does participate in a religious group, a Christian church, the foci for intervention is much more easily determined. If the church is comprised of 1000 members, for example, I can work within that social setting to mitigate discrimination which might be occurring. I can talk with leaders of the group, trying to help them to understand the discrimination that persons with impairments experience, give them strategies to reduce that on just a logical basis, or on the basis of the scriptures they state as underlying their religious practices. In other words, there are many options I might follow to work to reduce discrimination. I have worked doing these types of interventions with some degree of success.

I think the take home lesson of this is first that social model interventions are not occurring because human service providers envision a life for persons with disabilities that apparently does not include community integration based only on observable interventions they engage in. Second, religious/church involvement puts the possibility of social model interventions on the table in an easily employed manner.

Those in human services should seek the opportunity for church involvement for those they serve for a variety of reasons. But one of the most important is the ability to develop and implement social model interventions which would lead to community integration and attenuated discrimination toward those with impairments.


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.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"...a splinter in your mind"

I love the movie The Matrix. I have quoted it elsewhere in this blog. When Neo "awakens" from being inside the matrix he has the following conversation with Morpheus.

Morpheus : Your muscles have atrophied, we're rebuilding them.
Neo : Why do my eyes hurt?
Neo blinks
Morpheus : You've never used them before.

The point of the story is that virtually everyone in the world is not living in reality. They are living in a world that has been created for them, in this case by computers who are controlling them, that blinds them to reality. Morpheus awakens Neo to this reality when he disconnects him from the matrix such that he now understands reality and now is living in reality. Upon awakening to the truth, Neo is confused. He doesn't have muscle control and when he looks around, his eyes hurt. As Morpheus says, they hurt because, "You've never used them before."

I sometimes feel like I live in that same kind of unreality. In many ways I have been blinded to reality and in a variety of venues, even Christian venues, I have been taught unreality. When I try to love my neighbor, it "hurts" in part because I for that moment traverse the world of unreality into reality and whatever part of me gets used that hasn't been used in the past hurts me.

Earlier in the conversation between Morpheus and Neo, when Neo is presented with the pills there is this dialogue.

Morpheus sits down in the armchair opposite from Neo
Morpheus : Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo : No.
Morpheus : Why?
Neo : Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my own life.
Morpheus : I know..._exactly_ what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You've felt it your entire life. That there's something _wrong_ with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there...like a splinter in you're mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you _know_ what I'm talking about?

Of course in the movie, Morpheus is talking about the matrix, the unreality that people live in of which they are totally unaware. But there is an unreality of which we may be unaware in our lives as well. I feel the unreality in the church. Perhaps you can resonate with the lines above. 
"You are here because you know something." Do you ever wonder why you know something or see something that others do not?
"What you know you can't explain." I know that something is not right, it needs to be changed.
"But you feel it. You've felt in your entire life." The feeling is consuming and overwhelming. When you share it with others, you feel like and sound like a broken record. They listen kindly, but perhaps don't fee the urgency that you feel, have felt, for as long as you can remember.
"That there's something wrong with the world." That there is something wrong with the church. You know it, get glimpses of it, are desperately trying to put your finger on it.
"You don't know what it is, but it's there...like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad." You are trying to understand why what is wrong is wrong. You feel like it might be about what the vision is. Like a splinter that you are trying to get out of your finger, you are desperate to get this splinter out of your mind. It is like if you could describe both what is wrong and what should be, you would finally have some peace as the splinter would be gone. Once you got it out, you could look at it, and with some degree of relief, you could point to the splinter and feel like "That is what I have been trying to get out of me!"
"It is that feeling that has brought you to me." Well not to me per se, but to this kind of information. Perhaps you come to a blog like this hoping to get what you know affirmed. To know you are not alone in your thinking. When Neo meets Morpheus, all that he suspected is affirmed.
"Do you know what I'm talking about?" Of course you do, reader. You are struggling with the same things that I am.

If our eyes hurt, that is a good thing as we are finally using them. If you have the splinter in your mind, that is a good thing as God is perhaps trying to get you to do something, to understand something. If you are being hurt as you try to understand what God has put on your heart, that is also a good thing.People around you likely will not understand you. I have felt this. I try to humble myself to be sure that it is the message that they are rejecting and not the attitude of the messenger. But clearly, even as we grow in the development of ministry to and with persons with disabilities we will continue to face opposition as we push the envelope (1 Peter 2:20-21 says, "...But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before god. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you and example, that you should follow in his steps).

But whatever you do, do not lose your vision but ask God to clarify your vision. That has been my prayer in recent months, that God would give me a clear vision for the church as it regards loving our neighbor. In particular, loving people who have had devaluation done to them.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

"Being seen"

I had the privilege of hearing Katherine and Jay Wolf on Tuesday. They are an amazing couple with a website, and a book http://www.hopeheals.com/#welcome . I would recommend you go there and read the book.

Their presentation about their life experience was amazing, filled with trials subdued by hope. As they have come to understand disability, they made a point about a realization that had come to them. Basically it is that people with disabilities need to "be seen." It is a very basic starting point, but it is easy to understand that it is the beginning of everything. If I see you, you are in my presence and I am no longer avoiding you, at least on some level. If I see you, I begin to enter into your experience, understand a bit about what your life is like. Particularly in the case of individuals with disabilities, I am no longer sheltered from you. I can no longer say, "I didn't know" when someone describes your life experience. Being seen has the potential to be the beginning of manythings.

If people with a particular characteristic are not being seen, that leads to other, potentially negative outcomes. I remember the joke, "What the eye doesn't see, the cook gets away with!" That is, who knows what goes on in a kitchen when no one is watching. Well, what the eye doesn't see, human services gets away with. What the eye doesn't see, group homes get away with. We are often aghast at what people will record on video cameras. But the take home from that is not just that someone was caught doing something, but that the kinds of things that are not seen have been going on all of the time because people are not seen. Don't hear me wrong. I am not advocating increased video surveillance or the use of technology to in some way moniter people. Quite the opposite.

What I would advocate is that you see people with disabilities in your life and advocate that others see them as well. You have the ability to facilitate that by what you do. If I take someone out for lunch, I facilitate them being seen in the community. This is not always easy, though, as much of human services are a barrier to the friendships between people that would allow this to occur. But it is not just human services.

How well is your church doing in ensuring people with disabilities are being seen in a variety of Christian community contexts? Sometimes ministries can be so segregated, it is almost as if those in them are spirited in and out, with no opportunity for interactions with others in the environment. I don't think this is right. I am also not saying that people with disabilities should be put on display somehow. Rather, if they, like everyone else, are simply in the enviornment, singing songs, drinking coffee, listening to teaching, they become like everyone else. I guess "being seen" is a simple test for a level of being integrated.

Are people with disabilities being seen at your church? It is a simple test for integration. If people are being seen, that is a good starting point for many good things that could grow out of that.