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

Friday, December 27, 2019

Disability ministry and cultural change in the church

Matthew 9:16-17
"Besides, who would patch old clothing with new cloth? For the new patch would shrink and rip away from the old cloth, leaving an even bigger tear than before. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved."

Jesus replied this way to the disciple of John the Baptist when they asked about his disciples and their fasting. There might be an aspect of this which applies to the cultural changes in the church that need to occur with the presence of persons with disabilities. The old cloth or old wineskins might be the past and at times current practices of the church in relation to persons with impairments. The new patch or new wine, may be inclusion and belonging of persons with disabilities that does not easily work under the old practices. That is why something new is required.

Disability ministry done well is not simply a room where persons with impairments go, or another program on a night when no one else is there. Would you feel loved and a part of a church, if you were only invited to come there when people who others wrongly considered as having a life defining characteristic were also invited or present? What you experience might be better than no involvement or better than what you have experienced in the past, but it is not what is best for everyone. I will at times try to illustrate this by talking about a church having a "ministry to blue people." Imagine a church that only invited people with blue skin to come on a night, once a week or once a month. This form of discrimination would become the defining characteristic of that group. Yet we think that is OK when it comes to persons with disabilities.

Maybe the cultural change that needs to occur in churches is tantamount to new clothing because the new cloth patch wouldn't hold or new wine skins to hold the new wine. I think one of the points of this is that if the clothing can't be patched, it must be replaced. The new wine needs to be put into a wineskins and the old won't work anymore. The new wine is put into new wineskins so BOTH are preserved. The cultural change needs a culturally changed setting so "both are preserved." It is as Jesus demonstrated. Something that needs to be changed, should be changed. Applying the metaphor to our subject, the change will be good for both the church and those with impairments.


Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The friends of musicians' ministry

A group of people gathered in a room. Some carried musical instruments that they carefully removed from their cases and proceeded to warm up playing various scales. A kind person strolled to the front of the room and the sound quieted a bit.

"Welcome everyone to our Wednesday night friends of musicians meeting! I see you have brought your instruments which is great. I am so blessed by being with you on these evening meetings twice a month."

The musicians and those accompanying them smiled back cheerfully.
"Sometimes I wish more of our church family could hear you play your instruments."
The leader paused.
"But we have had our ministry to musicians twice a month like this for so long. The way it is, is just part of how we are."

Most of the musicians had always been separated like this and didn't have experience otherwise. So they gathered in groups and played their instruments together. There was much joy and laughter as well as genuine appreciation for their gifting. They were really quite skilled. Those with them did not have the same gifting, were not talented musically, but they sat with them, listened happily and provided encouragement. Yet, they had become used to the tradition of segregation where no musicians ever came to church or worship on Sunday.

"If musicians came on Sunday, we would probably have to change the way we do things" was the feeling of many people. "We would have to sing songs or listen to instrumentals being played. Our worship service would probably be a lot different if we included musicians and I like it the way it is."
But at one meeting where such a statement was made, a brave soul spoke up.
"I wonder if musicians are God gifted musically so that the way we do church would change, would be different. I wonder what worship would be like if we integrated musicians and allowed them to express their gifting?

A leader spoke up.
"I don't want people staring at people when they play their clarinet, their instrument. And some people don't like music so I don't want people to feel bad because of those people. Why should people feel bad about being a musician?"
The lone voice responded, "But the Bible itself talks about music and how people who are created as musicians are indispensable, have much to contribute and are to be celebrated. Their lives have purpose for the whole community."

"We are not changing so that musicians can demonstrate their gifting. Let them be together twice a month on Wednesday night and demonstrate their gifting then."


Thursday, November 21, 2019

JCID The Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability is now FREE!

At the Christian Institute on Disability, a part of the Joni and Friends organization, we have been publishing a journal since 2012. Up till now, there was a cost for subscription or for individual articles. Recently, we have worked to put JCID completely online and make it free for users. I would invite you to visit the website and check it out!
If you go here https://journal.joniandfriends.org/index.php/jcid you will be taken to the latest issue where you can read Dr. Ben Rhodes and my article entitled, Toward a Christian Model of Disability. You will also be able to read some responses from leaders in disability ministry to the ideas presented there.

So please take a minute, visit the website and read the articles!
God bless,

Segregation of persons with disabilities

I was recently in a meeting where I was sharing about the importance of people being fully integrated into the church. Change in church culture begins with presence. See a discussion of this here.
One parent of an adult son spoke up. I will paraphrase the person, but the comment was basically, "I want segregation! Segregation is the best thing for my son!" When I pushed back gently, the response was, "I want a place (referring to a segregated ministry that meets once a month on a week night) where no one will look at my son as if he is different. I want a place where he will be accepted. So that is why I want segregation."
I responded that "If there are places where your son experiences that kind of treatment, I can understand why you would feel that way. However, how will those places ever change if there is not integration?"
If the person's son is always segregated and is never in contact with other members of the community, then his presence will always be strange because his presence is unusual. However, should that same son be regularly in the mix with everyone else, he will become familiar and hopefully invited to friendship with others. Persons with disabilities are actually very common members of our community unless we isolate them from the community. We make people who are just people seem strange by the social isolation we impose upon them and we shouldn't do that.
Should people fear integrating family members, particularly those with severe disabilities into the community? I can see their concerns, particularly if people have experienced some form of discrimination or poor treatment in the past. It is our natural reaction to protect ourselves or our children. But at the same time, change in our communities will never occur if people are segregated. It is only presence that will lead to cultural change in how we do things. This is true in the church when our traditional ways of doing things can get in the way of the changes that need to occur for integration to take place.
Arguably, the very first step in cultural change is presence. Let's do all we can to facilitate the presence and then model the acceptance that we endeavor to see.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Inclusion of persons with disabilities in the church

As had been mentioned before in this blog, my wife and I lead a ministry to adults with disabilities at my local church. Its called the Light and Power Company. Each week we have a typical bible lesson to the 50-80 adults who are present. This past week, we studied the passages from 
Luke 6:6-11, Matthew 2:9-14, and Mark 3:1-6 where Jesus healed a man's right hand, on the Sabbath, in the synagogue. The story is interesting on a variety of fronts. But the aspect that struck me this time, was how the leadership would refuse to see the obvious positive nature of Jesus healing the man's hand. This was no doubt a person in their community, familiar to them, who perhaps experienced hardship because of his impairment. To their credit, he was in the congregation, hopefully not just invited on this one occasion to try to "trip" Jesus up. 

When Jesus does heal the man's hand, their response it to want to kill him. Their theology is wrong on so many levels. Wrong in not loving their neighbor, wrong in putting their traditions over the commands of God, and wrong in their response to Jesus doing an obviously beautiful thing for the man. But Jesus' actions didn't fit into their tradition straight jacket they had been conditioned to believe. Because we have not done something in a particular way, because I haven't be trained about this response, perhaps as with the Pharisees I have been trained to think this change in tradition is wrong, I will resist it.

We continue to stand at a crossroads in ministry. Will we love all our neighbors and embrace the changes that need to occur to love them and include them? Or will we, like the Pharisees, literally conspire to do evil in the process of resisting change. Hopefully we are not plotting the kinds of things the leaders in Jesus' time were, but we can still engage in evil when we exclude people on the characteristic called impairment. 

Its sad how we can see the blindness in the Pharisees when they can't see something clearly presented, but cannot see our own blindness. A similar story could be told about where some of us are in our stranglehold on tradition.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Disability ministry and social skills

In the last month, I have had the opportunity to travel to two places which are quite different when it comes to social skills. In France, I was at times greeted with a kiss on the cheek. In China, I learned a new meaning of "personal space" in that people will get very close to each other, even strangers. It occurred to me, if I kissed a man in China on the cheek, or stood as close to someone in France as people did in China, I would be considered quite strange because of the social customs of each place. There is nothing at all wrong with the social customs in either of these places. If I were to stand close or kiss on the cheek, I am not doing anything wrong...from a moral perspective. However, because of social traditions, I would be very wrong in either place.

Can we make this connection with those with disabilities who do not understand social skills? They are like the French person who kisses the Chinese person on the cheek, or the Chinese person who stand too close to the French person. They have done nothing wrong. They have only carried their tradition of social behavior to a place where the understanding of social behavior is different. As soon as we understand that people are from different places, we will likely forgive the misunderstanding and even enjoy or embrace it. When we go to those places, one of the things we enjoy are the differences in culture we experience. Are we willing to do the same for people who are not from a different culture, but just don't understand the social skill demands of the place where they are?

Social skills are too often the reason why person are excluded or rejected. As stated elsewhere in this blog, we hold to our traditions and reject the command of God to love our neighbor (see this posting on Disability Ministry and Traditions). How refreshing it would be if we were more accepting of others and their differences, particularly those which are simply social skill differences. May God help us to not let small things like social skills get in the way of loving our neighbors.


Friday, April 05, 2019

Disability as it relates to people, the community and God.

I have been thinking a lot about relationships involving individuals, the community and God. See this link for some of my thoughts. Recently in putting together a sermon on 1 Corinthians 12, the following occurred to me.
"Like the Corinthian church that Paul addresses, we face the same issues of disobedience that they did. We need to look at ourselves in the light of his exhortations. Because we have ignored or excluded individuals with disabilities, we have not become all that the Body of Christ should be. But we actually do not know what we would become if parts of the body that have been excluded were now included.

God in his sovereignty, has created individuals and his church. The way both of those are reflects how he wants them to be. Under his sovereignty, people are the way they are for themselves, for the community and ultimately for God. If someone is rejected because of personal characteristics, this reflects a misunderstanding of people, community and God. It is a threefold mistake. People aren’t able to express their God given purpose. The community or the Body of Christ will never become what it was meant to be, and arguably we are disobedient to God’s sovereign purpose."

I recently heard someone say that rejection of people is a "sin against the Body of Christ." I agree with that, that is how serious it is. This threefold mistake is so basic. It calls so much into question.


Friday, February 08, 2019

Euthanasia of children with disabilities

From Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger (1976)
"When legalization of euthanasia comes, it will come in the name of six favorite deceptions and disguises. They will say (as I can clearly document) that putting a person to death is good medicine and good science. The second disguise will be mercy, love, humanism and honesty. Thirdly, religion: remember that Satan pretends to be God. This is his favorite disguise at all times. So we will be, and have been, told that it is good Christianity to put people to death. The fourth one is the denial of the value of life, the claim that certain lives are not worthy, perhaps invoking cost-benefit issues. Fifthly, of  course, and maybe the most obvious one, is the denial of humanness of a person and that, therefore, murder will not be murder. Sixthly, euthanasia will be good law. It is essential that we should recognize those six signs, because they have much persuasive power." ( The Prophetic Voice and Presence of Mentally Retarded People in the World today, 1976, p 30).

In all the discussion revolving around the NY, Virginia and Vermont laws, there seems to be the underlying idea that infanticide/euthanasia is particularly ok if a child is born with a disability. Somehow, #5 above is always in play because if someone is disabled their lives are not worth living. It is crazy that the same people who would support the taking of the lives of children with disabilities, claim to support children and adults with disabilities. I wonder how long that will last if we move down the slope of infanticide. If it is ok to murder newborns, why not ok later in life. We have seen in Europe the permission to euthanize children up to age 4 (autism is often not diagnosed till age 30 months or later). Is that the next step that will be advocated in the name of "women's health?"

We all have heard of Roe vs. Wade, but have you heard of Doe vs. Bolton? This is the law that basically permits late term abortions for just about any reason. Don't believe me? Search the law.

"In a Los Angeles Times analysis, David Savage explained: ""[Supreme Court Justice Harry] Blackmun had said that abortion'must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.' So long as doctors were willing to perform abortions - and clinics soon opened to do so - the court's ruling said they could not be restricted from doing so at least through the first six months of pregnancy." During the final trimester, "It soon became clear that if a patient's 'emotional well-being' was reason enough to justify an abortion, than any abortion could be justified." (https://secure.mccl.org/doe-v-bolton.html more information is available on this website).

Could the "health" of the mother be considered as a reason for infanticide if it is use as a justification for late term abortions? Seems like a logical next step. Mothers will often experience emotional stress at the birth of a child with a disability. Get ready for the horror of the next  likely step.

Please wake up Democrats and Republicans too if it applies to you as well! Do not support this evil.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Disability ministry perceptions

So often, when we consider the development of ministry to persons in some way affected by disability, we focus on our perceptions of the situation. We have customary ways of doing things that have become comfortable and ingrained. Then someone comes to us who either cannot or will not participate in those customary practices. During the times when we don't reject them, we tend to think about our perceptions of the situation. What do I need to do? How am I feeling? How can I help these people? It strikes me that although these are good questions to ask ourselves, they only reveal half of the equation.

I wonder what people with autism perceive when they come to church? What do they perceive when they enter a social situation? It would be interesting to begin by trying to understand their perspective.

Imagine someone with a disability, say autism or intellectual disability, riding in a car on the way to church. What are they thinking? As they get out of the car and walk toward the door of the church or the ministry, what are they anticipating will happen or are hoping will happen? As they go into the worship service, do they understand what that is about? When people around them are singing and raising their hands, what do they perceive that activity to be? If we were to explain to them what worship is, would they feel they have worshiped? Do we know the answers to these questions. When the class/ministry/church experience for the day is over, would the person say, "Yes, I received today what I was hoping to receive from my experience at church."

In part, the answer to this question goes to the culture of the church or ministry. If people have different perceptions of the world due to disabilities that impact their intellect, are the activities that impact those without those types of disabilities touching them in the same way?

Take for example something as "intuitive" as friendship. I have a man who is a friend of mine who is autistic. He seems to be constantly always on the lookout for a friend. He will attempt to reach out in friendship to others, people with intellectual disabilities, and although they might respond in a friendly manner, they seem to not be providing what he is after. His perception or understanding of friendship seems in some ways to be different from theirs. And like many people without disabilities, they either don't understand what he is after or are not interested in engaging in the type of completely appropriate relationship that he is seeking.

I think it would do us well in ministry to attempt to understand how those we are seeking to serve perceive us, what we are trying to do, and whether to them, we are being successful. What we learn would not only impact what we do in ministry, but potentially also impact recommendations we would make on how these same individuals might be socialized in their upbringing.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King and "changing the edifice"

I have been thinking and writing a lot lately about the ways in which the Christian community's culture needs to change in order to better love our neighbors, in particular those with disabilities. In that process, I ran across this amazing quote from Dr. Martin Luther King. He said,

"On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring." (“A time to break the silence,” 1967)

I think this is particularly relevant in the context of developing an inclusive church culture. People can be fooled into thinking that the answer to ministry to persons with disabilities is some form of segregated ministry whether it is at the church or in a different place. This is the "haphazard and superficial" approach to disability ministry. We have meetings on days when few people are at church. We have segregated programs for every age group. These make us feel like we are doing something but in reality we are not doing what is needed.

As Dr. King instructed us, we need to change the edifice that causes us to settle for flinging a coin to a beggar. But changing environments, such that the changes that are required are implemented, is exceedingly difficult. This is the hard work of disability ministry. We reflect on how we do things, our traditions, etc. and then seek to change any edifices that cause us to be straight jacketed into "solutions" which may actually exacerbate difficulties for those we are claiming to assist.

Flinging the coin to the beggar won't keep him from living in poverty. Segregated ministries will not cause the church to become what it needs to be if it wants to truly love its neighbor.