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Everybody belongs. Everybody serves.
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Terry, thanks for sharing this fine article. In the past, a lot of people involved in justice work have ignored people with disabilities, even though they, as a group, are the poorest of the poor and the most oppressed of the oppressed in any society. When counting people with intellectual, sensory, and physical disabilities as well as people with mental illnesses, one is talking about 20 percent of the human population. It's so good to see that little by little, this vast portion of humankind (at least 1.3 billion people) are getting ignored less than they used to.
Here's a great article by someone on the autism spectrum about developing Cultural Competency in interacting with people with autism. More good advice for neurotypical people to help our churches to become the communities Christ intends us to be.
Here's a great article by someone on the autism spectrum about developing Cultural Competency in interacting with people with autism. It's the same basic idea as McNair's applied specifically to autism.
Jeanne, I praise God for the loving community at your church. From your description, it sounds like your church, this family, and this young man made decisions about his involvement in church based on his needs and his spiritual growth rather than on what people are most comfortable with. An expression of what a healthy body of Christ looks like!
A now young man with autism has been a member of the church where I am also a member since he was a toddler. The Children's Ministry Director immediately made sure that he was included in many of the children's programs. This was possible because a number of people volunteered to be a one-on-one companion. Throughout the years volunteers have also spent time with this young man during part of the worship service. He begins the service with his family and leaves during the message which is a beneficial to his family and to him as a change of pace for a long morning.
Amen, brother Case! Amen.
I had a person who could not speak! He come to stay with his extened family at my church. He was religated to the basement at the church he formerly attended. He could not talk but he loved the sing of sorts. The first day he attended I thought there was something wrong with the organ and made a mentel note to talk to the organist. To my shame It turned out that it was his singing. We accepted his singing but made one change. He longingly watched the communion elements pass him by. so we had him make profession of faith so that he could partake of communion as well. He could not speak but understood very well. When I asked him during the profesion service "where is jesus"? He pointed to his heart! His family answwerd the rest of the questions for him and I think with him. He was blessed and we were blessed when he became a whole member of the congregation. Acceptance is a beautiful thing in the eyes of Jesus who asks us to accept people unconditionally.
Yes, wisdom and discernment. Grace and patience. Truth and love. We all have our weaknesses and challenges. Barb Newman says that we're all puzzle pieces with green and pink parts. The green parts are things we're good at, and the pink parts are things we're not so good at. What a safe and delightful fellowship a church could be if EVERY one of us lived that out. The people with the greenest green parts never became prideful and were always willing to be ministered to by others. And the people with the pinkest pink parts always knew that their gifts were encouraged and well received by other members of the congregation.
Harold, ouch. So true. If only we in the church could practice with each other the rich beauty of the words we sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me."
Another discussion going on the Network right now is about the church's tendency to shut people out if they don't have strong social skills. The author of that article, Jeff McNair, ends his article with the painful and powerful reminder, "We do well to remember that social-skill deficits are not sin, but rejecting someone due to social-skill deficits is sin."
Hey Mark. Another issue that rears its ugly head is when a person with a significant disability engages in inappropriate and destructive behavior that labels them in a way that is not very flattering. They develop a "reputation.", especially in the church community. Now it becomes very difficult for them to find a secure haven in the very community that should be providing that safe and secure family. I can understand why this is, but it does make it difficult. The person with the disability can pick up very easily on this and that in of itself can make it next to impossible to reach out to these people. Harold.
Thanks Mark. That's helpful. I think the incessant talker is a tricky one because there are so many different kinds of a talking person that pushes the boundaries of social acceptance. The person who makes political comments assuming the listener is "on their side." The person who talks with a critical or negative attitude is a way that drags a conversation down. The person who doesn't necessarily talk too much, but who whose comments are off topic or tangentel to the direction of the conversation. The argumentative talker, etc. Lots of room for wisdom and discernment.
Doug, this is a great example, and a common one. I would suggest that no one is "driven away" by a person who talks too much, but they choose to walk away and stay away. It may be lack of verbal discipline, but as likely as not there could be many other factors involved in someone talking too much. So what can be done? Clearly, individuals need to help this person understand in a loving way that their not allowing others to get a word in edgewise is preventing them from hearing from others and learning from others who also have important things to say. Then those loving individuals would need to ask permission to give some sort of prompt when they are with the person who talks too much to remind them to stop speaking so that others can speak. As McNair says, the people who can adjust their social style need to do so to be able to lovingly interact with those who find this more difficult.
This call to adjust our social style is not a call to abandon setting boundaries on what we will and will not accept as appropriate behavior. But it does call us to lovingly help people understand how their behavior affects others and to help them learn new and socially more effective behaviors. We might be tempted to say, "That's not my job," or "It's none of my business." But in the body of Christ, mentoring and being mentored are both called for in the pursuit of learning to love in a Christlike way.
The hardest part about this is that it requires a lot of patience, but then imagine how we try God's patience every single day. If God is so patient with us, should we not also demonstrate some patience with others?
Example of social deficit? Some people talk too much and drive others away, or drive them crazy by their lack of verbal discipline. What would grace and truth look like in this scario?
A thought. By trying to set the disabled apart from "the regular" by NOT acknowledging that the media will see the disabled as one extreme or the other in the same way they see "the regular", we actually do set them apart. The media does not consider the "pitiable" regulars news either.
Elly, regarding your second point, God led me to the calling I have today as the Director of Disability Concerns through our oldest daughter, Nicole, who has severe multiple disabilities. Similarly, my wife is now a Special Education teacher after getting trained first as a German teacher. God used her as his instrument, just as we each pray that we'll be used by God to further the kingdom.
Where I struggle is that when the media talk about people with disabilities they are somehow set apart in the stories either as "inspirations" or as objects of pity. Either way, they are set apart from everyone else as a "them" as opposed to "us." That's why I have mixed feelings about "inspirational" pieces about people with disabilities. On the one hand, inspirational stories help us see that disability does not have to limit people to their stereotypes. (Wow, a woman who is blind can sew beautiful quilts!) On the other hand, these inspirational stories imply that a person with a disability only is valuable if he/she is inspiring. The truth, as you say, is that every one of us has gifts and talents, and every one of us is a "regular person." None of us needs to have our worth measured by whether we inspire others. We all have great value as God's image bearers.
Several thoughts come to mind on this topic, Mark. We are all people first, and persons with gifts/talents and disabilities second. That applies to both abled persons as well as those with disabilities. There are "regular people" and those with special talents and gifts among abled persons. Why should there not be "regular persons" with disabilities as well as those who have special talents and gifts? In fact, God has often used their disabilities to help them discover what their gifts and talents are. And isn't that the responsibility of all of us - to discover the talents and gifts God has given us, and to use them for His glory and for the benefit of our neighbours?
One additional thought: how many people have discovered their gifts and talents through their association with persons with disabilities? I'm one of those people. When I returned to work after being a stay-at-home mom for seven years, I started working in a nursing home as a care aide until I could take a refresher course to get my R.N. registration again. I worked in this facility for over 23 years learning from my residents with dementia, mental illness and physical disabilities on how best to journey with them and meet their needs. This led to my becoming involved in the Disability Concerns ministry, with a special interest in advocating for those with dementia and mental illness, which I had time for when I became physically disabled myself and could no longer work. I have a nephew who is studying to become a neuroscientist partly because of his interest in what is happening to his father's brain and life as a result of drug use. God has given each of us talents and gifts, and it is our responsibility to discover and use them. That applies to everyone, both abled and disabled. And isn't it great when we can discover our gifts through our relationship with each other?
Jeff, thanks for this explanation and challenge to all of us who believe our own churches are "friendly" without realizing that we exclude people from relationships because they are not able to follow the social rules of our church.
You also raise an interesting question in your suggestion that "the reason for the exclusion of persons with disabilities from churches is social skill deficits." Do others of you have examples of people pushed to the margins of a church because they have social skill deficits?
I think universal social design is a relatively new idea. In physical enviornments, universal design implies changing the enviorment such that physical accessability is facilitated. If I use a wheelchair, I have no ability to access a setting where there are only steps. I do not have the ability to change into someone who can use steps. So those in the environment change that environment by putting ramps in so that I have accessiblity. Social enviornments have developed such that there are certain social skills that are requisite for the environment. If I haven't those skills, I will be relegated to low social status and prevented from entering the social situation. Universal social design would imply changing the social rules of an environment that would allow for those with social skill deficits to participate in the environment. Let me provide some examples. If I am someone who has Tourettes syndrome, I cannot help that I make vocalizations. Typically, church worship services require me to sit silently (most denominations). Therefore I will change the worship enviornment so that someone who makes vocalizations is permitted social access (the social ramp is my rejecting my insistence on silence during a worship service). Other social skill "deficits" evidenced by people with autism or intellectual disability in other social environments might be imagined. People with Asperger's syndrome have told me that they have been told they are "wierd" by others because of their minor social skill deficits. These deficits need to be overlooked when people do not have the ability to understand social setting demands and change. The environment changes instead, broading what is acceptable in order that more people can be included.
It is arguable that the reason for the exclusion of persons with disabilities from churches is social skill deficits. In the same manner that the physical environment needs to change to include those with physical disabilities, the social environment needs to change to include those with social skill disabilities.
In Mark 7, Jesus says "You have a find way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions." Later he says, "Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." Our social skill rules are simply traditions that might be changed for the greater good of including persons with skill deficits into our social enviornments. If we reject people with social skill deficits, we have sinned not they. Universal social design would seek to broaden the range of acceptable social skill such that people are not rejected but that the community learns to love, accept, integrate those with social impairments.
Pam, great questions. Although Jeff's blog entry, Universal Design and the Christian Church, does not exactly answer your questions, it provides a lot of what you are wondering about. Mark
Thanks Harold. You keep up the good work of advocacy too!
Thank you for these words Mark. These are the type of "stereotypes" that are so prevalent. It makes our jobs more difficult sometimes. Our experiiences are so different. I think talking about it often and creating awareness in our churches are key to making the diffference. Keep up the good work!
What ARE universal social-design principles? Are you talking about a change in attitudes, or does this include actual differences in what or how we do things in regard to events and programs?
What "social ramps" are helpful?
There is still some work to do.
Compassion, Caring and Determination are exhibited in the Matthew, Mark and Luke quoted Scriptures (to me).
A person in need of these three traits (C,C,D) is better aided when they 'see' all three in me.
Bill, the point I'm trying to make is that we are all abnormal, so then it becomes meaningless to single out any particular group of people and call them "abnormal." And when it comes to what to call people, I don't think it's about being politically correct. Instead, it's about respect. Why not ask people what they prefer to be called? Most people who live with disabilities prefer people first language, so "people with disabilities" is preferred language.
I think we are obsessed with stamps, labels, boxes and categories. Mainly because of living in a systematic society and an overindulgence to become more intelligent. I believe everyone would benefit by "being human" first to every human being God has created and then worried about the categories. Maybe then we could realize how little classifications help us.
What's a more PC word? Challanged? Some people are mentally/physically/socially challanged?
One reason I appreciate each of you sharing your experiences with hearing loss and the impact it has on your life is because of our youth. I see teenagers either walking with headphones, ear buds or the radio blasting as they are driving in their cars. Each device playing music at excessive volumes. They are constantly bombarded with marketing that ignores how this will affect their hearing except for maybe some fine print in the instructions. But who reads instructions on how to wear headphones?
Maybe our youth will think about how they listen to music if we educate them about hearing loss by sharing real life experiences.
Thanks for sharing this, Affina.
I also have profound hearing loss, which is somewhat mitigated by digital hearing aids. Unfortunately for me, most of our church activities (after church coffee, dinners, receptions) are held in a social hall that has "live" acoustics, which makes the ambient sound level so overwhelming that it is difficult to interact with others. So, like you, I remove myself from these type of settings so as not to embarass myself (and frustrate others) by mis-hearing or asking others to repeat their comments.
This has resulted in a loss of many close friendships, since I am now considered "unfriendly". And the less friends I have, the less "connection" I have to our church. My wife and I are now considering looking for a new church home.
I love your story. I deal with hearing problems and tinnitus and am trying to learn how to accept the difficulties that come with hearing loss....thanks for your encouraging words.
Thanks, Mark, for bringing this up. I agree, this kind of service can be a way of welcoming people living with a lot of pain. I attended one in our community several years. It ministered to deep needs I had at the time.
If there is a special area for infants it could be utilized by people who are annoyed by candle odors.
Thanks Mark, for posting this! Timely for our congregation as we are looking to designate our church scent free. In many ways this is a pastoral care issue in that we need to be compassionate towards those who are allergic to scents as much as we need to help others be less judgemental and more accepting of those who live with allerigies towards scents, etc.
Bill, the main idea is to recognize that people are different, so to be loving we need to practice the teaching of Jesus: "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Our church has chosen to be entirely fragrance free for a few years now. It has been a mixed bag in terms of "success". On the one hand, people who suffer significant scent allergies and/or scent related migraines are very thankful and feel heard and loved in a way that they never had before. On the other hand, we've had the following issues:
1) Some people ignore the "fragrance free" request, in spite of our best efforts.
2) Guests don't know the policy before they show up, and either feel bad about having a scent, or will leave as soon as they see the sign, even!
3) We've tried having only a section of the church fragrance free, but that's like having a section of the church "air free"-- scents travel on the air; you can't limit them by having a fragrance free section, any more than you could limit smoke by having a non-smoking restaurant section, without walled off sections and completely separate air circulation systems.
In the end we maintain the policy out of love and compassion for those who really suffer, but we still wrestle with how to do it in a way that doesn't turn others away or make them feel bad.
As for Bill's comments: I'm really bummed out about them, Bill. You're comments display a fairly high level of ignorance and lack of compassion for anyone. It's unfortunate, in my opinion, that you saw fit to publish them here.
Thanks Aaron. The CRC Office of Social Justice and the Centre for Public Dialogue as well as other ministries have been doing some very fine justice work already. I hope and pray that work will continue to blossom and grow. There are lots of ways to participate to continue a movement for justice in the CRC. Feel free to be in touch if you'd like to participate!
Wonderful piece that needs further distribution. Thanks for writing so clearly Mark. How can we work together to build a movement for Justice in the CRC?
Maybe we should conduct all public worship on line. Each worshipper could select his own genra of music while accessing PayPal during the offering. Even better, select one's preferred music when becoming a member and the appropriate music style will automatically start when logging in.
You may have tinnitus. see google, wiki. My ears have been buzzing for 20 years. Probably cause by loudnoises and asparin overdoses.
Mark, acceptability perhaps ought not to be the primary criteria.... just sayin... Unless it is acceptable first of all to Christ. Jesus used the terms in a metaphorical way, even though, like you said, he clearly indicated that people were not maimed or blind or deaf because of their particular sin, nor even the sin of their parents. That's clear. When people say that some are physically blind because of lack of faith, they are not using a metaphor; they are simply speaking untruth. (Lying, or inaccurate) Only the blind can perhaps truly understand the metaphor, since how can one who sees really understand what it is to be blind? Thus the blind leading the blind.... but those blind think they can see, as Jesus said. "Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say , We see... But you remain guilty because you claim you can see" (John 9:41).
John, when talking about physical conditions, the words "blind" and "deaf" are perfectly acceptable to nearly everyone including people who are blind and people who are deaf. The concern I'm expressing is with the metaphorical use of these terms. Over the centuries, disability has often been associated with sinfulness. Though Jesus tried to end that ridiculous reasoning in his teaching recorded in John 9, his followers have persisted in this heresy. Many people with disabilities are accused of lacking faith, or experiencing disability due to unconfessed sin. Understandably, that kind of talk leaves people feeling wounded. So it's no wonder that some folks feel sensitive about metaphorical uses of the ideas of blindness and deafness because this metaphorical use is always negative - as in "deaf to the Word" or "blind to prejudice". Yes, our Lord himself uses the concepts of blindness and deafness metaphorically. So I'm not going to say we should never do so ourselves, but I'm saying that doing so can hurt others. And since that's true, why not find other ways of expressing the same ideas?
While sensitivity ought to be a characteristic of the christian, we ought also to remember that Christ himself used the term "the blind leading the blind" to describe the leaders of Israel. (Matthew 15). Or remember the phrase, "...hearing they do not hear"? I am old enough to wonder if sometimes I am losing my hearing slowly, due to a constant buzzing in the ear. I could refer to it as a "difficulty" or some other euphenism, but the truth is that if I am becoming deaf, that is what it is. Being almost blind without my glasses.... is what it is.
My value and worth to Christ is not based on the little hammer in my ear, nor in the cornea or retina of my eyes, nor on whether I am missing a fingernail or an arm, or have a hip replacement, or suffer arthritis, or need a cane or walker or wheelchair. As Christians we take each other the way we are, and not as someone we would like to be or imagine to be. Without minimizing it, whatever physical handicap we might have, is as nothing compared to the handicap of pride, or self pity, or lack of relationship with Christ. Sugar-coating our condtion will probably not help either in the physical or spiritual realm. Christ makes all things new. We are not different just because we use different words to describe our frailties, but we are new because we can see beyond our condition, because Christ loves us.
Well said Mark. Thank you.
I would add that applying the word "mere" to thoughtlessness gives excuse to our thoughtless attitudes.
The opening illustration of this blog gives an example of "thoughtlessness" that demonstrates prejudice against people who are single by someone who is married. Put it under the category of "When married people don't know they're being married."
Bill, language keeps changing. If we listen to the voices of people who are blind, you'll find many of them saying that it pains them to hear their blindness associated with "lacking perception, awareness, or discernment." Similarly, people who have intellectual disability with the word "retard." My understanding of 1984 is that Orwell was concerned with the increasing use of language to deceive people. One can easily talk about lack of perception and stupidity without resorting to words like "blind" or "regarded."
Joy, I used the term "sexual orientation" to refer to someone's attraction either to persons of the opposite or same gender or both, which is the usual use of the term. Regarding my beliefs, I agree with the CRC's statement on homosexuality. That statement makes the same point I'm trying to make in this blog, "Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement." Heterosexual people sometimes show blatant prejudice and more often we engage in "thoughtless" (to use your term) actions and language that can really hurt people with homosexual orientation. So I disagree with you that thoughtlessness can be contrasted with prejudicial behavior. Prejudicial behavior frequently takes the form of thoughtlessness. When we only act within the realm of our own experience and (often unintentionally) shut out others from participation in worship, congregational meetings, and so on, that's prejudice in action.
I agree with you that not every church can afford big changes to their buildings, but the most important changes must come in our own attitudes - which is a costly change, but does not involve any dollars. To push back a little more, if we consider that about 20 percent of people in North American live with disabilities, shouldn't we devote a part of our church budget every year (at least 10 percent) to including people who have disabilities in the life and ministry of the chuch?
No one has read "1984?" As I recall, George Winston's work duty was to edit words and phrases out of the English language in order to dumb down the general public. The above sentence is a prime example of trying to trash the English language. from google, note the second definition and synonyms under adjective: blindblīnd/adjective
Thank you for articulating so very clearly how we need to work on being more aware of how we act and what we say. I have often heard from others and said something myself similar to, "It was not my/our intention to exclude fill in the blank." Statements such as this should tell us that if we indeed do not want anyone to be or feel excluded, then we need to be "intentional" to do our best to include ALL God's children in everything we say, do, and experience as the body of Christ.
Grace & Peace,
No Mark, it seems that you are confusing prejudicial behaviors with mere thoughtlessness. For example not having the bulletin printed in large print might be thoughtless but it's not prejudicial. Also maybe there just isn't the funds to retrofit a ramp or something for wheelchairs. Of course new church buildings should be wheelchair accessible as one can simply ensure the main entrance is right at ground level not needing one to climb up some stairs. However it can be expensive to retrofit an older church building. Perhaps all one needs to do is think outside the box and when 'Mrs Jones' arrives in her wheelchair a couple of able-bodied men can lift 'Mrs Jones' up the couple of steps. Similary for a deaf person, instead of installing the expensive system for the hard of hearing perhaps one can simply offer the person a copy of the sermon (notes).
It amazes me when those that profess to be Christian make reference to 'sexual orientation' not realizing that in reality it can mean any sexual orientation including pedophiles; those who commit bestiality etc.
While a deaf person might need a copy of the sermon; a person with vision problems a larger font bulletin; a person in a wheelchair needing a lift up the stairs. Are we expected to be accepting of homosexual marriage / adoption etc.? Surely this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=diC0A3Ik7Tc is a more Christian approach to homosexuals.