Saturday, July 20, 2013

Marriage Matters: Monica and David

The evangelical world has been abuzz the last few months, waiting to see how trends in legal interpretation will impact marriage.  As the rhetoric dies down the lines have become clear.  Modern marriage has two distinct definitions and contexts -- one as a sacrament ordained by God and administered by the church - the other a civil agreement made for legal, tax, and insurance purposes administered by the government. While some will laud and other decry recent decisions, there is still a group of Christians who find it difficult becoming accepted and married within the church.

People with intellectual disabilities have the same emotions and drives as a typical person.  They fall in love, look for comfort and companionship, and dream of a lifelong partner.  Yet both parents and clergy often put an end to that dream quickly.  I understand.  As a parent of a daughter who jokes about boyfriends and likes to dance, I know that someday I will play the part of an overprotective parent.  I also know the quickest way to make a long winded pastor speechless is to ask him to officiate a ceremony between two intellectually disabled adults. 

The 2010 Tribeca Film Festival Award winner Monica and David follow the life of two thirty somethings who decide to get married.  The film focuses on their wedding and the first year of marriage life. An honest analysis indicates that many of the same struggles they encounter are actually very similar to those that every newlywed couple finds. Just as anything else, people with disabilities are just like you and I.

To be sure the supports are still there, intentional conversations were held, and detailed plans were made and rehearsed endlessly.  The success of their marriage is largely due to the close ties they have with family and community -- but isn't that true for all of us?  Perhaps one of the lessons this teaches us is that marriage relationships would become healthier if we were more interdependent with one another.

As people with intellectual disabilities live longer and assimilate more, pastors will need to be ready to sit down with them and those close to them.  As a keeper of the sacrament, pastors will play a role in counseling both the parents and the couple into charting an unwalked journey.   Relationships are key.  A great way to do this is to become engaged in the development of a person centered plan years before wedding bliss even appears on the horizon. This overprotective dad will thank you for it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Morphing Disability

Two news stories regarding people with disabilities appeared this week.  Both of them made me stop and think.  The first was about a woman who was seeking to pay surgeons to make her permanently physical disabled.  The second was about a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts who believe they have unlocked the first step in turning off the 47th chromosome of Down syndrome.  Both stories challenge our thinking on medical ethics, social integration, identity, anthropology, and ministry.  What does it mean to be disabled?  Is this a step that the biomedical sphere should engage in?  Does the advances of medicine even contribute to our socially constructed ideas of disability?

Many people with late onset disability often wish they could return to their previous state – because they have knowledge of it.  Those with lifetime disability have no frame of reference outside of disability and often will express the desire to remain with that particular disability.  Both groups attempt to assimilate in culture all the same.

Perhaps the ladies request to become disabled is shocking because those of us who are not yet impaired cannot fathom a life devalued like that, never realizing that we are the ones that contribute to that very perception.   Our minds quickly argue that she is in need of serious psychological healing.  

Yet are we not the ones who require a cure?  Perhaps if we developed meaningful relationships with and integrated people with disabilities into all aspects of our lives and friendships, this request would not even register in our consciousness – we would welcome her not matter what.  Our problem is that of blindness. Sharon Betzer, author of Spirit and the Politics of Disablement neatly relates this optic problem with the story of the threatening man who became an unnoticed invalid with the wave of a white cane.  The first picture invoked fear; the second was not even noticed.  Neither of these reactions are appropriate.

It is no longer unfathomable to think that genetic science might provide clues to identity.  While some (me included) appropriately wonder if we are crossing a line that belongs to God, we do so having already benefited from numerous technological and medical advances that crossed that same line years ago.  We forget our own heritage.  Yet my main concern does not lie in the fact that someday this might be possible and some may choose invasive corrective procedures.  It rests in the fact that those who do not choose it may become further alienated and disfranchised.

Our calling as disability ministers remain clear – whatever choices people make, whatever identity they absorb as part of the bearer of Christ’s image, we are to prophetically gather all in one body to worship.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Expanding Capacity

It's nice to be home.

I've spent most of the last month in Wisconsin, Michigan and Missouri meeting and talking with disability ministry leaders from around the country. One thing I've observed is that the methodology we do ministry is changing as the cultural attitudes which shape our audience has evolved over the last several decades.  Barb Ward Dittrich rightfully points out in a recent blog that the basis to ministry is still rooted in relational friendship -- reiterating the theological development Hans Reindeers penned in the Gift of Friendship.

For those of us involved in well established ministries this presents both opportunities and challenges.  The entrenchment of our methods gives us a place to be comfortable -- to be at home.  Venturing out into unfamiliar territory and strange surroundings is as uncomfortable as an extended-stay hotel mattress.  It is much easier to retreat towards and relax in a place we know is safe.

Recently, I sat and listened to Dr. Craig Van Gelder, a noted North American missiologist, as he discussed the processes needed and the obstacles to expanding capacity in ministry.  There is no question that all of those in disability ministry want to find more volunteers, develop more networks, and find ways to minister more effectively alongside those in our churches and communities.  The biggest obstacle to that goal tends to be our desire to remain comfortable where we are.  Our discussions were scripturally rooted in Luke 10. This passage related the story of when Christ commissioned the seventy to go out as the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.  The next few verses have deep yet simple implications for networking, hospitality, ministry funding, and expansion. Why? -- because it challenges all involved to move out of normal comfort and into a trusting dependency upon God's providence.