Bartimaeus

bartimeus

I attend a church that follows a lectionary for the scriptural theme of each Sunday. The lectionary provides a framework for daily and weekly bible stories, music, prayers and preaching. Typically lectionaries revolve around a three year cycle, meaning that every three years the same scriptures come around again. So, in my years in a lectionary church I have heard the story of Bartimaeus and Jesus at least once every three years.  The story has become familiar to me, the story of “Blind Bartimaeus.”

This lectionary cycle, however, it was as if I was hearing the story for the first time! I noticed some elements in the story that were fresh and engaging. To me, as a person keenly aware of disability advocacy and faith-community inclusion for people with disabilities, I heard a story that models the way. (Jesus has a way of doing that, modeling the way.)

  1. “Blind Bartimaeus” is not the moniker that Jesus used to identify this man. It is the label that others have stuck on him, others who did not understand the harm that may happen when a person is identified by their disability instead of being identified first as a person. The interaction between Bartimaeus and Jesus, as described by Mark, is centered on the person of Bartimaeus, not his disability.  Jesus modeled People First Language and ideology before it existed!
  2. Jesus noticed a man who lived on the fringes of his society; Bartimaeus was a person who was culturally, socially, and economically  marginalized. By reason of his disability he was forbidden to participate in the daily life of his community, his hometown of Jericho. He was a person to whom it was acceptable for others to say, “shut up!” (Mark 10:38: Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.) Jesus noticed a person that others rejected; Jesus, again, modeled the way.
  3. Jesus did not impose his own opinion and plan on a person with a disability. He did not make an assumption about why Bartimaeus was calling out to him.  Jesus asked Bartimaeus what he wanted, then he listened and honored the answer. By not assuming that he knew what another person wanted, Jesus models for us how to unprejudiciously listen to other people. Jesus was person-centered with his interaction with Bartimaeus. (In a nut shell, person-centered means putting aside personal agendas and plans for the sake of focusing on the desires and needs of another person. It is a term used in service and life planning with people who have disabilities).
  4. Jesus modeled the way of inclusive communities by not turning Bartimaeus away when he chose to become a follower of Jesus. I realize that I am making an assumption about Bartimaeus with this point, but I believe that there is sufficient information about the first century mid-eastern region where this story occurred to make this assumption: As a marginalized, disabled beggar who lived on the margins of his community, Bartimaeus did not have observable education, talent and skills to offer to the ministry of Jesus and his band of followers. But that did not matter to Jesus as he seemed to delight in including the misfits, tax collectors, zealots and others of questionable reputation to be his followers. Bartimaeus was included, just as was everyone else.

Jesus always models the way!

Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)   46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Note regarding image- I found this using a Bing search with the key words “Bartimaeus,” “healing.” It seems to have originated from the University of Michigan, but no citations were attached to it. If this image is yours or you know any details about where it originated from please contact this author and it will be removed or proper citation added.

End the R-Word

 Words matter. They are a reflection of what is in our hearts. Jesus put it this way, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks*.”

When I say to my son, “I love you,” my words are expressing my heart and thoughts about him. I say three words that express a world of emotion, hopes, memories, and delight in him as a human being.  My son knows what I mean when he hears or reads those words.

Similarly, when I say, “You are beautiful,” to a friend my words are telling her that she is a kind, gracious, and strong person. My friend knows what my heart believes about her when I say those three words.

Yes, words matter. Whether the words are shared for other people or they are directed at ourselves, they matter. So, what does it mean if I say to someone, “That’s so retarded” or “I am such a retard”? The R-word is being used to communicate stupid, slow, clumsy, or unattractive. What is this communicating to people who have been labeled “mentally retarded” by a doctor? When they hear someone use the R-word they hear themselves being insulted; they hear all people with their medical diagnosis being slammed .

The big problem with using the R-word is that in the origin of the word it was a medical diagnosis. Doctors stamped that word on to people’s medical charts. Somehow a medical diagnosis became part of common vernacular and came to be used as a putdown or an insult.

The R-word needs to disappear. It needs to disappear because words matter and when this word is spoken it matters that it is being used to insult, slam, judge, demean, or criticize.  It matters because there are people who have that medical diagnosis** and use of the word as an insult is a painful insult to them.

Words matter.

*Luke 6:45

**In 2013 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual officially changed its vocabulary to delete references the diagnosis “mental retardation” and replace it with “intellectual disability” and other terms. Also is 2013 the Federal Register noted legislation to officially replace references to “mental retardation” in government documents with “intellectual disability.”

Words Matter

My words matter.

My words paint images in your mind.

I can use my words to manipulate the image they paint in your mind.

If I tell you “She is a cripple” I say those words for a reason- for pity.

If I tell you “She is an artist” I say those words for a reason- for admiration.

Both sets of words maybe accurate about She, but only one set of words is true.

Only one set of words about She matters.

The words about She’s purpose, She’s giftedness, She’s difference that she makes in the world; those words matter. Those words make She matter.

The other words describe what the environment does to her.

The other words make She not matter, they make her different. They are not true about She.

“She is a cripple” is not about She, but about the non-accessible world She inhabits.

Crippled. Crip. Handicapped. Bound to. Confined. Suffers with. Words that are not true. Words that do not matter.

Artistic. Fun. Creative. Adventurous. Contributor. Delighted. Cherished. Words that are true. Words that do matter.

Words matter.

 

 

Ash Wednesday Tears

I shed some tears today during the Ash Wednesday service at a local church. These were not tears of repentance for sin (although I could shed tears concerning my sins). These were tears of joy for community.

Almost three years ago the congregation at East Rochester United Methodist Church (New York State), dived off the deep end to become an inclusive congregation. They put mission ahead of margin and invited a local human services organization (Heritage Christian Services) to share their building. The organization serves, among others, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The East Rochester church opened their doors to become a day habilitation site for a handful of people who volunteer in the community and use disability services.

Since the doors opened the two groups have sought to become one community. They built bridges of communication, accepted diversity, overcame stereotypes and asked deep questions. The church people invited their new tenants to join their midweek Bible study and potluck luncheons. The new tenants invited the church people to volunteer with them as they made bread for communion and sorted clothing donations for charity. They celebrate holidays together, and (as Methodists are prone to doing) they often share a dish-to-pass meal. There have been some bumps along the way, but they believe that the relationships are worth the effort to overcome the bumps.

The pastor at East Rochester UMC has been diligent about including me in worship planning for the holiday services and events that include both groups of people. When we began our planning of an Ash Wednesday service I made the suggestion that we create a service that would be universally accessible and participated in by all of the attendees. Pastor Todd Goddard did not have to think twice about working together to create a non-traditional service for this traditional Christian observance of the beginning of the Lent season.

The service began with a prayer in unison and the singing of “Have Thine Own Way Lord.” After the song we introduced the four interactive stations that we created in the sanctuary and narthex.  The four stations ran simultaneously and the worshippers had as much time as they needed to prayerfully participate in each station. Rocks represent disciplines to commit to practicing; strips of cloth serve as reminders of the work that Christ did for each of us; woven ribbons express love for God and neighbor; and, ashes represent God’s love for us with the ancient words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Here is where my Ash Wednesday tears happened. I watched as these two formerly separate groups of people worshiped as one. They assisted each other, prayed together and loved as one. Where there had been fear their was love. Where there had been distance there was acceptance. Names were spoken. Hugs were given. Ashes were received.

One devout man stood in the center of the sanctuary, gazed heavenward and repeated, “I love you God, praise you God” as the other worshippers silently bowed their heads at the simplicity of his expression of love.

Our Lenten discipline- community.  Being the beloved community.

Amen.

Ash Wednesday rocks and water station
River rocks and drift wood, made smooth by constant washing

 

Special Needs Ministry for All

This is the third post in our on-going conversation about special needs ministry. Our most recent conversation defined what special needs ministry is: Reaching out in unique ways to unique people to include them, get to know them, offer them the opportunity to know God and to understand the cherished place they have as His daughters and sons.
This raises a question- if special needs ministry boils down to including people, how is this category of ministry any different from general ministry? Isn’t one of the purposes of a faith community to include people? Isn’t a community intended to offer people a place to belong and to connect? A vital faith-community should be a place where all people, regardless of age, gender, size, ability, social status, employment or financial status, are welcomed.
A ministry directed solely at addressing the perceived needs of people with disabilities misses the mark of honoring the unique needs and gifts of all of the community members. The core values of special needs advocacy can be applied to every person in our faith communities.
One of the core values of people with disabilities is the necessity of their presence in the world. In the recent histories of humankind people with disabilities were hidden away in back rooms or locked behind tall institutional fences and walls, and dependent upon paid professionals for survival. In general, they were not allowed to be part of the greater world. As the wrongness of the institutional model of care and living became evident people with disabilities advocated for their right to be part of the greater society, to have a place in our communities, to be present and their worth honored. The core value of presence and worth of all people is rooted in the ancient Scriptures that tell us that God created humanity in His own image: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them (Genesis 1:27). People with varying and differing abilities are all created in the image of God. If all people are God’s image bearers, than should not all people be welcomed as unique expressions of God’s image ? As unique expressions of God’s image all people come to a community with unique abilities and gifts. All people should have the opportunity to be present. Presence is not ability or disability dependent.
Another core value of people with disabilities is the validity of their voices and experiences. Every person comes to our faith communities with personal stories, dreams, fears and gifts. Each person’s story that has brought them to our communities of faith has to be listened to. The stories may include exclusion and pain; they may be experiences of understanding and acceptance; they may be stories that are familiar and comfortable, or they may challenge our personal stereotypes of people with different abilities or social statuses. The stories and experiences are real and have shaped each person. The stories of all people need to be heard.
The final core value I want to touch on is the “nothing about me without me” mantra of disabilities advocates. Would faith community leaders make plans for youth ministry without including the youth of the community? What about senior citizen ministry or single parent’s ministries? In the development of intentional, informed ministries the voiced needs and desires of the target group are the guide. The same listening strategy needs to be employed if developing a ministry for people with special needs. Their voices and experiences have to be included, even if their voices tell us that they do not want a separate ministry, but that their experiences and gifts belong in the greater community of faith.

Special needs ministry and general ministry share a definition: Reaching out in unique ways to unique people to include them, get to know them, offer them the opportunity to know God and to understand the cherished place they have as His daughters and sons. Special needs ministry is all people’s needs in ministry.

What is ‘Special Needs Ministry’?

Our most recent conversation introduced a new series called Back to Basics in regards to the intersection of faith and disability. The first topic we looked at was the meaning of the phrase developmental disability. The second topic we are going to discuss is ‘What is Special Needs Ministry?’

When people refer to special needs ministry they are referring to how a faith community includes people with developmental or physical or mental illness disabilities into their worship services and the practice of their faith. What are these different disabilities and what do they mean to ministry? In our previous post we discussed that a developmental disability begins in utero, at birth or in childhood; the disability may impair the body, learning needs, communication and/or behavior; the disability will likely be lifelong (i.e. autism or cerebral palsy).

A physical disability may occur at any time in a person’s life and the impairment may impact fine and/or gross motor skills, communication, vision or auditory processes, cognitive processing or varying degrees of pain and the ability to function in a typical manner. The effects of some physical disabilities are visible (i.e. loss of a limb) and some are not (i.e. arthritis or autoimmune disorders). Mental illness refers to a chemical imbalance in the brain that impacts thinking processes, emotional skills or communication abilities (i.e. obsessive-compulsive disorder or anxiety).

It is possible for there to be overlaps from one or more classifications of disability to another. A person may be born with a developmental disability and acquire a physical disability later in life; or a person may have a physical disability and also live with a mental illness. A person may have a physical disability and no cognitive delays. The UN has found that 15% of the world’s population has a significant physical or mental disability.

What do these three definitions, that are broad categories for over 15% of the world’s population, mean to people of a faith-community who have a desire to reach out to people with disabilities in their communities? There is a saying within the autism community: If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. This means that attempts to understand a person starting with her or his label is limiting. The focus of special needs ministry needs to be on the person; the person is more important than her or his impairment. The impairment is real and cannot be trivialized, but it is only one facet of a complex person.

Back to the title of this post: What is Special needs Ministry? It is reaching out in unique ways to unique people to include them, get to know them, to offer them the opportunity to know God and to understand the cherished place they have as His daughters and sons. It is offering a safe place to discover who God created them (us) to be and to use the gifts and talents that God has given. Hmmm, special needs ministry sounds a lot like how we share God’s love with all people.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

Recently I was asked some questions about special needs ministry. The questions were birthed from the sincere desire to provide excellent pastoral care but originated from a heart with very little knowlege and almost no relationships with people who have developmental disabilities.  I have been in relationship with people with developmental disabilitis since my childhood and a professional in the field for over 35 years.  I sometimes forget that assumptions, myths and old-school ideas may be all the information that a person or a faith community has for basing ministry with people with developmental concerns. Sometimes I incorrectly assume that the person I am in conversation with has more knowlege or experience than they actually have.

So, let us get back to the basics!

What is a developmental disability? The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines developmental disabilities as: a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas; these conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime. In layperson’s terms a developmental disability begins in utero, at birth or in childhood; the disability may impair the body, learning needs, communication and/or behavior; the disability will likely be lifelong.

The term ‘developmental disability’ is a very broad term that includes people with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, many chromosomal aberrations and those who are diagnosed within the autism spectrum, and a myriad of others who have delays and disabilities of undiagnosed origin. The disability begins in childhood and remains throughout the person’s lifespan. For example, a child with Down syndrome will grow to be an adult with Down syndrome; she will never out grow her medical diagnosis. However, while she will always be a person with Down syndrome, she is first and foremost a person with gifts, talents, dreams, purpose, depth, relationships, knowledge and life experience that all combine to make her an amazing person.

Of interest to me regarding our on-going conversation about faith and disability is the knowledge that while disability impacts a person’s body and learning or thinking processes, it does not touch a person’s spirit! A person’s spirituality is their expression of their broader values and beliefs— “beliefs and practices that connect [them] with sacred and meaningful entities and emotions (1).” A person may have profound developmental disabilities and still be a perfectly whole and sound spiritual being!

In future blogs in this series we will explore spirituality, faith and disability with an eye for laying a firm foundation of the basics of understanding them.

(1) Alzheimer’s Association, Learning Institute, Rochester, NY

Fairytale or Real?

The story unfolds in such beauty that it seems like a fairy tale. Perhaps it is just a fairy tale, or perhaps it really is a true unfolding tale that will someday end with, “and they all lived happily ever after”.

Once upon a time a charming prince wanted to go somewhere to learn more about God and make friends. He visited a church with lots of smiling people. He enjoyed the lovely music and the opportunity to make new friends; but, alas, there was a problem. You see, the prince does not talk and when he is happy he likes to bounce in his wheelchair. His bouncing wheelchair makes noise. The music and the smiling people made him very happy so he bounced in his wheelchair to share his joy. Sadly, this was not a place where people bounce when they are happy and they did not like it when he bounced. The prince left and stayed at home and listened to joyful music by himself.

One day a kind maiden in the kingdom invited the prince to visit her church so he could learn about God, make friends and be free to bounce when he was happy. He went with the maiden, but he was unsure if he really would be welcomed. Would people shake his hand at the exchange of peace? Would people turn and shush him when he sang? Would he be asked to leave if he was happy and bounced? He was surprised to have a delightful time! The smiling people from the church helped him off his horse drawn carriage (a.k.a. a wheelchair accessible van), and held the doors open for him as if they already knew that he was royalty. The maiden proved herself to actually be his ambassador as she introduced him to her friends. The smiling people seemed genuinely happy that he was there, but would the smiles disappear if he started to bounce? He quickly learned that no, the smiles would not disappear and the shushes would not happen! He was free to be himself! The pastor even said during his sermon that he was happy to have the prince present!

Now, almost every week the prince goes to church. Friends from his church visit him at home and share their music and hearts with him. He has his own offering envelopes so that he can help make a difference; he sings as only he can sing, he prays, he listens, he bounces, and if he cannot be there on a Sunday morning than the people tell him that they missed him.

Is it too soon to write, “and they all lived happily ever after”?

National Day of Prayer

ImageRomans 15:6 “So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can you imagine it?

Can you see it really happening?

Can you hear it?

Imagine what?

See what? Hear what?

One voice of praise rising up from many.

People of many colors, many vocal qualities, many languages, many tribes and nations.

People of many abilities. People of differing abilities.

People of many socioeconomic backgrounds.

Many united in one voice and mind to glorify God.

Including the voice of the silent. Including the voice of those who have never heard sound.

Including the voice of those who speak with their eyes and hands.

Including those with labels to categorize their intelligence.

A lifting up of the voices mixed with tears, voices from toddlers and the very aged.

Voices of those forgetting who they are, and the voices of those who care for them.

Voices singing, voices praising, voices begging, voices wondering.

Voices that echo off mountaintops and voices lost in noise.

A lifting up of voices from prisons and brothels, universities and hospitals, park benches and fox holes.

Voices rising from woven corn stalk and plastic covered huts, voices from McMansions and voices from Red Cross shelters and UN refugee camps.

Many praying with one mind and one voice together glorifying the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Note- Picture is from chapel at Fairport Baptist Home, Fairport, NY

Celebrating World Autism Day

I thought about the title of this post for awhile before deciding on “Celebrating World Autism Day.” At first I was going to title this “Honoring World Autism Day”, which would be a correct view of the day, but I decided to use of the word celebrating. Celebrations are happy, joyous gatherings with cake and balloons. Celebrations are a joyous recognition of something wondrous, such as the birthday  of a loved one; so ‘celebrating’ is the correct word.  What are we celebrating joyously with cake and balloons? The joy of sharing the world with wonderful people who have autism.

What is autism? The autism advocacy group Autism Speaks defines it as “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Wikipedia describes autism as a disorder of neuro development. People who have autism interact with and interpret the world differently than more typical people. People who have autism are complexly different and complexly similar to other people. Today we are celebrating those differences and similarities. Today we are celebrating the lives of the 1 in 68 children who have autism around the globe.

What are we, as people of faith celebrating? All people are amazing gifts from God to each other. Today we are celebrating the wonderful gifts that people who have autism bring to the world. We are celebrating the opportunity that we have to journey through life with people who have autism, their families and their caregivers. We are celebrating the joy of sharing our faith with people who interpret the world differently. We are celebrating God at work across the entire spectrum of humanity.