Interdependence

Every profession has its acronyms. We throw them about so freely it may sound like a foreign language to an uninitiated listener. Acronyms can be confusing. In some conversations the phrase, “I am opening an IRA’ means that the person is setting up an Individual Retirement Account. In the context of my professional life of supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “I am opening an IRA” means that the speaker is part of a team of people opening an Individualized Residential Alternative home for people with disabilities. There is quite a difference

One of the acronyms in the field of supporting people with disabilities is referred to as The 3IPs. Independence, Inclusion, Individualization, and Productivity.

  • Independence- every person has the right to be as independent as possible
  • Inclusion- every person has the right to be included in the mainstream life and to share a community’s common places
  • Individualization- every person has the right to be honored as a unique autonomous person with specific dreams, gifts, goals, tastes, choices and purpose
  • Productivity- every person has gifts and talents to share to contribute to the community

I would like to propose that there is a fourth I, making it 4IPs. The fourth I is Interdependence. We each need each other. You need my gift for words and I need your gift for numbers. The musicians and artists among us are vital. We all need the gift that some have for growing food . We need those with the gift of listening. We need the encouragers, the thinkers, the teachers, those who can analyze and those who synthesize. We need the slow movement people and we need those who charge into the world at lightening speed. We need the brick layers and the surgeons. We need the dog walkers and horse whisperers.  We need those who pray and those who act, those who smile and those who provide a strong shoulder to lean on.  The knitters and weavers, the dolphin trainers and the doll makers, the egg gatherers and the snow shovelers- all are needed. We each need  these people so that we can not just be alive, but so that we can thrive!

Interdependence. We need the diversity of life to make life. Independence does not happen in isolation. The only way to be independent is for interdependence to be strong and healthy. Every person needs every person. Those without and those with disabilities need each other because all are gifted with purpose. We are gifted for the sake of each other. We are not complete without each other.

Interdependence- every person needs every other person; no one can be left out.

The apostle Paul wrote eloquently in 1st Corinthians 12:

 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work… 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

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A New Rhythm

Life has rhythms and cadences. Rhythms are comforting and soothing. Predictable. It is their predictability that makes them meaningful. Music, rain drops, bicycle pedal strokes, a child’s laugh, heart beats, firing pistons, lapping waves, foot steps, chewing, breathing, chanting, dance steps, hoof beats, skipping rope, swim strokes, clock chimes, labor contractions, sunrise and sunset, and prayer.

The rhythm of prayer speaks to generations of hearts. The rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer, unchanged for millennia:

     Our Father/ who art in heaven/ hallowed be thy name/ thy kingdom come/ thy will be   done/ on earth/ as it is in heaven/ give us this day/ our daily bread/ and forgive us our sins/ as we forgive those/ who sin against us/ lead us not/ into temptation/ but deliver us from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ and the power/ and the glory/ now/ and forever/ amen.

While in Guatemala, worshiping at an indigenous Mayan church, I recognized the beautiful rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer during the service. The cadence was slightly different, but the rhythm, the rise and fall of the voices and the accented words, were familiar in the unknown language that surrounded me. My mother taught me this prayer, using the rhythms of it to break it into memorizable chunks that my five year old mind could remember. A familiar, comforting rhythm of voices, of connection and cadence with generations of pray-ers.

That is why a change in the rhythm of the Lord’s Prayer startled me one day when worshiping with friends at their church. I was so startled that I stopped praying, opened my eyes and looked at my praying neighbors who prayed as if there was nothing unusual about the change of the rhythm of their words!  What prompted their departure from the familiar rhythm? Love.

Love and determination to include a man who offered them the opportunity to change their rhythm so that he was included in their communal prayer. Love and the willingness to make an accommodation to include a man whose words of prayer were echoes of the words they prayed. Love and the knowledge that the presence of this man and his prayers enriched their community. Love and a desire to be the whole Body of Christ.

Our Father/father/ who art in heaven/ in heaven/hallowed be thy name/ thy name/ thy kingdom come/ come/ thy will be done/ will be done/ on earth/earth/ as it is in heaven/ heaven/ give us this day/ this day/ our daily bread/ bread/ and forgive us our sins/ us our sins/ as we forgive those/ forgive those/ who sin against us/ against us/ lead us not/ not/ into temptation/ ‘tation/ but deliver us from evil/ from evil/ for thine is the kingdom/ kingdom/ and the power/ Power/ and the glory/ glory/ now/ now/ and forever/ forever/amen.

 

 

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

 

The Works of God

The New Testament Gosepl of John, chapter 9 is the account of the interaction between Jesus and a man who was born blind. The first sentence of the narrative is: As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.

What I love about this opening sentence is that Jesus saw the man! The narrrative continues as Jesus’ disciples discuss probable causes for his blindness, for they saw the blindness, not the man. Jesus not only saw the man but he entered into a relationship with him and then later Jesus sought him out for a deeper conversation (John 9:35). Jesus’ answer about the man and his blindness illustrates Jesus’ belief in the value of all people, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day….” 

Jesus countered that the presence of a disability in a person presents an opportunity to do the work of God.  Disability presents the opportunity for people to see the humanity, the marvelousness (Psalm 139) of another person. In an earlier conversation with his disciples they said to Jesus, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:28-29). Belief influences action. The actions of those who believe in “Him whom He has sent” should mirror his actions. In our conversation about people with disabilities that would mean seeing their humanity and entering into a relationship with them, just like Jesus did.

 

 

Marla’s Faith Journey

Family stories and connections are important to people. They keep us grounded and provide a place for our roots to bring life. Family faith traditions are an example of this rootedness.

Marla has a developmental disability and  lives in a group home with several other people. She is a charming woman who enjoys meeting new people. For years she weekly attended Catholic mass with her family. The faith traditions she grew up with were an important part of her life.  After the passing of her parents Marla found her faith connections even more meaningful. However, because she could no longer spend her weekends with her parents she stopped attending her home parish and began attending mass at a parish closer to her group home. This new parish seemed to be less welcoming of Marla and she began to become less interested in attending mass weekly.

One of the women Marla lived with invited her to attend her protestant church. Marla went and enjoyed the music and friendliness of the people. It was wonderful to see Marla once again eangaging positively with a faith community; however, there was a concern because it was not the faith tradition she was raised in and had enjoyed for most of her life.  Marla shared that she did not want to return to the parish where she did not feel welcome and that she enjoyed the friendliness, music and activities of her friend’s church.  Those supporting Marla wanted to be sure that she had all of the information and experiences she needed to make the decision about changing her faith affiliation from Roman Catholic to a protestant denomination.  Her support staff did some research and located a nearby large parish with young families, activities and a folk mass that was known for it’s friendly and welcoming environment.  This potential parish seemed to offer her the qualities she enjoyed in the protestant church and it was in keeping with her family faith traditions. Marla agreed to attend a mass to see if she liked it. It turned out to be a wonderful connection! Marla was warmly welcomed and invited into their faith family. She is now a faithful member of that parish and even found a cousin who is also a member.

Marla enjoys inviting her friends to attend mass with her. She wants to share this community of faith where she is loved.

Gilda Goings, Spiritual Life Coordinator, Heritage Christian Services

Beauty of Diversity

There is a human developmental need to learn to categorize things as same or different. Recognizing differences is an important developmental milestone for children. Learning the differences in sizes and shapes is necesssary for developing  spatial concepts. Children need to know that a dime is not the same as a quarter so they are able to participate in our economy. Understanding that play money has to be separated from real money when shopping is important. While it is important for humans to be able to discern differences and classifications in objects, that discernment and separating becomes problematic when used on people.

It is a wondrous thing to see and appreciate the great diversity that makes up humanity. When we apply equal value to all of our differences there is beauty added to the world. The more diversity I see the richer the beauty. Tall, short and average height; black, blonde and red hair; big bushy beards and short scraggly goatees; alto and soprano singers; light and dark complexions; sign language and spoken communication; toddlers, runners and wheelchair users; intorverts and extroverts; elderly, middle aged and young; Monets and stick figures; early birds and night owls; disabled and non-disabled; the math whizzes and the numerically challenged; bald heads and dreadlocks; dancers and toe steppers: these are all equally beautiful ways of being human.

We are diverse and we are all human. We are all created in the image of God.

 

 

 

 

 

The Ties that Bind

The season of Lent is a time of devotion when we focus on strengthening our spiritual ties to God. Connective links to God include:
Prayer: Having a conversation with God and he hears you.
Meditation: Keeping still and listening (What, only a minute has passed??). He will answer you.
Fasting: Remembering that your body may have its frailties, but they don’t have to limit you.
Sacrifice: Having so many things you think you have to do, you can’t find time to work on relationships. Spending time with others requires time and effort; that’s why it is called a sacrifice-got it!
Service: More than attending Sunday worship; service is about meeting a need of another human being.

We work on our relationship with God, but how much effort do we put into our relationships with each other? Jesus said that what you do good for others, is the same as doing good unto him. My case for faith community inclusion for individuals with developmental disabilities is that people of faith, more than any other group, understand that we are all created in His image. Denying any individual access and/or opportunity to worship God and practice his/her faith, denies the same to Jesus. The fact is, God is the author of diversity. He said, “Love ye one another.” It is not for us to judge if an individual with a developmental disability “comprehends” the nature of God. It is enough that he/she wants to be in the house of worship.

My epiphany came the first year I was working with the New York State Office for People With Developmental Disabilities. I was attending a worship service on one of the (residential) campuses, when I noticed a young woman pacing back and forth; first touching a window and then walking over to touch a wall. With a “pastoral” eye, I thought she must be agitated, and was certain this was a distraction to others there to enjoy the worship service. However, after a few moments, I stopped looking at her behavior and observed her countenance. I saw pure joy and peacefulness on her face. She was in a moment of worship – connected to God. It was suddenly obvious to me. I didn’t need to use my intellect or check my theology to know it – I could just feel it!! Furthermore, I found that watching her enjoyment of the service made me enjoy the service even more.

Sometimes we miss what true worship is if we don’t break the attitudinal, architectural, communication barriers that can keep other worshippers out. We will miss so much if we assign some worshippers segregated services or seating in the back. We can miss opportunities and blessings if only the good singers are allowed to sing or only the good readers are allowed to read, etc. The tie that binds us to God is that we love HIM first and then love ONE ANOTHER as He loves us.

Reverend Catherine Patterson
NYS OPWDD Faith Based Initiative