The Bible, Disability, and the Church

The title above is also the title of a book by Amos Yong that I’m reading today.  Yong is a Pentecostal theologian, and the brother of a man with Down Syndrome.  I want to share with you today the end of his first chapter, as it’s clarity was particularly gripping to me.

Some say that sustained thinking about disability is unnecessary because disabled people constitute only a very small percentage of our congregations.  I counter, however, that this is probably because the church communicates the message ” you are not welcome here” to people with disabilities. Further, there are more and more “hidden” disabilities that are not easily noticeable, so how do we know that there are in fact few people with disabilities in our churches?  Last but not least, the challenges associated with living with disability will be experienced by everyone if they live long enough, whatever medical aids and technological advances may develop.  Some people might resist associating the struggles of being older with those of disabilities.  My focus, however, is less on the why of our challenges than on the fact of our ongoing exclusionary and discriminatory beliefs and practices.  Hence, I am suggesting that disability needs to be a present concern for us all, even if only because  all of us will in due course have to confront the issues that some of us now live with every day.

Amen, brother Yong.  I’m thinking of putting together a reading group, either in person or online, to discuss The Bible, Disability, and the Church later this summer; if you’re interested, let me know in the comments.

Salem means Peace

“I wish I had met my big sister.”

I was standing in the cemetery behind Salem Church in Lena, with my 12-year old son, Joshua.  Salem Church is where I was serving as pastor 13 years ago yesterday, when my wife Christy gave birth to our first child.  Caitlyn Marie Woosley was stillborn, in the 26th week of pregnancy.  Katie isn’t a morbid or overbearing presence in our lives, but neither is she forgotten. So it is that Joshua is aware that there was a child before him; so it is that we return to Salem periodically, most years as close to her birthday as possible, to remember, and to look ahead.

This year Katie’s birthday was on a Sunday, and we were able to join our friends at Salem for worship.  Going to worship isn’t easy for our nine-year old, Zach.  He’s not great at sitting in one place for an hour; he’s not great at staying quiet for the liturgy and preaching; he doesn’t exactly love unfamiliar places, especially when he has to do things like sit still and stay quiet.  So, eventually, Zach and I found ourselves outside, as worship continued inside the stone walls of Salem’s sanctuary.

I was only at Salem for six years (I’ve been gone nine years now), but as we walked out of the front of the building, onto the snowy steps, the sense of familiarity seeped warmly into me.  Zach turned left, headed for the lawn between the sanctuary and the parsonage (and even more for the play structure at the back of the parsonage).  As always, the snow formed a drifted ledge between the two buildings, but what stopped me cold was not the wind.  The large lilac bush that had long stood at the corner of the yard – a personal favorite, spreading gentle fragrance across the property – was gone.  And as I looked through the space where the lilac used to be, I could see that also gone was the cherry tree in the middle of the yard.

After Caitlyn died, the other members of my clergy group had given us a certificate for a tree – we were free to pick the tree of our choice, and to plant it in memory of Katie. When spring arrived, we selected a Montmorency Cherry tree.  I liked the idea that it would flower in April, when Katie had been due, and that it would be fragrant and fruitful.  When springtime came, we planted the tree together.

Now, where the Cherry tree used to be, there was a young evergreen, with a stake next to it for support.  My initial shock quickly shifted into the realization that the cherry tree had been there for more than 12 years, which is not an unusual life span.  It would seem the tree had died out, and the current Pastor (who has always been exceptionally sensitive to our history there) had planted a new tree, perhaps even as an intentional replacement.

Nothing in this life lasts.  Certainly not a Cherry tree.  This was no revelation, but a melancholy reminder on this birthday.  I don’t have a teenaged daughter.  I have a son who I would not have if she had survived to full term.  This year has brought reminders that I have no more control over keeping and protecting him than I had over that pre-born daughter.  I don’t enjoy those reminders, the realization that we are so limited, so powerless, so dependent upon the provision of God.

This is, in my bones, what I believe.  We are in the hands of the one who made us.  And we are living in a broken world.  Which means that God holds us, but we are not always free from the pain of the brokenness.   My daughter died during the season of Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of God in the world.  Jesus of Nazareth changed the world, and will one day further change the world.  What is broken will be no more.  No more pain, no more tears, no more death. No more separation. At the second Advent.

“I wish I had met my big sister.”

“Me too.”

“You believe that in heaven, we’ll get to meet her, right?”

“Yes, I do.”

On other days, this has led to blizzards of questions I have no answer for: what age will we be in heaven? Will everyone be (or appear to be) the same age? Will we get older? How will we recognize each other? But not today.

“Katie, I’m sorry we were late getting over here.  I, uh, got lost looking for your headstone, and then I was stuck waiting for dad to get the snow out of my shoes.”

“I hope everything’s good there in heaven.  I mean, it is, right, Dad?”

“That’s what I believe.”

“I look forward to meeting you someday, Katie.”

Me, too.

 

Good Church, Bad Church?

I’ll assume you’re familiar with the ol’ “good cop, bad cop” routine.  If you’re not, I’ll encourage you to turn on your television to find one of the many iterations of “Law and Order” currently playing at this minute (well, unless it’s past the bottom of the hour, in which case we’ve moved on to the “Law” part of the show, which is a less likely place to find good cop/bad cop), and you will become acquainted in short order.

Anyway, while we were on our most recent vacation, I ran across a couple of church signs that made me think of good cop/bad cop.  With apologies to Ed Stetzer (who publishes noteworthy church signs each week), I give to you:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, that seems welcoming, doesn’t it?  At least, sort of.  God wants to talk to you!  Come on in!

But then there’s this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See?  There’s the bad cop!  Maybe you’ve already picked up that these are the same church sign, on two different sides.  When you’re coming into town, you get the welcoming church.  But when you’re headed out of town, you get the warning church.  I’m not sure if there is special significance to that.  I wonder if some weeks the church is really welcoming, and other weeks, they’re pulpit-pounders.  Or, maybe this is the church-sign equivalent of A/B testing.  I wonder if anyone was enticed to come to church, or even think more about their relationship to Jesus because of one of these signs.

That makes me wonder: what could a church put on a non-moving sign that would actually catch your attention to read, in a positive way?

 

A Day Like Any Other Day

I’m sitting here, in my back yard, enjoying the blessings of technology: plinking away this post on my Super Tablet (that’s the Asus Transformer 300, which I will take over any iPad), streaming new music all over the yard, taking advantage of the waves of wireless internet that emanate from my kitchen.

At the same time, I’m a little bit lo-fi: I’m in the back yard today because I’m the keeper of the smoker.  A basic cooking vessel, a little charcoal and hickory wood, some simple spices, and a very ordinary hunk of pork will provide us with a magnificent mountain of pulled pork by dinner time.

It is a good day of Sabbath rest for me.  Your Sabbath might look different: maybe you are outside, too, but are instead taking up the charge to care for and cultivate the creation, bringing out the beauty of the flowers and trees, or gathering the good harvest of the garden; maybe you are inside, sitting quietly with the word of the Lord, listening to his voice, savoring his presence, speaking a little but mostly hearing and being wrapped in the divine arms of love; maybe you are walking with your grandson in his wagon, exploring mile after mile, careless as to where you are because you are together, enjoying the gift of each other; maybe you are hiking the trails of a majestic mountain, seeing the wonders of wildlife and feeling your body pushed by the elements.  These are fitting ways to take Sabbath (and, of course, there are many more), for God is present with you in every one of these places, and you are able to be attentive to his presence, thankful for his goodness, resting in him.  Receiving his gift of Sabbath rest.

Today is Labor Day, and this seems like an appropriate day to take Sabbath rest.  Even as we recognize American workers and the labor movements that have protected them from abuses, there is one with an even longer history of putting work in proper context.  The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus is the one who gave the commandment-gift of Sabbath to his people, telling them and us that Your Work Does Not Own You.  The key is understanding that Your Leisure Does Not Own You either.  Every day of Sabbath rest, however it is spent, is a day that proclaims that I am owned by my God, my Maker, my Redeemer, my King, who has invited me into his household with all of its blessings.  Including rest.

Over the last two and a half weeks I have seen two friends die suddenly.  One was 24, still at the beginning of the journey of adulthood, and the other was a grandfather, but both were surrounded by family and friends who longed for more time with them, even just one more day.  Every day of this life is a gift from God, and none of them come with a promise that it will not be the last such gift.  Which means this is the day that the Lord has made, to love your family and friends, to do what the Lord has given you to do with excellence, to serve your neighbor, and above all to rest in the Lord of this glorious day.

Every day.

Kingdom of the Crickets

I’m in the metropolis of Greenville, NY tonight.

There are virtually no people in Greenville, but as I sit, learning still how to be silent before the Lord, it becomes clear to me that there must be 100,000 crickets and frogs here with me.  We are not alone here.

And the Lord is here, too, as I keep silence before him.  Not for any impressive period of time, mind you, as I am again re-learning how to shut off the sound of my world and let the voice of the Lord enter into the conversation.

Today is a day that I need in particular to listen to that voice.  I need it most every day, but today is a day that even someone as thick as me recognizes my need to quit with easy answers and quick responses.  Today is a day to be as silent as Job’s friends should have stayed.  Today is a day to barely even ask “why?”, but to simply hear.

To remember that even if I were to ask “why?”, it might just be that the answer would be incomprehensible to my foolish ears and my untuned heart.  Before I listen to the Lord, really listen, and let his word enter me in ways I am not accustomed to letting it, even my “why” – let alone the answer I would then turn and offer to the masses – would mean less than the crickets and their chirping.

So, silence it is.  Lord, you are, and it is a miracle that you would speak to us at all.  But please, do speak to us, even if it strips us bare as the cedars of Lebanon.  We need your word, even here, in the kingdom of crickets and frogs.