NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!

Note this maybe a part one of more.

Occasionally I am reminded that people don’t understand me…reminded that I don’t fit the neat categorical boxes…and occasionally I am reminded how uncomfortable that can be for me and other people.

I had the unfortunate experience of this happening to me at the recent UCC Synod in Long Beach, California. I was there as a delegate for the Justice and Witness Ministry of the denomination, the board that I served as the disability ministry liaison to until the denominational structure changed at the end of Synod. As a delegate I was on the floor for discussions, and there were a lot of us, so I tried to minimize my speaking so all who needed to speak may be heard. If you know me, or have read a few of these blogs, you may know that means I found myself at the microphone at least two or three times (in five days to be fair to myself). Once upon returning to my seat I had the following conversation with a man who was also in the Justice and Witness delegation with me, thus he knew me from previous board meetings and who I represented. My inner thoughts, no matter how badly I wanted to say them, will be in italics:

Man: You don’t (snidely) really have a disability, but I think its nice you speak up for people who do.

Me: Excuse me, wh-at? What did you just say? I’m not disabled, or not disabled-enough? Act-u-ally I do have a disability. (I spoke slowly and clearly so he could hear me in the convention hall with 2000 other people, and at the table full of our delegation, and clearly he lacked understanding the type for which I lack diagnostic powers.)

Man: (He leaned in close to me, and if he had been any closer I would have felt his beard hairs brush my face.) No you don’t. (Nodding his head closer to me. This man was in my face!) Well, then what is your disability?

Me:  Are you kidding me? I can’t believe I am going to answer that question. But I have to because if I don’t he either thinks I am a fake or a liar, my only choice is to revel my personal medical history. So I gave him the bullet points of my history. I felt like I was unveiling a secret window into my personal and family history–not because I was ashamed but because it was personal and vulnerable and I was surrounded by people in a loud place and practically commanded, not asked, to reveal myself, or else be deemed a fraud. Only in retrospect as I consider the gender, age, and racial power dynamics of this interaction do the connotations of white, male, aged, and able bodied privilege reveal themselves. In retrospect this man becomes more and more a creepy old man.

I quickly looked away and avoided eye contact with him. The business of the evening moved on. I glared.  He moved back to his seat at the other end of the table. I watched him and his presence made me uncomfortable the whole rest of the evening. I knew I was upset, I did not want this unjust and unequal type of exchange to color my experience of Synod. I knew he was only one person. But, still, this was church, ALL SHOULD BE WELCOME, INCLUDED, and AFFIRMED. But I felt uncomfortable and unsafe. I seethed. I had trouble focusing on the worship but somehow pulled myself together. I knew if given the chance I needed to ‘lean-into’ this conflict.

At the end of worship and the evening I felt heavy and weighted, and only partly because I was exhausted from the day. Most people left the convention hall quickly. I soon found that myself and this man were among the last at our table. I glared at him. He stepped forward to give me a hug, having been all pumped up by the preacher.

Me: No. I am sorry. I want to be in fellowship and Communion with you, but I am still thinking about our earlier conversation and I am just really hurt.

Man: I understand. (He dropped his arms and started to drop his head.)

Me: I don’t fall for the dejected liberal do-gooder act very well. UMM. No I don’t think you do. To insinuate that I don’t have a disability, or am not disabled enough, when you know that is obviously how I self-identify is not ok. It is a form of bullying. I have to put up with that type of bullying in the world and in the workplace but I’ll be dammed if I am going to put up with it in church! And you did that while wearing your anti-bully scarf so no I don’t think you understand at all!

He but his hands to together as if in respect and walked away out of the hall, as he left I saw him take the anti-bullying scarf off and place it in his bag, that made me feel slightly better. I was very upset and had to find one of my disability peeps to talk to about this.

The next day, Synod debated the anti-bullying resolution that was before us. I spoke from experience about being bullied as a person with disability, and reminded the church, the Synod, that it happens even “here” within the “bar” that separates delegates from the rest of the church; and I asked they vote not to feel good but to change themselves.(The UCC News quoted me.)

One of the staff members saw me the following day and asked about my comment related to being bullied at Synod. Upon my arrival to Synod I had been talking with this staff member, who happens to be African-American, when another (white) delegate came up and asked her if she had “gotten a tan” on vacation; by the time I was mid-way through my double take processing the comment about a “tan” the staff member was so elegantly agreeing that she had gotten a “tan” that I almost believed it was casual conversation. It wasn’t and the staff member brought it up when she asked about my bullying comment. We alluded to having some of the same feelings related to our separate experiences.

So church, think before you speak or ask… Think about the privilege you carry that others may not have. Consider the other, the Thou, the beloved child of God before you speak. Just think before you open your mouth. Could what you are about to say be offensive? Can your curiosity be framed another way? Because, yes, I do have a disability; and yes, maybe she did get a tan. But then maybe, just maybe. ITS NONE OF YOUR DAMMED BUSINESS!

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the short story of solidarity

As I sat in opening worship of Annual Gathering, there was a bird flying around the sanctuary. The bird seemed happy to be flying about, landing on the small trees near the altar. I wondered if the bird was trying to find its way out of the church. Then it occurred to me that the bird was the Holy Spirit, happy within the church, and yet also belonging to the world outside the church, and perhaps even trapped by the sanctuary walls. I found solidarity with the bird.

Why Widen the Welcome?

Have you heard? There is a banquet planned before Synod, and I have been asked to bid you come.

I hope that sounds familiar to most of you. Most of all, I really hope that you will accept the invitation. Yes, I know Synod is coming and there is lots for us to do to prepare! But, then there is that biblical mandate that we all live with to be welcoming and to enter into the community of God, while ever widening the welcome to include all whom God has invited to the banquet.

This is a goal of most congregations. Yet despite the advertisements of a radical welcome, there are some people who wonder if that welcome really includes them. I have from time to time found myself wondering if I really were invited. You see as a child, I had a pronounced speech impediment and I learned early that even when I was invited to be somewhere that I had to do some extra work to find out if I were really welcome or if I was there to entertain others as I spoke. And yes I learned to wonder this even at church. Last year, at Widening the Welcome 3 in Columbus Rev. Lynda Bigler asked in her sermon “Have you ever been faced with revealing your disability or keeping silent to keep the status quo?” and waves of remembering being told I was either not qualified or could not be qualified to serve as a chaplain because I am a woman with disability flooded over me. This time, however, those waves did not knock me down. This time I had learned I was indeed welcome not only at the table but welcomed into the community of God.

I have been questioned by people within the disability community about why I would want to be involved in the church. Its not as shocking as it seems. Many persons using wheelchairs find it difficult to get into church buildings and they feel excluded. Many persons with mental health issues find that people in the church are no more compassionate than people outside the church even as the gospel is preached each Sunday. And, yet, this is not the church I have always known or the understanding of the gospel I have learned from church. As Jason Hayes said in his speech at the last Widening the Welcome, “‘Failure to conform to social norms’ sounds like Jesus the Christ to me.”

Why am I telling you all of this? Because, I want you, my brothers and sisters in the church, to understand why I am bidding you to come to Widening the Welcome. God calls all people to God’s community. God sometimes calls people to us we do not yet understand or people whom we are not sure how or if to welcome. God, it seems does not share in all our human stigmas. So I bid you come to the banquet where we can met one another and learn what disability and mental illness are, and what they are not. Come so we can equip the leaders and laity of our congregations to extend with confidence that radical welcome to persons whose body may not be like other bodies and persons whose brains may not be like other brains. Come let us talk to one another about how to move beyond stigma and welcome all people into the full participation of the life of our churches.

Come to the Widening the Welcome, Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27, 2013 at the Renaissance Long Beach Hotel. Keynote speakers will include The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder, Mental Health Ministries, and The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches. Workshops will provide information about becoming an “Accessible to ALL” (A2A) church, starting mental health ministries, caring for adolescents and the aged, as well as creating inclusion and transformation. Registration is now open and the registration brochure is available here Widening the Welcome Registration Brochure. Please follow registration instructions in the brochure. Limited scholarships funds are available. For more information about Widening the Welcome or for a scholarship form please email Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas at kelli@womenwhospeakinchurch.com

Widening the Welcome Press Release

UCC Disabilities Ministries and UCC Mental Illness Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Coordinator: Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary
email: kelli@womenwhospeakinchurch.com

Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Pre-Synod Event,  To Be Held June 27, 2013

Movement for Inclusion Hopes to Welcome Synod Attendees

The United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries (UCCDM) and the United Church of Christ Mental Illness Network (MIN) will offer a fourth Widening the Welcome (WtW) experience. The Fourth Widening the Welcome Conference will be held as a one-day Pre-Synod Event on Thursday, June 27th, 2013. This event is scheduled to be held in Long Beach, exact location TBD.

The theme for Widening the Welcome 2013 is “God’s Vision: The Great Dinner is Open to All” (Luke 14:15 ff). Two keynote speakers are expected. The Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroder, Founder Mental Health Ministries, will speak on “Mental Health as a Spiritual Journey” and offer a workshop on “Mental Illness and Families of Faith: How Congregations Can Respond.”  The Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator for the Ecumenical Disability Advocacy Network-North America, a program of the World Council of Churches will also offer a keynote address/workshop. Both keynote speakers have self-identified as persons with disability and/or a persons in recovery.

Workshops focusing on how congregations can become Accessible to All (A2A), how congregations can develop mental health ministries will be available. Workshops such as “Prison Ministry and Mental Health as a Justice Issue,” “Cherish the Parents, Care for the Child: Supporting the Emotional Well Being of Families from Birth to Young Adulthood,” “Pastoral Care with People with Disabilities & Brain Disorders of Aging”, and topics not previously presented at WtW conferences are planned for this conference.

“Widening the Welcome” was termed “a movement within the movement” of the UCC by General Minister Geoffrey Black. WtW continues with its vision/mission:

  • to educate about mental illnesses/brain disorders and disabilities;
  • to teach how to develop Mental Health Ministries and A2A (Accessible to All) Covenants in your congregation;
  • to share best practices by telling stories, learning from each other, and networking;
  • to equip pastoral leaders to understand and provide quality pastoral care to men and women addressing these concerns;  and
  • to offer spiritual support group experiences and worship together.###

Widening the Welcome is Coming!

Widening the Welcome 2013 Postcard

The Fourth Widening the Welcome: Inclusion for All Conference sponsored by UCC Disabilities Ministries and the UCC Mental Health Network. A Pre-Synod event will be held Thursday, June 27, 2013 in Long Beach, CA. 8am-8pm. Exact location to be announced.

Speakers will include Rev. Susan Gregg Schroeder, Founder of Mental Health Ministries and Rev. Kathy Reeves, Coordinator of the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocacy Network–North America, a program of the World Council of Churches.

Save the date, more details to come!

I am coordinating this event. I will also be offering the following workshop at the event:

Spiritual Care for Persons with Disabilities and Those Affected by Serious Brain Disorders Associated with Aging

This workshop is a multifaceted look at providing pastoral care to people with disabilities (PWD). This workshop will provide disability culture and awareness information that all professional pastoral care providers should be aware of in providing pastoral care to PWD. This workshop will touch on some historical ecumenical responses to disability, particularly the shift in ethical responses to disability that affect care provided. Finally this workshop will address providing pastoral care to persons affected with dementia, relying on first and second hand accounts as available. (Developed for professional pastoral care providers, and accessible to lay people.)

Keeping Christ in Christmas

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken: I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, who have despised the Holy One of Israel, who are utterly estranged! Why do you seek further beatings? Why do you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and bleeding wounds; they have not been drained, or bound up, or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city. If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we would have been like Sodom, and become like Gomorrah.
—Isaiah 1:1-9

Since “X” is the first letter in the Greek word Christos, from which we get the word “Christ,” and since “Xmas” has long been used as shorthand for “Christmas,” I have no problem with the abbreviation. The behavior and attitude of Judah and Jerusalem as described by the prophet, though – yes, I have a problem with that: rebellious, iniquitous, evil, corrupt, despisers of God, and either unaware or uncaring that their actions affect those around them:

Your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence aliens devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. And daughter Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a besieged city.
—Isaiah 1:7-8, NRSV

All this took place during the reign of four kings of Judah listed by the Gospel writer Matthew as ancestors of Jesus. Uzziah wasn’t a bad king as far as kings go, but he was prideful. His son, Jotham,

…did was right in the sight of the Lord … but the people still followed corrupt practices.
—2 Chronicles 27:2, NRSV

Ahaz was a crook who looted the Temple and Hezekiah was a weakling. Quite the “rogue’s gallery” of rulers.

I could take this opportunity to chastise the leaders of my own government, men and women who frequently exhibit similar poor judgment and flawed character, but that would be too easy – a cheap shot. Instead, in this Advent season and in this week of Hope, I prefer to call on not only those in positions of political power but on everyone to consider how our actions affect our sisters and brothers. My Hope is that we might learn, collectively, that contempt for Creation is akin to despising God; that ignoring the Biblical witness that calls us to compassion, justice, and love of neighbor distances us from the God who loves us; that hoarding riches effectively takes the food from the mouths of the most vulnerable of God’s children; and that the desolation described by Isaiah can be avoided when the survivors… the remnant… learn to work hand in hand to build the righteous realm of God described by Jesus in the Christian Gospels. I have Hope.

Hope for Justice to Come

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
—Jeremiah 33: 14-16

Does it ever seem to you that the world is just not right? It does to me. Does it seem that injustices abound and individuals can not always do too much to get  ‘ahead’ in the world? Maybe it’s not just the individual, maybe there is a more systematic force preventing justice.

If this is true, it is not the first time in human history it has been experienced. The Bible is full of examples of when the world was unjust and details some of the lives of the greatest freedom fighters in the cause of justice to ever walk the planet. It’s one reason to open the Bible and the find the juicy stuff.

The devotional passage of this first day of Advent speaks to one of the times in history of great injustice, but it is also one that looks back at a plan for living in justice and a future in which people will live with the hope of justice restored. Jeremiah may have been a strange character walking through the town streets with a yoke and eating items we would consider unsuitable for consumption—read your Bible, the disgusting extremes of injustice are detailed there alongside the juicy audacious doings of the prophets. In today’s passage, Jeremiah has gone to purchase the future crops of a field belonging to his family which had been sold to pay the debts of his family members. Yet Jeremiah is prevented from doing this, and that is the problem. That Jeremiah is prevented or delayed in reclaiming the land of his ancestors, is in some sense the straw that breaks the whole world apart and not only sets the prophet into motion but sets God to speaking through the prophet. To understand the significance of this we need to understand that Jeremiah is attempting to act in accordance with the laws laid out in the book of Leviticus (Marvin Sweeney, The Prophetic Literature, 112). These laws require him to redeem his family’s land in an effort to maintain the balance of power within the community that God ordained as a part of creation. The very balance of power that allows for justice. If Jeremiah cannot do this then the whole of creation, particularly human society within creation, is at risk of falling back into chaos. Thus God must intervene to reestablish justice.

And thus this passage looks to the future, a future of justice. Traditional Christianity, and scripture, has held that the coming Christ child is the shoot of David. I tend to think it is near irresponsible to impose elements of the New Testament on the Hebrew Bible to get such a reading. The beauty is, however, that we do not have to do so. The ministry of Jesus is one that challenges the Levitical codes pertaining to individuals so individuals may be embraced by community (experience justice), and a calling the community to the responsibilities of  humane society (to be just) as called for in the Levitical codes. In some sense, both Jeremiah and Jesus call our attention to the role of the Levitical code in ordering human relationships within society and human society as whole as a guest within God’s creation. Jeremiah and Jesus remind that we are guests welcomed to experience God’s justice but also, as members of human society, quite a way from the Justice of God’s Kindom.

It’s the same old struggle that humanity must face only in a new age. As we enter into this season of Advent, particularly this week of Hope, Let us reflect on how we can be instruments of God’s justice allowing others to feel that the are welcomed alongside us in God’s Kindom. Let us pray that God would empower us each to move into a future of liberation, a future in which all peoples and all creation can live together in justice. It is the after all part of our most famous prayer, Your kindom come, Your will be done.