Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Don't We All Have Special Needs?
Recently I had a great conversation with a friend of mine about how to incorporate people with special needs into the life of the church.There are just two comments I want to make here. Firstly, is being a Christian about cognition? I mean really? Does that mean that smart people are "better" Christians, than less intelligent people? (let's forget "special needs" for a minute.) We must realize that the presumption that Christianity is about cognition completely denies the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
For the most part, our culture and society tell us that those with "special needs" or "disabilities" are not capable of contributing to society. Individuals with special needs are not always able to live independently. It seems rather selfish to me really. When you serve someone who has a disability, from the get go you know it isn't going to be reciprocal. Or is it? For those with cognitive disabilities, we wonder how this person could teach us anything being that our ability to understand is better than theirs. Or are there other ways of understanding?
In our society we place a high value on verbal communication and cognitive understanding. But are these the only ways in which we learn and communicate? And to take it to the next level so to speak, are these the only ways in which God communicates to and ministers to people? If someone cannot cognitively understand that Jesus is God's Son does that mean they don't understand that at all?
People that know me tell me I am really smart - I'll let you decide. What I can tell you is this. My Christian walk has largely been about finding a way to push my cognitive skills to the sidelines so that I could experience the presence of my Lord and Savior - NOT JUST THINK ABOUT IT.
Second point - the line between "special needs" and something we all are, "needy," is pretty doggone indistinct. I know people that are so emotionally crippled that they can barely function, let alone "contribute." I can state with near certainty that every Christian has been in a situation rendered completely untenable for what we thought was "ministry" because someone in an emotionally needy state overwhelmed the room. I've even been in large worship services and small groups and everything in between where it has happened.
Theologically speaking, there is no distinction between "special needs" and just plain-old "needy." Both are symptoms of sin.. But here is where things get really tricky. Our inability to communicate with someone, whether their needs be cognitive, emotional, or otherwise is a function of our sin. Yep, in the end we are all in the stew together.
Here's what I think is the real problem. The incarnation is all about God meeting us where we are. But we keep trying to institutionalize and fit people into our programs. The fact of the matter is, as Christians our calling is to meet people where they are - and everyone is in an at least slightly different place. The lines that get drawn are not about how God sees someone, but about our efforts to organize ministry.
Maybe the problem is not someone with "special needs." Maybe the problem is our inability to meet people where they are.