What does being a Pastor have to do with the Disabled?

I’ve thrown the names of Stanley Hauerwas and Eugene Peterson around quite a bit of late, but now I bring them together into one post. It’s lengthy, so I understand if you abandon ship now. But if you take the time to stick with it, contribute to the conversation when finished.

I attended a lecture by theologian and professor Stanley Hauerwas a couple of nights ago in which he spoke on the topic of disability. His paper was entitled, “Disability: An Attempt to Think With.” The with of the title is the key word because it stands up against the notion to think about the disabled. In the former, the disabled are no different than those who are not, whereas in the latter the disabled are something other than those not disabled.

Is it a minor detail, simple word play, insignificant minutiae? I don’t believe it is minor or insignificant. Theologians can, at times, delve into a world of intricacies and details that have no apparent value, or better, contribution to ‘everyday life.’ This distinction, however, is critical in understanding ourselves, disabled or not, as no better than another. Talking with the disabled requires an interconnectedness of love and union. There were plenty of things Hauerwas said that flew well above my comprehension, but his point was made nonetheless.

His conclusion was that the disabled do not have a ‘problem,’ which is the category of which we prefer to speak because problems have solutions. To speak ‘about’ the disabled means to speak of a solution. To speak ‘with’ the disabled means admitting and acknowledging our commonalities and, more specifically, naming them as persons rather than problems.

So in a sense, being with the disabled seems somewhat hopeless because there’s not a problem to be fixed. As I listened to Stanley speak I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarity between what he was saying about our disabled brothers and sisters and what Eugene Peterson says about the body of Christ.

Part of what has been a staple of Hauerwas’ writings is the theme of story. We’re a part of a story, THE story of God. Being named and loved draws us into the story together. This is the same point Peterson makes in his memoir in regards to the congregation. Peterson writes of helping people understand the story into which they’ve been written and are participating, but to do so requires talking with people, rather than about or at them.

As Peterson matured in his pastorate, he recognized his tendency towards treating people as problems to be fixed. After all, if there’s a solution, there is something measurable. “I did it. I fixed it. I fixed him/her/them.” To have no solution is a helpless, sometimes hopeless feeling. Such is being a pastor. Such is being with the disabled.

Peterson confesses that by “reducing them to problems to be fixed, I omitted the biggest thing of all in their lives, God and their souls, and the biggest thing in my life, my vocation as pastor” (The Pastor, 140). The congregation is not a gathering of people over whom the pastor is charged with helping fix their problems (You may want to read as follows: MY pastor is not charged by God to fix my problems). That is a market-driven way to see this messy, unkempt vocation into which many are called.

Problems have solutions. People have souls. Solutions are tidy. People are not.  According to Peterson and Hauerwas, then, what’s frustrating about being a pastor is the same thing that’s frustrating about being with the disabled, namely, there are no solutions but souls. Will we, as pastors and as people of God, commit to being with and speaking with one another for the long haul?

1 Corinthians 12:21-25 “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable pars do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division (no speaking about) in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

Stanley closed by pointing out that to give greater honor to those parts we think less honorable will mean we don’t get as much stuff done in the process. It takes time to be with, rather than to talk about and figure out solutions. Will you join me in committing to get less done for the sake of being with?  


What if These Verses weren’t in the Bible?

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

Matthew 25:35-36, 40 I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.

Matthew 5:44 I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Deuteronomy 24:14 You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners (aliens) who are in your land within your towns.

Ezekiel 16:49 Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Acts 4:44-45 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.

What if these verses weren’t in the Bible? Would life look any different for you than it does now. Or, do you already live like they aren’t there? I’m guilty. How about you?

Are Immigrants your Enemies? If so, do you love them?

This post was inspired by the story of a confessed illegal immigrant who prevented a young girl from being abducted and the horrors that most certainly would have followed. My question is this: should American kick him out?

I suspect a survey of a handful of Christ followers would reveal that the majority favor more stringent immigration laws. But should this be the case? You may think I’m trying to stir a political pot. I assure you, however, that any political relevance this may have stems directly from biblical conviction and my story as an immigrant.

The issue comes down to this: am I foremost an American or a Christian? I am American by means of my locale in the United States of America. I enjoy living in the US. The privileges are many, which is why immigrants will risk life and limb to enter into this ‘promised land.’ However, I am a Christian. I would wish for this identity to determine more of my life than the former, but I know this isn’t the case most of the time. And it did not used to be the case in how I viewed the immigration question.

Then, by the hand of God, I was forced to take an Immigration and Religion class at Fuller Theological Seminary (a seminary too liberal for conservatives and too conservative for liberals–which means I loved it). There were many nights sitting through lectures that I was more concerned with following the Braves game via ESPN Gamecast. Moreover, bar graphs and pie charts and statistics do not speak to my heart, and these were many.

But what I walked away with was a new perspective. The story of the people of God is the story of an immigrant people. Certainly one would claim, “But what about Israel!” I understand. But think before Israel. Abraham was called by God to leave his homeland and to go somewhere else, destination TBD. Israel formed, not as the nation-state we think of today, but as a people. This people lived in captivity in other countries on several occasions, sometimes by force, sometimes by choice. But they were always the people of Israel/the people of God regardless of locale.

The Incarnation is the foremost instance of immigration in history. God the Son left heaven and entered into this world. How’s that for immigration? Legal or not. The Old Testament is riddled with commands to welcome the stranger, to provide for the outsider, to love the Other. The more firm man-made boundaries become in our minds and hearts, the more we’ll see the Other as the enemy.

But even if we see them as enemy, I think Jesus said we should love our enemies. Either way you look at it, from the Christian perspective, is it possible that we’re thinking about immigration as Americans rather than as Christians?