UCCDM Lenten Devotional–Cornerstone

This is the seventh in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional for 2014. It is written by Rev. Jeanne Tyler, Vice Chair of UCCDM. Her bio is on the Board of Directors page.

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.-Psalm 118:22

I like to play with images and words. They help place me in my experience of the world.  In Psalm 118, we hear or read, verse 22, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”  Now, this is interesting. A cornerstone is a foundational stone marking the corner of a building.  It is one significant stone. Being the chief cornerstone makes it even more of a significant stone.  But, the builders rejected it. And yet, someone dragged it back and placed it well so it became the chief cornerstone. Is not this interesting and intriguing, particularly on Palm Sunday?  We know the story of Palm Sunday when Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the people greet his entry with palms and shouts of Hosanna!

Who among us has not experienced rejection because of a perceived flaw? Most builders want to build an enduring building and they look for stones that match their ideals of “significant” stones. So, how is it possible for a rejected stone to become the cornerstone? How is it possible for people with disabilities to place ourselves at the cornerstone? We are often rejected. We are not good enough, we are not smart enough, we are not political enough, or we are not significant enough to become a cornerstone. What value do we offer in centering the walls of an enduring building?

We offer our humanity; judged as perhaps insignificant, yet created in the complexity and mysterious Image of God. We who cannot hide nor deny our full humanity offer our very bodies as testament to the love of God. In language of covenant, we are grateful to the creation and to Jesus who becomes the cornerstone of our faith; unexpected yet acclaimed.

Prayer  Holy One,  give us hope and grace in ourselves as we are.  It is a great paradox that the stone rejected by builders becomes the chief cornerstone.  Thank you for the diversity of creation and for times of being the chief cornerstone.  Amen.

In the News: UCC Congregation Uses Technology to Become Accessible to Persons with Hearing Loss

The UCC News has published an article about First Congregational Church in Madison, Wis. which recently installed T-Coil in the sanctuary. The T-Coil Technology allows those with hearing impairments to better hear the service. It is one step the church is taking toward becoming A2A. Congregation Installs T-Coil for Accessibility for People with Hearing Loss

UCCDM Lenten Devotional–Old Bones

This is the sixth in the UCCDM’s Lenten Series 2014. This reflection for the sixth Sunday in Lent comes Rev. Lynda I. Bigler, Chair of UCCDM. Her bio is available on the Board of Directors page.

The Lord’s power overcame me, and while I was in the Lord’s spirit, he led me out and set me down in the middle of a certain valley. It was full of bones.

He led me through them all around, and I saw that there were a great many of them on the valley floor, and they were very dry.

He asked me, “Human one, can these bones live again?”
I said, “Lord God, only you know.”

I prophesied just as he commanded me. When the breath entered them, they came to life and stood on their feet, an extraordinarily large company. ~~Ezekiel 37:1-3, 10

Have you ever felt like a worthless pile of bones?  Undervalued?  Overlooked?  Uncared for?  Discarded?  Stranded in the middle of nowhere, watching all of life’s actions swirl around you without you?

I did. I was eleven years old. It was a particularly bad week. First, my classmates decided it was the right thing to do to let the visually impaired kid make a home run in soft ball before sixth grade ended.  I’d never hit a soft ball in my life. I always struck out. I couldn’t see the bases so I figured it was just as well I never hit the ball. I had no clue where to run.  But that day, they decided I needed to get a home run.  It started by allowing me to barely hit the ball. Then the first, second, and third basemen missed catching the ball  when  it was thrown to them. And then somehow I made it home before the ball did. I guess they figured I wouldn’t hear them discuss the Plan or argue with each other as that all played out. There is little lower than being the object of someone else’s good deed for the day.

It was the week those of us on the safety patrol who were moving up to junior high school got our awards for being good safety patrol members.  As I marched forward to get my award, I guess I wasn’t supposed to hear how I’d only been put on the safety patrol because I could buddy up with my best friend who was sighted.  Besides, it seemed to be the right thing to do.

And then there was the sixth grade dance. I didn’t know how to dance and the boys I liked were certainly not interested in me. But I was on the dance committee because I was a girl and that’s what girls did.  At the committee meeting, the head girl said I couldn’t do anything except bring napkins because I had no other abilities.

I told my mother about all these things. She told me that it was all part of growing up with a disability. Time I just smiled my thanks for their kindnesses and get over it.

I felt as lonely as those old bones.  Even though those bones ended up in that valley as a result of physical violence, emotional violence put me in the same spot. If all I could expect from life was being someone’s good deed or a token or being prejudged for what I could do, then I might as well be among that pile of bones, too. What kind of life was being offered to me that was better?

Few people talk about depression in children because they believe it to be imagined or learned behavior or even just acting out for attention. Not so! Adult friends with disabilities also talk about their childhoods and/or teen years  in which they experienced depression and contemplated suicide like I had experienced. Some of them acted upon their contemplations, but I did not.

Just like those dry bones, God resurrected me. Just like those dry bones, God can resurrect each of us to a new life, a new life in which we can find value and be valued. Resurrection for me meant learning how to channel my anger resulting from social injustice and putting that energy into educating myself to the best of my ability. Resurrection meant learning I had a Voice and how to use it. Resurrection for me eventually meant empowerment.

Ezekiel says there was an extraordinarily large company of us coming back to life: perhaps like were those who are different because of disability, skin color, sexual orientation, culture, or mental health issues , brain injuries, developmental or cognitive disabilities. We are those at the margins of life who are discarded like Ezekiel’s old bones. By sharing our stories we discover how similar our stories are. By sharing our witness, we share our strengths and our value as a People, a People who can effect change.

UCCDM Lenten Devotional–Man Born Blind

This is fifth in the UCCDM Lenten Devotional 2014 Series. This reflection for the fourth Sunday in Lent comes from Rev. Jeanne Tyler, Vice Chair of UCCDM. Her bio is available on the Board of Director’s page.

John 9:1-41

It is a tense time for Jesus and his followers. Jesus has enemies who seek his death. They are on his trail; waiting for him to make a mistake, say an inappropriate remark, or act badly.

Jesus is known as a healer. He has the power of healing and offers healing. As Jesus is escaping a murderous plot, he is presented with a man born blind. Jesus is asked a question we ask even today. Who messed up, this man or his parents? Who can we blame because somebody is responsible? Somebody is always responsible for perfection made human; which is to say not perfect. Blemished by whom and why we seek to find the culprit.

Jesus healed the man by making clay out of his spit and the dirt on the ground and placed the clay on the man’s eyes. He then told the man to go and wash his eyes in a pool of water away from Jesus. The man gained his sight and came back but did not recognize the healer.

This is in some way guerrilla theatre with sighted men not recognizing a healer and a man who gained sight also not recognizing the healer. Is this about our compulsive need to make judgments about human form and what passes judgment and what does not? Are we willing to accept one another as we are?

O Holy One, we come to You with our judgments about who is human and why l he/she matters in the universe. You help us name ourselves as human as the one born blind. Amen

 

UCCDM Lenten Devotional – “Enduring Character”

This is the fourth in the UCCDM’s Lenten Devotional 2014 series. This devotion for the Third Sunday in Lent comes from the Rev. Gunnar Cerda in Ohio. Rev. Cerda has served as local church pastor, has served as chaplain for Widening the Welcome, and currently serves as a hospital chaplain.

Romans 5:3-4  “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…”

Sometimes I find it hard to read Paul.

It’s not just because of his rhetorical style, but also because his theology is hard to swallow.  I mean really, who boasts in their sufferings?  And what is the deal with suffering producing endurance?  Don’t you need a bit of endurance to, well, endure the suffering when it comes in our lives?  And what about Hope, why is it last, as in a goal-line to which we hope at some point to arrive?

My wrestling with passages like this, and sometimes with Paul in general, is that he seems to have this idealistic view that suffering is positive, that it is somehow justified, which is where he loses me.  In a way it almost feels patronizing, as if Paul was saying “get over it” or “shake it off.”  After all, suffering leads to endurance and then to character, so this is really just a character building opportunity for you.”  Thanks but no thanks Paul.

See, I am the parent of two great kids, one who happens to have an intellectual disability named and labeled as an Autism Spectrum Disorder.  As a parent, such a life event changes your worldview, and you find yourself shifting from looking at the world from the dominant viewpoint of “normal.”  You start to see how your child doesn’t fit in with the other kids.  You start to see the dirty looks and people whispering because your child doesn’t behave or talk the way others expect.  You start to notice posts on facebook highlighting how “back in the day” kids were not “brats” because people knew how to be parents.  “There’s nothing a good spanking can’t cure!”  You notice—and cry—when your child is sitting alone and ignored by other kids.

And you know you are not alone.  I recently saw a post on a blog from a parent who wrote seeking some understanding.  This parent’s words were all too familiar as I read them:”…it always feels like a slap in the face when people, knowing my situation, say they were blessed with healthy children.  Are only the healthy and wealthy blessed?”

I sensed right away what was behind this question.  It is grief, which is a manifestation of suffering.  And it is a suffering many of us experience, not always because of the physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, visible disabilities, hidden disabilities and mental health concerns, rather, because society values ability over accommodating disability—where those who are “able” are blessed.  Thanks to culture, life is a journey through suffering, which often looks more like an endurance race.  We don’t need Paul to remind us about suffering, endurance is the ticket.  And Hope, hope that someday it will be different.

So I had all of this running through my head, and my emotions, leading me to give Paul a hard time.  For as I prayerfully reflected, I recalled the words in Exodus when God speaks to Moses.  It is a powerful moment when God says “I have heard the cries of my children.  I know their sufferings and I have come down to redeem them.”  There are the words of our UCC Statement of Faith, reminding us that our Savior, Jesus the Christ, has come to us and shared our common lot.  And then there is the outlook of our beloved United Church of Christ, that God welcomes any body, every body, Christ’s body, into a church that is Accessible to All.

Indeed, God knows and shares in our sufferings!  In those moments when we feel like we are alone, or on the outside looking in; when we are praying for the hurtful attitudes of the world to change…God understands, Christ “gets” it, and the Holy Spirit calls us into a community of care and support, while comforting and advocating for us.  How about that, God doesn’t give sufferings or disabilities or mental illness, rather, our Still Speaking God shares in those journeys.

Now that’s something which gives me hope!  And that hope keeps me going, even when the going gets tough.  That’s the endurance I need in those times when the grief or suffering seems too much.  And I can realize all of that because of the enduring character of God, pouring out upon me a character of faith.

So maybe I’ve been too hard on Paul.  I’m still not sure about the boasting in my sufferings piece (I’ll leave that to someone else to explore).  But if I could suggest a helpful edit in your rhetoric Mr. “of Tarsus,” then perhaps we could try it this way:  We know that we can endure our sufferings, no matter what, because we have hope which comes from a God who really understands what we are going through.

And THAT is something that I can hang on to.

Holy One who knows and understands our sufferings—during this season of Lenten reflection, empower us to live into your mission and companion others in enduring their sufferings.  Bless us to be a blessing to others, both in our character and as your church which you call to be Accessible to All.  We ask this in the name of the Christ who shared our common lot and defeated the power which suffering has over us through hope enlivened in the resurrection.  Amen and Amen.

 

Disability, Bullying–and You

This post comes from Rev. Lynda I. Bigler, of Oregon. Lynda is the current Chair of UCCDM.

Every school, every business, every church, every community has at least one bully in it. Bullying in childhood that remains uncorrected creates grown-up bullies. Young bullies impact the social development and self esteem of their victims and their social communities from the classroom to the sports team. Grown-up bullies use their bullying skills to intimidate others in search of power.  Grown-up bullies in church and offices drive out pastors and employees, damaging their adult victims in the same way young bullies damage their young victims.  No matter how old a bully is, his or her actions and words shape the lives of both their victims and their communities in negative, unhealthy ways.

Children and adults with disabilities comprise one of bullying’s largest victim pools. Because of this, UCCDM will offer on an ongoing basis some suggestions for helping communities address this issue.

In 2011 a small Iowa congregation held a community event to address bullying.  Invited as panelists were representatives from elementary, middle, and high schools from both their guidance and sports departments;  security personnel from the high school; a police officer; a mental health professional; the church pastor. A moderator asked each panelist to make a short statement. Afterwards panelists  were free to question each other.  Finally, the audience had the opportunity to question the panelists. People packed the pews for this 2-3 hour program.  Interestingly, some families began attending the church because they saw it as a place of refuge for their children, and a place where others cared about their concerns.

Perhaps this program is something you and your congregation can bring to your community.

UCCDM Lenten Devotional-Willing

This is devotional is for the Second Sunday in Lent. It is the third in the UCCDM Lenten Series 2014. This reflection is provided by Rev. Kelli Parrish Lucas, UCCDM Secretary.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’* So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” Genesis 12:1-4

 

“ — We have completed a building and program audit. [Several different audits are mentioned in this packet. Your score is less important than your willingness to survey and assess places where improvement is needed.]

–We have identified __ things to change this year.

–We have identified __ things to change in 2 years.

–We have Identified  __ things to change in 5 years.” ~from the A2A checklist in “Anybody, Every Body, Christ’s Body”

Ah, Lent. It sometimes seems that Lent can be a season of magnifying our imperfections, second only to the resolution season of New Year. (In all honesty, Lent is not a pleasant time.) We often talk about what we are giving up or taking on as new spiritual practice for the season of Lent.

We often talk about Lent as an individual journey, and that is fitting if we are just to mirror Jesus’ journey in the wilderness. The lectionary this week focuses on Abram’s journey out of Ur (Genesis 12:1-4). Abram, however, did not journey alone he went with God and his family. Abram had his community with him on the journey. Is the lectionary nudging us to consider the journey of our community as well as ourselves?

What if the Body of Christ started a journey of community reflection? I wonder what we would reflect on..dogma, creeds, ecumenical relations? In the UCC, there is little doubt we would focus on issues of justice. But the Christian practice of Lent has traditionally been an internal journey, like Jesus in the wilderness. Is there something internal to the Body of Christ that we might bring forward for reflection and discussion? Surely we are not perfect as a church–as a community of believers–even as the Body of Christ. We celebrate Communion with the broken Body of Christ, surely we don’t expect the body is perfect for we celebrate the brokenness and the new covenant that comes from the brokenness and bringing back together!

Even when we work for justice and ‘walk the talk’ of the gospel to the best of our ability, there is always something more that God is calling us to set out towards. We are not a people destined to settle in Ur.

In the UCC when we reflect on how we live in covenant and community as the Body of Christ, we often reflect on how ‘inclusive’ and diverse our community is~we are multi-racial, multi-lingual, anti-racist, open and affirming, immigrant welcoming. . .. Are we “Accessible to All” as well? If the Body of Christ is always breaking open and coming back together to welcome the stranger from margins…then perhaps the journey is one which continues each time God calls us to move forward. Do we continue to respond as Abram did? Do we simply go or do we say ‘enough of your speaking God, we are staying in Ur where we know who we are and who we include’?

The UCC asserted at the 2005 Synod, that is called to be a church that is “Accessible to All”. This does not mean that the church, or the Body of Christ, is or will be perfect–just that it is faithfully continuing the journey. This is the season of Lent, the time to reflect on or to practice a new understanding of our response to God’s call. To paraphrase the A2A checklist: Our score is less important than our willingness to survey and assess places where improvement is needed.