Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Church, the differently-abled, and the Tiber

Us, overlooking the Tiber River in Rome

If you've been around here for awhile, then you know that I don't usually write much about current events--and my subsequent opinions.  Not that I don't HAVE thoughts on assorted matters of our day, but I generally reserve my passionate discourse, frantic hand-waving (how is it even possible to talk without using your hands?!), and  high-pitched fervor for a few close friends...and for Kevin.  Mostly for Kevin.  He's used to it.

But I did want to address this.  Because it so beyond wrong on so many levels.  And it's about so much more than this specific church and this specific family.  And somehow it all relates to the journey I've been on for the past few years.

In a nutshell, a family attended an Easter church service with their son, who has Cerebral Palsy.  At one point in the service, he made some noise.  And they were immediately ushered out and told they had to watch the remainder of the service from the lobby.  In a statement to the media the church said they are committed to providing a distraction-free service for all.

I'm sure my thoughts on this are apparent.  Obviously my heart hurts for this family, and for any family, who experiences discrimination and judgement because a child (or adult) is deemed by society to be unique in some way. 

And of course it has an extra sting to it for me personally because I'm in the midst of adopting two children with Down syndrome. 

It is devastating to consider the prejudice and hatred these precious girls will face as they grow.  Ultimately, our family will be facing it together.  Maybe we'll be asked by an usher to leave someplace, too.  I feel like we've already seen a very small glimpse of it just on account of having five children--because we didn't get the memo that you're only supposed to have two children, spaced a minimum of two years apart, before your husband gets a vasectomy, or you get an IUD, or something like that.  For some reason, our (silent, since we rarely discuss it with others) decision to remain open to life makes people super duper uncomfortable.  And occasionally, it makes them prone to act out and say something heartless or rude.  In front of my kids.  While we're trying to buy groceries or check out books at the library.

So yeah, I'm fighting mad on behalf of this family and their precious son.  On behalf of the many people living a life that doesn't fit into the polished veneer of a mold that our society expects of them. 

Yet there is another component of this issue, that is part of the root problem in my opinion.  And I hope the following views don't offend.  But something has gone dreadfully wrong in evangelicalism.  In society at large, I realize, and many evangelicals are just following suit.  But what a travesty.  When did religion and the worship of God become about me, me, and more me?  Who decided that the lights, hip venue, loud "rock" band, booming childrens' ministry, and "relevant" five-point sermon by a middle-aged-guy-with-a-goatee are the way to knowing and experiencing Jesus?

It makes me think about the elderly man who attends Mass near my house.  Anytime we have gone, typically on a weekday morning, this man is there.  Kneeling, standing, speaking the Our Father.  Receiving the Host.  And it doesn't look like it's easy for him to kneel any longer, either.  But still, he does.

Something tells me this man has been attending Mass for the past 60-plus years. 

Something also tells me that he doesn't visit Our Lady of Lourdes at 8:30 every morning to hear a band or even a relevant, trendy message.

He goes to humbly receive Jesus.  To receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion and the graces that flow out of that.  He goes to take part in Christ's Body, the Church, something bigger than him and yet something that he's an integral part of as he speaks the liturgy that binds him to Christians centuries ago.  He goes even though his brand of religion is a scandal to some.  But it's life to him.

I honestly don't know this man at all, but he has inspired my faith and encouraged my heart from the first time I saw him.  Even though we've never spoken.

Because on some level, so much of church in our modern times has become yet another place to be entertained, and to draw people in with our marketing and gimmicks and "look, we're cool too!"  and "look, we have loud music and shiny brochures and we all kinda look alike and talk alike and read the same books, and we don't want ________ around because that really detracts from our uber-relevant message and ultimate goal of getting as many people as we can into the seats."  Whew.

Now we can insert children, the developmentally delayed, the poor or homeless, or a twelve-year-old boy who happens to have Cerebral Palsy in that blank.  But the underlying message is still the same.

What are we even doing? 

And so I've thought a lot in recent years about the seeming arbitrary-ish-ness present in much of religion. 

Is it okay for a Christian to think about that?  Is it okay to question why we worship the way we do, or why we believe the things we believe?  Beyond being okay, is it beneficial? 

Well, considering the fact that the Reformation has come to spark over 30,000 Protestant denominations and offshoots, each with their own brand of religion, it's at the very least natural.  To wonder why our little group says this, when those people say that.  I've read a bunch of books and talked to a bunch of people and at the end of the day, honestly, I want Jesus.  Not just emotion, or an intellectual discourse from a pulpit, or Chris Tomlin songs.  While those things aren't wrong or bad (and I do like Chris Tomlin's music, don't get me wrong!), I guess I just see the beauty and truth in the simplicity of that "old time religion."  The idea of receiving Jesus alongside other members of His Church.  Participating in centuries-old liturgy and reciting the Our Father (or Lord's Prayer), the way Jesus taught us to pray.  Receiving the Sacrament.

I can't help but think about our recent trip to Rome, about the amazing basilicas we visited and about the woman we saw practicing Eucharistic Adoration at Saint Mary Major.  Again, scandalous to some, but there was such beauty and peace in her humble, reverent prayer and devotion to her Lord Jesus.  It was her and Jesus, hanging out. 

And later, as we stood on the bridge overlooking the Tiber River beneath us, I thought about how without Jesus, without the virtue of charity (or love) being put into practice, Christian religion really is kind of arbitrary.  And maybe it's easy to lose sight of that Jesus and that love when there is so much noise and showmanship standing in the way.

I'm sure I'll share more about my own personal faith journey another time.  This post is way too long already!

I'll close by saying that I hope that this family finds a faith community that is more about the love of Jesus than about putting out a glossy product to its members each week.  I hope that church realizes the ways in which it needs to grow and change and that Jesus is so very near to children, and to individuals with unique gifts and needs. 

And I say gifts in addition to needs, because I think each and every life is a gift in its own unique way--a gift to their loved ones, to their community, and to God.  Whether it's Autism, Trisomy 21, Cerebral Palsy, HIV, whatever, that individual is a gift and their life is a testament to God and His goodness.

And now you know why I usually just reserve my long-winded opinions and frantic hand-talking for my husband.  He's stuck with me.  :)


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