Pastoral Series: Disability 6th June 2010 

General introduction and notes for the group leader:Disablity
        What do we understand by the term ‘disabled’? Does it bring images of wheelchairs; parking badges; white sticks? Are you a disabled person, or do you care for someone with a disability? How does disability fit into community life? These are some of the things we aim to touch on in this session.
        We could define ‘disability’ as: an impairment of function, - an impairment which hinders that person’s ability to perform certain tasks. It may result in a measurable handicap when that specific function is required, but it does not necessarily affect other functions. So the person is ‘handicapped’, only when their particular impairment is involved: eg a blind person is handicapped when it comes to driving a car, but perfectly functional when writing a poem; someone with Down’s Syndrome may be handicapped in relation to academic learning, but not when relating lovingly within a family.
        Within professional circles, those who study and work with impairment issues have a slightly different system of definitions:
Impairment is the condition suffered by the individual
Disability is the added burden they have to contend with as a result of the attitude of their community: the community ‘disables’ them, by putting various barriers in their way. E.g. If a theatre does not provide wheelchair access, then the theatre managers have ‘disabled’ me from attending; the ‘disability’ results from their action, (or lack of it), not from my condition.
Handicap is a term very much out of favour, and is often considered insulting.
You might want to think about these terms and agree which ones you will use during the session. I have not used ‘disability’ in this latter, stricter definition, but rather as written in the earlier paragraph, above.
        Most of us carry a degree of functional impairment, and it tends to increase as we age. Disability is not a static phenomenon. We’ll be looking at this idea and the deep feelings that the onset of disability may bring. Despite impairment of function, we are still the same people inside.
Suggested plan for the session:
  • Welcome and prayer, (or whatever is your chosen way of starting!)
  • Introduction to the subject: short discussion about definitions then using some of the general questions on disability as catalysts to discussion.
  • Bible Reading: 2.Samuel 9.
  • Bible study using the questions/observations offered below
  • Action: making connections between what we have learned and the way we apply this within our church and community.
  • Concluding prayers.
General questions on disability:
1. Think of someone you know who has a specific disability/impairment:
  • In what ways does it affect their abilities in life?
  • In what ways is it irrelevant to their functioning?
  • Are there ways in which it gives them an advantage?
  • As a result of this reflection, how do we understand the difference between disability and handicap?
2. List some of the ways in which you feel you react to people with disability, -react physically and emotionally. What part do attitudes play?
3. It could be said that we all have some sort of disability, for none of us has a perfectly functioning body and mind, (-how many of us are wearing specs; use a hearing aid; cannot add up very well; are colour blind, etc?) If that’s the case, then why are some people ‘labelled’? Can this be a help?
4. If you have a specific impairment, how do you feel about people asking you about it?
Suggest some acceptable ways in which questions might be phrased, eg.
What is the extent of your visual impairment?
How can I best help you manage these steps?
5. Disability can be with us from birth, or can develop later, and can even be left behind. When it comes into our lives, the impairment of function often brings other losses with it. Think about some of these in relation to people you know.(eg, loss of freedom, independence; choices; self-image; sports and hobbies; socialising, etc) Imagine the affect that the regaining of function could mean, (eg losing the support, sympathy, company and attention that has previously been given.) 6. When do I feel ‘disabled’? How, then, do I want to be treated? How well do I handle it?
Bible Study
Introduction: (To be read by the whole group)
David is the archetypal ‘local boy made good’!
He is plucked from obscurity by the prophet Samuel, (or, we might say, by God!), taken to the royal court and initiated in a lifestyle he would never have seen before. King Saul regards him highly at first. Jonathan, Saul’s son, becomes David’s closest friend.
David learns loyalty to God’s ‘anointed’, King Saul; but he swears commitment to Jonathan, out of love.
Re-read the story when you can, it has all the intrigue and political posturing you could wish for. The short version is that God withdraws his support from Saul and tells Samuel to anoint David. This makes David a future king, but does not remove the king who is already there, and the Old Testament paints a fascinating picture of David as a rival to Saul in popular acclaim, -and supported by God, -yet never lifting his hand in violence against Saul.
Eventually, Saul dies in battle on the same day as his sons, including Jonathan. David is grief-stricken and pours out his sorrow in a beautiful lament, (2 Sam.1. 17-27.).
Rivalry continues in Israel, between the David-for-King Party and the Still-Supporting-the-Dead-King-Saul Party. Eventually, David is established as the legitimate, anointed King of Israel. And that brings us to this reading:
Reading: 2.Sam 9.
Some study/discussion starters:
v1: David asks to find a survivor from Saul’s family, to whom he can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake. There is nothing in this sentence about pity, or even genuine compassion, for someone who is disabled. David did not know of Mephibosheth’s existence, at this point. Consider the words ‘for Jonathan’s sake’. For whose sake are we motivated to do things? [Don’t just all shout ‘Jesus’! Think of other people, as well.]
The information comes via an ex-servant of Saul: “There remains a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet”. How do you think he actually said those words? Try saying them out loud.  Was it all in one breath? Was there a slight pause between the first and second parts of the sentence? Although his name is not mentioned yet, Mephibosheth means ‘out of the mouth of shame’. What might that tell us about the attitudes of that community and culture? Sickness/disability was often linked to ‘curse’. Did this servant hesitate to mention it?
Mephibosheth is summoned, -and one does not refuse such a summons! He must have been very afraid, but he comes, he falls on his face and honours David as King, (no mean feat for someone with crippled feet!) David calls him by name, (though in the text he has not been told what this man’s name is); speaks kindly to him; promises to restore his lost family property to him; and offers a place at his table for Mephibosheth, for the rest of his life, -David was treating him as one of his own family. David is no softy when it comes to governing, and later, (in chapter 21. 1-14,) is complicit in the deaths of others of Saul’s descendents. But here, he shows us a quite different personality.    
Did Mephibosheth understand David’s motives? Have you ever been treated with great courtesy and honour for somebody else’s sake, (eg your parent’s or your spouse’s)? What did it feel like? What did it tell you about how that person was regarded, by the one who was being so kind to you?
Again we can ask, “For Whose sake do we do what we do? What does that tell others about our love for God?” Can our love for Jesus be enough of a motive to reach out to others without discrimination, and accept the ‘impaired’ with equality and respect?
Mephibosheth’s response is, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?” Doesn’t that just make you want to cringe? Isn’t it shocking to our ears? Are things always so different today? Do we increase the self-esteem of our friends and neighbours who have disabilities, by the way we treat them?
Part of David’s kindness is to arrange for Mephibosheth’s property to provide him with a regular income, in a way which is also fair and just to the servants involved. (The original text in Hebrew, apparently(!), shows this more clearly: Ziba’s family would also live off the proceeds).
Do we have any idea of how small a budget most disabled people live on?
Do we have any idea of how expensive transport is for wheelchair users?
 Do we have any idea of how much it costs to alter a house to fit the needs of someone with mobility problems? …etc., etc?
Does verse 12, -‘Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica’, -come as a bit of a shock? Are we sometimes guilty of de-sexualising people with disablilties?
The last verse seems to reiterate the paradox expressed in this story: ‘Mephibosheth always ate at the King’s table. Now he was lame in both feet.’
It was a paradox because of the link between sickness and curse, in religious thinking  then. But our God undoes such ideas. Jesus was cursed in the eyes of the religious elite of his time, because he was hanged on a tree. But that curse was actually the greatest blessing of all time.
Is there such a thing as being ‘spiritually disabled’ when it comes to church life, evangelism, or pastoral care of others?
Lastly, food for thought: if I’ve been physically disabled all my life, and known nothing else, will my Resurrection body reflect that?
So how do we now turn that paradox around in our culture, and remove the added ‘curse’ from disability that is already difficult enough to live with? (Attitudes, attitudes!)
How do we practically support those who carry disabilities in their lives?
How much money would you like to see this church give towards further help for people with the sorts of disabilities we have been discussing: eg transport facilities, (including drivers),  for wheelchair users, -it is a real problem.
A suggestion for a closing prayer:
Lord God of compassion, who grieves at the injuries and impairments of your children, give us all an attitude of awareness towards the needs of others. May we respect all people, whether able-bodied or otherwise. Help us to see the abilities of others, and grant us the grace to accept our own disabilities which we cannot avoid.
You are the God who changes ideas and turns things upside down: Forgive us the arrogance of our culture with its admiration of physical perfection, and disregard of the different. Help us to remember always the young man who couldn’t move his arms or his legs, because they had been nailed to a tree for us. And move us in whatever direction you want to take us, to show kindness for your Son’s sake. Amen.


Christine Bailey, 19/05/2010

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