Friday, August 29, 2014

Music - Diane Mettam

My husband and I went to a piano concert at the church this weekend, and I pondered how much comfort music brings to me.  I think it brings a  lot of comfort to many people, both able-bodied and disabled.  Bishop Peggy Johnson even wrote about it in her book, The Church and People With Disabilities:  Awareness, Accessibility, and Advocacy:  

“. . . it was ‘love at first sight’ the first time I saw a choir of Deaf people signing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ at a session of annual conference.  I was working as a vocal music teacher in the Baltimore County school system at the time.  I was mesmerized by the graceful motions of the words and marveled at the power of the music performed by the hands and arms of people who could not hear it.” 

Deaf choirs have become more common, and more appreciated, as they interpret music through American Sign Language.  And they do more than “sign” the lyrics.  They express the emotion of the music, as well. 

I have a sweatshirt that reads:  Bach gave us God’s Word. Mozart gave us God’s laughter. Beethoven gave us God’s fire. God gave us Music that we might pray without words.”  I wear it because it expresses how much I love music, and some of the composers I enjoy.

During Friday’s concert we were treated to hymns, and original compositions, and other secular music.  A piece entitled “Dakota Rose” helped me envision the high desert we left for the coast where we live now.  Another named “Hot Air Balloon” made me smile as I pictured a balloon floating with the wind, and I thought of our Thai exchange student son enjoying his hot air balloon ride when he lived with us.  “Be Thou My Vision,” one of my favorite hymns, was played so beautifully it moved me beyond words as I pictured God in my life guiding me in the way I should go.  That is how I see God as my vision.

Small wonder that so many of us find such comfort in music.  It can inspire us, soothe us, charm us.  Even the nonsense songs I make up and sing to my dogs serve a purpose; Kirby, the younger dog calms down and quits whining when he hears “I’m a Baby Monkey.” 

I have learned of the American Music Therapy Association, which works with persons with Parkinson’s Disease to increase motor function, older adults to reduce the effects of dementia, children with autism to increase communication, premature infants to improve sleep patterns and improve weight gain, children and adults to reduce asthma episodes, and hospitalized patients to reduce pain.  Music is indeed a gift from God!

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
    let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
    and extol him with music and song.  Psalm 95:1-2

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of music.  Amen

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fear - Diane Mettam

Today I want to talk about fear.  It first came about at Vacation Bible School.  I met two youngsters in my Storytelling Tent who were afraid.  It was obvious they were allowed to watch too many scary movies - the kind with mindless killing and mayhem - something children of eight or nine shouldn’t be watching with or without an adult.  And they were watching these movies alone, and then spending nights alone, and afraid.  Each noise they heard in the night was a potential killer.  “Haven’t you seen ‘Chucky?’” they’d ask.  “Don’t you know about ‘Saw?’”

“Yes,” I replied, “but I also know about God, and I know that those are just movies, and they aren’t real.”  And I’d repeat our memory verse for the day, “God answered, 'I will be with you.' “Ex. 3:12, and our Bible Point, “God is with us, God! 

I’d explain how those creaky sounds weren’t ghosts, but loose floorboards in their old homes; how the billowing curtain wasn’t a ghost, but air from an open window.  And, blessedly, when they returned the next morning, and the morning after that, they were courageous and full of God sightings.  The “floating masks” they saw the night before, one child told me, were God looking after them during the night.  The rush of air was God kissing them good night.  “God is with us, God!”

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15

Like those children, we need to have courage to fight the ghosts that seem to be all around us at times; the ghosts of unaccommodating people, inaccessible buildings, eyes that won’t see, ears that won’t hear, minds that won’t understand and hearts that won’t care.  At times it just seems like more than we can bear.  But I don’t think it’s more than those children faced. 

They were truly terrified, and one of them actually lived in a funeral parlor.  She was left alone because her parents were out “on calls” picking up the recently deceased.  The other child was a foster child who had lived in more homes than his number of years on earth.  But they heard the word of God, and believed.  “I will be with you.”

I now understood what Jesus meant about receiving the kingdom of God like a little child after my time with those children.  They heard the Word and they accepted it.  There was no “Yes, but . . .”  There was simply “Yes.” 

When do we lose that ability to simply hear and accept?  And what does it take to get it back?  Can we start by remembering that God is with us, God?

This week we are lifting up Rev. Russell Ewell, Vice-Chair of the DisAbility Ministries Committee, who has been on the streets of Ferguson, MO for a number of days and nights with his colleagues doing ministry with the younger (and older) people of that community.  We pray that God covers Pastor Russell, his colleagues, and all the people of Ferguson with the healing balm of God’s peace, understanding, and reconciliation.  We further ask that violence be replaced with calm, and angry rhetoric with reasoned discourse. 

Dear Father God,  When it seems that the night is at its darkest, and we are entombed in fear, let us remember that you are always with us, and that we can always trust you.  Embolden us to step out in courage, claiming your name as our legacy, and our strength ,and our security.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A question for discussion - Chad Clark

A question posted by Chad Clark, a student at United Theological Seminary, reposted with permission. He is requesting comments:

What do you think about this?

Disabilities is more a byproduct of society than an imperfection of the body/mind. Rather than primarily viewing disabilities as something less than an ideal (and often arbitrary) conception of the way human beings are supposed to operate and think, disabilities are created by those in power who shape and form reality to accommodate themselves (the majority who are in power).
Stairs were a terrible invention that were built to empower to those who can walk and disempower those who cannot.
Imagine a world in which the majority of people used wheelchairs. Cars would be built to accommodate the use of wheelchairs and not people who could walk. You would roll into your car, lock your wheelchair in place, operate the vehicle with your hands, etc. The person who could walk could not use the car because cars do not come equipped with seats.
Imagine how sports games would be developed in a world in which the majority of people did not walk. As we know them, no one would have created football, soccer, volleyball, etc. All games would accommodate people in wheelchairs. People who walk would be "low functioning" in that society, unless of course they were good at the games in this world, in which case they would become an "object of inspiration" for that society.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Bishop Peggy Johnson honored by UMCDHM - News

Bishop Peggy Johnson with award
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson receives the Philip Hasenstab Award of Excellence in Deaf Mission and Evangelism, August 2, 2014, Chicago, Illinois.

During the historic meeting of the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries, officers of the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf, who met with the Evangelical Lutheran Deaf Association and Episcopal Deaf Church, the first award for excellence in United Methodist Deaf mission and evangelism was given to Bishop Peggy A. Johnson.  Her work of 18 years ministry at Christ Church of the Deaf, UMC and present work as Bishop of the Eastern Pennsylvania-Delaware Conference demonstrated growth in both evangelism and mission. Her work in Kenya and Zimbabwe resulted in not only sending Deaf mission teams for the first time to those countries, but also identified and mentored a Deaf woman who later became the first ordained Deaf woman in the Methodist Church in Kenya. As Bishop she has advocated tirelessly for the Deaf, and has written a denomination-wide curriculum for the United Methodist Women, called The Church and People with Disabilities. Her other published work is Deaf Ministry: Make a Joyful Silence.

In appreciation of her work, the officers of the United Methodist Congress of the Deaf and the United Methodist Committee on Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries created the first ever award to recognize a person for excellence in Deaf mission and evangelism. The award is named in memory of Rev. Philip Hasenstab who led the Chicago Mission for the Deaf at Chicago (Methodist Episcopal) Temple, the largest Deaf church in the United States during the early 20th century.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Crossing the street - Diane Mettam

Last week I crossed the street, so to speak.  I went to our local Independent Living Services Center to request information on local contractors because I have a sliding glass door that is slightly too small for me to comfortably get onto my deck.  I have lost a good portion of the foam right arm of my power chair sliding out every morning and evening as I tend to our nature habitat. 

We were fortunate to purchase a home that has a back yard that is recognized as a wildlife sanctuary by the National Wildlife Federation because the previous owner built a large feeding structure with specific areas for ground and air feeding birds, as well as large seed trays and nut huts.  I take great delight in going out each morning to feed the birds and squirrels, which now know that I am there to feed them, and don’t scamper off when they see me.  In fact, some of them remain on the feeder staring at me as if to ask why I’m taking so long with their meal. 

But back to the rest of the story - my husband and I located a French door which would allow me more room to get out onto the deck, but we need someone to install it as it will require some widening of the existing opening.  We also need a ceiling fan installed on a sloping ceiling.  So I went to Tri-County Independent Living Services and got to talking about improving access within our local community.  It seemed like they were looking for another voice, another advocate.

Has this happened to any of you?  Are you working to improve things outside the church?  I did in my previous community.  I worked with a group that held workshops for business owners to help them perform audits, develop compliance plans, and put those plans into place (and accomplish them).  This was somewhat successful where I lived before, but business people here aren’t too enthusiastic.  We actually have one hamburger stand that took out all seating so he wouldn’t have to comply with the ADA, I’m told.  (On the other hand, there are businesses that are welcoming, but there are many, many that seem not to want my business.) 

If you are working within the community, how are you bringing a Christian perspective to disability awareness and access?  I had a long telephone conversation with Chris, the paid advocate for Tri-County ILS and told him I’d be happy to help, but I have physical limitations I’m learning to respect (again) and I can’t devote a great deal of physical effort.  Chris said I could accomplish a great deal with a little bit of phone time, and he was grateful for the things I had noticed in my short time here in town.  But when I mentioned I was a pastor, and I had a Christian viewpoint to bring to the issue, he seemed a bit hesitant.  He asked what church I attended, and I invited him and told him it was very welcoming, and accessible and comfortable.  He hemmed and hawed and said he’d think about it.

But that’s not what I meant by a Christian viewpoint.  I recognize I need to get a mission statement together to present to the secular community.  Have any of you done that?  What are your favorite verses or stories that relate to Jesus and disability?  How can we make them relevant to an increasingly secular (and skeptical) 21st century world?  How can we make accessibility a matter not only of the law, but of the heart and the spirit?

“For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:13-16

Dear Creator God, You know our thoughts and our ways, and you are always with us.  Help us to find the ways and the words that will open the hearts and minds of those who hold the keys to open access for all your children.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Accessing Accessibility - Diane Mettam

For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about a short conversation I had on Facebook about who complains about the lack of accommodation - the temporarily disabled or the permanently so.  It seemed to those participating in the conversation that the temporarily disabled were more likely to call out the deficiencies of buildings, and we wondered if perhaps it was “the zealousness of someone who has had an awakening, that is, this person has not previously been aware of the problems and suddenly is.”   And I think that is so.  But why? 

Why is it that we who are permanently disabled don’t demand the accommodation we deserve, and to which the law says we are entitled?  If we are clergy, we might not want to push our luck with the appointment process.  We might have received the message, expressly or implicitly, that we are lucky to be where we are and we’d better not make any waves. 

Many disabled folk, no matter what our status, might have asked before, more than once, and we’ve just given up.  Or the results have been less than satisfactory and so we just wing it on our own.  Or roll away in disgust.

In my case, when I first became a wheelchair user my husband was alarmed at this upstart creature I had become, protesting when I could not enter a building or find a place to sit in my wheelchair, or park and exit my side-loading ramp van.  But soon he was on the bandwagon, protesting when we couldn’t sit together at a conference, or when a compact car zipped into the van-accessible parking space when other spaces were available, or when the handicapped entrance to a public building was located in the alley next to the garbage cans.  But I noticed that after awhile I tended to stop asking, or complaining, as if I realized the futility of it all.

We’ve been in a new town for a little over a year.  We were invited to the opening of the new Visitor’s Center when it opened a year ago, but got there only to find it wasn’t wheelchair accessible.  We told the friend who invited us, who was embarrassed as he was a friend of the man who was in charge of the building renovation.  But to date nothing has been done to rectify the situation. 

One of the town’s revered art museums is in a building with the handicapped entrance in the alley next to the garbage cans.  I was invited to a reception honoring Senior Volunteers at that location; I respectfully declined and told the organizers why.  I hope they’ll choose a better locale next year.  I can’t be the only senior volunteer with mobility issues.

I delight in supporting the local dance company, and one of the gifted young dancers is a member of our local church.  But the wheelchair seating in the lovely old theatre where they dance is front and center - the very front row.  I really can’t see very well, and my neck is quite sore by the end of the program, but I really don’t have any other choice.  And the company is so excited to present me with these “premium” seats.  The director of the company even greets me at the start of the program.  What does one do?

Have I become less insistent because I am less hopeful of a positive outcome?  Or because I am simply tired?  I do fight an autoimmune disease which taxes my strength, and this week’s devotional is overdue (I apologize) because I am ill once again.  But can’t I find a way to continue to advocate with tools that don’t require a lot of energy?  As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matthew 6:33
Dear Creator God, Give us all  the courage to seek change, the words to invoke change, and the strength to continue working for change even when change seems impossible.  In the name of your son, the architect of change.  Amen