Talk about discrimination

lestinnocentbloodJust because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

I talk with youth workers all the time about inclusion. Inclusion is woven into our very jargon when we speak of the gospel being for everyone. What we say officially however does not always match functionally.

As Ferguson has permeated the news, conversations of racism have risen again. A tragic reason, and long overdue, but the conversations are needed. What I am hearing from many young (african american, asian, hispanic, native american and white) leaders is that they know racism exists but that it is not their battle or that they just don’t see it. I couldn’t make this up. As I proceed to name a few places where I see it with them, it is as if a veil is being lifted. And then the floodgate is opened. Frustration or anger often follows. They begin to realize that they had be so socialized to see something as “normal” that they didn’t even see it as discrimination.

I hear this same comment when I bring up including people with disabilities. “Oh, yes, that is important but we don’t have anyone with a disability in our youth group / church / school / community”.

I hear this same comment when talking about including women in leadership. “Oh, we don’t have any women who are interested / qualified / called”.

And again when I talk about the gospel and those with different gender or sex orientations. “Oh yes, that is a huge issue in The church, but not my church. We don’t have anyone identifying / struggling / living with any of those issues.”

Inclusion demands that we talk, openly about all of these possibilities. Inclusion demands that we talk long before we know someone with a disability or can identify racism. You will do it imperfectly, do it anyway. You will make mistakes, do it anyway. You will receive pushback, do it anyway.

One of my very favorite books is “Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed” by Philip Hallie. It is the story of a small village named Le Chambon in France during the Holocaust. In this village, conversations of peace making, of the gospel’s inclusion for all had been taking place for 400 years. Long before they knew that they would be put to the test, long before they dreamed they may have a chance to extend life to anyone…Jewish refugees and Nazi soldiers…they talked about inclusion. It will blow your mind to see what a difference their deep seeded beliefs made when faced with a real life situation.

We are late to the party. We don’t have the luxury of 400 years of history shaping us to push hard for inclusion of all, to work for peace, to fight discrimination for a variety of people. To be imitators of Jesus inviting all to the table with welcoming arms.

Late to the party however still means that the party is going on. It’s not over and indeed, in this case I would argue better late than never.

What we do have is a choice of how to respond today. Our junior high and high school students see issues of discrimination every day. It is a part of the fabric of their lives. It’s time we adults figure out how to better model what God actually intended. It is time we learn to navigate the waters of discrimination on a variety of fronts so that all may know Jesus actually brought good news for everyone.


Lenten Pick up 1- Kids don’t want to be seen as different

Snapshot 3:6:14 10:20 AM

In the season of lent where the conversation circles around inclusion, around Jesus being included and Jesus including others…there is still a community often missing from youth groups. It is the community of teens and their families impacted by disabilities. What I now hear most often is that a youth pastor doesn’t want to harm or insult someone with a disability. Their response then becomes to ignore that person. I’ve got news for you, that is harmful! Option B seems

to be to point out just how “different” that teen is. And by different, what gets left unsaid is wrong or disruptive. Steve Grcevich addresses this beautifully here Kids don’t want to be seen as different. 

This lenten season, let the eyes of Christ be one of the things you pick up. Just like every other teenager wants to be included, so do those with disabilities.

When Jesus is the only one who makes sense

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 “To people who are beaten down or befuddled by religious rules, Jesus offers something that no one else does: rest.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” he says.

And he sums up the entirety of complex and confusing religious laws with this: “Love God, and love your neighbor.”

Beautiful. Even children can understand that.

The Bible tells a story about a man who approaches Jesus and admits that he has faith, but also strong doubts.

“Help me in my unbelief,” he asks Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t blast him. He loves him. To me, Jesus is the only one who really makes any sense.”

Sound like this could apply to you? Check out the entire post here…Fantastic!

Years ago I was asked to write a statement for a ministry which specifically included friends with disabilities. I thought then that I was writing something that would be unique to that ministry. What I quickly learned was that I wrote better theological pieces for everyone when I had those with disabilities in mind.

The article referred to above is written by a man with Aspergers. It is written about his experience with church, Christians, and, ultimately, with Jesus. He may have thought he was describing something unique to the Aspergers community. From my perspective, he just wrote what many if not most people who have chosen to be a part of the Christian community experience. As people, we get it wrong all the time. We mess it up and make each other feel awkward. At the end of the day, we are doing the best we can. And in only the way Jesus can, awkward, messed up moments become transformative and holy for all involved.

Humility is alive and well in youth work

I was blessed to be asked to be the speaker for the first Young Life Capernaum Metro Wide leader training in San Jose. What this really means is that I got to hang out with really cool staff and volunteers who do ministry with teens with disabilities. As we went around the room and shared our name, where we were serving and nicknames from HS one thing became very evident, I was woefully underqualified to be there in any capacity for teaching.

There were 30+ people around the room. There were three who were in their first year of ministry. Several in the first 3-5 years. Over half had served in youth ministry for more than a decade. Several for more than two decades, a few for more than three and one for 51 years!!

James 3:1 was ever present with me. What could I possibly teach this group that they did not already know? How could I possibly offer something of worth or substance when some of them have been serving in youth ministry longer than I’ve been alive?  (And it has been a LONG time since I was considered a young leader.)

Add to this that the very first club kid the founder of Capernaum ever had is now a volunteer leader. His story is one of lifelong disability, difficult speech and amazing devotion to Jesus. For many, he is easily passed by. It takes great effort to hold a conversation and lots of patience to keep asking for a repeat of what he has said. Oh but when you do take the time! He has a wicked sense of humor, a deep devotion to his wife matched only by his devotion to God. He was the embodiment of being perfectly capable but invisible. He has lived what I only feel at times. He has learned to listen to the truths from God where I often drown in my own self degradation. He has learned to be joyful in the moment when I too often seek situations that bring joy.

I did speak throughout the weekend. I offered what I could and each person was so gracious in their response. What I took away however was priceless. A room full of people who are well qualified, talented, dedicated and serving the Lord but not a single ego in sight. There was no posturing. There was humility. There was a deference to God and gratitude for getting to serve. There was a beautiful spirit of getting to share faith without having to prove your own worth along the way.

Younger leaders and older leaders, seasoned veterans and rookies, those with disabilities and typically bodied people…all together, all learning and leading.

James 3:1 does say that not many should be teachers. In this room, every person was and they are exactly the people you want teaching and leading in any ministry, anywhere. I learned that weekend that it’s not always about what I teach, but what I get to continue to learn when I speak. I had it modeled for me. I pray I am able to do the same.

P.S. A bonus for anyone reading who is at the beginning of this ministry journey. Did you notice how many people I mentioned who were serving for 10, 20 even 50+ years? Hang in there!! We need you for the long haul!


From perfection to abortion and beyond

I started this post with repentance on my mind. It seems to keep coming up in every conversation, reading and life event. I had theological nuances to discuss and it has consumed my time. In particular, I keep running into the notion that to repent is a dichotomy. That it is either something you say or something you do. There are arguments on both sides. That post will have to wait.

A former student sent this link to me. It is the story of a father who initially pressed his wife to abort their child when Down Syndrome was confirmed. It is the story of repentance while never using those words.

It is the story of deep change and giving way to love. It is the story of choosing life over death in a multitude of ways. It is the story of reframing perfection. Be an advocate. Speak up. Know that perfection by the standards of this world are far from perfect. Give yourself the space to do the hard work of giving way to love.


Should Disability Be Included- Part 2

I just posted about the needs of parents with teens with special needs. I have another slightly more biting post here, related but I didn’t want to distract from the needs of parents.

In another meeting this past week I talked with some leaders of a large Christian organization. They have pulled together a task force on diversity and were asking my opinion. In particular the question was posed about whether to or not to include those with disabilities in the conversation of diversity. A valid question and glad they are thinking in these directions until I heard the way the conversation was posed.

I was told that sex or gender were to be included as well as ethnicity but they wondered if diversity should as the first two categories related to “what God intended” and the third did not. I asked for clarification. I was told that it was clear that God never would have intended for someone to have a disability and that in the eschaton, they (the disabilities, not the people) would not exist. In light of this, did I think those with disabilities should be included in the conversation on diversity and inclusion. I tried to respond calmly and suggested they consider their own theology of imago dei and eschatology before making such sweeping statements, certainly before they made any such statement in a public manner. I also mentioned that while there were certainly those historically and I am certain today who hold such a position, that it was widely rejected and I would consider it a poor understanding of theological anthropology.

I’m not sure if I ever answered if they should include disability in the conversation on diversity or not as I became so caught up in trying to let them know that someone with a disability is not a mistake and carries every bit of the image of God as any typical person. I’m still angry over this and even more angry that they hold such influence in the Christian world.

These are the moments when I want to have a cup of tea with God and ask what God was thinking in giving “them” a position of leadership.

Needs of parents with special needs children- pt 1

I was in a meeting this past week for one purpose and found that quite a different thought consumed my mind. As we were beginning, a man stopped at our table to say a quick hello and I was introduced. We were there to talk about youth ministry and one of my colleagues knew of my interest in ministry with teens with special needs. He mentioned this in front of the father noting that he had a son with Down’s. I asked how he was doing and how he was connecting with youth ministry. His response shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, I’ve heard it hundreds of times before but…

He said “he’s not involved youth ministry. We understand that there is no place for him there.” He was upbeat, jovial, and honestly a little too understanding for my taste. He didn’t want to put any pressure on the church or youth pastor to “figure out” how to include a child like his.

Quite frankly, he shouldn’t have to put pressure on. While I want to be careful as I know there are many who have never even had people with special needs cross their minds, many others have. And for those who haven’t, I am going to keep saying this. God has called us to minister to all teens, to all people. And if it is inconvenient, it’s just too bad. Last time I checked ministry wasn’t about convenience. My more typical MO is to be more gentle, to offer a biblical and theological account of why we should be inclusive, to consider sociological as well as communal reasons why inclusion is good and of God. But today I am tired. I am tired of watching those who are already struggling feel the need to protect others feelings from guilt when they, as parents of teens with special needs, walk this difficult ground every day.

There is a great blog from the perspective of parents with children with special needs called Not Alone. Today’s post is about 10 needs of the parents of children with special needs. Many of their needs overlap those of any parent. But there is something different. There is a sense that they have already cashed in all of their chips in asking for help on any of their needs. Read it. Think of a family or pray about meeting someone and keep these requests in mind.


Who Will Love Me For Me?


There are some songs that simply help us to transcend. They say the things that we think in our hearts and never quite know how to put to words. And then you hear it. The words, the melody and arrangement and it is as if someone has expressed for you what you were unable to express yourself.

I have been in conversation with two young leaders this past week. Both by all accounts seem to be confident, bold, and well-liked. Both are living with deep insecurities, afraid that if the world really knew them, rejection would follow. They are blind to the love God has for them and are working hard to feel worthy of just about anything. I can’t help but think of the dozens of leaders I have had similar conversations with over the years. I can’t help but think of the times I have felt this very same thing.

One week ago I was blessed to be at a youth group night with my friends with special needs. It was a night of looking to the new year, being excited about our theme from Eph. 5:1, Therefore be imitators of Christ as beloved children. That we night we decided imitation was the theme and we held a karaoke talent show to imitate our favorite artists and, well, just to laugh a lot. And then the tenor of the night changed in an instant. One young woman with obvious speech and cognitive disabilities sang along with a song by JJ Heller “What Love Really Means”.

This song is one of those songs that seems to express what so many are either afraid to say out loud or they have not yet found the words to explain the deep ache they live with every day. There is hope. And there is love waiting to be given. I included the lyrics to the chorus below. To see the full lyrics, click the link. Take a moment and be reminded there is someone who not only will love you but already does.

What Love Really Means (JJ Heller)


Who will love me for me
Not for what I have done
Or what I will become
Who will love me for me
‘Cause nobody has shown me what love
What love really means