Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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I don’t want to do the ‘judging others’ thing anymore.


Deep in my spirit I’m feeling very uneasy.  There’s thoughts bubbling around in my brain that I keep trying to pop, to push down into the recesses of my mind so I can get on with life ignoring them.  But bubbles rise to the top. And so do these thoughts. 

They concern judging.  Humans have ALWAYS judged each other. The constant power struggles, the instinct to belittle others so that we come out on top is innate in all of us. Just ask yourself who you are jealous of? For me it’s the people with hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy a house in the country on my favourite programme ‘Escape to the Country’.  But I criticise them too easily.  I reveal my jealousy every time I watch the programme. I’m not happy for them when they buy that lovely house in the country.  I’m finding lots of reasons why they don’t deserve it and I do. 

Judging is endemic in the church. However much we try not to, as soon as we say that who someone is, is wrong or that someone can’t because of who they are…we’ve made a judgement about their worthiness. And that’s the root of judgement that I see.  Who’s worthy and who isn’t. And logically, we fall into the trap of thinking that if some people are worthy and some are not…well then, I must make sure no one thinks I AM UNWORTHY.  So we work hard, try our best and put on a show.  We act our way to being seen as worthy.  

And boy do we act. We pretend that we’re trying to pray more. We pretend we’re trying to read our Bible every day (and don’t we feel good when we get the chance to say ‘when I did my quiet time this morning…). We pretend we’re reviewing our giving so we can be just over that 10% gold standard (so we’re better than those who aren’t giving regularly.)  We pretend that going to three evening meetings a week doesn’t hack us off and we wouldn’t rather sit veg-ing in front of the TV after a hard day at work. We pretend we must be a good and faithful servant when the umpteenth rota pings into our inbox, (well we tick the ‘serving in church’ box at least). We try not to ‘tut’ along with the church leader who says they know some people aren’t giving/serving and what a burden that puts on everyone else.  And we all know people that just wouldn’t be welcome or ‘fit in’ at our church. We probably ‘tut’ at all the dirty, poor, criminal, sinning people in the local newspaper.  Well, we wouldn’t do those things, we’re Christians aren’t we? 

You can pretend you don’t (that’s up to you) but we are constantly comparing ourselves with others. We are constantly judging whether others are as worthy as us or whether we’ll ever be as worthy as them.  We are judging using the Bible, of all things, as our justification.  We say these people or those people are not worthy because this or that is sin – and they do that thing so they are sinners.  They are judged.  

But who gave us the authority to judge others in this way. Surely we’re all sinners?   That means we are on a level playing field here. We’ll all stand before God one day and face the ultimate judgement, by the One who IS given the authority to do so.  The Bible is very clear that Jesus, the Son of God, who died on the cross and was raised to life, is the only one with the authority to judge.  

To me, it seems that we must be claiming we are Jesus if we judge. We are usurping him. We are doing what Adam and Eve did and saying we know as much as God. We don’t need him. We can do the judging and tell God who’s in and who’s out….we’ll save him the bother. 

I’m tired of all this.  I’ve listened and struggled with the churches judgement on women, LGBT, disabilities and so many other ‘unworthy’ peoples.  I never saw Jesus turn anyone away from him.   People came to him and he ministered to them.  He changed people, yes….But it came out of their relationship, their surrender to him.   It came out of his compelling kindness and compassion.  Some walked away from him.   And many of those were those who thought they were already worthy.  

I repent of my judging others. I repent of not being brave enough to write this blog before or speak up for those being judged by the church.   It was an interview with a Bishop on local radio this morning that prompted this response in me. It was a masterclass in avoiding the question.  I suddenly thought how tired I was of these games.  I surrender.  To Jesus I surrender.   He’s the one I love because he didn’t judge me, he forgave me and for all these years of being a Christian I’ve known nothing except his kindness and grace. I don’t deserve any of it.  And for certain, no-one, absolutely no-one deserves to be judged by me. 

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When God speaks to you in a language you understand…

When we work with adults who have learning disabilities (the key word is “with” because working together is what we do), often the people who don’t have learning disabilities say how much the way we communicate makes more sense to them as well.  When we have shorter talks, the Accessible Bible text, visuals, Makaton and BSL signing, a visual timetable, drama, sensory stories and interaction – then we find that all the carers, team and visitors learn just as much about the Bible as those who have learning disabilities.   We are communicating in ways that help people understand the Gospel and the truths about Jesus in the Bible.

When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, a key feature was that the disciples started to speak to the crowds in languages that they understood.  I think the same applies to how we use signing, visuals and other forms of communication in our groups today.  We are speaking in languages that people in our group understand.  And it is the Holy Spirit who helps us do this.

God knows I am a visual learner.  Visuals give my brain a better understanding than if someone tries to explain things to me in words.  When I met with a financial adviser about setting up a new pension, he drew a diagram to explain all the complex financial information about setting it up for me.  The normally complex information that would have gone way over my head, made sense in the way he communicated it.  I felt confident that I understand my pension and the new laws surrounding it.

God knows my brain better than anyone.  He made it and he knows just how to communicate to me so that I understand his word and his will.  Over the years I’ve been a Christian, God has often given me pictures to show me what he wants me to do, or explain something I don’t understand.  Those pictures have been in dreams, in art,  and lots of them have been in nature… because that’s often where I go to pray and ask him what he wants me to do.

For over a year I have had 5 big ideas going around my head.  All of them were in response to the needs of others that I have seen around me.  All of them were valid, valuable services but to do all of them would be impossible.  When I was in Keswick this year I sat looking at this view.

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I counted 5 mountains to represent each of the projects that were in my mind and asked God to show me which ones I should be working on.  The projects seem like mountains to climb.  There will be a lot of work and new things to learn as I navigate getting to the summit.  I thought the analogy of mountains suited my query to the Lord quite well.

One evening I again asked God to answer my prayers and show me which mountains to climb and which not to.  I looked up to the view and suddenly two of the mountains were covered in cloud, where none of them had been a few minutes ago.  The clouds stayed over these mountains for long enough for me to ask God if that really was my answer and for me to receive a deep sense of peace that it was.

God again was speaking to me in a language that I understand.  Pictures make sense to me.  I can ‘see’ the message and the Holy Spirit confirms it.  On that same evening I was listening to the message at the Keswick Convention on my computer.  The message was about mission.   The answer to my prayers was about mission.   I’m taking that as confirmation and going for it.  I’m praying for protection, resources and guidance.  And in my next post…I’ll tell you what those mission plans are…

Living hopefully in the storm

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Some of you will have read a post I put up a few days ago called “Storm before the Calm.”  I have taken this down as I was embarrassed at how raw it was.  I was having a bad weekend emotionally but thanks to a lovely friend who helped me feel much better after a good chat,  I’m rewriting it as something that can stay on the blog.  (Thanks so much to those that already replied – I have all your comments and you are much appreciated).

Like a lot of people, I have been quite upset by things way beyond my control.  The main things that have ‘stormed’ into my life are:

  1. The news – terrorist attacks, tower block fires, the stupid election (my views are my own!) and just not knowing what the government are doing. I still don’t want Brexit and the process frightens me. It’s unsettling, hard to escape.  Two girls from my town died in the Manchester attack.  Everyone I know shares the worry and grief over all the incidents and events in our country these past months.

 

  1. A death happened. A young person took their own life.  I’m grieving for them and their family.  I have been researching mental health and young people and find that we are ignoring the risks and pressures that affect our young people.  It feels like we are sleepwalking into a crisis.  Many people think that’s already happening.  I’m praying and wondering what the church should be doing.

 

  1. For some time I’ve been wondering about how I can share much more of the resources we’ve built up over 10 years of our Good News Group. Particularly our Bible teaching materials but also sharing our story and training for churches.  I want so much to give our adults in the group, opportunity to speak for themselves and for others with learning disabilities to have access to good teaching materials.

 

And this is where I asked for help in my last post.  If you read includedbygrace regularly I’d like to hear from you.  If you’ve happened to read it by random google search, I want to hear from you.  I want to know what you think of includedbygrace and the information I share.  What it means to you and how it has helped you (or not).

If you want to say a pray for this please pray that God will make this what he wants it to be.  I have been blessed by a conversation with two web developers who are interested in designing an accessible website with me.  Maybe that’s a thing that includedbygrace can become.  I have no funding, only faith at this point in time.  But I believe in a God who funds his own projects.

My second idea is to build a team of trainers from our Good News Group who can tell churches how they can be better included.  I experimented with doing this by video when I went to London and this was one way of sharing their voice.  Locally I can take people to places we speak.

Thirdly, I’d love to reach out to special schools in our area.  Maybe with assemblies or sensory Bible stories.  I’d need a team of GNG members to help me…and again the logistics are huge.  But not for God!

In my mind are a lot of other random ideas.  I only want to go in the direction God has prepared and not waste time on things that won’t work.  The aim is to spread the gospel and disciple children, teens and adults with learning disabilities, giving them accessible Bible teaching and resources.  Also, it is to equip churches to do this work too.  We are a small team…living hopefully in the storms…

The Storm before the calm.

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Which way is the right way?        photo from http://www.i.telegraph.co.uk  

Psalm 143  

A praise song of David.

143 Lord, hear my prayer.
    Listen to my call for help and answer my prayer.
    Show me how good and loyal you are.
Don’t judge me, your servant.
    No one alive could be judged innocent by your standards.
My enemies are chasing me.
    They have crushed me into the dirt.
They are pushing me into the dark grave,
    like people who died long ago.
I am ready to give up.
    I am losing my courage.
But I remember what happened long ago.
    I am thinking about all you have done.
    I am talking about what you made with your hands!
I lift my hands in prayer to you.
    I am waiting for your help, like a dry land waiting for rain. 

Hurry and answer me, Lord!
    I have lost my courage.
Don’t turn away from me.
    Don’t let me die and become like the people lying in the grave.
Show me your faithful love this morning.
    I trust in you.
Show me what I should do.
    I put my life in your hands!
Lord, I come to you for protection.
    Save me from my enemies.
10 Show me what you want me to do.
    You are my God.
Let your good Spirit lead me over level ground.
11 Lord, let me live
    so that people will praise your name.
Show me how good you are
    and save me from my trouble.
12 Show me your love
    and defeat my enemies.
Destroy those who are trying to kill me
    because I am your servant.

Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International

 

It has been difficult for me to keep up with my blog recently.  I even wonder if anyone is at all bothered about that…

But it has been difficult because the Lord seems to be taking me through a storm.  Not literally, but in my life and in my thoughts, there is a storm raging.  And it’s exhausting me.

I’ve started to pray through Psalm 143 as above.  One thing I have learned in all these years as a Christian is that storms have been good for me.  Not while I’m in the middle of them – but always afterwards there is a new thing in my life because some old things have been sorted out.  God is good like that.

So I trust Jesus and only him to see this storm through.  I hold onto his promises as I wait for the winds to decide which direction they want to settle on (i.e.. which path I should take) and while I wait for the lightening strikes to subside (i.e.. hopefully the problems being thrown my way will ease off.)  The heavy rain is like all the emotions I feel as the storm rages; the emotions pour on me and soak me through.   I’d like those to ease off please.

But I know that God uses the storms to clear the air and refresh the land.

I have been praying about the next steps for ‘includedbygrace’ for a long while now.  I think God is wanting me to move into something new and develop it into more useful things for and with people with learning disabilities, so that they can learn more about Jesus in a way that is accessible.

If you read this (and can make any sense of it – and if you can’t – I shall have to try again to make it more sense-able!)  could you write a comment or send me a message and tell me what ‘includedbygrace’ means to you, what you have got out of it and what you think it could do more of?

Thank you

Lynn  x

 

Can we all be a bit more like Angela please?

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Psalm 131 (NIRV)

A song for those who go up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. A psalm of David.

Lord, my heart isn’t proud.
My eyes aren’t proud either.
I don’t concern myself with important matters.
I don’t concern myself with things that are too wonderful for me.
I have made myself calm and content
like a young child in its mother’s arms.
Deep down inside me, I am as content as a young child.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forever.

I’ve just come home after attending the funeral of one of our Good News Group members.  Angela had Down’s Syndrome and lived to be 61.  She lived with her family and was part of a church that loved and accepted her as she was.  She’d been at the GNG for many years but hadn’t been attending for almost a year due to being ill….but she is and always will be part of our family.  We will miss her very much.

You see Angela didn’t have very many words but those she did have she used to great effect.  She introduced herself to everyone – literally everyone – by going up to them with a huge smile on her face and greeting them with “Hello, my name is Angela” in a beautiful sing song voice.

Angela loved handbags, football and colouring in.  She loved music and singing worship songs and got so excited when we had puppets that we used to just get them out of the box and sit one next to her, just to share in her delight.  She had a twinkle in her eye that told us when she was joking or pulling our leg and Jesus shone in her and from her every pore. And Angela could say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” because that came from one of her favourite films.

Angela was never judgemental.  She had no regard for status or rank.  She treated everyone the same whether she liked you or you had done something that annoyed her (although she was never mad for long).   Angela lived each day just for that day and didn’t seem to worry about the future.  She did love and engage with everyone around her, no matter who you were.   The Queen would have had the same greeting as a pauper.

A bit like the Jesus I know.

I’m tired of people being excluded from church families because they are different, don’t fit the mould or are the wrong kind of person.  “Are you disabled? Well, you can’t do this or that.   Are you a woman…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you LGBT?…then, you can’t do this or that.  Are you a foreigner?…well you can’t do this or that.  Can’t you keep you disabled child quiet?…then you can’t do this or that.  Are you mentally ill?…then you can’t do this or that.  We can’t have our churches run by these kinds of people.”  

 Did Jesus make up these categories…I don’t think so…

But these are the messages I hear from all kinds of Christians and church people.  We’re all shouting at each other and no-one seems to be listening.  (Except maybe the outside world who think what are they on about?!)

So, in my grief today I was reminded that Jesus came for all of mankind.  That no-one is excluded unless they think they don’t need him.   I want to be more like Angela and accept everyone, just as they are.  I am working it out as He teaches me what that looks like in practice.  I’m willing to be shown where I’ve got it wrong –  by the Spirit working in and through the people and situations I meet.   At the moment I don’t even know if I want to part of ‘the church’ in this country that’s doing a lot of shouting – but not about the gospel, only at each other.  But I expect God will sort my thoughts out about that eventually.

So will you join me in being more like Angela?  Angela’s name means “MESSENGER OF GOD” and here’s her message. It’s simple really.  Open up your arms and greet people in the name of Jesus.   No matter who they are.

Multi-Ethnic Group Of People Holding The Word Welcome

2017 – A consistent God in an unpredictable world.

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It’s that funny week we have every year when we’re not sure what day it is and there’s nothing much going on.  The TV is full of films and the odd ‘Christmas Special’, and we might be asking each other “What are you doing for New Year?”.

As we think about what happened in 2016 and what 2017 might be like it can seem very frightening.  2016 was full of wars, political upheavals and celebrity deaths (Even over Christmas we lost Rick Parfitt, George Michael and Carrie Fisher).  We got Brexit and Donald Trump, we have millions of refugees and no-one knows when there might be an end to the wars in the Middle East or the terrorism in Europe, Africa and Pakistan.  It’s no surprise that people are anxious about the future and don’t feel like celebrating on New Year’s Eve.

However, as Christians we have a hope that goes beyond the things we can see and hear on the news.  We have a God who doesn’t change and who promises to be with us.  The news does report the spreading of the gospel in the Middle East or the millions of daily interactions God has with his people through the Holy Spirit active on the earth.  They don’t report how Jesus is interceding for us at the right hand of the Father’s throne.  But despite all we hear in the news or don’t – God is a God that keeps his promises.  In these times of uncertainty, we have to hold on to His words and not let ourselves get caught up in the panic of the world’s view.

Isaiah 41:10  Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)

Don’t worry—I am with you.

Don’t be afraid—I am your God.

I will make you strong and help you.

I will support you with my right hand that brings victory.

I hope these verses will encourage you this New Year.  2017 might bring worse news or better news. We cannot know.  But our Father in heaven, our saviour Jesus and the Holy Spirit are who we worship and who we have put our faith in.  If you haven’t and you are reading this, then please investigate more.  Read one of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John and see who this Jesus is.  He is God made flesh.  He came to show us what the Father is like.  If we know Jesus and put our faith in Him, then we know the Father.  We couldn’t have anything better in our lives.  I hope you find that truth in your life.  Here is one of his promises that always gives me hope, no matter what the future looks like in this world.

Micah 7:18-20The Message (MSG)

Where is the god who can compare with you—

wiping the slate clean of guilt,

Turning a blind eye, a deaf ear,

to the past sins of your purged and precious people?

You don’t nurse your anger and don’t stay angry long,

for mercy is your specialty. That’s what you love most.

And compassion is on its way to us.

You’ll stamp out our wrongdoing.

You’ll sink our sins

to the bottom of the ocean.

You’ll stay true to your word to Father Jacob

and continue the compassion you showed Grandfather Abraham—

Everything you promised our ancestors

from a long time ago.

pray

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People with learning disabilities are scared about the news too.

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This past month has been really difficult for me.  It was building up since before the Brexit vote, but that tipped the scales.  I’ve been worrying about even watching the news, wondering what horrible event will happen next.  I’ve been upset with the political situations in Britain, Turkey, America, and the middle east.  Upset about the violence, murder and persecution of people all around the world.  I’ve been trying to pray for those killed and hurt in attacks, not just in Europe, not just those splashed across the newspapers in our country, but the forgotten and ignored tragedies in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries.

But I’m overwhelmed.  On top of the exhaustion that comes to every teacher at the end of the school year, I want to yell at God…”STOP THE WORLD…AND LET ME GET OFF!”  I’ve not been sure how to cope at all.

And it was in this state that I set up the ‘Day of Prayer for our Nation’ on Facebook. (Join me here if you still want to pray).  That did help a lot.  In searching the Bible for guidance and when a wonderful friend offered to help, we remembered our response to this world is to pray and to share God’s love.  Praying through those prayers as the day went on, really helped calm my troubled soul…and continue to do so.

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It is so important to include people with learning disabilities in our engagement with what is going on in the world. They worry too. They hear and are affected by what is going on, sometimes more directly than we are.  (Take the Government’s welfare reforms as an example). We can pray with them and give them access to praying with us if we help their communication.  The accessible prayers are just one example. Signing or pictures may help  some. I know L’Arche communities are wonderfully experienced in building the prayer lives of everyone in their communities.

On the Wednesday, at our usual Good News Group meeting we set aside some time to pray for our nation, using the accessible prayers that I had made for the Friday.  Each table had a set and the members and carers each chose a prayer to offer, in our usual ways of either reading it out themselves, a team member reading it for them or just by placing it in the centre of the table, showing that they are offering their prayers to God.

Everyone there took a prayer and offered it to the Lord. What really struck me was their real concerns and worries about Brexit and all that was happening.  People with learning disabilities hear things on the news and worry the same as the rest of us, we shouldn’t be surprised.  They too want to make sense of it all.  The comments I want to share with you show how much they care about this.

D, who isn’t a Christian but comes to the group every week, was really fascinated by the prayers we had set out on the table.  He said “I’m really glad you’ve put these out.  I don’t believe but I want you to pray about this…” and he passed a card to one of the team to pray. 

V said “I’ve been hearing about all this on the news. It’s terrible.  What’s going to happen, I don’t know.” and she chose a prayer for all the politicians. 

E said, “I’m worried about what will happen to my carer.  She’s not from this country.  I’m scared they are going to take her away, then who’s going to help me then? She’s lovely is my carer. I don’t want another one.” 

And all around the room, people with learning disabilities were joining in as prayer warriors for this nation.  Lord hear our prayers.  Lord have mercy.  Lord hear our prayers.

I’m hoping that others have joined us too.  I sent out the accessible prayers to a few people who asked for them, so if you were one of those, I’d love to hear how your prayer times went.

I feel that God has been sending me encouragement this week in two blogs I have read.  I am sharing them here and hope that if you feel overwhelmed and discouraged they will help you too.  Firstly Anthony Delany reminded me of the parable Jesus told us about how we should know that there is evil in this world. God is allowing the weeds and the wheat to grow in the ground together but he will protect his wheat and burn the weeds at the harvest.  It helped me.  And then Helen Murray encouraged me by reminding me of how Gideon felt when God asked him to fight the Midionites – and to go in the strength that we have because God is with us.  Thank you both.

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