We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

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Wilfredo Choco De Jesús: Paying the Cost of Reconciliation (Catalyst Notes)

Wilfredo Choco De Jesús was one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2013. The senior pastor at New Life Covenant Ministries in Chicago, he is a man not only of the Word but of action. He started his talk with Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” This, he said, is why Jesus came. This is what we are called to: to seek and to save the lost.

How do we lead in a drifting culture dominated by fear? First, we must realize that nobody drifts towards holiness. Holiness is intentional. Therefore, a Church that offers transformation in a drifting world must be an engaged, purposeful, responsive Church. Prayer is not a crutch. It is the start of something, not the end of it. Revelation calls for a response. Understanding can wait, obedience to the revelation of God cannot. “When my Father says do something, I do it.”

Remember: God uses unusual people to do extraordinary things. It’s all over the Bible. Wilfredo De Jesús, also known as Pastor Choco, felt called to buy a farm and amazing things took place to make it happen through all sorts of crazy turns. That farm has, to date, rescued 625 girls and women from prostitution. There is a cost to reconciliation, but we, the Church, should be happy to pay it. He told a story of buying five prostitutes for one hour. They brought them to a place where they laid out a beautiful banquet. They spoke truth over them, that they weren’t born a prostitute and they were loved. Those women walked away from their path and, through the sacrifice and support of the church, ended up becoming leaders in the church. It’s just like in the parable of the lost sheep: the sheep is not rebuked for being lost, it is celebrated for being found.

Or the prodigal son. The son who basically told his father, “I don’t care about your status, I wish you were dead.” He demanded an inheritance he wasn’t even owed and his father gave it to him, sacrificing his status for him. Then that son leaves and squanders it all. Eventually he came to his senses and returns humbled. What does the dad do? He RUNS to the boy. Men didn’t run in the first century; children and women ran. But again, the father disregards status and runs to the son. He embraces and covers the boy, showing that his protection is over him. He gives him jewelry which is a symbol that tells the son and others that he has complete authority to negotiate on behalf of the father with the assets of the family. That’s some crazy sacrificial love.

Why is the older brother upset? Well, this was all at a cost to him, in his mind. The inheritance was rightfully his, and already the father had allowed his younger brother to squander half of it. Now, he was paying for this celebration as well as giving the prodigal son his status back. You see, someone always pays the cost of reconciliation. There’s a cost to bringing others to the table, to gather those that Christ calls us to. The question is, what are you willing to pay so others can be reconciled to God? Are you willing to stand in the gap?

Bryan Loritts: Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement (Catalyst Notes)

Bryan Loritts is the Lead Pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, California, a published author and the President of the Kainos Movement. He began his time by stating that multi-ethnic cultural engagement is challenging but necessary. Consider I Corinthians 9:19-23, “or though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” What Paul is talking about is contextualization: the gospel doesn’t change and isn’t open to interpretation but the delivery is. Without the gospel, contextualization is compromised.

Bryan helped to put together a book called Letters to a Birmingham Jail, which includes the entire letter from Dr. King to the churches in Birmingham. He laments the evangelical passivity. Bryan points out that all great examples of teaching and preaching that pastors learn in school are written by middle aged white men; where is their voice? And why is the church silent when deaths happen? The only thing worse than hatred is indifference; when we fail to grieve with those who grieve. Is that the Church that Christ called us to? Yet this is what happens when our relationships aren’t multicultural.

People begin to brew in their bitterness, he said. He referenced Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” and challenges us in responding to each other this way. People, bitter over their experience with the church or white America, also fail to engage. At the least offense, they want to take their ball and go home. He said, “Thank God that he doesn’t judge and condemn us the way we do our white siblings!” It is harm on all sides.

There is a call in the Church for redemptive impatience. This is different than passive! It is patient and aggressive. When we look at revelations we see a diversity in the people in God’s presence. Bryan reminded everyone that if you have a problem with diversity, you’re going to have a problem with heaven. Paul knew that this wasn’t a vertical gospel, focused only on you and those like you looking towards God. We are called to love our neighbor as we love our self. To give this some context, in Jewish culture hate is detachment. Therefore, if you say you love God yet are indifferent to the suffering of your brothers you are missing the point. We are call into a community of the beloved, we a robust orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Relational intentionality is important. Your sanctuary is your dinner table; you need to invite people in. You can’t ask of others what you aren’t doing yourself, you cannot lead people to where you aren’t. Therefore, multiethnic cultural engagement is important. Homogenous churches become racist because your biases become entrenched in your systems and structures. We need people with differences in perspective to keep this from happening. How do we know it isn’t happening in most of the church body? When people get shot our disparity of response tells us we are disconnected. If you don’t see your brother in their death, you don’t mourn, you don’t protest, you don’t seek justice.

Paul says, “I have become…” This is the discomfort of change, where you lay down your rights and your preferences for the other. Bryan says that black folk who are successful necessarily learn the “I have become…” but this is not a requirement of white folks. At no point are white people force, out of necessity, to become. It is worth remembering the ultimate I have become is Jesus Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

Starling Murmuration (Catalyst Notes)

Starlings are startling in their ability to create these beautiful formations. Scientist truly couldn’t begin to understand them until they had the high-tech capabilities to analyze their movements in computers. What they discovered was amazing: the flock transcends biology. Every single starlings movement is influenced by every other starlings movement. Known as scale-free correlation, it can be best understood (although not perfectly) through looking at things like avalanches or crystal formations – on the verge of instantaneous change.

Because there is no LEADER of the formation, any starling has the ability to change the path of all starlings in the flock. Regardless of the size of the flock they remain equally responsive to all other starlings: velocity and orientation remain consistent regardless of the number of birds participating. We still cannot understand how they are able to process and respond to signals of the surrounding birds so quickly.

The most fascinating thing of all, perhaps, is that this is all in response to a predator, and the greater the threat, the more phenomenal the synchronicity. The all have and share the same goal of survival, and this singular goal allows them to create and perform at unfathomable levels.

Jo Saxton: Life as an Uncommon Fellowship – The Early Church (Notes from Catalyst)

I adore Jo Saxton. She’s a Nigerian Londoner who, more recently, relocated to Minneapolis where she pastors at a church plant.  She also chairs the board of 3DM, is an author of a couple of books and is overall just an inspiration. She started her talk with a favorite verse of mine and what I believe captures the heart of the mission God has been calling me to the last year or so:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

When she thinks of those early church times, she said that she often thinks of the phrase from A Tale of Two Cities, where it says that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” It was the time where there was tremendous persecution and suffering for Christians but it was also the time where the church was, likely, the most unified and mission focused in it’s history. Jo Saxton gave us a How To Guide for modeling ourselves like the early Church:

  1. Posture & Purpose: What kind of family are we? We need to ask ourselves how we live and lead. Are we leading from behind locked doors and “loving” from a distance? Or are we willing to get into the mess that is the Other’s life and sit with them. Jesus literally went to through walls to be with his disciples, they touched his scars, he was patient as they worked through their skepticism and doubt. Does our posture look like his and is our purpose shared? We should be operating in the understanding that all people are made in the image of God and we are commissioned to them. This is difficult and costly, just as it was for Jesus.
  2. Prayers & Practices: How do we live as a family? How do we share devotion, worship and fasting? What do those rhythms look like (or are they absent)? And are we praying with people unlike us? Doing life together included sharing meals, materials, their real live and brokenness. This is different than the way we are naturally inclined to operate, but God is doing something different through it. We need to remember that it doesn’t blow out our own candle to light another. Doing life this way requires generosity.
  3. Pressure & Pain: How are we moving forward together? The price of family life is that we move together. What skills are being developed? Are you resolving conflicts with Christ at the center? It’s hard to Band-Aid a deep wound; healing requires an acknowledgement of feelings (like how some marginalized persons feel with this last election.) We, as a church, need to light the way for how to deal with pain, injustice and inequality. This is HARD and PAINFUL work sometimes – grace is not cheap. Galatians 4:19 speaks to this: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”
  4. Power & Potential: Are you a family on a mission? God’s family is on a mission, and we have such power and potential!! In what ways is your family moving? How are you responding to the Word and the Spirit?

Craig Groeschel (Notes from Catalyst)

Craig Groeschel was the first speaker at the Catalyst conference that focused on Uncommon Fellowship. As the pastor of the largest church in the United States which spans 8 states and has 26 sites, he has quite a bit of wisdom around what it takes to build a community, and in particular, the uncommon community we find in the new testament.

He spoke about how most things that are uncommon are uncommon because they are uncomfortable. We, as a nation, worship the comfortable, and yet growth and comfort do not co-exist. We share a common enemy who wants to steal the unity that can exist in the body of Christ, an enemy who wants to keep us in the comfortable so that we can’t know the beauty and hope found in unity. Jesus prays a lot in the bible but his specific prayers are rarely documented. However, in John 17 we get the words that Jesus prayed for all believers to experience this special unity:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:21-26

Jesus prays that we would know the unity that the triune God knows and experiences through their relationship with one another. Craig Groeschel then provides 4 key points around how to build and develop the unity Jesus prays for.

  1. We desperately need each other. UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY. The diversity of our stories, our pasts, our denominations and methods for ministry is a powerful tool for expanding the kingdom of God. As it says in Romans 12:5: “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
  2. We err on the side of being FOR, not AGAINST. Instead of building yourself up on what you see as a weakness, build the case for your church or organization on your strengths. There is no value in tearing another down when we all have the same mission.
  3. We are going to give everything we can to strengthen others. We support each others ministries, we support each others churches. We celebrate when another congregation is growing because it means that the body of Christ is growing. Responding with generosity instead of jealousy, we can come closer to what we read about in Acts 4:32-35 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
  4. We love like Jesus loved. WE CAN’T ALL BE RIGHT, BUT WE CAN ALL BE LOVING. We need to love people who need love and grace. People of this world are tired of hearing about the love of Christ, they want to see him. It’s about less of the gospel being preached and more of it being lived. Matthew 5:44 tells us, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and Luke 6:28 says, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” And perhaps most importantly, remembering that Jesus was pretty specific about how people would recognize us as disciples of him: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Final Paper: Disability Theology and it’s Application

 

When it comes to our society and disabilities, there are many injustices that have occurred and continue to occur. As we look to our faith to understand what our response should be, it becomes necessary to conclude that where our faith and disability intersect, we must put the Catholic Social Teaching of the dignity of human life at its center and build a fully inclusive community based on love. From that foundation, we must continue to be vigilant and identify ableism where it flourishes in society so that we may come against it, to the benefit of all. I will examine a case study of this by looking at poverty in Cincinnati and the effort to come against it through the establishment of CityLink.

First, we must seek to understand what guidance our faith gives us. Christianity does not exist in a vacuum, it is a faith that is meant to be lived out, that provides guidance for how to participate in life and community throughout our lives. In Galatians 2:20 it says: “…yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible, p. 1774) This says that to be a follower of Christ means that your life is a reflection of Christ, that you are an embodiment of those things which Christ is. To understand what that looks like in the face of disability, we must first understand what disability, impairment and ableism is.

Instead of viewing disability though the lens of the medical model, which sees a person whose embodiment deviates from medical standards as something that is at best fixed and at worst a burden with which the person must struggle with, we will examine disability through the social model. “The social model of disability is now the internationally recognised way to view and address ‘disability’. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) marks the official paradigm shift in attitudes towards people with disability and approaches to disability concerns.” (The Social Model of Disability, p. 1) The social model says that persons have impairments, which are medical conditions, potentially resulting in disability when society prevents them via various barriers from participating fully in community, because of the impairment.

When a society operates in a mode where there is a preferred embodiment that is acceptable and people with various impairments are separated from full participation, this is referred to as ableism. “’Ableism’ names a subtle and pervasive bias that assumes nondisabled people (people with no physical, sensory or mental impairments) are ‘normal’ and that people with disabilities represent an undesirable deviation from this norm… Ableism defines a person in terms of his or her appearance, impairments, and limitations and uses them as a prejudicial measure of the person’s acceptability and worth.” (Thompson, p. 211) This results in a view of the normal people as being worth “more” and those who are deemed not normal as being worth “less.” This separation poses a real risk to our society and our faith. “We’re beginning to see the immense dangers of separation, of apartheid. We’re seeing that if we separate ourselves, and then create barriers around our group, we’ll tend to become rivals.” (Vanier, 33-34)

Jean Vanier, an extraordinary man who served in the military and was extremely well-educated, altered his life path when he understood the call Jesus gives to us, and he began living and establishing communities where people of various embodiments could live freely and communally rather than in institutions. This was not necessarily an easy path for him. Even though this occurred decades ago, the struggle he underwent in this transition is very similar to those we experience in our society today. “When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.” (Vanier, p. 18) The call by Jesus that Vanier speaks of was not one specifically given to him but was one that was given to us all.

The Catholic Bishops in the US state, “The same Jesus who heard the cry for recognition from the people with disabilities of Judea and Samaria 2,000 years ago calls us, His followers, to embrace our responsibility to our own disabled brothers and sisters in the United States.” (United States Catholic Conference, p. 1) Thus, we now acknowledge we have been called, as a community of Christ followers, to those that are treated as “other” in society. In order to develop an understanding of what disability theology would look like, it would be necessary to understand the means by which persons within the “other” group are oppressed.

Thompson lists five types of oppression that occur towards groups of people: cultural imperialism (the feeling of invisibility while simultaneously being viewed as an outsider), marginalization (fundamentally expelled from active participation within society and excluded from the benefits of that participation), powerlessness (where one is constrained by their position or role in such a way that it allows no growth or choice), exploitation (where the value of a groups labor, etc. is transferred to another group with little or no reciprocity) and violence (the use of various kinds of force by one group to degrade, stigmatize or humiliate another group). (Thompson, pp. 214-218) All five methods of oppression have one thing in common: one group oppresses another group at the cost of their dignity. Yet the God Christians worshipped didn’t love sparingly or narrowly, but holistically. It says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible, p. 1588) All human life is equally valuable to God.

We ultimately arrive at the conclusion that where our faith and disability intersect, we must put the Catholic Social Teaching of the dignity of human life at its center and build a fully inclusive community based on love. “As the bishops point out: ‘This central Catholic principle requires that we measure every policy, every institution, and every action by where it protects human life and enhances human dignity, especially for the poor and vulnerable.’” (Krier Mich, p. 9) We are not called to love those who are easy to love, but to love others as we love ourselves. To love our enemies. To love the widow, the orphan, the prisoner and the immigrant. To love our neighbor. The benefit of this is that we as a community will also receive the benefits of the gifts each person has to offer. Vanier noted, “Community is not ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be.” (Vanier, p. 35)

In I Corinthians 12:18-22 Paul reminds the community of Corinth, “But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body… Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary…” (Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible, p. 1734) The wide variety of people we share this planet with are actually necessary to ourselves. Paul reminds us that those that appear to be weak are necessary to the body of Christ, to the Church, to our community. We are not complete without them. Vanier illuminates part of why that is when he says, “I think we can only truly experience the presence of God, meet Jesus, receive the good news, in and through our own poverty, because the kingdom of God belongs to the poor, the poor in spirit, the poor who are crying out for love.” (Vanier, p. 20)

When we instead put people away, locking them up in prisons, institutions or even pushed to certain parts of town where they are isolated and stifled, we also isolate ourselves. Consider this passage that examines what a father tells his daughter of institutions:

“’A place where there is no one to love you.’ I suspect that many will accept this verdict as generally true about institutions… The point I want to draw attention to, however, is not about institutions… My point is about the father telling his daughter what matters most… Being loved by someone is what matters most in our lives… and this logic is what I ask you to contemplate for a moment. If ‘being loved’ is the most important thing in our lives, then the most important thing is something we cannot do by ourselves or on our own.” (Reinders, p. 432)

 

We must have others to love and by whom we are loved; all parts of the body need to be together. It can sometimes be difficult to understand what loving someone looks like. It can often be easier to fall into a place where you provide services to someone rather than relationship and love. Vanier explains, ‘To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’” (Vanier, p. 16) It doesn’t mean we ignore or avoid their embodiments but rather embrace it; we love them as they are rather then pitying them and that can bring healing and restoration because “…even though a person may have severe brain damage, that is not the source of his or her greatest pain. The greatest pain is rejection, the feeling that nobody really wants you ‘like that.’” (Vanier, p. 13)

We can see such a theology applied when we walk through the pastoral praxis using the response of five organizations to Cincinnati’s desperate poverty situation. “According to U.S. Census data and the Ohio Development Agency’s Ohio Poverty Report in 2015, 30.9% of Cincinnatians live in poverty – that’s more than 86,000 individuals… compared to a national poverty rate of 15.9… This means that approximately one in three Cincinnatians fall below the poverty line…” (City Link, p. 1) Furthermore, within the US, between the ages of 18 and 64, for non-disabled person the poverty rate sits at 12% while individuals categorized as disabled sit at 29%. (University of California, p. 1)  Although these various organizations provided a multitude of services to people that range from medical treatment to basics like food and clothing, they realized that they weren’t addressing the primary issue that could provide what was needed in order to escape the cycle of poverty. Ultimately, it was determined that, “their attempts to coordinate services often fell short because clients found it difficult to navigate between services.” (City Link, 2016)

Social analysis of the situation through the stories of the people they served revealed that while medical treatment might be possible, the ability for many to get to doctors, school, childcare, employment and various other social services just wasn’t feasible. Cincinnati, currently ranked as one of the ten most segregated cities in the US, is separated not only by race but by socio-economic status; poverty is concentrated to certain parts of this city, the same city where black children are twice as likely as white children to live below the poverty line. (Sparks, 2014) Furthermore, many of the services they required are outside of their community, often requiring lengthy travel on buses to each needed service for the vast majority without a personal car. While this type of travel can be a huge burden for most people without a personal car, for those that have various embodiments that require specialized transportation it can become practically impossible to be able to travel to and access all the services needed to escape poverty.

Entering the theological reflection part of the praxis, the eventual founders of CityLink quote Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., in whose words you can hear the echo of Paul and his emphasis that all parts of the body are important: “…all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied to a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly… You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.  This is the interrelated structure of reality”. (Why Does CityLink Exist?) CityLink isn’t about reaching down and lifting up, but rather a whole community recognizing the potential each individual has; that the city reaching its potential relies on all citizen’s having an opportunity to reach theirs. CityLink founders believe that, “clients have as much to teach our staff and volunteers as our staff and volunteers have to teach our clients… We believe that by providing a platform for people to come together, we can build lasting bridges across socio-economic divides. We believe we’re called to serve, and that faith without action is dead.” And so, they moved into the fourth phase of the praxis: pastoral planning and action.

The organizations decided to establish one location where multiple services could be provided. CityLink faced a tremendous amount of opposition , even by the city itself.  “The city of Cincinnati fought the location of CityLink but lost its court challenges. Opponents argue that the West End and nearby Over-the-Rhine already are home to too many social service agencies.” (May, 2010) After spending years struggling to get it off the ground, they opened in October of 2012 and officially launched three months later. (About Us) Although their core services focus on education, employment and financial education, they are now networked with 15 different organizations and many local churches. An example of this would be their Changing Gears program, where people can donate cars and get a tax deduction. Those cars are then repaired and sold at fair market value using a no interest loan to clients. Before they can purchase a car they go through a financial management program and save up money for a down payment as well as creating a plan for future payments and maintenance.  (Changing Gears) CityLink has proven to be effective enough that another CityLink “mall” for services will be duplicated with partners in Africa.

CityLink is living out what the bishops call a defense to the right of life: “Defense of the right to life, then, implies the defense of other rights which enable the individual with a disability to achieve the fullest measure of personal development of which he or she is capable. These include the right to equal opportunity in education, in employment, in housing, as well as the right to free access to public accommodations, facilities and services.” (United States Catholic Conference, p. 3) These organizations examined the obstacles that stood in that path of people being able to fully participate in society and removed some of those obstacles by consolidating the services they needed into a single location near those they served.  Simultaneously, they respect the dignity of each individual that engages with them, walking alongside people as they discover the vital role they play in society. The actions of CityLink communicate that their clients are loved, they are trusted, and they are valued.

Consider Larry from a piece about the value of community and relationship. He could be viewed through many lens, one being someone you’d rather not be around.

“Larry is a man with all sorts of limitations and problems, not the least of which is that he tends to scream with his high-pitched voice in such a way that you rather would not have to be around him. Because of his screaming, people avoid his company. Larry, however, likes company. So the more people avoid him, the louder he screams. Now the key question in Angela’s program—as I understand it—is this: What is it that makes Larry’s screaming into a gift?” (Reinders, p. 435)

 

Programs like CityLink or Angela’s program (described within Reinders piece) seek to discover how to bring transformation to society rather than the individuals. In the example of the Larry, whose pain in isolation is evident in his increased screaming, the attempt is not made to change Larry. Instead, Angela’s program finds that he can experience an inclusive environment in places where his screams are directed, such as baseball games. There, he would be both surrounded by people and able to yell with them, rather than in isolation. Thus, he is both giving something to his community and is accepted by his community. For clients of CityLink, many describe it not as changing who they are but rather, becoming who they were meant to be. As Vanier said of such communities: “I am allowed to be myself, with all my psychological and physical wounds, with all my limitations but with all my gifts too. And I can trust that I am loved just as I am, and that I too can love and grow.” Vanier, p. 28)

In summary, we can see even through the poverty in Cincinnati that injustice is present even today. By applying the Catholic Social Teaching of the dignity of human life we can move towards a fully inclusive community with love at its center, reflected through organizations like CityLink. By examining what has been achieved there, it becomes evident that where we dismantle ableism society flourishes to the benefit of all. Vanier said it best when he explained the value he found in living in the L’Arche community. “And I come here to tell you how much life these people have given me, that they have an incredible gift to bring to our world, that they are a source of hope, peace and perhaps salvation for our wounded world, and that if we are open to them, if we welcome them, they give us life and lead us to Jesus and the good news.” (Vanier, p. 9)

 

 

 

Works Cited

About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved from CityLink: https://citylinkcenter.org/about-us

Changing Gears. (n.d.). Retrieved from About Us: https://www.changing-gears.org/about-us/

City Link. (2016). Retrieved from Poverty in Cincinnati: https://citylinkcenter.org/about-us/the-need/poverty-in-cincinnati

Krier Mich, M. L. (2011). The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

May, L. (2010, July 13). Cincinnati’s CityLink Loses Director. Retrieved from Cincinnati Business Courier: http://www.bizjournals.com/cincinnati/stories/2010/07/12/story5.html

Reinders, H. S. (2011, Nov 10). The Power of Inclusion and Friendship. Journal of Disability, Religion and Health. Retrieved Sept 10, 2013, from http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wrdh20

Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible. (2007). United States of America: Saint Mary’s Press.

Sparks, S. D. (2014, Jan 22). Still Segregated After 50 Years: A Visit to Cincinnati’s West End. Retrieved from Education Week: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/01/22/18wop-cincinnati.h33.html

The Social Model of Disability. (n.d.). Retrieved from People with Disability: http://www.pwd.org.au/student-section/the-social-model-of-disability.html

Thompson, C. (2009). Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care. (S. A. Kajawa-Holbrook, & K. B. Montago, Eds.) Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

United States Catholic Conference. (1989). Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Handicapped People. National Catholic Office for Persons with Disabilities.

University of California, D. (2015, 10 15). How is Poverty Related to Disability. Retrieved from Center for Poverty Research: http://poverty.ucdavis.edu/faq/how-poverty-status-related-disability

Vanier, J. (1992). From Brokenness to Community. United States of America: Paulist Press.

Why Does CityLink Exist? (n.d.). Retrieved from City Link: https://citylinkcenter.org/client-engagement/why-does-citylink-exist