“What in the name of Woodstock is going on around here?” Snoopy, cartoon character of Peanuts fame, was in crisis mode. Groggily awakening from a nap, he realized that a wayfaring bird had built a nest on his belly while he was asleep. Snoopy had some appreciation for the quick construction, but the location of the nest was clearly intrusive.
“How do things like this happen to me?” Snoopy groans as not one but two little birds show up hungry…constantly flapping and chirping. As days passed, Snoopy began to reflect on his values and next course of action. “I’m just too easy going. I should have said something as soon as that stupid bird started building its nest….And so began the ongoing 70’s saga of acclaimed Peanuts gang member Snoopy and his side-sick “Woodstock” . A simplistic little yellow bird, but if you dig a little deeper, you’d find some depth of character.
Why “Woodstock”? Schultz named the bird after the counter-culture music festival held in July of 1970 near Woodstock, New York. The Woodstock “worldview” was a lifestyle festival of questioning tradition and authority. It was a clash of cultural values and traditions; an ironic revolutionary demand for peace. Woodstock would symbolize a generation that did not accept status quo as reasonable and often asked the question “why?” The answers given were often rendered “meaningless” and the in vogue answer was an emphatic “why not?…we’re in Woodstock!” The poster/logo for the event was a picture of a dove perched on a guitar. Cartoonist Schultz spoke to the nation thru a little disabled bird, often perched beside his hero with his only claim to dignity being identified as Snoopy’s “best friend”. Schultz would describe his character Woodstock in this manner: “Woodstock knows that he is very small and inconsequential. It’s a problem we all have….the universe boggles us…Woodstock is a light-hearted expression of that idea”. (Wikipedia)
“What in the Name of Woodstock is going on around here?” Small and inconsequential, the universe boggles us. Midge and I were 1969 high school grads and though we lived in “up north” Wisconsin, we recall the Woodstock era well and were well aware of the cultural discussions. In the summer of ‘69 Midge had caught my attention with her voice and guitar; I was trying to decide if I wanted to be a soldier. While we would not likely be remembered as hippies, our life journey could surely be characterized as non-traditional…what did life look like from the “why” on which we were perched? Whose voice should we listen to and what should we do next? I had enjoyed science and math and had a physics scholarship in hand to attend a Wisconsin state university that Fall. Neil Armstrong would walk on the moon in July…education seemed to have an answer for everything. But the Vietnam War was raging and I had already submitted my name to the Selective Service. If I got drafted, I would be in boot camp before the end of the year. Unlike most of my buddies, I didn’t get much joy out of bagging a buck…(I liked cows…weird).I had great respect for my classmates who had enlisted, but like many others, I wasn’t sure if this war was “justified”. My family attended a small county church and my sister Sue had just finished her first year at Grace College of the Bible in Omaha and challenged me to think twice about the direction of the road I would travel. Why not go to Bible School till things settled out? My answer, true to form…”Well, why not?…one answer was good as the next.
My most vivid memories of Omaha were the smell of the Folger’s Coffee plant and the Stockyards…all depended on which way the wind was blowing. But it was there that I first encountered the term “worldview”…terms like origin and destiny, meaning and morality. If I tried to be consistent and live with integrity, my values and lifestyle choices would reflect my philosophy of life. I had grown up in a “Christian” family and had made a personal commitment of faith to Jesus Christ. But I had questions I wasn’t sure Jesus, or anyone else seemed to have the answer for. Science made sense, but so did the Beatles. I had feelings about love and about war, but wasn’t sure if my motives were pure about either. While at Grace I learned from studying the Bible was that Truth didn’t depend on the winds of culture or the traditions of theology. Truth could stand the test of time and be true for every generation. Truth would reveal both the facts of life and the basis to understand the questions of human experience. Truth would give definition to my values and the freedom to live them out. I could understand why the folks in Woodstock didn’t all see Jesus as the Answer, but from where I was perched in Omaha, the description Hebrews 1 gave of Jesus made perfect sense. It was so clear to me that I could not believe it. So by faith, I chose to believe that Jesus is the Answer…the Way, The Truth and the Life… for what boggles my mind about the universe…simple truth but far from simplistic. Since then, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to clarify my world view. But perhaps none were as significant as the February days of 1994 when we began to look at life through the lense of developmental disabilities.
“What in the Name of Jesus is going on around here?!”
During those days Midge and I had a lot of blue questions to ask and they were “all in the name of Levi”. Levi was born February 5th. The delivery was difficult and unlike our previous children, Levi had a bluish hue and other things that didn’t seem just right. “The doctor thinks Levi has Down Syndrome”. I didn’t know much about Down Syndrome at the time and most of what I knew was not good. My first questions were mostly “what?” But then came the why questions and a “world-view review”…a Woodstock moment like Snoopy, where I’m just trying to be a nice guy and I wake up with this disabled kid in my house…it boggles my mind! I didn’t like what I was feeling as a Dad…I felt pity instead of pride…anger instead of joy. Did Jesus have an answer for this crisis?
As I have looked at the history of how people with disabilities have been perceived and treated, I am very aware of what how vulnerable this population is to cultural perspective. The pendulum of popular opinion is always swinging. If Levi had been born 40 years earlier our doctor’s advice could have been “Drop him off at the Colony for the Feeble-Minded…if you try to keep him home, he will ruin your life”. I am very grateful for many of the current standards for serving people with disabilities in Ohio. I have learned a few things about Down Syndrome and am part of a growing group of advocates that will be helping all people with developmental disabilities fulfill their potential. But as a Christian, I realize that dealing with a disabled child can either distort or bring into clearer focus the image of God and the role He has in all of our lives
Disability awareness sharpens our spiritual awareness.
In John chapter 9 Jesus responded to a world-view question pertaining to a man blind from birth. “This was so people could better see the work of God…I am the Light of the World, showing you the way God works” Was the same true about Down Syndrome? Autism? Cerebral Palsy? Or does Stuff just Happen? Boggles my mind.
Like little yellow Woodstock fluttering up to perch on best-friend Snoopy’s nose, it is helpful for people to take a look at Reality from Jesus’ perspective. Hebrews chapter 1 describes Jesus as “seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Ultimate Position of Control). There is no vantage point like it and no One better qualified to “tell it like it is” and “do what needs to be done”. While living in a world that boggles our minds and in which there is no lack of popular opinions, “in these last days God has spoken to us in His Son. It’s a universe in which Jesus “upholds all things by the word of His power”. Like His answers or not, Jesus is willing to take responsibility for everything that happens in our lives, including developmental disabilities. When Moses questioned God about his speech impediment, God replied “Who made the “disabled”…Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11) . Later the apostle Paul pleaded with God to remove the handicap that was a thorn in his flesh and God replied “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (II Cor 12:9) God promises that His grace will be available in every trial we encounter (I Cor 10:13), but it is not always easy to keep God’s grace in perspective when dealing with developmental disabilities.
Disabilities and suffering provide a context that can distort or deepen our faith.
At Downsize Farm we have a few chickens. They are colorful, busy-in-the-morning birds that lay eggs faithfully, but are not known otherwise for their answers to the questions of life such as: “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The answer lies in another question…”Which came first…God or People?”. Many religious people believe that God came first. Others believe that religion, and God, were made in the image of men…to answer questions that boggle our mind. Still others “make God up as they go”…a god they can feel comfortable with, justify their chosen lifestyle and which everybody ought to respect”. For individuals, families, and caregivers of people affected by disabilities, the Bible reveals a world-view of reality that answers questions of origin, meaning, morality, hope and purpose that need not distort their faith, but can deepen their faith and that of those around them.
Five facts that affect the faith of people with disabilities
1. God Plans.
The question of origin …what came first?…is vital in understanding the worth and dignity of all people, but especially those with disabilities. John 1:1 says in reference to Jesus “In the beginning was the Word…all things came into being by Him.” The world as it exists is a result of design and not mere happenstance. Scripture elsewhere describes the creation and maintaining of the universe as both very intentional and very personal. At times we may question the value of people who are limited in ability and disfigured in appearance. Were they accidents who God somehow overlooked? Not at all. Because God came first, people are made in His image, and not vice versa. Of all God’s creation, people alone bear “His image”…human beings have “inherent worth”. People have “dignity”…a glory that reflects the image of God…which is exactly the thing God designed people to do…glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. The image of God people reflect is not merely their physical body. When people looked at Jesus, they saw the glory of God as “full of grace and Truth. (Jn 1:14) Knowing that God is very intentional about what happens in people’s lives and very personal about the details assures us that in God’s design, every person counts for eternity.
2. God Works.
The question of meaning…why do I live?…is also important in sensing our personal significance. Eph 1:11 states that “God works all things after the counsel of His will”. ..God plans His work and then works His plan. Being made in the image of God, people innately want their lives to matter. When people have an idea and then choose to do something that brings that idea to life…that action has meaning…”I meant to do that!” When we want to do something and are unable to accomplish it, we become frustrated…”I can’t do it” and our sense of significance seems diminished. Romans 8:18-39 says that as part of God working out His plan “all creation was subjected to futility”. And as a result of the world’s condition , sin, suffering and frustration are a normal part of human existence. But God is also “at work” to remedy this condition. Many try to gain a sense of significance, their “glory”, by what they accomplish…their “work”. But in God’s work, no one is able to gain the glory of God by their own prowess. God views Jesus death on the Cross as His “finished work” and our status as “sons of God” is conferred by faith. People with disabilities and those who care for them can serve as a model of those who at times groan because of how difficult life is to live, but know that God can give meaning even to their struggles, because He works all things together for good and shapes us into the “image of His Son”. Love, joy, peace and patience reflect God’s glory while making a relevant difference in people’s lives. As God works His plan to perfection, our suffering is “worth it“, not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed”, concluding that “if God be for us, who can be against us” and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus”
3. God Cares
The question of morality…why should I care? Once again reflecting the image of God, people have an innate sense of priority…people come equipped with a programmable conscience. When working our plan or just walking through life, we often face the decision of not only what’s right, but what’s good, better or best? Can our conscience be our guide or does it just depend on how I feel? When it comes to the care and support of the disabled, how do we get it right? Jesus made it clear that of all the attributes of God, none motivate His actions more than love. God has demonstrated His love so dramatically through the death of Christ on the Cross. When we look at the natural design of provision built into Creation and when we see the compassion of people for the needs of others and actions that meet those needs, the glory of God is being reflected. We all have received those kind actions. We love because He first loved us (I Jn 4:19) Despite the reality of living a world that is vulnerable to suffering and injustice, it is good to know that God actively cares about that experience and has demonstrated his willingness to walk with us through it. (Ps 23) When God hears a prayerful cry of need, He will often send a “neighbor” by to meet that need. One day Jesus told a story to a lawyer (man paid to know the rules of right and wrong) about God’s standard of love…that if you declare a love for God, it will be tested by your love for your neighbor. The story reveals that God not only cares about people’s needs, but also about people’s deeds. In God’s plan for our lives, our paths will cross with those who have needs that we are equipped meet. Those people are our “neighbors” we are to love. (Hardness of heart is a great handicap, affecting all the other parts of our body)
4. God Redeems
The question of hope?…Do I have any reason to believe action is being taken to change my condition?
There is currently a lot of discussion about how to assist people with disabilities to find a job and reach their potential. Person specific needs and low expectations of caregivers paint a caricature of the redemptive potential of many impacted by disability. Despite the out-of-his control circumstances of Job’s life he maintained a “living hope”. Job 19:25 shows he had a steadfast belief that God was still in control in an active manner “I know my Redeemer lives”. The Bible is a book of redemption from beginning to the end. A real-life story of how God is at work to not only rescue people from the impact of sinful conditions on earth, but also to re-purpose their lives for the purpose they were originally designed…reflect and enjoy the glory of God. Eph 2 describes a picture of a future where God’s grace will continually be expressed in kindness towards us. In the meantime, we are “his workmanship”…created to be involved in good works that God has prepared already…we just have to have a world-view to see them. Titus 2:11 describes having a world-view that recognizes God’s acts of grace on our behalf as having a “blessed hope”…one that overflows with benefits in other areas of our life. It pulls us from a godless world-view and re-purposes our lives to redeem us from every lawless deed and full of excitement to be a part of what God is doing in other people’s lives. God designed the church to take the lead in His redemptive mission. This is where involvement in a local church is so beneficial. People with disabilities might seem like the part that the body “has no need of”, whereas in reality they may be the missing link to ministry effectiveness. I love the TV shows where builders flip a house; buy it back, and then restore it, putting it to work in all its redemptive glory. What will heaven be like for people with disabilities…I can only imagine.
5. God Blesses
The question of purpose…how should I then live?
One of the great benefits of a world view that honors God’s Word is knowing a blessing when you see one.
The Genesis account of the creation includes His blessing. God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created them. And then He “blessed” them…Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” The blessing of God is a special allotment of God’s favor or giftedness to accomplish His purposes.
Such favor has been bestowed on God’s Word (Is 55), even as the Name of Jesus is above every name
(Phil 2). Psalm 1 describes God’s blessing evident in the lives of people who honor a world-view as seen from God’s perspective. Jesus said in Matt 7 “he who hears these words of mine and acts upon them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a Rock. So it is of importance that we acknowledge the place of honor and blessing Jesus bestows on those who honor the disabled. Just as the Jewish nation held a place of honor due to God’s promise to Abraham, so the disabled hold a place of honor due to their willingness to respond to God’s invitation (Luke 14) Ironically, the “blessing of God” is not evidenced so much by a life free of struggle, but rather one dependent on the grace of God…Stuff Happens, Grace Is….Cause My Redeemer Lives! Paul expressed the reality of God’s grace like this…when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Cor 12:10) When, Jacob cried out for God’s blessing, God dislocated his hip and changed his name to “Israel”…he who struggles with God. My own recent experience of dislocating my shoulder, with pain and sleepless nights, cleared my schedule to gather these thoughts about “what in the name of Woodstock is going on around here. Record low temps have kept me from running around….but to call them a blessing??? Laura Story’s insightful song, “Blessings” pens these lines about the view of life from where Jesus sits:
We pray for blessings, we pray for peace; Comfort for family, protection while we sleep.
We pray for healing, for prosperity, We pray for your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need…Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.
Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops? What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights is what it takes to know You’re near?
“What if the trials of this life are God’s mercies in disguise?