Saturday, April 30, 2022

Presence-Driven Leaders Practice A.S.L.O.

                                                             (Oak tree, in my backyard)

(This is from my book Leading the Presence-Driven Church.)


This exemplifies leadership in the presence-driven church. 

Abide in Christ 

Saturate in the Scriptures 

Listen (Discern God’s voice) 

Obey 

A.S.L.O. 

It’s not a real acronym, I know. At one of my conferences a pastor said it means, “Go as low as you can!” I like that. 

Here are three things a presence-driven leader does. 

Presence-Driven Leaders Practice A.S.L.O. 

Presence-Driven Leaders Teach A.S.L.O. to their people. 

Presence-Driven Leaders Steward and Champion Transcendence. 

am sometimes asked, after doing these three things, what is the next step? My answer is: there is no next step. These are not “steps.” They are more like a system. A system is something you do on a regular basis that increases your likelihood of the desired outcome. Do these things, and you and your people will be blessed.

They run together, informing each other. They describe ongoing conditions of relationship. No one can predict what is coming down the road as these moments are lived, except that it will be good, and God will be magnified. 

Presence-Driven Pastors Practice A.S.L.O. 

The primary thing a presence-driven pastor does is dwell in God’s presence. They resolutely abide in Christ. Then, they are led, by the Spirit. Presence-driven leaders lead by being led. “Dwelling in God’s presence” is how the Old Testament expresses it. “Abiding in Christ” is the New Testament upgrade. In the Old Testament, we have “the presence of God,” especially manifested in the tabernacle in the wilderness, and the Temple in Jerusalem. In the New Testament, we have “abiding in Christ,” as given by Jesus, and our “in Christ” status in Paul’s letters. In the New Testament, the presence motif gets more intimate, more intense. We become living temples, where God makes his home. 

Before going to the cross, Jesus told his disciples about the coming upgrade. They are now to live connected to him, as their first act of being. 

We hear Jesus’ final leaderships instructions in John chapters 14-17. It is Easter week as he addresses his followers. The disciples are troubled. What, they wonder, will they do once their Master is gone? How is Jesus able to do the things he did? Jesus’ response was crucial, and counterintuitive

It was crucial, in that Jesus set before the disciples, and anyone who would follow him, the pattern of leadership foundational for the church. If the disciples don’t do what Jesus says, they will fall away. Presence-driven leadership rises and falls on connectedness to Christ. 

It was counterintuitive. Jesus’ leadership counsel goes against any leadership strategy the disciples ever heard. I doubt anyone could have anticipated what Jesus was about to say. 

It is instructive to note what he did not say. Regarding the origin of his supernatural activity, Jesus did not counsel us to form committees and figure things out on our own. Nor did he say, “I did such great things because I worked really hard.” Instead, Jesus put forth something that sounds mystical, and impractical. “I did what I did, because I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.” 

Say what?! Jesus’ authoritative words, healings, deliverances, and dead-raisings, were possible because he indwelt the Trinitarian personhood of God.206 Here Jesus gets ontological. He’s going deeper than any fisherman ever lowered his nets. 

That may have been fine for Jesus, but what about us? The answer he gives his disciples must have stunned them. They, he reveals, are invited to share in God’s Trinitarian being, with all its resources. 

Like a connected branch shares the nutrients of the vine, a disciple connected to Jesus shares in the life-giving flow of peace and joy that transcends this world’s happiness. Experientially, the peace and joy that has existed everlastingly between Father, Son, and Spirit, can be ours.

Within the vast spaces of this super-reality, real church happens. A presence-driven pastor relocates here. Here is where presence-driven leadership begins, and remains. How do you lead a presence-driven church? Do this: stay connected

The promise is, as we abide in Christ, we will do the things Jesus did, and even greater things. I have heard sermons on the promised “greater things.” While that excites me, I confess to simply desiring the things Jesus did; viz., heal the sick, raise the dead, deliver the oppressed, and speak words of authority that bring people into God’s kingdom. 

This is the key to the Presence-Driven Church. Jesus said: 

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 

”I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, 

you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 

This is the New Testament upgrade to the presence motif. It is the new reality of full intimacy with God. How close can we get? John Jefferson Davis writes: 

“The believer is really, truly, factually, ontologically united in communion with all three persons of the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This truth of the believer’s new state of being precedes and is the proper foundation of any particular act of worship.”

As followers of Jesus, we have a new ontological status. The nature of our identity, our being, has changed. The core concept the apostle Paul is trying to get the early church to realize and understand is this: now, they are “in Christ.” Christ, the hope of glory, resides in them. This is central to how we are to understand ourselves, and why Paul uses the “in Christ” metaphor, and variations of it (e.g., “through Christ,” “with Christ”), 216 times. 

Davis describes the intimate connection.

“As Herman Ridderbos has astutely noted, the mystical union, being “in Christ,” is not just an occasional reality in certain sublime spiritual moments; rather it is, in Pauline and New Testament teaching, “an abiding reality determinative for the whole of the Christian life…. we have to do here with the church’s `objective’ state of salvation.” We are as really connected to Christ and to other believers by the bond of the Holy Spirit as teenagers, texting one another other on their cell phones, are connected to one another by the invisible signals broadcast from the nearest cell tower.”

Constantine Cambell says the Pauline “metatheme of union, participation, identification, incorporation is… the essential ingredient that binds all other [Pauline] elements together.” 

The presence-driven pastor, as their first order of life and leadership, abides in Christ. They live in constant connectedness. This includes saturation in The Narrative. They listen for the guiding voice of God. They obey. 

Presence-driven pastors do this well. Without this, they are irrelevant and inauthentic. Disconnected branches produce nothing for Christ. They have fallen away from God’s presence. 

The pastor-as-connected-branch lives up close and personal with the trunk of the tree. Fruit-bearing nutrients ooze into them. The properties of the tree just are the properties of the branch. In the same way, properties of God are shared with the connected human heart, which then “bears fruit.” These include the God-properties of love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. 

The final piece of A.S.L.O. is obedience. We lead, by being led. We are led, as we abide in God’s presence. We discern what God calls us to do, and then we follow. 

This is the job description for presence-driven pastors and leaders. This is so radical, so revolutionary, so pregnant with possibilities, that leadership shares it with their people. This is the second ongoing condition of presence-driven leadership.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Dr. John Piippo - How God Changes the Human Heart


(Thank you, Carol, for helping with this!)

Presence-Driven Pastors Tend, Not Run, the Garden


                                                                 (Redeemer Church building, Monroe, MI)

A Presence-Driven Church is a garden, not a factory. Gardens are tended. Factories are "run."

The garden soil is the hearts of the people.

God is the seed planter.

The people are taught to abide in Christ.

They bear much fruit.

Presence-Driven Pastors tend the fruit.

In the Christ-abiding connection, God sows dreams and visions, course correction and direction, into the hearts of the people.

The Presence-Driven Pastor is not threatened by this. They separate the good from the bad. They welcome and nurture good produce, like parents caring for a newborn baby. The Presence-Driven Pastor is an expectant parent who prays for the child to be born, prepares a room for it to flourish, and celebrates its arrival.

This is Real Church, a community where everyone (not just the pastor) gets to play. Everyone becomes part of the movement. Everyone is a leader. This is anti-top-down leadership.

As Scripture tells us,

When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. (1 Corinthians 14:26)

To allow this you must let go of control. Which is hard for an Entertainment-Driven Pastor to do. (Hard for many of us, right?) These pastors control the Studio Church. The many are not as talented or as beautiful or as camera-friendly as the few. So they run the garden, rather than tend it. The people become an audience of outsiders. The Entertainment-Driven Pastor of the Consumer Church has been seduced and trafficked by the American honor-shame hierarchy.

This, Eugene Peterson writes, is a dark vocational shift. It is the "radical fall from vocational holiness to career idolatry," which "goes undetected by all but the serpent." (Eugene Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, p. 7)

***



Thursday, April 28, 2022

More on... "Deconstruction"


                                                                        (Ann Arbor)

One of my recent books is Deconstructing Progressive Christianity. In it, I define the term "deconstruction." Perhaps this is the most misunderstood word in America today. 

Here is what it does not, and does, mean, to vaccinate us from the fetid swamp of banality,

"Despite this seemingly unrestrained proliferation of the word across the vernacular, “deconstruction” remains a kind of slippery signifier and empty placeholder. We all kind of know or at least think we have a sense of what the word indicates. And yet, if you ask someone to explain it, what you typically get is a rather confused shell game of word substitutions, where “deconstruction” is loosely associated with other concepts like “disassembly,” “destruction,” “reverse engineering,” or “the act of taking something apart.”

Despite the circulation of these familiar (mis)understandings, the term “deconstruction” does not indicate something negative. What it signifies is neither simply synonymous with destruction nor the opposite of construction. As Jacques Derrida, the fabricator of the neologism and progenitor of the concept, pointed out in the afterword to the book Limited Inc: “The ‘de-’ of deconstruction signifies not the demolition of what is constructing itself, but rather what remains to be thought beyond the constructionist or destructionist schema.” For this reason, deconstruction is something entirely other than what is typically understood and delimited by the conceptual opposition situated between the two terms “construction” and “destruction.” In fact, to put it schematically, deconstruction comprises a kind of general strategy by which to intervene in this and all the other logical oppositions and conceptual dichotomies that have and continue to organize how we think and how we speak."

Gunkel, David J.. Deconstruction (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series) (pp. 1-2). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

There you go. If you don't understand that, then you remain clueless as to the meaning of the term.

Shame & Guilt - Some Notes & Resources

(Trees at Redeemer)

What Is the Difference Between Guilt and Shame? How can we experience freedom from shame? Here are the notes and resources I presented in a seminar about this.

1. Shame Is Different than Guilt.



2. Shame and Guilt are emotions.


Shame expresses itself in thoughts like I am not enough; There is something wrong with me; or I don't matter.


Shame "is born out of a sense of “there being something wrong” with me or of “not being enough,” and therefore exudes the aroma of being unable or powerless to change one’s condition or circumstances." (Thompson, Kindle Locations 277-279)

Shame often has to do with a "lessening" of our worth and capacity. This lessening is deeper than a conclusion one logically arrives at. It is an emotion, a feeling, that one cannot be reasoned out of. Thompson says shame's essence precedes language; it seems to be woven into a person's DNA.

Shame says I am wrong. Guilt says something I have done is wrong. Shame refers to our being and worth; guilt is about morality. Shame is debilitating. Guilt is a rescue. A healthy, integrated person has a moral conscience that responds to right and wrong. 

The emotion of guilt, when given by God, is a good thing. We want, e.g., a person to feel guilty (show remorse) if they have hurt someone. "Guilt," writes Paul Tournier, can become "a friend because it leads to the experience of God's grace." (See Tournier, Guilt and Grace: A Psychological Study.)

3. Consequences of Shame

Psychiatrist Curt Thompson writes:

Shame is not just a consequence of something our first parents did in the Garden of Eden. It is the emotional weapon that evil uses to (1) corrupt our relationships with God and each other, and (2) disintegrate any and all gifts of vocational vision and creativity.

These gifts include any area of endeavor that promotes goodness, beauty and joy in and for the lives of others, whether that be teaching our first graders, loving our spouse well, managing forests, conducting healing prayer services, creating a new medical technology, offering psychotherapy or composing symphonies. Shame is a primary means to prevent us from using the gifts we have been given.


4. Three Sources of Crippling Shame

5. One of the Hallmarks of shame is Judgment

Judgment refers to "the spirit of condemnation or condescension with which we analyze or critique something, whether ourselves or someone or something else. I may say to myself, I should have done better at that assignment. What is crucial is the emotional tone that undergirds those words." (Curt Thompson, Kindle Locations 335-337)

6. Shamed People Shame People

The act of being judgmental towards other people is rooted in self-judgment. Thompson writes:


"As I often tell patients, “Shamed people shame people.” Long before we are criticizing others, the source of that criticism has been planted, fertilized and grown in our own lives, directed at ourselves, and often in ways we are mostly unaware of.

Suffice to say that our self-judgment, that tendency to tell ourselves that we are not enough—not thin enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, not . . . enough—is the nidus [origin] out of which grows our judgment of others, not least being our judgment of God. The problem is that we have constructed a sophisticated lattice of blindness around this behavior, which disallows our awareness of it." (Kindle Locations 348-352)

7. Shamed People Don't Experience Grace

Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.



FREEDOM FROM SHAME


1 – TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE

2 Cor. 10:5 - We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 
As a follower of Jesus, your status is "in Christ."

You are a God-created, soulish, embodied, "in Christ" person. This means there are some things you are not.

You are not what you doTo define yourself by what you do is to live on a spiritual and emotional roller coaster that is a function of your accomplishments. Your identity does not depend on what you have accomplished. Your productivity does not define you. 
Your worth is not the same as your usefulness. (From Henri Nouwen)

You are not what you have. Do not define yourself by your stuff. Because when you lose any of it you will slip into the indentityless darkness.


You are not what other people think of you. If people think well of you, say thank you. If people think ill of you, pray for them. But do not go up and down and in and out on the basis of others' affirmation and disaffirmation. Refuse to let other people define you.


YOU ARE WHAT GOD THINKS OF YOU. Period. Case closed. Colossians 1:27 says: 
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 
When you understand this in your heart three things happen.
1.          You are set free from the punishing of the hierarchical honor-shame systems of your surrounding culture.

2.          You are free from the striving that happens on the ladder of the honor-shame hierarchy.

3.          You are free to love others.

2 – EXPERIENCE GOD’S GRACE

Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.

3 – SPEND MUCH TIME WITH GOD

4 – BE PART OF A GRACE-FILLED SMALL GROUP

5 – ASSEMBLE TOGETHER ON SUNDAY MORNINGS


SOME RESOURCES

For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve. This is one of the best books I have ever read!

The best book on "grace" is Philip Yancey's 
What's So Amazing About Grace? 


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Nietzsche - Morality is Only About Personal Taste, or Aesthetics


                                                          (Redeemer Church, Monroe, MI)

If there is no God, then there are no objective moral values. Many intellectual atheists agree with this. What about, then, all the moral pronouncements being put forth, e.g., Racism is wrong? What about microaggressions? Here's how atheist Friedrich Nietzsche saw this. Carl Trueman writes:

"Nietzsche’s notion that morality is really about taste is very helpful in thinking about our current moral climate. So often the language we use confirms that Nietzsche’s perspective is now a cultural intuition. So often we will speak of morality in terms of taste or aesthetics: “That remark was hurtful;” “That idea is offensive;” “That viewpoint makes me feel unsafe.” Notice that such expressions do not make a statement about whether the matters in hand are right or wrong. In fact, the underlying assumption is that the offensiveness or hurtfulness of them is identical with the moral content. The subjective response has become the ethical criterion for judgment.

(Trueman, Strange New World, pp. 57-58)

Wokeness... to what?

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Identity, and the Logic of Nietzsche's Atheism

 

                                                   (One week ago we had snow! 4/18/22)

The atheist philosopher Nietzsche had so many things right, given his atheism. That is, if atheism were true, then Nietzsche understands what follows.

Here's an example of this, from Carl Trueman's book Strange New World.

"For Nietzsche, the great task facing human beings is to break free of the metaphysical myths that religion weaves and to shatter the moral codes that hinder individuals from being strong. We might express Nietzsche’s thought this way: freed from the burden of being creatures of God, human beings must rise to the challenge of self-creation, of being whoever they choose to be. Put perhaps even more bluntly: be whoever or whatever works for you. You should feel no obligation to conform to the standards or criteria of anybody else." (Strange New World, pp. 56-57)

Robby Dawkins at Redeemer - Sunday Morning 04/24/22

LOVE DOES NOT AFFIRM SIN



Monday, April 25, 2022

God Save You From Yourself (Not "You Be You")

 

                                                                     (Monroe County)

The most sophomoric counsel you could give someone is "You be you."

Linda and I meet with many people. Some meetings are for giving counsel, and whatever wisdom we might have.

Years ago we were counseling a woman who was filled with anger. People had hurt her. Linda and I were showing her the way out of her bondage. This included self-examination, self-forgiveness, a deep connection with Jesus, and forgiveness from the heart extended to her enemies. (See here, esp., The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, by University of Wisconsin psychologist Robert Enright.) 

There were deep wounds inside her. We were beginning to get at them. She was being rescued from herself!

But then, she began posting on social media. She was venting, and blaming, posturing, and accusing. In her mind, she was expressing her freedom and power. It was sad to see her do this. What made us even sadder were the responses some of her friends were giving her. Like, "You go, girl!" "You be you!" "You do you!" These affirmations were the last thing this woman needed. They only served to deepen her imprisonment.

Instead of "me be me," the road to freedom begins with "save me from me." Thomas Merton once prayed, "God, save me from myself." A few years ago, Korn guitarist Brian Welch titled his autobiography Save Me From Myself. I have prayed this for myself, many times.

As I read Jesus, the apostle Paul, John the apostle, and Thousand Foot Crutch, I understand there's a war going on inside me. Venting my rage against my victimizers only adds to my pain. There is something drastically wrong with the human condition, which only God can fix. 

I came to Jesus to be free from me. To escape the false self. To be saved from my sin and shame. You be you? Me be me? Been there, done that. 

The woman screaming on social media needed help. All her comforters could do was cheer her on. No one, it seemed, knew what was really going on.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Two Relationship Lies

 


Holland State Park, Michigan

The idea that every person has a "soul mate" who they must find is rooted in two relationship lies. Which are: 

1. I need this person to be complete.

2. If this person needs me, I'll be complete.

- From Real Relationships, by Les and Leslie Parrott.


The Parrott's write: "If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself." (Ib.) That is bad news for your soul mate, which they will eventually discover as their ship crashes on the shores of your incompleteness.

"It is only when we no longer compulsively need someone that we can have a real relationship with them."
- Anthony Storr, in Ib.

Maintaining the Appearance of Happiness

Room, in our house

Donna Freitas writes: "The appearance of happiness has become so prized in our culture that it takes precedence over a person’s actual happiness." (Freitas, The Happiness Effect: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost, p. xvii)

Note the subtitle of her book: How Social Media is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost.

Christian Smith, in his Foreward to Freitas's book, comments:

"In our attempts to appear happy, to distract ourselves from our deeper, sometimes darker thoughts, we experience the opposite effect. In trying to always appear happy, we rob ourselves of joy. And after talking to nearly two hundred college students and surveying more than eight hundred, I worry that social media is teaching us that we are not worthy. That it has us living in a perpetual and compulsive loop of such feedback. That in our constant attempts to edit out our imperfections for massive public viewing, we are losing sight of the things that ground our life in connection and love, in meaning and relationships. 
Our brave faces are draining us. We’re losing sight of our authentic selves." (Ib., pp. xvi-xvii)

So what is the answer? You must go deep. It will explain a lot of things, including what's now happening in America.

Augustine understood the depth of our human condition. He wrote of our estrangement from God due to succumbing to three temptations: "the love of power, the pervasiveness of lust, and our inability to find contentment." (Richard Foster, Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion)

These three temptations keep our hearts in a turbulent mess. We are reminded it was Augustine who wrote that, because God made us for himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in him. Centuries later Henri Nouwen prayed, Augustine-like, asking God if the restless seas in his heart would ever settle down.

Augustine's answer was this: 


"When we are unable to rise above our own self-love, we manufacture all kinds of diversions in an attempt to find a happiness that endures. But eventually we realize that nothing in this life provides the happiness and joy that come from God alone.... Our only hope for enduring happiness is to discover the enduring restlessness of our spirit." (Foster, 29. Emphasis mine.)

***
My Books

Friday, April 22, 2022

Pastors are Facilitators of Transcendence

(I took this picture of Dan and Allie and the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul.)

People need the Lord. Therefore, introduce people to the Lord. How can this happen?

1. Know the Lord yourself. Cultivate the God-relationship. Abide in Christ, hourly.


2. Teach people how to enter into the presence of God. Show them how to abide in Christ.


3. Tend the garden. The abiding person's life will bear much fruit.


That's it. 


That's all a pastor-shepherd needs to do. 

This is about the Presence-Driven Church, which is the only church worth living for. (During Jesus' time the Temple fell because the religious leaders shut the door to the presence of God.) 

Pastors facilitate this. Pastors facilitate transcendence.


Our main job is to usher in the Almighty. We point people to the Glory.

When transcendence happens, no one notices the program, the preacher, or other people. Anything resembling performance seems out of place. Because all that is visible is eclipsed by what is not: God Himself moving through the church in power and meeting with His people in multifold  ways.  

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Why People Try to Control Others

(Sterling State Park, on Lake Erie, in Monroe)

I still have control issues. This is not good.

I meet a lot of control freaks and controlees. Many marriages are the coming together of these anti-types. Every control freak needs a controlee, and vice versa. I call these "master/slave" marriages.

Most people, if not all, struggle with control issues. I have, and at times still do. The Control vs. Trust polarity is an ontological reality; i.e., it lies at the base of human personhood. 


"Control" is the antithesis of "trust." Trust is huge in the Jesus-life, and life in general, since we control so very, very little.


Keith Miller writes: "control is the major factor in destroying intimate relationships." (Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships., p. 7) Why do we do this? Why try to control others when we can't control our own selves, and are often out of control? Miller writes:


"The fear of being revealed as a failure, as not being "enough" somehow, is a primary feeling that leads to the compulsion to control other people. When we were children, the fear of being inadequate and shameful was tied to our terror of being deserted or rejected and we had little control over getting what we needed. To counteract that basic terror, we have evidently been trying all our lives in various ways to "get control" of life. This includes controlling other people." (14)


A controlling person is an un-free person. Insecurity is the emblem of control. I like the way Richard Foster once put this: God wants to free us from the terrible burden of always having to get our own way. "Walking in freedom" and "controlling other people" ("always getting our own way") are oppositional. 


The control freak crushes the spirit of the other person, who wears a sign saying, "Crush me." "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" - "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" -  this is the cycle that destroys marriages and relationships. The antidote is trust. Because where trust is, control is not. 


Begin breaking free by learning trust in God. Pray to be less controlling than you now are. Pray to be less controlled by others than you now are. Trust God even when you don't trust other people. Understand this: You will rarely have all your ducks in a row, especially when it comes to people.


Go basic, repeating and praying Proverbs 3:5-6:


Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil! 
(The Message) 

To trust God when around distrustful people is an experiential act of freedom. God can use you to be the catalyst that heals others of their fear of not measuring up.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Worth and Dignity

(Photo taken in the Butterfly House, Whitehouse, Ohio)

Back in the late 70s I worked for one year and three summers at United Cerebral Palsy Center of Will County, Illinois. I was a teacher's assistant. A helper. There, I earned a B.A. I was a Bathroom Assistant. I took boys and men who could not toilet themselves into the bathroom, and assisted them.

I brought my guitar into the classes, and played and sang for the students. I carried out tasks given me by the teacher, Mrs. Gulick. I drove the Center's station wagon, picking up kids early in the morning for school, dropping them off after school was over. 

One of the students was an autistic girl named Gail. We had to tie her shoes in double knots, and fasten her clothing top and pants together with safety pins. Because, untied and unpinned, Gail would begin to take everything off, and throw it, with force! 

One day, driving through the northern Illinois countryside with Gail in the back seat of the station wagon, I was shocked when one of her tennis shoes whizzed by my right ear, slamming into the front window of the car. Gail had gotten her shoe off!

I remember David, a young man who was an idiot savant. David was mentally handicapped, but displayed brilliance and genius when it came to birthdays. David could instantly tell you what your birth date was, and what day of the week  your birthday will fall on in 2050, or 2051, or you-pick-the-year. 

Helen was a charming, beautiful, physically handicapped young woman who was intelligent and caring. She could not talk, and communicated through wearing a pointer strapped to her head, with which she touched letters on a small table attached to her wheelchair. One of my privileges was to feed Helen. I had to insert the food, using my fingers, into Helen's mouth, positioning it between her molars. She always smiled when I fed her. Helen was grace-filled and other-centered.

I remember James, whose legs were inoperative and atrophied, but whose biceps were huge. James could do push ups from a sitting position, skinny legs extended. I remember Jimmy, a Down's Syndrome boy. I loved his smile, and wrote a song about him, which I sang for Jimmy at our Annual Graduation Ceremony.

I learned so much from my time there. I saw human dignity on display, exemplified in the staff, the teachers, and the students.

Every person has worth. And dignity. Why?

The worth of a person cannot be in how they look, because a few of our students were disfigured. A person's worth cannot be in their accomplishments, since some of our students accomplished nothing. The worth of a person cannot be in their possessions, since many of our students not only had little, but could not comprehend how impoverished they were.

How, then, are we to understand the worth and dignity of persons? It can't be found in atheism. (See, as an example of this, atheist Steven Pinker's essay "The Stupidity of Dignity.")

It can be found in Judeo-Christianity. Beginning in the beginning:


So God created mankind in his own image,

    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26


This imago dei is core humanity. It resides deep in us, and is unresponsive to our successes and strengths, our failures and infirmities, our wealth or poverty.


(For deep reading on human worth and dignity, see the 555-page report from the President's Council on Bioethics, Human Dignity and Bioethics.)