On Killing a Darling and Being Surprised by New Life

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Annie Dillard once said that one of the hardest parts of learning to write is having to “kill your darlings” by excising beloved words that just won’t work. In a similar vein, I’ve recently learned that Christians sometimes have to bury what appears to be most precious and anxiously wait to see what is resurrected.

For eight years I had the privilege of being a bi-vocational pastor in Boston. My days were occupied with a variety of tasks such as marketing Christian subculture for a major online bookseller or helping youth with disabilities start their careers. In the additional hours that were not focused on my family, I wrote sermons, participated in the emergent conversation, and struggled beside people as we tried to walk in the way of Jesus.

Over the past year my occupation and vocation have become more closely aligned. The energy behind this movement is IMPACT:Ability.

IMPACT:Ability is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported initiative that empowers people with disabilities and communities to prevent widespread abuse. In the two decades that have followed the Americans with Disabilities Act people with disabilities have made great strides towards full inclusion in the workforce, local neighborhoods, and many other spheres of society. However, in the midst of such positive movements, people with disabilities continue to experience disproportionate amounts of physical and sexual abuse.

According to the Massachusetts State Sexual Violence Prevention Team adults of all genders with disabilities are four to ten times more likely than their non-disabled peers to experience physical or sexual assault. Because of trauma related to past abuse or the fear of potential abuse, many youth and adults with disabilities chose to live and work in substantially separate environments rather than choosing to live, move, and find their being in the midst of community.

IMPACT:Ability provides individuals with the verbal and physical safety and self-defense skills they need to pursue lives of their own choosing. Since – as we’ve seen in the Penn State football scandal – organizational systems play a vital role in either preventing or perpetuating abuse, IMPACT:Ability has partnered with the largest disability focused state agency, the largest school district in Massachusetts, as well as our parent organization to develop initiatives focused on proactively preventing abuse and encouraging the promotion of healthy relationships.

Much to our delight, IMPACT:Ability has been incredibly well received by the community of individuals with disabilities as well as the organizations that support this population. I personally feel like this initiative is one of the greatest opportunities I will ever have to provide the resources people with disabilities need to navigate one of their greatest challenges, find their power both as individuals and as a community, and live more independent lives in our neighborhoods, cities and towns.

Because of IMPACT:Ability, I’ve decided to kill one of my darlings by stepping down from active pastoral ministry and leaving the preaching and presiding to others. I cannot say that this transition has been easy – I’m often writing sermons in my head or subliminating my passion for preaching by consuming copious amounts of stand-up comedy – but I can say that the story of Jesus and the active practice of the faith continues to shape me every day.

For instance, I cannot think of the unspeakable abuse experienced by young people like Cheyanne – a 14 year old who recently went on the Today show to talk about the abuse she experienced in a Special Education classroom where teachers chided her for her weight and condemned her as “dumb, dumb, dumb” – without considering it an affront to the Imago Dei. If, as Christians believe, we were all created in the image of God, then surely the physical abuse of people with disabilities is a direct strike upon that image, and verbal abuse is a way of drowning out what Henri Nouwen often called “the inner voice of love.”

In killing my darling by stepping out of the pulpit and burying my pastoral practice to focus on IMPACT:Ability, I have been surprised by new life. Although Triangle is not a faith-based organization and most of my deeply valued, incredibly gifted colleagues and collaborators are not Christians, I am confident that the work we are doing is well aligned with my understanding of humanity and my abiding belief that in the end all things – even people who have suffered abuse, the people who have perpetrated it, and the organizations that have accommodated it – will be made new.


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