How do you know someone loves you? Have a few ideas in mind? Now ask yourself: How do you love your enemy? I bet you weren’t expecting that, huh. When you love someone, no matter who they are or how close they are to you, there is mutual attention given. Love is attention. Another part of this love deals with the importance of human dignity.
Over spring break this semester, I went on a Service and Justice Trip to Axtell, Nebraska. Axtell is about a three-hour drive from Omaha toward south-central Nebraska. Just outside of Axtell’s eight blocks that provide life for about 730 people, there is a small piece of heaven. This piece of heaven is more commonly known as Mosaic at Bethphage Village. Mosaic is an organization that’s mission is to “partner with people with intellectual disabilities to create a meaningful life in a caring community, giving a voice to their needs.”
Mosaic was formed on July 1, 2003 by the joint-force of two Nebraska-born Lutheran ministries dedicated to the needs of people with disabilities. Bethphage Village began in 1913 when Rev. William Dahl witnessed the neglect that children and adults with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities received in large institutions. How does this organization apply to peace? The answer is by promoting human dignity. Pastor Dave deFreese, VP of Church Relations at Mosaic, met with my service trip group before we left for Axtell and then again at the end of our trip. I have been fortunate enough to remain in touch with him over the past month and he has continued to be a true source of inspiration, especially about the topic of peace through human dignity.
When we do not treat others, disabled or not, with honor and dignity for who they are, we fail to allow them to become all they were created to be. When we condescend or think we need to direct their thinking/choices/lives, we do violence to their ability to live full lives of possibilities. When we fail to enable people with disabilities to have a seat in leadership and partnership decisions, we cheat the whole community out of the profound gifts and perspectives that they can offer for the good of all. We are not whole until they are a part of us. This is similar to the idea that Dorothy Day had of changing society from the bottom-up. Catholic Workers have discovered that it’s the little things that mean the most. Day reinforced this claim by using the “Sermon on the Mount” for the Catholic Worker manifesto. Workers try to be peacemakers through community by answering the “call to be a saint”. The Catholic Worker and Mosaic do their best to care for the whole person. Here at Creighton, we refer to this concept as the Ignatian value, Cura Personalis.
Life is precious. As humans, is it not our job to treat an outcast as our brother or sister, or our enemy as our friend? Each person on this Earth is entitled to respect and the knowledge that they matter. If we were all to work in community to restore the dignity that each person deserves, would there still be violence? Dorothy Day once declared, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have found that the answer is community.” The residents in Axtell have formed such a community – a community formed by love.
The residents and staff in Axtell collectively taught me that genuine love and acceptance for who someone is as a person, is one of the most important things in life. Each person is an individual of value. In regards to the residents and others all over the world … never let a disability stand in the way of someone’s dreams. A disability does not define who someone is as a person. Each resident at Bethphage Village gets the opportunity to decorate their own room with their own personal touch. The rooms vary in color (from lime green to hot pink to navy blue) and are filled with items that are unique to what each person is interested in. Church on campus is another specially coordinated activity for residents. Church services are non-denominational in order to provide faith options for all residents. Church on campus is designed so that the guests can be free to do what they want. Instruments are handed out at the beginning of service and guests are encouraged to make as much noise as they would like. Residents are also given laminated cards before service and during the offering they put the cards in the offering plate. Simple acts like these show them like they are contributing not only to Bethphage Village, but also to society.
Attention. Love. Contribution. Human dignity. The problem is not the person’s disability … the problem is society’s view of the person’s abilities.