On My Deafness and Blindness
The Rev. Robert L. Walker

Early in my life I collected heroes – one of music, the other of poetry and prose. As a child taking piano lessons, I delighted in playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s piano music, composed in 18th century Germany. As a college student, my fancy was caught by John Milton, a 17th century English composer of poetry and other writings.

Why were they my heroes? Beethoven was not deterred by his increasing deafness, and Milton was undeterred by his increasing blindness. Both conditions were my lot – I was born hard of hearing and slowly becoming blind; likewise, I was not to be deterred by either of the two inescapable conditions.

Today, I am privileged to utilize technology that – while it cannot free me from my deafness and blindness – can be a bridge to walk across into artificial hearing and seeing. Without it, I would be helplessly deaf and blind, detaching me from the rest of the world.

Such tools were unimaginable in the ages of Milton and Beethoven. Wonderment fills me in that despite their handicapping conditions, they were not denied the joy in creating their remarkable artistries; however, for one of them—namely John Milton—the limitations of being blind weighed heavily and fearfully, on him. Ultimately, he thrust aside the weight and fear. In Milton’s famous Italian-style sonnet titled “On His Blindness”, we view his acceptance of his disappearing eyesight that too often led to unwanted inaction; hence, there came his bold assertion in the sonnet’s last line that “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This poem is clearly based on the harsh parable found in Matthew 25: 14-30 that is attributed to Jesus; Luke in 19: 12-26 picks up the theme, but in contradiction to Matthew’s version. In the sonnet, Milton talks about the darkness surrounding him that probably was a gradual awakening to the reality that began at birth as it did for me, and then engulfed me in 2001.

Milton continued his classical writings that were dictated to his secretary. Perhaps it was that codependency in the midst of his independent spirit that led Milton to challenge the parable’s implication that an angry God can attack an inactive person (such as a blind one) if good works aren’t forthcoming. Milton cleverly countered that notion with the realization that his need for help in a dark world was itself a service allowing others to meet the requirement of serving others; hence, “They also serve who only stand and wait” for assistance. Let that countering theology be ours whenever anyone of us is providing services for people coping with a disability; that is, they are serving us with that privilege of serving them.

The gifts of modern technology that I need and utilize were not available for Milton or Beethoven; consequently, I am humbly glad that such services are mine. They started when I was 11 years old, and after then-known medical concepts surrounding deafness failed, I was then provided with my first hearing aid.

Years later, with the lessening of my eyesight, the Milton darkness closed in on me, but in an age where computers and other aids make my situation tolerable (but not always so). I have been a retired clergyperson since 1995, yet I still care deeply about our Church, its conferences, and every kind of needed ministry. Recently, I learned that on the PNW Conference’s website I could download the “The Amen Report” – newsletters that were distributed to conference attendees last June. I went online to acquire the documents, only to surrender to the oddities flouncing around in cyberspace. Try as I might, I could not get the newsletter to be read by my screen-reading software.

After receiving my complaint, a Conference staff person referred me to Jesse N. Love, our Conference’s print and publications manager. Success came when he followed my suggestion of formatting the newsletters onto a Word document and pasting it into an e-mail to me. It was a gift of service by Jesse that I finally could listen to the three Amen Reports.

From where I sit as a blind and hard-of-hearing fellow, if we as a Conference and as members of our local churches are serious about being “good and faithful servants” for God, then the many gifts of technology that serve people with disabilities must be employed. As a matter of course, consultation with those of us in need of assistance must be carried out not just by the Conference, but also by each local church, and not solely for blind or deafened people, but also for persons coping with any form of disability that are a plague to humankind.

I conclude this article with my Elizabethan-style sonnet written in 2009, telling of my deafness and blindness, titled “The Child in Me:”

It hurt: “You’re dumb,” said teachers, kids alike
With gibes and scowls, then turned aside or ran
While tears were hid in heart where none could strike;
Yet haunt it does that child in me, a man,
For ears that hear, for eyes that see, I lacked,
And suffered taunts from those too deaf, too blind
To see my mind, to hear my heart that cracked
Those heartless walls they raised around their kind.
When walls are shattered, love and wisdom flow
To temper scorn and hate till born is care
For hearts and minds, but deaf and blind, to grow
In wisdom forming love in lives to share.
Oh child in me, your yearnings ne’er depart
Till all will see by mind, and hear in heart.

NOTE: For those who want to learn more about the Church’s ministry with people coping with one or another form of disability, take advantage of the 2014 and 2015 United Methodist Women-Conference Board of Global Ministries Schools of Christian Missions.

Within the three issues to be examined, one of them will be that of the church and people with disabilities with the textbook written by Bishop Peggy A. Johnson from the Philadelphia Area, and the study guide by Lynn Swedberg from the PNW Conference.

Further, the 2012 General Conference ordered each annual conference to select the theme of disabilities for one of its four annual conferences within the current quadrennium. Be on the watch for one of our remaining conference sessions to be focused on the issue of the church and people with disabilities.

There are two books dealing with disabilities that may be of interest for you. One is “Make a Joyful Silence”, co-authored by Bishop Johnson and me; the second book is “Speaking Out: Gifts of Ministering Undeterred by Disabilities,” edited by me and as one of the 25 contributing authors dealing with the several forms of disabilities.

Both books can be bought from some book stores and Amazon.com. Royalties go entirely to The General Board of Global Ministries’ standing committee dealing with deaf, late deafened, hard of hearing, deaf-blind people, and to the U.M. Association of Ministers with Disabilities, an official United Methodist Caucus group.

The Rev. Robert Walker is a retired pastor from the PNW Conference.

Speaking Out

Speaking Out
Speaking Out, edited by Robert L. Walker, is a compilation of personal stories written by clergy and lay pastors about their ministries as disabled pastors. While some have found the church to be welcoming, helpful and respectful of their different gifts and abilities, many more have experienced sadness and pain caused by how the church responded to them. This book challenges us to do a better job of including all people in the church, especially differently-abled persons in pastoral leadership. To reserve this book now, e-mail The Regional Media Center.

Channels 66

Channels 66 is NOW AVAILABLE
ERTs needed in Colorado • Faith leaders warn of implications of U.S. shutdown • UM Agency condemns chemical weapons • Mission u/5 Columns of Mission • Paul Jeffrey visits the PNW (schedule) • Giving to an Advance Project • Methodist Missionaries in the Congo • Why We Still March! • Walker: On My Deafness and Blindness • The Father’s Heart • Musings: Love Notes • Bishop: Church as a living organism • Nurturing Elders: Geezer Forums helpful for info, connections • To subscribe to Channels, e-mail channels@pnwumc.org.

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