Thought for the Day - Rev Roy Jenkins - 12/01/2013

When should you try to stop someone making what could be a very big mistake? If a young child is about to put a hand into a fire or charge onto a busy main road there’s no problem - you simply hold them back in any way you can.

It gets trickier when teenagers begin making choices which their parents fear could ruin them. Not the routine skirmishes around arriving home deadlines, preferences in music or clothes, or when a degree of untidiness mutates into anti-social squalor: but confrontations about habits which can threaten their safety, or relationships over which the word Disaster flashes in bright neon strip.

It can be very stressful, since the freedom to make your own mistakes is an important part of growing up, accepting responsibility and living with your decisions.

An acute expression of the dilemma was pronounced on in the High Court this week, when a judge ruled that a woman with severe learning difficulties should be allowed to make her own choice whether to continue a pregnancy. He concluded that although someone like her might not be able to function independently, they ‘may very well retain the capacity to make deep personal choices about how they conduct their lives.’

It’s an important judgment, it seems to me, affirming the dignity of a person whose views on major issues affecting them directly could easily be disregarded.

People with learning difficulties have sometimes been excluded from full participation in the life of Christian churches, on the grounds that they couldn’t possibly understand the doctrines they were expected to believe. Setting aside questions about how many of us who’ve been professing such beliefs for a lifetime would actually pass any test of orthodoxy, that’s always seemed a harsh way of treating people in the name of the Christ who talked about having faith like a tiny seed, about trusting like a little child, about not despising the weakest and most vulnerable.

I’ve greatly valued the friendship, and occasionally the deep perception, of some people with learning difficulties; and I’ll never forget a conversation with Jean Vanier, founder of the worldwide L’Arche community. He told me about Antonio, a fragile young man, unable to speak, walk, sit up or do anything by himself. ‘But call his name,’ he said, ‘and his face breaks into a smile. His eyes are bright, his whole being reflects trust, an incredible beauty flows from his incredible weakness.’

The people who live with him and assist him say he’s transformed their lives. They’ve come from high powered jobs, full of conflict, where they’re required to fight, pretend, succeed; and he’s taught them about relationship and tenderness and being at peace.

If we listen closely enough, the person whose decisions we feel we need to make might just be challenging our own life choices.

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