Finally we reached a place where there was only one public radio station that had any reception. Fortunately, we were able to receive this station for about an hour. The show "Speaking of Faith" was on, which is often fairly interesting, as it has in depth discussions of a wide variety of topics of both general and religious interest. Today the show was a look at a L'Arche community in Clinton, Iowa.
I had never heard of L'Arche before today. After hearing of it today, I must admit it sounds intriguing. I have an instant and intense revulsion to anything that smacks of institutionalizing individuals. And even "group homes" have a somewhat patronizing feel to me. But in listening to the discussion today, I have to admit that at least the people interviewed at L'Arche are talking the talk, and may be walking the walk as well.
The L'Arche movement was started by philosopher Jean Vanier in 1964, when Vanier invited two men with mental handicaps to live with him in a home in Trosly-Breuil, France. From this humble beginning, the movement has spread to include 120 communities worldwide, with 16 being located in the US.
The members of each community that have mental handicaps are referred to as "core members", while those that live with them are referred to simply as "assistants". Some communities are based in Catholicism (as the original community was), some are Christian of mixed denomination, and others are multi-religious. The communities are based on four principles:
The recognition of the unique value of persons with a developmental disability to reveal that human suffering and joy can lead to growth, healing and unity. When their gift is received, individual, social and ecclesial change occurs;
Life sharing where persons with a mental disability and those who assist them live, work and pray together, creating a home;
Relationships of mutuality in which people give and receive love;
Christian community that welcomes people from all faiths, based on the Gospel and dependent upon the Spirit of God where faithful relationships, forgiveness and celebration reveal God's personal presence and love.
The website and the above principles don't do justice to what I listened to. The people that were interviewed that were assistants at the Iowa L'Arche community provided many examples of how the people that they lived and worked with became their friends and of how they recognized that their communities were not a solution for society, but rather a signal to society that they needed to find a way to respect all of those in our midst and find ways to integrate them into society.
Some also reflected on how all of us in society are handicapped in some way, and of how we need to value each and every person in society, and recognize what they can contribute. Of perhaps greater import, the people interviewed recognized that not everything was worked out in their communities, problems existed, and that everyone in the community needed to work together to solve them.
The program is available for listening or downloading online here. Krista Tippet, the radio journalist, really did an excellent job with this. Her treatment is far superior to what I write here today.
Although I hope and expect that my son will be able to live either independently or semi-independently, it is possible that this will not be feasible. If he were to choose to live in some type of communal arrangement, I can think of far worse places than a L'Arche community for him to live in.