Monday, August 6, 2007

L'Arche-An Interesting concept in community

So we're on vacation (holiday) this week, and today found us driving from Limon, Colorado to Durango, Colorado. Much of the trip is a rising and falling two lane highway thru the high plains of rural Colorado. As the road rose and fell, it became difficult to receive any radio stations for more than 5-7 miles. I cycled the car radio from Jimmy Buffet to Spanish folk songs to preachers to (I kid you not) Spanish rap music (I was heretofore unaware of the genre).

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.


r.b. said...

My dream has been of developing a L'Arche community. Believe me, the church has done little for the handicapped by way of dignity.

My eyes were opened when a Catholic School REFUSED to take on my autistic son. They already had "one of those" and it just wasn't working out. I was naive enough to believe they would welcome him. So much for the "least of these...".

HIs speech teacher in preschool warned me that public education was the way to go. I should have listened.

Chuck said...

All schools, public, private, or religious, have limitations on their abilities to provide for their students. There will always be schools/organizations that can and schools that cannot. Accepting or rejecting all schools/organizations based on one particular experience is called biased. Bias choices may stop your ability to find the best.

Club 166 said...

I think it would be naive of us to assume that educating special needs kids is not labor intensive. Which means it takes a lot of money.

Private schools that are aimed at teaching autistics in my neck of the woods go for about $60,000 USD/year or more. So although I am disappointed that my son wouldn't be accepted at our local parish's school, from an economic standpoint I know that they would lose a ton of money if they accepted all special needs kids.

On a positive note, our local diocese is starting a school for special needs kids, which is at least something.

Public schools have public funding, which means the cost can be spread out over a larger population. This makes it more economically feasible.

I quickly learned long ago that the Catholic Church (and all religious organizations) are made up of human beings, with the attendant human frailties. There are some very good people of faith, and others that are far from it. It was encouraging for me to hear of the L'Arche movement, as it epitomizes what living one's faith should be, IMO.


Daisy said...

The radio reception would ahve done us in. Amigo's sanity depends on his armband radio. He would have enjoyed the L'Arche radio program, though, and might have connected the concept with his own future. He is starting to think in that direction.

Steve D said...

Fascinating stuff, Joe. I will try to listen to that radio broadcast. Another friend recently asked me to listen to a 3-part series on (Dr. Dobson's Focus on the Family website) that was very interesting. Part 3 was just an emotional roller coaster.
Joe - If you care to, please leave some info on how I can contact you directly in my email (you can find it on my website). I'd like to talk to you.

kristina said...

We've known---Jim through his job---some individuals who have been in a L'Arche community. We'd have to see for ourselves and certainly the communal aspect appeals---thanks for the radio link!

And hoping you had a good vacation.

Sam I Am said...

Enjoy the rest of your vacation.

I had never heard of L'Arche. Thanks for reflecting and sharing.

Continued safe travels!