By Tom Holmes
A theologically astute young Catholic
Lisa Sinnott, I would guess, is in her twenties. She works as an assistant at a L'Arche House right across Austin Blvd. from Oak Park for wages that put her pretty close to the poverty level. Although a lay person, she is working on or already has an M.Div. degree which is what ordained priests have as well as a degree in spiritual direction.
I interviewed her a couple weeks ago for a story about L'Arche and their ministry with developmentally handicapped people for the Wednesday Journal and want you to meet her. Following are some things she said during the interview which speak for themselves.
We at L'Arche try to be an intentional community that does not use words like resident and staff, which can imply one is higher and one is lower. What we try to do in our mission is be in mutual relationship. That doesn't mean equal. It does mean that we try to decide together what to do during the day, decide together how the house is going to look, decide together on chores, decide together on our responsibilities. I don't necessarily go around making sure people are doing what they are supposed to do. My role is to make sure that people are living out their dreams as best they can, to make sure that people are in tune with their desires as much as possible, but I'm also making sure that people are looking out for one another and taking care of the house. Ultimately it's much more powerful when someone says yes I want to do this not do this because you're telling me to.
When I talk about the core members I start getting in touch with my own disabilities, like I have a lot of impatience or I get frustrated and annoyed about something and it just drives me crazy. Jean Vanier
I went to Iowa State University and have a degree in English but decided not to do anything formal with it. I have a knack for talking to people about spiritual issues wanted to do more with it. I liked ministry, liked the practice of being with people, and liked Loyola's program geared for laity. I don't feel a call to be ordained. I know that there's some tension in the Catholic church about women and priesthood. I don't feel a need right now to be a priest but I do feel a need to be peer educated with priests. What I really value that about my theological education is that I might be able to be taken more seriously in discussions about church and what's going on.
(Talking about the slower pace of developmentally disabled folks) Sometimes the slowness is we need to actually appreciate the day, the interruptions, the things that don't always work out in our favor. If I get interrupted I try to welcome that teaching me that OK, I'm supposed to listen to this and not do this other thing on my agenda.
I tend to value things that aren't business professional. I value collaboration and group work. People look at that and say that doesn't make money, it's not valuable. You think about people who don't contribute to society in the sense that they can't work an 8 hour day, can't make an income of several thousands of dollars every week or every month, yet I value these people because in a way they become my family.
I would say they do contribute to society. I value justice. Just because someone doesn't make a six figure income or doesn't have a car doesn't mean that they don't contribute. For the core members it might be important that they are able to balance on a bike and ride for a block. They need someone to witness that to say good job. I know that's really hard for you.
How well I provide for others says a lot about how successful in this life. That's why I'm drawn to ministry. That's what ultimately matters--like that Bible passage—when you fed all these people you did this for me. When you take care of other people you're really taking care of yourself, really taking care of God's creation. Instead of making the most of yourself and dominating everyone which is feeding into the ego, feeding into self idolized version of yourself and I don't want to be alone like that.
I read theologians who say that hierarchy in the church doesn't really work. It doesn't work in the long term. Yes, a bishop can have power and take away people's rights and say you do this and that's it. That does happen unfortunately, but in the long run this is where communities can offer something. They can show that this is how we do things, this is how we come together and decide. It's kind of a countercultural painful odd place to be.
Cardinal George is proactive; he does support disabilities; he is very outspoken and supportive of rights. This is not the only diocese having struggles. It's all over. A lot of places are struggling with how to deal with authority. Iit's fine to be conservative; it's fine to be liberal but how are you supporting people to be the best they can be? How are you feeding in to the spirituality of someone? For larch it's all about relationships. We are focused on relationships.