October 24, 2021–Inventing With a Purpose

Posted on October 19, 2021 by faithlens

Kris Litman-Koon, Mount Pleasant, SC

Warm-up Questions

Have you ever given thought to an invention that should be created? If so, share your idea with others. As you think about that invention, does it strike you as having serious potential or as an amusing idea–or perhaps a combination of both?

Inventing With a Purpose

The MacArthur Foundation provides grants to individuals and nonprofit organizations around the globe to build “a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.” The foundation annually awards roughly 20 to 30 individuals with The MacArthur Fellowship, which is more commonly known as the “Genius Grant.” These individuals are selected for their “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” The award comes with a $625,000 grant with no strings attached. This fellowship gives these individuals flexibility in their creative pursuits.

In late September the Foundation announced that Joshua Miele is a genius grant recipient. Miele designs adaptive technologies that allow blind and visually impaired (BVI) people to use the technologies that permeate society. For instance, Miele developed YouDescribe, which allows sighted volunteers to create audio descriptions of any video on YouTube. BVI individuals can access those descriptions to better experience the content of a video on YouTube. 

Miele has other inventions, too: a glove called WearaBraille that allows a wearer to type braille into any smart device without the need for a keyboard, and a web tool called TMAP that creates street maps, so BVI individuals can travel anywhere in the country.  The list of his inventions goes on. (A more in-depth story can be found here.)

Joshua Miele became blind at the age of 4, and at that point his mother, Isabella, became his advocate. About her Miele says, “People in general assume that a blind kid is in danger, and my mother was not interested in protecting me. She was interested in having me be as active and engaged with the world as possible.” 

After the announcement of his becoming a MacArthur Fellow, Joshua Miele said, “What I do: it’s research, invention, and activism. I am proud to be blind. I’m proud of the community I’m a part of, and I love building and imagining cool technologies for blind people.”

Discussion Questions

  • Of the technologies mentioned here, which of Joshua Miele’s inventions interests you the most?
  • Joshua Miele feels there is no reason for his blindness to hold him back. He enjoys life, he has a family and a community, and he is being awarded for his contributions to society. Thinking of your own traits and interests, how do you imagine your own life being full and content?

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Jeremiah 31:7-9

Hebrews 7:23-28

Mark 10:46-52

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

There are around two dozen stories in the four gospels that depict Jesus interacting with people who have some form of disability, and these stories all present Jesus healing these people. Throughout the history of the Church, an unfortunate result of these stories has been some Christians holding destructive attitudes toward disabilities, as if a disability means someone is not a whole person or  must always be woeful in their daily life.

A frustrating experience that sometimes arises for people who have a visible disability is being approached by a random Christian who wants to pray for them with the intent to heal them. Just… don’t. Resolve to never do that, and try to stop anyone who is inclined to do so. Such an act to “fix” or “repair” another human being will at best annoy the other person, and at worst it will alienate and disempower them in a social setting.

Today’s gospel lesson is about Jesus giving sight to Bartimaeus. A non-critical reading of this lesson would reinforce the idea that sight can be given to a blind individual if there is only enough faith. We get a better takeaway by considering the larger narrative of Mark’s gospel.

In Mark 8:22-26, Jesus gives sight to a man who is blind. Yet, the first attempt to give this man sight doesn’t fully work; he says, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking.” So Jesus lays his hands on the man again, and after this second attempt the man sees clearly. A couple of chapters pass by and now we have today’s story of a blind man receiving sight, only this time it takes Jesus one attempt. What’s the connection between these two stories in Mark, and why is the process for giving sight different?

Think of these two stories as bookends. What occurs in between are several interactions between Jesus and his disciples  and there is a common thread through all these stories: the disciples don’t understand. They don’t understand Jesus’ teaching that all people should be welcomed into his “kingdom of God” mission in this world, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society (Mk 9:14-32, 9:38-50, 10:1-16). Running concurrently with that thread is the disciples’ misconception of greatness; they believe greatness is a result of rising to the top.  Jesus teaches that true greatness in God’s kingdom is found in humility and welcoming others (Mk 8:27-37, 9:2-10, 9:33-37, 10:17-31, 10:32-45).

When we consider that larger narrative, the two bookends and their details make more sense; they symbolize the disciples’ difficulty in comprehending the values of God’s kingdom on earth. In Mark 8:22-26, the miracle has difficulty landing, similar to how Jesus’ teachings don’t land at first with his disciples. By the time we reach the miracle with Bartimaeus in 10:46-52, the disciples begin to comprehend Jesus’ teachings about welcoming all people and that true greatness is found in humility.

Hence, that second miracle story symbolizes that the disciples are beginning to comprehend what Jesu is about. Another detail in these bookends reinforces this reading of Mark’s narrative. The man in the first bookend goes home and doesn’t follow Jesus (Mk 8:26). Bartimaeus, however, joins the disciples and Jesus on his way (Mk 10:52). Where does this “way” go? Mark 11:1 tells us it is to Jerusalem, where Jesus will take up the cross.

By this symbolic narrative of two healings Mark says  we followers of Jesus have difficulty grasping what Jesus means by “the kingdom of God” in this world. Yet Jesus calls us to welcome all people, including the most vulnerable and marginalized, and to understand  that true greatness comes in humility and recognizing God’s image in all people. These are not the values of the world.  It takes time for  us to comprehend these “kingdom of God” values of humility and radical welcome. But like Bartimaeus, we can grasp these new values and join Jesus on his way of the cross. A non-critical reading of the two bookend stories opens a door beyond  harmful attitudes regarding disabilities. However, the bigger narrative in Mark begs us to  grasp the deeper lesson: we are living in God’s kingdom when all are welcome and we value all people for who they are.

Discussion Questions

  • Is “the kingdom of God,” only about heaven and the afterlife, or is it something Jesus invites us to begin experiencing in this life as well?
  • God’s kingdom values, as revealed in this section of Mark’s gospel, involve welcoming all people and recognizing humility as a sign of true greatness. When, and in whom, have you witnessed these values embodied?

Activity Suggestions

There are a variety of impairments that people may have: visual, hearing, motor, and cognitive are among the most common. If time and ability allows, tour your ministry’s facilities and discuss the ways that the space itself welcomes people with disabilities and the ways that it does not welcome them. The ELCA Disability Ministries page is in the process of being updated to better provide resources for you and your community. You can contact the ministry’s coordinator, Pastor Lisa Heffernan, at Disability.Ministry@elca.org with any specific inquiries you have.

Closing Prayer

Loving God, open us to the values of your kingdom. Shape our lives to be welcoming of all people and give us appreciative hearts for the community you create through us all. Amen.

 

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