As a society, we have decided that men, women and children who have specific disabilities are broken. As such we relegate them to special areas and corners in schools, we don't let them have certain jobs, and in general would much rather have them in segregated communities, than walking among us. The occasional child with down's syndrome is okay. Depending on what part of the autism spectrum someone is, they might be able to break through. But everyone else...please keep them away.
I start this week off with that rude statement. But I write it, because,
even if we would never say it with our lips, we live in a society that views
people with disabilities as broken...and we don't like broken things or people.
It is kind of the same concept as nursing homes or funeral homes. We want a few
places set aside where it is okay to experience brokenness, but it needs to
stay out of the rest of our lives thank you very much. And we may choose never
to visit those places at all.
Now, before I lose the people who might be quite upset by me calling your
child, your aunt, your friend broken, let me say...I challenge the way our
society has handled and continues to handle people with
"disabilities." Sure, there are certain limitations caused by certain
ailments. True, some parents either emotionally, physically or financially
cannot care for someone who needs around the clock care. But what we have done
is set aside a population and said, "They really have nothing to offer. So
we will care for them...away from the others." And frankly the assumption
that those we have labeled with disabilities have nothing to offer is quite a
poor one. And that same assumption is why we mislabel those with disabilities as broken in some regard.
I have mentioned my friends Anne and Nick on here before. They are part of
the Vineyard, where I attend church. They are both great. I have been in a
small group with Anne before, and Nick and I have spent time together with the
college crew. But there is a larger story than that with disability in my life.
I have been surrounded by disabled kids, men and women my whole life. From
cousins with various ailments I cannot pronounce, to parents in my
hometown who decided to raise their children in regular society, I grew up
in a community that did a reasonably good job in this area.
I oddly want to tell a story from before I was born. My dad, the incomparable
Buck Love (yep...that's his real name...you can confirm that dad by leaving a comment...and you can correct this story) was raised in an era where segregation was the law...even if it was
not always adhered to. He grew up in Florence, TX, like myself. He had this
friend, I believe to be me named Jesse. Jesse was African American. Buck, Jesse
and a few others went to the rodeo and someone threw the "n-word"
around. They asked Dad and his friends why they were hanging out with this
"that word." Dad said he looked around to see what they were talking
about, and because Jesse was, well Jesse, it took him a minute to realize
someone was referring to him. I think the incident ended with a scrap of some
sort. Probably won by the boys from Florence. I assume as much because my dad
is a great story teller... and because in Florence we start wrestling pigs,
sheep, goats and calves by the time we are 4 years old...so, we're all pretty grizzly and tough.
That is how our community reacted to various children with disabilities.
Whether it was people from other communities making fun of (another) Jesse who
played the cowbell in our marching band when I was in high school, or kids from
other churches staring at Celeste when we went to camp, we rallied around our
own kids. Because they were us. That was all there was to it.
That said, growing up in a large, Southern family where we all gathered
quite frequently, we sometimes didn't (and still don't) understand what to make
of life with our cousins with various needs. A lack of understanding didn't equate with a lack of
love...it just meant, how do you include members of your family who will never
be able to communicate with verbal or sign language? How do we react to stares
when with our cousins around town? How do you support your family who give
their entire lives caring for their children? Do you go to the hospitals for
surgeries? At Christmas when someone is getting a little loud, do you change
rooms? These are questions we all had to deal with, because, as I stated
above...these are our people. They belong to us.
And the Church needs to deal with these same questions. Henri Nouwen posed
these questions a long time ago. Some people started to look at these issues.
Others have just gone along with society and relegated care of "them"
to others. I'll admit that I have not always been the advocate for inclusion
that I should be. It becomes hard to juggle too many things at once. But
recently through interactions with Anne and Nick, and reading Nouwen's In
the Name of Jesus, I have been confronted with the reality that the Church
needs to wrestle with how we treat others. In the case of most people it is
"Are we asking too much," and in the case of men and women with
disabilities, I argue the question changes to "Are we asking too
If your church does confirmation...people with disabilities should be
involved. If there is a youth group, the disabled should be involved. Do
families volunteer to serve in communion? Their child with disabilities should
be involved. This is an era we are fighting for the rights of so many people.
And I want to take a moment and advocate for full inclusion of the disabled in
communal life... because they are just as able as an "able-bodied"
As I mentioned, sure there may be certain developmental issues that prevent
full comprehension of the Gospel. There may be a cognitive impairment that
prevents someone from engaging fully in our confirmation conversations. But
there is also a lot to be learned, not only from mere presence, but from the
insights of those who think other than we do.
Inclusion of those with disabilities isn't just a quaint idea. It isn't even
just something that challenges us in how we see humanity and God. It is also a
challenge to the woman with Down's or the man with autism to engage with
community as well. These men and women aren't just dolls put on a shelf. They
aren't just decorations that churches can point to saying, "We're really
trying...see here!" They are human. They can give to
community just as we give to community. They can receive from community just as
we receive from community. So inclusion is just a natural step and a challenge
that we need to engage.