I like to think of myself as a compassionate, empathetic thoughtful person, and for the most part, I believe I am. I like to think that I am usually aware of and sensitive to the needs of others -- whatever their race, religion, ethnicity, mother tongue, gender or sexual orientation.
That said, there is an area in which, I am learning, I am often unaware and inattentive. And that is to the needs of those among us who are disabled. Disabilities, I am learning, can look all sorts of different ways. And many disabilities are invisible. I must confess that I often take for granted my own health and able-bodiedness. I forget that able-bodiedness is temporary. After all, if I'm lucky, I'll grow old and my body will begin to wear out, as bodies do.
Unfortunately church is one of the places where we have most demonized disability, where we have most patronized and ostracized our disabled siblings. Think of the passages of Jesus' healing that have been used to tell people that if they just have enough faith, they will be healed. As if their disabled bodies are not okay, not worthy, not sanctified, not holy and created in the image of God. As if they are the cause of their own disability or their continued disability.
In her book, "My Body is Not a Prayer Request" Amy Kenny recounts an encounter with a woman at church who approaches her with the words: "God told me to pray for you. God wants to heal you!."
"This woman is an echo of every prayerful perpetrator before her. They have many faces, but they always approach me with the same paternalistic confidence, eager to rid me of my wheelchair or cane.... I am not confined to my wheelchair. I have not lost a battle with disease. I am many things, but a tragic defeat is not one of them.... I am hurt that I must justify my own existence at church. Belonging shouldn't have the admission price of assimilation."
"To suggest that I am anything less than sanctified and redeemed is to suppress the image of God in my disabled body and to limit how God is already at work though my life. Maybe we need to be freed not from disability but from the notion that it limits my ability to showcase God's radiance to the church. What we need to be freed from is ableism."
As I read Kenny's words, I find myself confronted by my own ableism. And convicted that I too need to be freed. I'm not entirely sure what that looks like yet. But I'm working on learning. I'm working on opening myself to others' experiences and wisdom that sheds light on my assumptions about bodies, that reveals my inattentiveness to diversity of body and mind, that demonstrates my own paternalism and all the ways I am missing God's glory revealed in and through their lives.
And I am grateful and excited that part of our journey as an Open and Affirming congregation is engaging in conversations and worship that challenge us (that challenge me!), that push us outside of what we know and that broaden our view of God, what it means to be made in God's image and what it means to be a truly welcoming, open, inclusive and affirming congregation to all people whatever their physical and mental ability.
I sure hope you'll join us on Sunday for our Disability Awareness worship. I am hopeful that God will open our minds and hearts so that we can all be more attentive to the needs and the gifts of our disabled siblings.
Do wear a mask, so that we can keep everyone safe and be welcome and inclusive to those among us living with disabilities visible and invisible.
With hope and love,