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Quote from St. Augustine: “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

As a core team member of our Inclusive Ministry church for people with cognitive and other disabilities, it’s my job and my joy to go to our monthly services. However, I also mildly dread the way some new volunteers relate to me and the other people with disabilities.  These are good Christians volunteering their Sunday afternoon to help us poor unfortunate disabled folks and they’re good bakers and cooks. But each month some of the new church’s volunteers display along with their Christian charity the following attitudes:

  • People with disabilities lack knowledge and even preferences. “Are you sure you didn’t live in such and such a group home? “I’m asked in a loud sugary tone after I’ve said “No, I live by myself” to the same question.
  • We need help. “Here I’ll do that for you” as I was working on the craft project. I’m no crafter but taking the backing off a sticker and putting it on a paper crown; this I can do!
  • We can be touched without notice. As the helper next to me first picked a dog hair off my sweater and then one off my face, I tried to make a joke of it, but felt demeaned and a little scared by a touch coming unexpectedly.

I know I am not alone. In the recent tweet storm about #whatdisabledpeopleknow there were many similar comments about churches. But since we’re creating an inclusive service, the “usual” attitudes bother me a lot.

I keep going because I think I’m the canary in the coalmine since I’m the only person with a disability on the core team. Unlike the canaries that just keeled over from the toxic gases in the mine, I’m there as a crow to squawk and problem-solve.  I model asking before helping, conversing the same with people with and without disabilities and accepting help as well as offering it.

But I’m stuck about what more I can do to change the “us versus them” mentality. I don’t think direct confrontation would work as in “Ask before you pick hairs off me. Would you do that to a sighted stranger?” Interestingly the same person knew not to touch a service animal without asking!

Also I’m stuck about how to go beyond tolerance to showing God’s love to these good people. So far the cranky comments haven’t escaped my mouth, but I can’t seem to move beyond mere tolerance.

For those of you who are bystanders to condescending and other inappropriate comments to disabled folks, please consider saying something. Don’t wait until you have the perfect comment; if you’re like me, that may be weeks after! Butt into the conversation with an ask like “May I help?” or a comment from your viewpoint on the topic. In addition to giving the person with a disability a moment to breathe, it tells them they have an ally.

Gradually a prayer is bubbling up. Maybe I’ll ask the leader if she’d read something like it every month before we start our service.

“Loving God, we’re here today to worship, learn, fellowship and serve each other. Help us meet each other with joy in our uniqueness and not fear in their otherness.  Let us offer and accept help, not do for someone. Help us listen and find common bonds, be they football or cats rather than talking down to anyone. Help us learn from the people we “help” so we recognize You in them and us. Teach us that we all are the church for each other and are each made in Your image. Show us how to love, not pity or resent each other.”

And Lord, give me patience and give it to me now, would you?

 

 

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I find it hard to talk about my faith without sounding all churchy. I volunteered to do the first sermon for an inclusive ministries worship experience we’re offering next month for people with cognitive and other disabilities that may make “regular church” not work well for them.  Here’s what I wrote:

In 1 John in the Bible we read “God is love.” Think with me about what these three small words mean to each of us.

I love my Seeing Eye dog Luna. By the way, when you see her, ask me if you can pet her before petting her please. I show her I love her by feeding her, petting her and telling her she’s a good dog and taking her to the vet if she’s sick.

God loves each of us even better than I love Luna. He made you and me, perfect as we are. When people say to me, “if God loved you, he’d make you see” I disagree. In God’s eyes, I’m okay even though I’m blind. I just have to figure out how to deal with being blind like asking for help when I need it and having this beautiful Seeing Eye dog to lead me.

Just like I take care of Luna by feeding her, God gives us what we need to live. He gives us a beautiful world to live in with food and water, and air to breathe. He gives people skills to become farmers to grow food, doctors and nurses to take care of us and veterinarians to take care of our animals. He makes some of us good at music, some good at art and some good at cooking.

I talk to Luna to tell her I love her. God talks to us by giving us the Bible to read and by giving us wise people to help us make good choices. Sometimes I have to tell Luna she’s not doing the right thing. Sometimes God has to tell me I’m not doing the right thing. He tells me by my conscience that tells me what is right and wrong. Sometimes I listen and sometimes not.

Luna loves me back. She shows it by licking me and by doing her job guiding me. She keeps me safe when we cross streets and walk up and down stairs. If I fall down on ice, she stands by me and waits for me to get up.

We love God by loving and taking care of the people around us. We listen to them when they are upset. We stand by them when they fall and help them get back up. That makes God happy.

It also makes God happy when we talk with him. That’s what we call praying. Sometimes we thank him for things and sometimes we ask him for things. Just like Luna asks me for more treats!

So God loves us. We love him back by praying and by doing good things for others.  Thanks be to God!