CHICAGO, IL (January 6, 2014) — Editor’s note: From time to time, we come across articles in Covenant church newsletters, individual blogs, and other media that we believe may interest our readers. Today’s offering comes from Pam Christensen, associate director of children and family ministry at Quest Church in Seattle. She shares thoughts that first appeared on her blog.
I am broken…
I have disabilities. I have two chronic illnesses and a learning disability (yes, adults can and do have learning disabilities and yes, they still affect us, even when we are not in school). Between them, my diagnoses affect how I sleep, how and what I eat, my relationships, my finances, my breathing, my work, even my driving.
I am broken…but maybe not the way you think.
Throughout human history, the myth of an “ideal” version of humanity has been repeated until it is believed. Over the years, this has come in different forms: the myth of being male as “ideal,” the myth of being white as “ideal,” the myth of one culture being more “ideal” than another. In all of these myths, there is a basic theme: if you are not a part of the “ideal,” you are “less than.”
Then there is the myth of ability: a whole, sound mind and body, as defined by science and culture, is the “ideal.” Anything else is “less than.” That’s made clear even in the language we use: disability, literally “not able.” A victim. A problem. Broken.
Over the years, we as Christians have allowed the myth of ability to co-op and warp our perceptions of those who are not typically-abled. Even the early Church Fathers, who took the radical approach of establishing hospitals that were for the care and cure of those with disabilities (unheard of in their cultures during the third and fourth centuries), struggled with this. They welcomed and cared for all, but their patients were not allowed to become leaders, pastors, bishops (“Disability in the Christian Tradition,” edited by Brian Brock and John Swinton, 2012). They were brothers and sisters to be cared for and assisted, but not individuals, gifted and called by God for his purposes.
Several months ago, I had a conversation with someone around this subject. In articulating my belief that the church needs to seek inclusion of and reconciliation with those with disabilities or who are not “typically abled,” I compared it to the need for reconciliation and inclusion of those marginalized due to race and/or gender. This person responded that by comparing disability to gender and race, the implication was that gender and race were deficits, which they are not. I responded, “I agree. Neither is disability a deficit.”
I am broken…but not because of my disability.
We all are broken…and equal in our brokenness. I am a sinner, saved by grace, justified by love, overwhelmed by mercy from the Cross that I did not deserve. Sinner, but saved. Depraved, but redeemed. Broken…but healed.
I am broken…and called.
Scripture declares it!
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
Not only that, but Scripture says those who may be seen by others as “weak,” “less honorable,” or “unpresentable” are equally called and gifted, essential to the function of the Body, Christ’s church.
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:14-27).
What would happen to a part of our own bodies if we fail to use it? If we coddle it because we see it as weak, injured, or fragile? If we ignore it because we are sure we don’t need it? If we think that working it, exercising it, using it would take too much time and effort? If we pretend we don’t see it, hoping it will go away?
What would happen? We all know the answer. That part would weaken, atrophy, and the tissue might even die. The only way to strengthen a weak part of our bodies is to utilize it.
The irony is that when the Body of Christ ignores, pities, and fails to utilize the gifts of those brothers and sisters with disabilities, we choose to atrophy. We, the Body, cease to function as God designed us to.
When we approach those who have disabilities from the standpoint of “how can I help?” instead of “how can I come alongside and work with you?” we miss out on the ways God works through each of us. Not only do we deprive our brothers and sisters of opportunities to do that which they are called to, but we miss out on the opportunity to see the work of God in a new light. That’s not to say that everyone doesn’t need help from time to time. I do. You do. We do. That is the nature of true community. But what if the person who is giving you a hand up has depression, is in a wheelchair, can’t speak, has schizophrenia, cancer, ADHD, diabetes, or epilepsy? What if the person giving you a hand up doesn’t have hands?
I am broken…but not in that way.
For Covenant resources on how churches can welcome people with disabilities, click here.