Until a fluke accident I had never contemplated ‘disability’ or as I would much rather describe it; ‘becoming differently abled’. But here I am, now having to mobilise with two walking sticks. Though this I can only do for a for short distances as standing is so very painful, and so using an electric wheelchair and a mobility scooter are my preferred modes of getting around.
But what is ‘disability’? Well it is only when we really think about it, I mean; ‘Really’ think about it do we realise that it is a ‘dis’ word. Dis means less than, and when coupled with ‘ability’ it means less then abled. OK we may say that sounds reasonable as a definition; but No there is so much more to a person than whatever it is that has created an impairment of sight, mobility, hearing or any other functionality. So for example when I am in my wheelchair out with my wife why do people insist on talking across me and asking my wife, ‘would he like coffee or tea?’, ‘is he ready to come through and see the doctor?’, help me I think, it my back that has stopped working not everything else. Now I know that will be the same for many people reading this, it is frustration and it is an example of the lack of education we as a nation get on how to feel comfortable with every other living individual just as they are. It is time stigma was removed, perhaps it is time that we as Christians began this movement by being the forerunners, as Christ called us to be, by being there for everyone, loving everyone, just as they are.
There is no such thing as the perfect human being, let’s face it even Jesus cannot claim that; because He was also of God and it would be cheating a little in this context anyway, so theologians hold on to your ink. But if we are to take Genesis as read then God created us, and we were ‘Good’ – not perfect, but good. We are in His image but that is the Spirit the glorious self that loves, has faith in God and hopes for a better tomorrow. But today we live in bodies that are good and so are likely at times to change, to break, to age to wear out. Not only may they change but some of us may be born in a way that some would describe as ‘different’. The risen Christ came with a body that was marked and torn, God did not see the need to change, repair, and fix what the roman soldiers had done to Christ when they crucified Him. No God sent the Son as he was, and the disciples saw Him and loved Him as He was.
What is difference? Difference is that which humans ascribe to that which falls outside of the average, or perhaps we might use a mathematical term and say the ‘mean average’. The mean average would be made up of the majority of people, and those who are ‘different’ would fall outside of this mean average. Well of course this is a man-made construct and allows for total nastiness towards those who do not fit into this ‘average’ and this is where we as a race get ‘mean’ from.
I must also speak here a little about some Christians who see fit to almost jump on people who, like myself, are clearly differently-abled, there intention being to pray for healing, they have no right without asking, and they must never, I repeat never presume that because a person is differently abled to themselves that they are in some way superior to that differently abled person. Because by their prayers for ‘healing’ to change the person who is living with whatever it is they live with they may well be insulting the person, and by so doing insulting God. This may sound rather unfair but at fifty on years of age I feel that I now do more for God’s children than I have ever done, if my condition is the price I have to pay, then I will gladly pay it and that is between me and God. If you judge that someone needs healing prayers by just looking at them, then you must go home and look in the mirror and pray for your selves my sister or brother, for unfortunately you have fallen into that mean trap. By all means pray for those who are ill and ask for prayers, heaven knows there are many people alone in need of such prayer
So back to the term disability. Unfortunately we end up using the term disability because it is the word used in law. But this should not stop us using it with great care. But it is society that decides if a person is disabled, because it is society in the form of our churches, shops, schools, theatres, sports stadia, etc. that create the facilities for people to get in and out and around. Also to use the facilities fully, or at least experience as much as can be within ‘real’ physical constraints. Now I say real. Two years ago my wife and I made it to the top of the Acropolis in Athens with the help of some wonderful guides; now if that can happen, well go figure.
So many of our places of worship need to stop and think long and hard. I am a husband and father, and son and brother, I am a priest; and oh by the way did I mention I am also mobility impaired. The last bit does not define me at all I only mention it in case I come to visit your church because sometimes we do have to move things around a little, that’s fine.