My experience with people with different abilities.

An article written for BPFNA-Bautistas Por La Paz Crossing Borders series:

In 2009, while in college, I was introduced to a world that, for most of my life, I had been too uncomfortable to embrace—a world that I didn’t understand or see as being worthy of  my time and energy. I participated in a summer cross country cycling event to raise money and awareness for people living with disabilities organized by The Ability Experience, Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity’s national philanthropy. That summer, I realized that I had focused solely on the disability for far too long. Too often I could only use the word “can’t.” “He can’t walk.” “She can’t see.” “They can’t speak.”

By spending an entire summer visiting organizations that support and create loving communities for all people, I learned that these folks should not be defined as disabled, challenged, or handicapped; rather, they should be defined simply and beautifully as humans that have different abilities. The image of God in which each of us is made shines through all of us the same way and with the same magnificence.

For the past two and a half years, I have worked as a caregiver in West Virginia and North Carolina. My experience with people living with disabilities has flipped my worldview on its head, both socially and spiritually. I know how little I understand God’s ultimate plans. These experiences have strengthened my understanding of the humanity of all people and my belief that we exist to create a community that allows each of us to reach our fullest God-given potential—a community where all of us can teach and learn from one another. As a caregiver, I have learned that I must embrace and open my heart to being taught just as much, if not more, than I teach.

Ben, an 11-year-old boy with fiery red hair and one of the most cheerful smiles, has continued to reinforce all I have learned. I spend a lot of time with him, and as a result of our time spent together, Ben has taught me that he is no different than any other pre-teen. He’s determined to get his way whether he wants more time spent outside or to watch TV. He loves being on the playground, watching basketball, but most importantly, he craves attention. Like any child, he doesn’t want to be ignored.

These experiences have given me a certain level of comfort around people with disabilities. For others, who may not have had these opportunities, it is awkward and challenging. I offer these ideas when you or your child notice a person with disabilities:

1. Say hello. When a parent catches their child looking at Ben with confusion or discomfort, their immediate response is often to tell their child to “Quit staring!” For me, this is one of the greatest disservices to Ben or any child that is different.
2. Introduce yourself and ask a question. I love it when kids come up to Ben and start asking him questions. Their curiosity is not rude, intruding, or mean. Ben gets to show off his communication device and maybe even make a friend. When asked why he can’t walk, Ben and I brag about how well he swims.
3. Debrief later with your child. We must guide our children to a better understanding of the differences of others so that, as they get older, they will empathize instead of belittle.

As long as we continue to teach our children to ignore people with disabilities, they may never have the opportunity to learn from other’s abilities!


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Looking from above.

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I love flying. There’s something amazing about floating above the clouds. Watching the shadow of the plane glide along the white blanket, I find myself completely mesmerized.
It has been such a spiritual tug on my heart ever since my first flight across the US. I’m extremely thankful for every opportunity I have to travel!

He is risen! So what? (Title credit: Amy Jacks Dean)

These last couple of post-Easter days, I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea of celebrating Christ’s resurrection. On Sunday morning my pastor, Amy, gave a sermon titled, “He has risen, indeed! So what?” So what? This has been on my mind.

For most of us that were raised as Christians, each year we spout off the typical celebratory Bible passages and phrases on this day. Scrolling through social media, I realize every other post is about Christ triumphantly and gloriously conquering death. I even get caught up in the excitement without being able to explain a deeper meaning other than what my tradition passed to me; Christ died for me and rose to give me hope to get to heaven. So what?

Christ set us a radical example of how to live, he sacrificed himself for this way of living, and then his resurrection provided us with hope in a world that is filled with despair. However, I’ve been wondering how I can celebrate this joyful event, if I am not keeping my promise of being a hope for the world?

In her sermon, Amy challenged us that the resurrection means nothing if we just come to church on Easter morning, then refuse to change our lives to live radically in our broken world. If we do not obey Christ’s commandment to us from his last supper of loving one another, how can we celebrate a resurrected Christ?

I’m broken. I’m living in a wrecked world. A world where one religion persecutes another. A culture in which followers of Christ discriminate and live “an eye for an eye.” When Christians are killed, our only response is with more death. In this country, when guns ravage a school, we shout for more gun freedom. In the US, we have the luxury to sit comfortably in our pews, read our Bibles, and then sit on our thrones of self-righteousness to condemn those who do not share the same fundamental understanding of God’s word. We are so concerned with evangelizing our truth that we ignore the unconditional love that we are called to share to the world! Amos forth told the reality of the Israeli people thousands of years ago and his words still resound today.

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Christ’s resurrection. So what? Why should we rejoice? Being discouraged from the inequality, injustice, and discrimination in our society, I am quickly reminded why I CAN celebrate the promise of Christ. Hope does live. It lives in the voices of those on our nation’s southern border that are demanding more humane treatment for our Spanish speaking brothers and sisters. It lives in the hearts of Christians, Jews, and Muslims that come together to conquer the fundamental extremists around the world. It lives in the hands of our doctors and nurses that risk their lives to care for the hopeless. It lives in the hugs between white and black Americans. It lives in the signs calling for equal treatment for all Americans. It lives in the lives of all those who sacrifice their lives for others. In those who are doing the will of God on earth, just as in heaven.

Hope lives. We are and must be the hope! Let us allow justice to roll down like waters and righteousness flow like a stream. We must rejoice!

What drives the decision to live divided no more, with the risks it entails? How do people find the courage to bring inner conviction into harmony with outer act, knowing that when they do, the force of the institution may come down on their heads, risking the loss of image or status or security or money or power? The difference between the person who goes to the back of the bus and one who decides to sit up front is probably lost in the mystery of the human heart. But in Rosa Parks and others like her, I see a clue to an answer: when you realize that you can no longer collaborate in something that violates your own integrity, your understanding of punishment is suddenly transformed.

Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

If the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace.
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Seeing God through the fence.

On Monday, our first full day on the Border Awareness Program, we had the opportunity to see first hand a small portion of the disputed fence marking our border. As we walked up to the fence, a couple of children living in the neighborhood along the fence on the Mexican side, ran up to greet us with smiles. I felt a deep disconnect in my heart. The short time we spent there, I couldn’t stop asking myself, “Where is God?” As we exchanged names and short stories, I wondered how we allowed ourselves to be “us” and “them.” Why are we separated by a barrier? We are on our side of the border, while they are on their side. Aren’t we all humans? Are we not all children of God? As Christians, we only perpetuate this idea of “us” and “them.” We consider ourselves more superior and pretend that we are all equal; equal in the eyes of God, but not in the eyes of each other. We claim a divine power that steers our moral compass while allowing injustices to happen all around us.

As a white male Christian, I am privileged. I do not have an understanding of true suffering. As privileged people, if we continue to turn a blind eye to the suffering of our brothers and sisters from the south, we remain separated from God’s glory. Our ethnocentric ethos has penetrated deep into our minds and society to justify our actions to “protect” our culture and nation. We have allowed a fence to keep out those we deem not worthy to enter our comfortable society. These “criminals” will destroy all we hold dear.

When did Jesus tell us to treat our neighbors like this?

What’s happening on our border and throughout our country highlights the message separating the goats and sheep written in Matthew. Reflecting on Christ’s words, I ask myself again, regarding the border, “Where is God?”

Our nations have gathered and Christ himself didn’t need to separate us. We have done that ourselves with hundreds of miles of an 18 foot steel fence. The goats and sheep are being divided as we speak by the tens of thousands. We are not feeding the hungry migrant, or giving drink to the thirsty sojourner. No one is providing a warm welcome to the family escaping gang violence. We applaud immigrants earning a new blue jumpsuit and shackles to replace their dignity. We deny proper care to the injured and exhausted. Finally, a broken justice and immigration system imprisons the innocent.

“Where is God?”

As I stood there speaking with Carla and Ángel, I realized where God is. God is in the eyes of those children, with the families fleeing violence, with mothers faced with the decision to smuggle drugs or watch their children die. God is with those who just want to search for a better life. I’m looking at God through the fence.