I’ve been thinking about Janelle’s post last week and a conversation I had with a friend at church yesterday. “Jake” (not his real name) is most often in a wheelchair. He can walk short distances with one leg braced but it is painful and on some days unbearable. He has thousands of small tumors all over his body. It makes him sit awkwardly at times and his muscles are not as strong as they should be for a young man his age.
He told me that my daughter came over and asked about his leg brace. She asked, “why is that on your leg?” He responded, “So I can walk”. She then showed her Sunday School craft to him. A seemingly mundane interchange but here is what he then said to me.
“She wasn’t freaked out. It was really weird, and nice. Usually kids… people don’t even stop to talk to me. She did. She asked about me then showed the craft she made to me.”
Jake and I went on to have a conversation about how so many people ‘see’ him but don’t know what to say, so they say nothing. Or worse, talk to him like he’s a child. He said that when he is in his chair, people speak really loud like he’s deaf. Still others look right over him or past him. They are so afraid of offending him that they’d rather ignore him. It leaves him isolated and not in conversations nearly as often as he’d like.
And then there’s Jesus. Jesus speaks to those who everyone else looks over, past, or through, or flat out ignores. Jesus doesn’t seem to be afraid of offending. In fact, he engages, challenges, and invites all people into conversation.
Perhaps Janelle’s invitation for conversation on a variety of topics begins in actually engaging the people and communities most impacted. Engaging neither in fear nor with a colonialist approach. Engaging while In a posture of learning, friendship, and with the belief that we all have something to offer. We may need to confront biases and prejudices in our own lives, name them, own them, and ask for help changing them. And however difficult, we need to engage in those awkward, messy, difficult conversations.
I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes… a lot. And at lots of things. But this one in particular. How is it that so many adults get wrong what a child gets so right? Somewhere along the way, children learn to politely ignore the disabled community and to give wide swath to those of different races or ethnicities or religions or political views. And we call this being polite.
But, it is incumbent upon those who want to follow Jesus to unlearn these things.
I hope my girls never stop reaching out to others, to those with disabilities (whether the disability shows and not), to build relationships with people unlike themselves, to get to know people genuinely and share genuinely about themselves. Last time I checked, that’s the beginning of building community.