by David Morstad
This month, July 2015, marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the reasons for celebration are self-evident. It was landmark legislation that opened both doors and conversations.
In the last 25 years though, even in faith communities, the conversations have been mostly about access and inclusion and have been sluggish in moving on to a much richer topic: Relationship. We are, after all, people of faith and, as such, are called into relationship. Still, it’s a complicated business and sometimes the conversations, like those about race and gender, lead us along pathways uncomfortable to walk.
A colleague of mine who had worked for many years in faith-based services once made an observation about relationships between people with and without disabilities. Our conversation went something like this:
“Over the years,” he said, “I have concluded that there is a great sense of freedom found in the realization that there are some people with disabilities out there who I just really don’t like very much at all. In fact,” he said, “I can think of a couple right now who are just plain annoying.”
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to explain that,” I told him.
“Look,” he said, “If I decide I like everyone with a disability, then I must be making that determination based on something other than accepted human relationship standards, because that’s just not normal. I have to be able to dislike some people.”
“And you don’t see any potential inner conflict with that,” I asked, “given what you do for a living and everything?”
“Why should I?” He replied, dismissing the question with a wave of his hand. “Jesus didn’t tell us we had to like everybody, he only told us to love everybody; and those are two very different things.”
“OK,” I conceded.
He continued. “If I decide it’s OK to dislike some people with disabilities, then I’m clearly accepting them as equals – not necessarily equal in my affection, but much more importantly, equal in their humanity.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “You have given yourself personal license to dislike some people, and that has become the sign of a liberating force that enables you to fully embrace them in their complete personhood.”
“Precisely,” he answered with a satisfied smile.
“That is, without question, the single dumbest thing I have ever heard in my life,” I said.
“That’s OK,” he said, “I accept you as an equal.”
That made me pause. “Does that mean you don’t like me very much right now?” I asked. He only smiled. “Point taken,” I said.
Relationships ebb and flow. They give and take. Yet just as surely as God calls you and me into the relationship, God calls grace into the relationship, and forgiveness into the relationship. That mix is where the real beauty is found.