Have you ever really thought about how you measure people? I imagine I can hear an uncomfortable hum as readers become slightly defensive. But the fact is that there are a whole slew of ways we might measure people: by their intellect; by their wealth; by their religious beliefs; by their ability to command (power or respect); by their hard work. All of these are actually measures of ability that pervade so much of our thinking when meeting and getting to know people. It has become quite normal to judge a person by their abilities or what they can do.
Maybe you measure people by their colour or race or beauty, youthful vigour or elegance; well dressed is more acceptable than poorly dressed for example. These are measures based on physical appearance.
Thomas E. Reynolds in his book Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality calls this the ‘cult of normalcy’. Many of these views are centuries old but they are being promoted all the time because we live in a world which needs all of us to be producers and consumers. So advertisements for everything from cars to baby soap show perfect, well-off looking people, capable of hard work and play. These are economic ways of thinking and most definitely not loving or Christ-like and they are brutally unkind to people with disabilities who may not be able to produce and consume like most people and may look quite different from the normal.
Few of us are really selfless so we expect something in exchange for friendship and love. If you go out with a friend it is because you want to share news, have fun, catch up, it is a two way thing, you want something out of that meeting whether you mean to give something back or not. Nothing wrong with that you might think, and on the surface it seems perfectly reasonable. The important thing is to realise that in our relationships we expect more than some people can give.
It might be good to pause for a few minutes in Isaiah 53 at the prophesy about Christ –
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” 53:2
“Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” 53:3
This then was the Son of God sent for our salvation. There was nothing good looking or powerful about him. There is every indication that he was in fact powerless, a silent lamb to the slaughter and therefore could not be classified along with our current measure of hard working, bright and well off. From this account he was also not at all attractive and nothing at all like the people in the adverts.
Yet that is what God chose to send to save his people.
Geeta Mondal writing about the blessings she has received as a result of being the mother of a child with autism writes:
“Another thing my child has taught me is that we live in a world where ‘doing’ is more important than ‘being’. We as Christians are people who have received salvation, not because of what we do, but on the basis of the gift of God, Jesus, who dies for us. It is a gift, free. We cannot do anything to earn it. However, so many times in our lives, even within our churches, we judge on the basis of action, and the person in the maximum need of grace is perhaps given the maximum condemnation.”
Perhaps we begin to hang our heads in shame as we realise that she is right and we have a way to go in shaping our thinking to be more Christ-like and more loving in our attitudes.
“My child is the way he is. I have to love him the way he is just as Christ loves me the way I am. ……. Same as the way God relates to me. I am His child, and nothing can change that. ……. We need to accept the fact that more important in the sight of God is not what we do, but who we are – ‘His children and heirs.’”
If we can fully grasp what Geeta has discovered then two things can happen:
- We shall begin to change the way we measure people and will move from the world view to the Christ view and in so doing people will know we are Christians.
- We shall want to reach out to people with disabilities with the news of the gospel because it will be a perfect balance to the brutal world view. Remember we are to be salt and light in the world.
Geeta and Raaj Mondol’s son Samarpan found going to church a horrible experience, in part because even the light touch of a dupatta hurts on his skin and as a child people would touch him or pat him which he found painful. If Samarpan was not going to be in church then it would be difficult for Geeta and Raaj to be there too which became a source of sadness to them. Geeta tells us that the pastor of their church realised their difficulties and agreed that one of the church cell groups would operate from their home. In that atmosphere and sitting at a safe distance, Samarpan was able to join in and the family felt the joy of the fellowship of other Christians.
If we are salt and light then you can be sure choosing to have a cell group so that Samarpan could hear the gospel is a very fine example of being salt.