For most of my childhood, I did not go to church. But the Bible and prayer were never far from my life. At age five, my sister and I used to pray The Lord’s Prayer each night before bed with our great-grandma. A couple of years later, Dad started a tradition where he read to me and my siblings from a children’s Bible each night. We loved the story of creation, in particular, as the Bible we had was illustrated compellingly.
|[Image is: On a boat for a fishing trip around 1986. My sis is in a yellow life jacket, and I’m in an orange life jacket, around age five, before church was a part of our lives.]|
FAITH ON CASSETTE:
Around the time this picture was taken, my sister and I were given a cassette tape as a gift, called Wee Sing Bible Songs. We loved it. Over an hour of children’s Bible songs! We learned the words to all of them - which meant we also learned the names of all of Jesus’ disciples and all the books of the Old and New Testament in order (they remain firmly entrenched in my brain to this day.)
I’m going to be honest and say that, at five years old, the lyrics to songs like Silver and Gold Have I None had no relevance to me whatsoever. I recognized there was a man who could not walk, and Peter healed him, but I never identified with the “lame man” as he is called in the song. Here’s a modern version of the song, acted out by some children:
As I’ve mentioned previously, I identified as able-bodied growing up. Years of being told I was "just like everyone else", years of longing to be "just like everyone else," meant I clung to the false assumption that I was. I was just like them (I just used a walker.) My body worked just like theirs (even though it obviously didn't.) I always had one foot very firmly in reality. I was not in denial. But being surrounded only by nondisabled people taught me to strive as hard as I could to be nondisabled. I ignored my disability to cope with the fact that I could not ever leave it behind and be like my sister and brothers.
So, the idea of a disabled man begging on the steps of a temple that he was not allowed to enter as long as he could not walk didn’t strike me as anything particularly awful. It was a story from a long time ago. That was it. Hearing the song 30 years later, though, makes my mouth drop open in shock. What kind of message do songs like this send little kids who are not in so much denial, who actually accept they are disabled?
FAITH IN CARTOONS:
Right around the time we began going to church, I remember watching this certain Christian cartoon on weekend television. While I can’t remember what it was called, it seemed to be versions of Bible stories featuring children as main characters.
One sticks out in my mind because in it, Jesus Healed the Palsied Child.
I remember watching intently. Being around eight years old by now, I recognized the word from my disability and wanted to see what Jesus was going to do to heal this little cartoon boy.
There was apparently nothing to it! Jesus took the boy’s hands and told him to stand up and walk, and he did. The narrative voice explained “Jesus loved the boy so much that He healed him.”
And I got the message, loud and clear: “Jesus loves me when he heals me.”
FAITH AND REPRESENTATION:
I’m glad that in all of our family Bible reading times, Dad generally avoided the stories of Jesus healing people. In the text (in the children’s Bible on the audio cassette) people with disabilities are called “lame.” In some versions of the Bible, the C-word is still used. In fact, in some sermons, this derogatory term for disabled people (when used by the nondisabled) is still used 30 times on a Sunday morning, and it is viewed as acceptable.
Words like “lame” were explained to me in a matter-of-fact way by my dad while he read us Bible stories as kids: “Lame is what they used to call people who couldn’t walk.” I accepted that explanation and moved on.
The reality I see today is that in the Bible, we are not respected.
We are nameless.
Look in any Bible. We are “a lame beggar,” nothing more. And today, the notion that there was a man outside the temple where Jesus and his disciples went regularly, maybe for as long as three years, is beyond dismissive.
Today, we are told much the same thing: “You know, we’re only helping you out of the goodness of your heart. We don’t have to.”
We are often on the outside of churches, because religious buildings are not required to be ADA-compliant. So, people pass by us on their way into church. They pray for us. Tell us to be grateful to those who take time to help us.
But we cannot actually come inside.
It’s easy to say I didn’t know that the Bible wasn’t exactly disability-friendly. The truth is though, that deep down, it did register. And I didn’t like it. People like me were begging for money, and only shown love when we were being healed?
I think, deep down, I felt that rejection. So, it felt better to imagine myself nothing like that “lame beggar”, nothing like that “palsied child.”
It felt better to imagine myself as someone easy to love.
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