Charity vs Community: Extending Dignity vs Our Misguided Attitudes about Serving the “Least of These”

Andrew and myself
Andrew and myself in 2002

A collection of my ramblings over the past 24 hours based on my experiences as a special needs mom and being a special needs person:

A dear friend inspired the words today for something that has been on my heart for weeks now.

You know what? People who are sick, disabled, wrongly imprisoned, poor, widowed, orphaned – they aren’t our charity cases. Yeshua called them the “least of these” because they were those who had the least honor/dignity attributed to them in society, not because we should consider them least, or so we could pat ourselves on the back for deigning to do things for them. Yeshua said that as we treat them, we are treating Him. Is it then charity to feed the poor, visit the sick, include the disabled, get justice for the prisoner, care for the widows and orphans? No, it isn’t charity but righting a wrong. No one truly in need wants to be a charity case and we certainly wouldn’t be considering anything we do for Yeshua to be charity. We do for them because we would want it to be done for us – because they are people, and their social status doesn’t change their needs for equity in the Kingdom, nor their basic humanity and need for dignity.

And that’s the problem – dignity. We are a society that is geared towards the Most of these, not the least of these. The healthy, the able-bodied, the free, those who can pay their bills, and the nuclear family. And then we congratulate ourselves for including those “special” cases – when we really don’t want to slow down at all, when we want to focus on how fast we want to go and what we want to get done and how to do it with the least amount of hassle.

That’s what being a special needs mom has taught me, and being a special needs person on top of that. Giving dignity to those who don’t have it in the eyes of the world through no fault of their own – just like Yeshua.

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I am not some kind of sainted person for adopting a special needs child – what I am is a barren woman who needed a child, and adopted a child who needed a mother. That isn’t charity, that is community – it shouldn’t be considered strange, or even noble – because there was nothing noble about it. On the adoption rolls, Andrew would have been considered to be one of the least of these, a potential adoptee without as much honor/dignity/worth in the eyes of the prospective parents and in the eyes of the rest of the world who want, by and large, healthy and (let’s face it) white babies (even though the waiting list for biracial babies like my kids is also very, very deep, supply pales in comparison with demand).

What I didn’t realize. almost 15 years ago, was that God was teaching me about the importance of community over individual. Andrew, beyond being disabled (and stubborn as heck), is a member of the community of Israel – and as such is entitled to both honor and dignity. Not fake honor and fake dignity, not sometimes inclusion on special occasions – but the real honor and dignity afforded to each member of the community in good standing not out of charity and pity, but rooted in the basic recognition of their worth and needs.

As I wrote last night, everyone has a need to be and feel like a functioning member of the community and being disabled doesn’t change that need or that calling. If anything, it intensifies it, because the sense of shame can be suffocating and so the need for restoration of dignity is far more acute.

Did you know that I went full panic mode at Revive in Dallas because someone waved a giant worship flag over my head and my sensory processing disorder kicked into high gear? I had spent much of the events in the big auditorium wearing earplugs or with my hands over my ears in order to put off the overload. It was incredibly embarassing, but it is also important for me to worship with the community. Does the disability negate my need to be in the community worshiping our King? Does it mean that I have less capacity to serve in the Kingdom? No, but it does mean that sometimes someone is going to have to help me out – as Teresa from Cuppa Shebrews did when she saw what was happening. But I saw no charity in her eyes, I saw a family member treating me like a member of the community. That’s rare.

That right there was embarassing to admit to. In this community there are some who believe that if you are afflicted, it is because of sin – and yet this is nothing but my personal thorn in the flesh, a thorn that tests the character of others and tries their hearts and serves to continually humble me.

And I look at my humiliation and then I cast an eye on my beloved son, whose disability is exponentially worse than mine and far more humiliating, and has afflicted him from birth – whereas I was spared until I had a stroke at the age of 27. If anything, he needs fellowship and community far more than I do. He needs acceptance as a human first and foremost, as every citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is entitled to as the sons of God. He needs inclusion, and he needs to know that slowing down for him really isn’t burdening anyone – mostly we go fast simply out of our need for constant entertainment and stimulation. We move too fast for the sick and infirm – and the elderly who we would do well to take the time to sit and listen to. We move too extravagantly for the poor and needy. We move too selfishly to take the time to think of the oppressed.

Community requires slowing down, and we are moving way too fast. The most of these are setting the pace, and it isn’t a very equitable one.

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