The Church of Misfit Toys

Misfit_toysI used to be part of a church comprised of openly broken people.  One person said we were like characters from the Island of Misfit Toys.  Unlike many of our traditional congregations, this was a church in which people fearlessly shared their depression, their doubts, their relationship conflicts with each other.

The truth is that all churches everywhere are filled with broken people.  Disabilities Are Us.

How we treat the weakest among us reveals our  truest selves.  There are congregations that prefer their brokenness to be invisible and their imperfections to be hidden.  But how are the lepers and the lame supposed to be healed if don’t know them or we pretend they aren’t with us?

The most ridiculous comments I’ve heard in response to discussion about installing an elevator or ramps in a church building:

  • Exactly how many people really use crutches or wheelchairs around here, anyway?  (Note:  Not many because They Can’t Get Into The Building)
  • It will ruin the classic looks of the building to add a ramp to the entrance.
  • The handicapped should not get special treatment.  Why should the whole church have to pay for something that helps just a few people?

Really.

I don’t know every detail about the UN Disability Treaty but the basics are that the disabled should enjoy the same rights and fundamental treatment as their fellow citizens throughout the world.  A no brainer.

155 nations of the world have already signed it and 126 nations have ratified it.  And our own political leaders from Bob Dole, John McCain, and George W. Bush to John Kerry and Barack Obama have pushed for its passage, but – shockingly –   the U.S. Senate didn’t pass it yesterday.  This is nuts.

A friend contacted me recently about her “honeymoon-is-over” experience as a new pastor in her first call.  The issue was about installing a ramp from the parking lot to the side door of the church building.  Her elders had just voted it down “for aesthestic reasons.”  They chose landscaping over their members in wheelchairs and their new pastor was crushed.  “Can I really be their pastor if they can’t even love the weakest among them?”

Her options:

  1. Quit or threaten to quit because she can’t serve people who so obviously miss the point. Prepare to be unemployed and humiliated.
  2. Be the prophet and try to shift their way of thinking and their culture with provocative Bible studies and sermons.  Prepare to check your anger so you don’t scare everybody.
  3. Accept the fact that this will be a slow transition from “the church is for us” to “the church is for people who aren’t yet with us.”  Prepare to be frustrated.

This is a snippet of the life of a pastor who is trying to preach Good News to the poor, while dealing with people who don’t even realize that they, too, are poor, broken, and disabled.

Aren’t we all?

Image from the popular Christmas TV show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of toys from The Island of Misfit Toys.

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7 responses to “The Church of Misfit Toys

  1. Yes. In a previous congregation I did all three and eventually landed on the first. It was messy with lots of conflict with elected leaders and I had to move on leaving rubble behind. In my current congregation I came committed to practice only 2 and 3. Twelve years later, it remains a remarkable place to be pastor. It helps that we have a very visible ministry with developmental disabled adults. One of our deacons is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. When we renovated the sanctuary we did away with a raised chancel so that it would be accessible to everyone. I’ve shared with the leaders and congregation my own afflictions including occasional bouts with depression. The church of misfits seems so right to me.

    Thanks.

  2. It was a great island, filled with lots of joy 🙂

  3. Jo Ann Staebler

    Another “reason” to skip the elevator or ramps: “They just need to ask for help. Someone will be glad to carry them up the steps.” Uh huh.

  4. Pingback: Expecting the Word – Advent One – Wednesday « An Aging Liberal Hippy from the Left Coast

  5. Sigh. And yet I know churches who are trying to do this – even looking for grants – b/c of the expense find it so prohibitive to retrofit an elevator – and it’s the elevator that’s most needed to get to different levels- the entrances/doorways/restrooms are fine. The building never should have been built w/o an elevator, however, so don’t get me started on shortsighted building plans/campaigns…

  6. JoAnn, so many do indeed take the “cheap” way out with saying, just ask. . My mom became a paraplegic at the age of 53. One comment I heard her say more than once, “I am so tired of always having to ask for help.”

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