"Beowulf was the rare kind of person who makes strength of his own weaknesses. His eyes being poor, he determined to see not just as well as other people, but better than most. He did this by cultivating habits of quickness and concentration that enabled him to be truly seeing where others were only looking. And this matter of the eyes was typical of his whole manner of being. Beowulf had made the best of all he had, putting each imperfection to work in the service of his integrity. Thus, his real strength lay in the balance of his person-which is, perhaps, another way of saying that he was strong because he was good and good because he had the strength to accept things in him that were bad." (from Beowulf A new telling by Robery Nye,1968)
In understanding his weakness, Beowulf determined to be better than most in his area of weakness. Weaknesses can cause us to throw up our hands and give up, or can spur us on to work through those weaknesses. Weaknesses can become excuses, or can cause us to see things in a different way, solve problems in a different way, to the point of out doing those who don't experience our weakness. I think about this with small churches. One of the excuses for not engaging in ministry to persons with disability from small churches is the supposed cost of such ministries, the resources required, etc. Taken to its logical conclusion, small churches are not responsible for ministry until they become big churches. But God calls us to be sheep, not goats, and there are no caviats for the service He requires. Does Jesus anywhere say, you know, when you have sufficient resources, then you can begin to be involved in service. But until then, you don't have to do anything.
Actually, I think that small churches have many advantages over other types and sizes of organizations. Relative to persons with disabilities, I wonder whether they have taken the time to find out what those advantages might be. It is interesting in the literature on employment of persons with disabilities, for example, that small mom and pop work places are often desirable over larger corporations. Why? Because the workers with disabilities become more pivotal to the functioning of the business. They begin to be seen for their strengths, and are relied upon. Larger corporations have the luxury of many employees, and therefore don't need to depend upon individuals quite as much. Small churches, therefore, might hold the greatest potential for integrating persons with disability and really tapping the depths of the gifts they bring.
Beowulf also wanted to be able to see in areas where others were only looking. I live on 5 acres and have a big time gopher problem. That is, until I started trying to see them and shoot them with my .22 rifle (I know, it sounds very red neck, but I am getting pretty good at it and my yard isn't as swiss cheesy as it was). Anyway, I have gotten to where when I look at my yard, I can detect the tiny movements of the gophers, whereas before, it seemed I never saw a gopher, just the hundreds of holes which told me they were there. You can be in a setting, even looking around in that setting and never see the setting. I am delighting in students of mine at California Baptist University, who have been looking at their churches and seeing the absence of persons with disabilities. They are gaining Beowulf's eyes in seeing what others are only looking at. I would argue that they are gaining a glimpse of God's perception of the setting. They are seeing the absence of persons whom He loves.
Finally he worked at putting each imperfection to the service of his integrity. This is an interesting notion, which is actually scriptural. We know of passages where we hear that faith is perfected in weakness, or in Paul quoting God, "My grace is sufficient for you." Do we know how to put our imperfections in the service of our integrity? Do we have even the faintest notion of helping others to put their imperfections in the service of their integrity? I am often impressed by the faith of persons with mental retardation whom I know. They are by all measures, cognitively impaired. Yet they often have what Christ says that I need, the faith of a child. I get hung up on doctrine, and experience. I get confused by my normal intellect. They have the faith of a child. I am not prepared to say that people experience "disability" so that they can put their "imperfections" to the service of their integrity, however, there is that potential, and the church is the perfect agent to facilitate that understanding of disability. But people with disabilities need to be in the church, and we need to be prepared to help them to connect the dots to make sense of their life experience, particularly for those with disabilities acquired later in life.