I have written quite a bit about presence in this blog. People will say this kind of thing about others that they haven't taken the time to know, to see their gifting. There is a laziness about this statement. But there are those with very severe disabilities for whom people having the best intentions will say the above. We say these kinds of things often because we are unable to figure out a person with a very severe disability's gifting. It is as if they are reduced to presence. Now I'm not saying that all a person has is presence, but if you think about it, it alone could be a pretty incredible thing. Particularly when you consider that it is not facilitated for them. Yes as a starting point, but perhaps more broadly, the most important thing for someone with a disability, or anyone for that matter in a church community, is presence. Presence changes things. Presence reveals things (as in the Good Samaritan). What is the thing that people with disabilities need more than anything else? Presence. What does the church need from persons with disabilities more than anything else? Their presence. Presence implies being among, being seen, being a part of something. Presence can also make demands. Perhaps in part that is why the presence of persons with disabilities is often not facilitated and at times rejected. Presence can be powerful and make demands.
But what is it that is rejected when presence is denied? Arguably it is an aspect of God's own image. People rejectors are God rejectors. James 2:1 says, "My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?" (NLT). Apparently, there is a connection there. Presence of persons with disabilities is minimally a starting point because of where it leads.
It leads to excluded people having their gifts discovered and expressed.
It leads to changes in traditions which we have come to syncretise as part of faith or theology.
It leads to changes in understanding the breadth who human beings are.
In some cases, it leads to worship and other aspects of church attendance becoming more service oriented.
It leads to caring and advocacy which can be demanding.
We come to realize that not everyone has the same experiences in life that we do.
I have often said that in my life, God's in his sovereignty has allowed me to have health, a good job, and nice place to live, a beautiful family and so on and so on. I am incredibly grateful for these blessings. But when people struggling with muscular dsytrophy, or mental illness come into my world, I learn that the way God's sovereignty is expressed in the lives of others is different from my own and demands from me a response. Their lives are they way they are for them, but they are also the way they are for me as a fellow body member. Their presence opens my eyes to human variety and what should be the logical Christian response, human interaction. I see God being real to them in their life circumstances as he is to me in mine. They also reveal aspects of the character of God that I will not see if they are not present. So presence is not a minimal thing. It is foundational to so many things related to Christian faith for all.