Lame and Able

September 28, 2014

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

There are at least four ways to do this sermon. One is to blame those of you who are disabled for being disabled. Second is to blame those of you are abled for being abled and to continue by judging you for how badly you treat the disabled. Third is to blame the lame and lame the blame: in other words blame everybody for everything and be done with it. We sometimes call that prophetic and sometimes even get away with unresolved anger in the pulpit. We start with hate, end with hate and the Spirit is still in a jar on someone’s theological shelf, in a room where the windows can’t open no matter how fresh the breeze, so stuck are they to each other.

The fourth is to allow the spirit to emerge within us so strongly that we refuse to blame the lame or the able, in ourselves or in our world. The fourth is to have a banquet and invite the poor, the lame , the crippled, including those parts of yourself to the party. The fourth is more like a voyage, an odyssey, a pilgrimage. Like any good trip, it makes the familiar strange again and the strange familiar. It is the way a fruit becomes a fruit, by a little expansion of juiciness at a time. Look at this apple: it didn’t start out like this. It started out like a seed.

I am headed for the fourth, the fruiting of the small to the large. In fact, all fall, Micah, Michael and I are going to put together services that kernel and core on the book of Galatians, 5th chapter, 22nd verse. “But the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Today we will see that one of the fruits of the spirit is kindness, kindness towards self and others, the lame within and the lame without. Spirit is a lot like art: you know what you like when you see it. Spirit is also a lot like waking up in the morning: you know that you were refreshed by the previous evening’s event or debilitated. You know. You know Spirit as it passes. You can’t predict it so much as experience it, like the window that opens after the fresh breeze comes through the house.

Before I head for the fourth – which I may as well predict now I will do clumsily, partially, unsuccessfully – because that is how the Spirit stumbles along – I need to dismiss the first three.

First, the words blame and lame seem to go together. You’ve seen what has happened to the word lame. It used to refer to a physical condition. Now it is often paired with the word excuse. That is a really lame excuse. Or a really lame answer. When someone calls you lame, they are not issuing a compliment. They mean that your answer only stands on one leg. They mean that you are crippled. Or paralyzed. Or can’t see or hear or speak. Or that you limp. Or that you are disabled. Or disadvantaged. Slang is so smart. Many people just abbreviate the disabled or disadvantaged to add the sense of blame. We say “disrespected” in capsule as “dissed.” I felt dissed, when you called me lame. I felt accused when you called me lame. I felt that you didn’t see me but instead saw some caricature of me. I also wondered what in you needed to embarrass or shame me. Why did you have to do that? Why couldn’t you offer me a hand up instead of a push down? You know whether the Spirit has breezed through the room by whether you feel expanded or enlarged, belittled or narrowed. When we blame ourselves for being lame, or blame others for being lame – physically, psychologically spiritually or culturally – we go straight to the narrow place, the small place. The Spirit can’t get in. There is no room for her. The windows are stuck.

Secondly, the words blame and able also seem to go together. All I have to do is hear the word Ableism and I get threatened. What did I do? I must have done something wrong and I so didn’t mean to do anything wrong and maybe I didn’t and the person who thinks I am politically incorrect about how many handicapped parking spaces sit around unused all the time, must know me better than I know myself. Phew. I am exhausted already. The energy it takes to say I am not an ableist is almost equal to the energy it takes to say I am not a racist. It is so much work to defend yourself. And for many of us who are able, it is easy to just look down on those whom we are better than. Or worse, try to HELP.

Slang may be really smart but it can also threaten us. I don’t like to hear that someone feels dissed by me. I mightily prefer that someone feels respected by me. Or made able by me. Or walks with more zip because of my encounter with them. I like to think that I have a fruiting spirit, not a damning spirit, a blessing spirit, not a caging spirit. We say that you can tell when the Spirit is present, because of the fruits. Lots of people argue that nobody will remember much of what you say. Instead they will remember how they felt when you said whatever you said.

I wonder how people feel about the number of defenses that can attach to the words blame and lame or blame and able. I don’t really think the Spirit is interested in our lame, one legged excuses.

There will be a slender string this fall, a series on the fruits of the spirit. And yes, we will get the open meeting room back next week in time for Agape. As much as we love having so many Christs with us every night, we are ready for the open space again. In fact this whole series on the Spirit really needs the open space, the expanded space, the space on the other side of blame.

It is time for Bill Coffin’s famous statement about a crutch. “Some say religion is a crutch. I say you are limping.” Most of us think of limping as bad and surely our own fault. What were we doing running down that subway stairs? Why did we get sick? We must have done something wrong to deserve the suffering. Even if most Christians join the Sufi in saying that “If it is not kindness, it is not religion,” still religion is understood as the accusing side of the ledger, the place where you calculate just how much of a sinner you really are.

Today I want to remove the blame from the lame and remove the blame from the able. The able often either take false credit for our ability or blame others for not having it. We also add respect to the disrespect that so many offer themselves and then spread out to others. We are really not that far away from fruiting the Spirit. It may be easier than you think. But one more sneaky hurdle needs to be jumped. Blame is so pervasive a religious motion that we will even blame ourselves for not being good enough as fruiters of the Spirit. You can hear this sermon about blame and lame and blame and able as blame for not fruiting the Spirit. Some of us are so good at self-flaggelation that we can even hear the fruiting the Spirit text as a bar we haven’t met, a grade we didn’t achieve, a mark we managed to miss.

How can I offer you the opportunity for kindness, not as a way of pleasing the Spirit or adding another notch to your well resumed belt? How can I invite you to a kind and spirited love of your abilities and your disabilities, your assets and deficiencies, your pros and your cons? One of you told me that you were scared to death of retirement. Why? Because you were afraid you wouldn’t score a ten on the dismount, as though retirement was yet another Olympic sport. You might even have your last bat at Yankee stadium and NOT hit a walk off hit to win the game. You might be the same dufus in retirement that you were while working.

Here is my clumsy, lame, politically incorrect suggestion. Think of it as an invitation, something that you don’t have to do it all. You can continue to blame the lame parts of you. You can continue to blame the able parts of you that aren’t kind enough to the less abled part. Go for it. You may even fruit a little spirit along the way. But if you want to excel at fruiting the spirit – and yes, excellence is our destination here – read the bulletin, pick one thing and add kindness to yourself. Did you look down at someone in a wheelchair? If so, forgive yourself for doing so. Did you touch someone inappropriately or offer help as a way to self-aggrandizement? If so, don’t do it again. And if you really want to achieve a ten on the dismount from life, play at being kind. Don’t overdo it because that will mean you have turned kindness into another achievement. Just be kind. See if the Spirit shows up or if a window opens in the room because a fresh breeze blew by. Amen.


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