One wintry evening about two and a half years ago, I sat in the back of a café, lemonjello’s. My son asked me to take him there because a friend of his was doing a farewell concert that night. Because it was loud, I had bright orange ear protectors shoved into my ear canals as far as they would go. Because it was cold outside I had on a sweater, forest green with little white evergreen trees, and a white turtleneck underneath.
The people who jammed the place were decked in gray, black, and olive green. No white turtlenecks. No little white evergreens. As far as know, I was the only person wearing ear protection. The crowd at lemonjello’s that night kept a wide berth from the old guy in the back with the goofy sweater and hunter orange ear protection.
I was different, and that was bad.
Usually different is bad. I don’t see miniskirts in retirement villages, kelly green sport coats at bill signing ceremonies, or polyester dress slacks resting on Harley-Davidson seats. People steer clear of a person who is different.
Last week, a group of Disability Concerns volunteers and I were discussing inclusive worship services. One woman remarked, “Different isn’t bad.” Because she uses forearm crutches to get around, I took notice. She knows from experience what it feels like to be different.
We had been discussing a particular worship service in which the church included a number of people with intellectual disabilities. The church had so seamlessly woven the people with disabilities into the fabric of the service that their participation seemed natural.
That discussion led this woman to exclaim, “Different isn’t bad.” She continued, “As people begin to meet and relate to people with disabilities, we all get better at relating to other people who are different in other ways too.”
What would churches be like if all of us who bear God’s image were equally welcomed, embraced, encouraged to serve? What if differences among Christians were embraced rather than stared at? What if we all looked at each other with the eyes of Christ?
The Bible already answers those questions. It would be like heaven.
. . . I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:
"Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9-10)
Different isn’t bad; it’s part of God’s plan.