There is a lot that comes up in life, for those of us that have learning disabilities; we live in a constant state of having to overcome things. Often society looks to people with learning disabilities as stupid, or less qualified, and many times the disability gives off a bad impression. I remember a comment from one of my ordination exams “The Theology is good, but the work is so sloppy do you really care?” In many ways that anonymous comment stung hard because if anything I really was trying to do my best! (That was also before they allowed computers for the exams, and you have seen my handwriting!)
Obviously, I passed my exams and was ordained, but I often think hard about what stumbling blocks we put before people. This morning I went to my Yoga class at the Y. As I walked up the stairs there was a man hanging out in the hall. “It looks like no one is in there,” he said as he looked into the dark room.
Knowing that they would be there, I made my way for the door and said, “yep, they are there, just no one is on this side of the room.” Of course we walked into the room to meet the five others who were already there. A simple door shut for that man was a stumbling block that might have made him just skip the class. It was not intentional for the instructor, but it was a big thing, at least for the moment.
Laki mentioned that this past Sunday in the discussion about leaving the doors open during worship, putting up with the annoying traffic but not placing a barrier to coming in. Closed doors in churches, according to some, are the biggest stumbling blocks there are! But there are a lot of stumbling blocks that we place before people, one of the biggest is not taking time to understand and connect with the folks that are around us.
A Jesuit friend of mine once told a story about why Central America was so predominantly Catholic. Some might think it to be because the Spaniards were there and they were catholic, and that might be part of the story, but actually many protestant missionaries made their way to Central America to proselytize the people. They went with their European understandings, images and stories, but had a hard time connecting with the people. In fact, they were outwardly rejected. The Catholics, on the other hand, went to where the people were and in places like Mexico, saw that there were mythical traditions whose stories mirrored stories in the Christian World, so they found ways to co-opt them.
This is seen often in America through “the Lady of the Guadalupe.” According to my Jesuit friend it made sense and helped people to understand who Mary was because it gave context and meaning. So the Catholic Church adopted this tradition and Christianized, it and it is still a very important part of Mexican Christianity, as well as other Latino communities.
I mention this because this week we are focusing and praying for another demographic group, the second largest, which is “Latin Flair,” another under-represented community in our congregation, though a large part of the CL which used to be part of our church. This group is mostly blue-collar, 35-50, with children still living at home. Again, the demographic is below. While the biggest stumbling block of language is not going to be overcome easily, there are other ways me might be able to connect and remove blocks we have in the way, such as through learning and understanding customs and traditions.
As you prepare for worship this week, think about the barriers and stumbling blocks we put before this group as others and we move forward in visioning where God is calling us to be.
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Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen