Recently I discovered a new organization; a new website—Birdability.  The organization is focused on disability inclusion in birding.  It may seem like a quirky corner of concern, but it was a reminder of our inability to segregate the impact of disability, or any characteristic of diversity, to only one or two specific areas of life. Most of my characteristics are visible: I’m white, female and dwarf.  I’m a birder. You can’t always tell that by looking. I learned the voices of birds as a child. My Pa Tom pointed out the distinct calls of our birds and I studied the variety available in the dusty fields around our little farm.  Accessibility wasn’t a problem because I just walked around and listened.

I don’t suppose I thought of myself as a birder until I was forty-ish.  I have noticed birds all my life.  Hawks sat on the overhead lines along my routes to and from Joplin beginning in college.  Driving cross-country in the summer, the red-winged black birds perched on fences just beyond the reach of the highway.  Touring a civil war battlefield, I found blue birds. I was struck by the curious cheerfulness pausing on a branch, more than a century after bloodshed continued to shape our national landscape.  Being a homeowner, however, brought bird feeders into my life.  I lured a variety of nuthatches, chickadees and juncos into community with the sparrows and blue jays and cardinals.  I bought finch seed and found gold finches in my yard. By May, the humming bird feeders were up. I found the Cornell bird site with audio and struck up a conversation with cat birds hidden in the twilight shadows along the back fence. Birding is a simple enough way to connect with nature, and it expands my awareness of the beauty lurking in bushes and branches all around us. I’ve found birding spots in parks, shoreline marshland and wherever I go, outside my door. 

I don’t need to focus much on my disability when birding is a solitary activity of my own design. But if I venture out, I have to plan.  Is the trail area accessible? Is there a driving route that could make exploring more manageable? Is there parking or are there places to rest along the trail. I am reminded of the ugly racial encounter in New York City’s Central Park when a white woman called the police on a Black man birding. Race and ethnicity don’t matter to the birds. I used to think there was a bias against younger women birding but it appears I’ve outgrown the “younger” tag.

Radical Wholeness stands for our wholeness wherever we are and whatever we are doing.  Whenever we find activities people are excluded from, we must become aware of the barriers we create or allow to remain which distance segments of the community from participating. We are called to be inclusive in even the most quirky or mundane of the activities of life.  Kudos to Birdability for filling a need and making one more corner of life more accessible.



You are the best!

“You’re the best!”  We all need to hear that.  We all want to excel, to be valued and to be acknowledged.  I suspect most of us hear it much less than might be healthy for us. 

Often, we have a hard time really hearing the accolade, even when it’s spoken to us. The little doubt engine in our mind keeps chugging along with “I wonder if they really mean it,” or “That’s a pity comment. They just feel sorry for me.”  Many people, including those with disabilities, can be quite creative in getting jobs done but then worry about whether the work is “as good as” others’ work.  It seems the harder it is to do, the more we worry about quality.

I just want to remind us all (I’m talking to you there in the mirror) that you are the very BEST at being you!  You are, in fact, the only one of you the world has. There really is no external standard for being the best you.  The media, social media and our society in general, holds out nearly impossible standards for being the best parent, best spouse, best ________ professional.  We are endlessly comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves—well lacking something or other. 

What does the best you look like?  Looking within rather than outside ourselves can reveal where our greatest work lies.  And it is where our greatest success lies.  The divine imprint within you is not based on someone else—it is uniquely you and at the same time, universally divine.  Only you have the power to bring into manifestation the best you. Only you know the direction you desire to go; the gifts you desire to share; the change you would like to see.

Think of three things you’ve done that at one time, you didn’t think you could.  Think of the seasons you’ve weathered, the joys you’ve celebrated, the love you’ve known.  Just for a moment savor being YOU!  Because you’re the best!     


The Audacity of Radical Wholeness

Audacity is such an endearing word to me.  Merriam Webster online says it is “a bold and daring quality that is sometimes [perceived as] rude or shocking”. Yes, I have been called audacious and it is a badge of honor! 

One of Unity’s fundamental principles is the idea that there is that of the Divine within each one of us.  A spark of divinity; the spiritual I AM of us; the Christ of our being.  It is our essence, our blueprint, that which makes us each a part of the whole.  It is the destiny of being made in the image and likeness of the Divine referred to in Genesis 1:26. It is that which makes us heirs to the divine kingdom. 

Sometimes the message of the power of our inner divinity gets linked to a message of how our inner divinity should manifest in the physical world of our bodies.  Unfortunately, for some, when the picture of how our inner divinity should look in physical bodies doesn’t match the picture of how our bodies actually look and feel, we lose sight of the original, powerful message of our inner divinity. But WHAT IF, there is no single picture of what a vibrant and healthy divine essence looks like in physical manifestation?  What if the album of vibrant and healthy divine essence includes your picture?  Radical Wholeness begins with that audacious foundation, but it doesn’t stop there! 

Radical Wholeness has its inception in questioning the teachings and messages interpreting that fundamental principle of our inner divinity and Radical Wholeness encourages us to continue to question. As we begin to craft a more inclusive theology, are there ways to unmask the deeply embedded “ableism” inherent in how we describe the power of our divinity?  Talila Lewis offers this definition of ableism in her January 2022 update of a working definition: “A system of assigning value to people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, productivity, desirability, intelligence, excellence, and fitness. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in eugenics, anti-Blackness, misogyny, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. This systemic oppression that leads to people and society determining people’s value based on their culture, age, language, appearance, religion, birth or living place, “health/wellness”, and/or their ability to satisfactorily re/produce, “excel” and “behave.” You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.” [working definition by @TalilaLewis, updated January 2022, developed in community with disabled Black/negatively racialized folk, especially @NotThreeFifths. Read more: bit.ly/ableism2022]

Questioning is a demonstration of the very power we are taping into.  Questioning can arise from our divine wisdom and understanding.  It can arise from our unconditional love for self and others.  To be the agents of change the world is yearning for, we must question the ways we exclude others.  If you want to be a part of a community but are unable to, ask why there is no way for you to access the building, the lessons or the social interactions of spiritual community. If the metaphysics of a lesson focus on a healing outcome marked by ableism, ask the minister how that might also be interpreted differently.  Community by community we can build a more inclusive network of support by having the audacity to question exclusion.

What are the dreams of the disabled? Far too often we (the disabled) are told to tamper our dreams, to “be realistic”, and not to claim ALL of the kingdom we are heir to!  Radical Wholeness encourages each one (whether you perceive yourself to be abled or disabled) to claim all that you might desire through the power of the inner divinity in you!  What does a sense of well being look like to you?  Not compared to anyone else or to a standard held up as the model for everyone to aspire to.  If prosperity is a sense of wellbeing, how might that appear in your body and your life?  What do you have to share?  Affirm there is a channel for that expression in the world right now!  Want more love—be more love! Principles work and there are no limits on how principle works based on what the world perceives as physical/intellectual limitations. Disabled people heal, we manifest dreams, we love, we create, we live beautiful lives.  Be audacious enough to ask the Universe for what you desire and believe it is yours. Do not settle for the lesser dreams others may say you are entitled to.  Be bold, be unreasonable, be daring, be more than others believe you to be, be all you were created to be.  Be the audacious expression of Radical Wholeness you are! 


Disability, Inclusion and Church

Disability, Inclusion and Church

Disabled people have long been heirs to charity.  Receiving only what others give “out of the goodness of their heart”, we are not treated as entitled to the fullness of a share of anything.  Subtly or overtly, faith traditions have taught the role of the disabled is to provide an opportunity for the abled to learn the lessons of generosity and charity. The disabled are a tool for the spiritual maturity of the abled and the spiritual path of the disabled is one of suffering, acceptance and humility. Not transforming yourself into the abled image, or healing, is a spiritual failure. The emotional freight in the phrase “those less fortunate” is enough to stop a train.  It is the language we use to teach children to share and the language we use to leverage our positions of entitlement over people who often have lacked the same opportunities and resources for generations.  It is the belief we somehow need to make someone else less to make ourselves more.  If you believe in an inclusive theology, it is challenging to understand the practices and language most people with disabilities encounter in church.

I include this information on the education of disabled children to give you a social context, with dates, which reflects the general attitudes towards people with disabilities. Did you know we put a man on the moon (July 20, 1969) before we guaranteed that children with a disability were entitled to an education if the program received federal funds (Rehabilitation Act, section 504, 1973)?  Prior to this legislation, it was sufficient for a district to say they didn’t have the resources or program for the child’s needs and parents and children had no recourse. “In 1970, U.S. schools educated only one in five children with disabilities, and many states had laws excluding certain students, including children who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, or had an intellectual disability.”  (https://sites.ed.gov/idea/IDEA-History) Think about how recent 1970 was in history.  Only one in five children educated! State schools provided segregated education for a few, often for the blind and deaf. The education of children provides a social framework for how people with disabilities have been viewed. “Congress enacted the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), also known as the EHA, in 1975 to support states and localities in protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving the results for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities and their families. This landmark law’s name changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, in a 1990 reauthorization.” (ibid)  IDEA added the concept of “least restrictive environment” and opened up the concept of “mainstreaming” disabled children in the classroom with their non-disabled peers. For more information on the struggles in 1977 to update the Rehabilitation Act in support of the Independent Living Movement, watch the documentary Crip Camp on Netflix. 

Press pause: I was not denied an education. I graduated from high school in 1973 because of two essential abilities: 1) I did not need educational support for learning and 2) I was mobile enough to navigate stairs and hallways unassisted.  Judy Heumann, however, writes in her memoir Being Heumann, about her fight to attend school in a wheelchair.

Back to disability and church.  This July we acknowledge 32 years since the signing of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act).  While not perfect, 32 years ago it offered a foundation to challenge lack of access and began to establish some guidelines for what accessibility meant.  It opened doors for making accommodations in support of the employment of people with disabilities.  And do you understand that churches are exempt from the ADA?  This was not an accident.  Organizations and alliances of churches FOUGHT to be permitted to continue to exclude people with disabilities.  Of course, that’s not what they said.  They said it was about the separation of church and state (which seems to be a blurry line, especially for Christians). It was also about money.  Churches are old buildings, often historic, and it would be too costly to make them accessible.  If you question why church attendance (and not just Christian church) and support is declining, look at the flocks of people churches are excluding.  LGBTQ marriage and just being who they are; women in leadership; the role of social justice and racial equality in spiritual life—these are hot buttons with organized religions taking positions that are driving people out of church. The disabled just can’t get in. 

I would propose that we must examine the theology we espouse in relation to people with disabilities. Radical Wholeness stands for an inclusive theology which celebrates not only the divine within each one but the unique and diverse vessels of humanity carrying the divine in the world.  If we can formulate a more inclusive theology and articulate it in meaningful ways, it may lead us to a more inclusive attitude about accessing spiritual community.  Take a moment to reflect on your theology about disability.  Is Radical Wholeness meaningful to you? Are there ways you exclude or devalue people with disabilities or if disabled, have you been excluded or devalued in spiritual community?  Take a moment to reflect on spiritual community.  Does your church or gathering offer accessibility and do you see a diverse community that includes people with various disabilities?  If July does not find you celebrating the ways your spiritual community is inclusive of people with disabilities, then I hope July finds you seeking ways to advocate for change in your spiritual community. I hope you find a sense of radical wholeness for yourself.    


The Freedom of Radical Wholeness

This year Independence Day finds me, like many others, with a lot of mixed feelings about freedom and the actions of our country.  The focus on our founding and the inception of our nation, brings up white supremacy, patriarchy and a multitude of inhumane policies and actions.  There are not enough fireworks and potato salad to blur the vivid portrait of all the aspects of our founding that were the complete antithesis of the democracy and freedom portrayed in the documents of our beginning. “All people” did not include all people and the path to inclusion is bitter and long and painful and not complete.

So, I choose to look at the freedom of Radical Wholeness.  Made in the image and likeness of that universal energy we refer to as God, each of us bears the divine imprint of our creator.  That which is within is our essence and is equally whole within each one.  The radical element of Radical Wholeness is that every single incarnational vehicle, every body, is equally valuable and an expression of the divine within.  Every shape, size, skin color, gender identity, sexuality, and ability is just as perfectly human as every other one.  Equally divine and uniquely human, no one comes into the world to be fixed or healed. No one’s body is a manifestation of a spiritual failure. God is not a person but if it was, there would be no picture on God’s wall of what the favorite, whole and complete, offspring looks like. Instead, we would all be on God’s wall; each one of us the beloved, favorite child.

If there is no singular image nor standard, we are all intent on shaping ourselves into, then each of us is free to be “the best me!”  We are free from comparison. I don’t need to aspire to the looks or success measures or values or performance of anyone else because I am not that person.  I am free from the anger or shame which arises when I perceive I am lacking because there is no lack in my unique wholeness.  I can release any perception of lack as false and let the anger or shame go with it. This can actually be a challenge, because we often internalize some of the judgmental standards of the systems that oppress us.  For me, it is letting go of the Ableist ideals that I have to be productive, exhibit physical stamina and constantly on the go to have worth. I take the challenge to claim my freedom to be who I am in this moment.

There is always this tension between accepting myself as I am and challenging myself to be the best me I can be.  I have to examine if the best me I am aiming for is being shaped by ableist ideals (or it may be other standards for you) or simply my guidance on ways to be more authentically the expression of Spirit I came here to be.  No one can take away my freedom to be me but I can imprison myself in false beliefs and comparisons. This Independence Day I claim the freedom of Radical Wholeness and celebrate me. I invite you to celebrate the freedom to be you as we work together, until everyone feels celebrated and free. 

Image description: The sparkle of a single sparkler against a black background


You Are Whole

“You are whole!” This is the core of Radical Wholeness. I was blessed to receive this message at a very, very early age.  It didn’t come from the church, and I’m not sure how it was worded, but it was an insight from my father, against all appearances. Appearances described me as deformed, dwarf, defective.  That is not what he saw nor what he believed about the essence of me.    

My wholeness is not a gift, unique to me, but rather an expression of the universal wholeness present in each of us. My father’s ability to see my wholeness, and treat me as whole, nurtured my ability to live from my wholeness in a world that would often see me as broken. 

The medical community and most religious communities see me in need of healing, my appearance a signal of a fracture in the intended perfection of humanity. Radical Wholeness does not stand for a singular image of humanity perfected but a diverse kaleidoscope of images, each containing the divine wholeness which is our birthright.  If we, humans, are created in the image and likeness of the creator, how is it possible that some or any of us are created broken or less than whole?

I am aware of theories in my own faith tradition that hedge around Radical Wholeness and begrudgingly acknowledge each of us is whole—somewhere within—but these theories maintain that appearances indicate we have been unable to connect with that wholeness.  Your difference is an indicator of your broken connection. This theory depends on a singular image of humanity perfected and any deviation is the basis for the diagnosis of your brokenness. If there is no secret singular image—if no one person holds the picture of how spiritual wholeness manifests—then we are all whole and able to connect to our innate wholeness, even if we are not consciously aware of our connection.

It is the universal nature of our wholeness which allows me to declare with you, “You Are Whole!” without ever meeting you.  Without knowing what you look like or what you’ve done or the direction your life’s path has taken, I know you are whole.  Our wholeness is not something that can be taken, diminished or separated from us.  It can only be ignored.  Ironically, our free will allows us to believe the false messages of brokenness.  It is our belief in separation, not any actual separation from our wholeness, that gets in the way of exercising our spiritual power. Radical Wholeness stands for healing as an exercise of our power, not as a requisite for powerful demonstrations.  It stands for restoring vitality, opening to abundance, stepping into new opportunities and initiating change in our world no matter how our appearances may be judged by others.  All of this is possible because we each have the power to tap into the WHOLENESS we already are. There is nothing to fix before we can begin. Live from your wholeness now, right where you are, just as you are. 


What is wrong with you?

What is wrong with you?

Early on, everyone with a disability must resolve how to answer this perennial question.  Whether your disability is easily visible and the question is almost a greeting or whether the question doesn’t arise until your disability is revealed, the question comes.  Sometimes there is a follow-up: Why can’t you….  If you’ve grown up with a disability, you’ve mastered some sort of answer by the time you are an adult.  If you’ve acquired a disability, the sad news is that in the midst of grieving whatever function you have lost, you also have to come to terms with answering this question.

As a child, I learned quickly that I was expected to answer this question by explaining my dwarfism was a lack of bone growth. As I got older, I added that God makes everyone different; different sizes, shapes and colors. Coaching children to answer puts two burdens on a child. First, by answering with information you do not challenge the “wrong” part of the question. You answer what is wrong with you. Repeatedly the child hears and absorbs “there is something wrong with me”.  Second, the expectation the child will answer with information imprints on the child that they are expected to share personal information with total strangers.  By virtue of their difference, they are not entitled to the same sense of privacy and personal space everyone else gets.  Honestly, I coached my children in the same kind of answers I always gave.  Today, I would teach them differently.

Nothing is wrong with me. Different is not wrong nor is it bad nor less than. If responding to a child, I would add “And your parents should explain that to you.” The task of teaching children about differences is not the duty of all the people around the child who are different than the child.  Especially if it is a child-to-child interaction, no child should have to defend their right to exist to a peer.  The idea that this applies equally to adult-to-adult interactions should not have to be explained but here it is. I don’t owe you an explanation or information. I will not leave the idea something is wrong with me unchallenged!

I often go to the story in John 9 as a metaphorical guide to Jesus’ response to disability. The story begins with the disciples questioning: Who sinned, the parents or the man, that caused him to be blind?  Definitely a judgement that something is wrong.  Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  So nothing is wrong. Let’s think about the last portion of the response—so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So why are any of us here?  So that God’s works might be revealed in us.  Same deal for all of us. People with disabilities do not have some special directive nor are they excluded from purpose and value. Then the story is odd.  Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash it off.  For me, the mud represents all the judgments, limiting opinions, and disrespect heaped upon all of those judged different but especially those with disabilities.  Then Jesus tells the man to wash it off.  It is an action the man himself takes, inspired and guided by Spirit.  “Then he went and washed and came back able to see.”  Here is where I feel strongly about metaphorical meaning, not literal meaning.  What did he see?  The literal and even common metaphorical meaning is that his sensory eyesight was activated.  It was a physical healing.  Yet the passage says he was a beggar and no one could recognize him now.  He was a changed man.  Here is what I think he saw—he saw himself as a divine being, worthy and capable. He stood straighter, walked with confidence the familiar paths, he changed his appearance with a sense of self-esteem. The transformation of consciousness is a powerful healing that is possible for all of us. How many of us need restoration of our ability to see ourselves as worthy; as divine heirs of the kingdom?  How many of us never notice the mud placed upon our vision, layer after layer, day after day?  How many of us are willing to take action when divinely inspired?  Or do we wait for someone/something else to act upon us for healing?

During Lent we are encouraged to give up something.  Our Unity Lenten booklet lays out a plan to let go of the negative and take up the positive.  Let’s give up the mud! Let go of mud we heap upon one another and the mud that we accept when heaped upon us. There is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong with others. If anyone asks what is wrong with you, do not affirm the idea by explaining what is wrong. Challenge the idea!  Deny it has power over you! There is nothing wrong with me.  We may be different but that does not make one of us wrong! You do not owe anyone a further explanation.  Let us take action to wash the mud away, thought by thought, and see ourselves for the brilliant expressions of Spirit each of us is.  We are here so that the works of God may be revealed in us. The Divine shines in every single, radically whole, one of us.  Shine on!  


Interdependence and the Joy of Community

          Of all the lessons I have encountered during the pandemic, perhaps none is as striking as the value of inter-dependence.  The emperor of independence has been exposed as vulnerably naked and myths that seemed to under gird the value of independence have proven false.  I can see clearly that we are different people when we are isolated from one another and we are all connected in ways we might not have observed nor valued in the past. 

          Early on it became apparent that one by one, the virus spread from contact to contact.  Our health depended on the identification ability, isolation protocols and forthright sharing of information, not only by those in our area, but individuals and leaders around the world.  The web of connection had tethers on every airplane and cruise ship and bus and subway in the world. Not only is “no man an island”, even physical islands are connected to the whole of the planet. 

          Much of our western philosophy of “rugged individualism” and “fierce independence” is based on “ableism” or the valuing of physical, intellectual and emotional abilities and the superiority of people with these attributes expressing without limitations.  We have devalued the concept of inter-dependence and denied the reality that even the most “able” of us depend upon one another.  One of the great fears of aging is a decline in abilities that forces us to rely upon others.  We resent the change because we have long devalued interdependence.

The pandemic leveled the field in a way we would not enter voluntarily, as disabled and abled alike found themselves working from home, getting shopping and food delivered, and restricted in our mobility. Everyone was reminded how much we depend on the “essential workers” whose work is to care for us when we’re sick, drive trucks to move groceries and goods around the country, provide utilities, stock the store shelves and make sure we have food to eat. People whose work is cleaning suddenly were valuable. We have had to ask for help or at least acknowledge the help we receive from others.  We have shared resources in shortages. We have stretched ourselves to find ways to connect with one another, waving from balconies, putting up signs to be viewed through windows and taking video technology to new personal levels.  In its absence, we have been reminded of the joy of community.

          I sincerely hope that interdependence and the joy of community are values we can carry forward, beyond the pandemic.  I am not naïve and acknowledge the ways ableism flourished in the pandemic and sought to further marginalize those with underlying medical issues and those in poverty. While the gaps widen between those who have financial and economic power and those who do not, I hope we can all remember the webs of connection revealed during the pandemic. When we accept every single link of consumer and producer connects us to each other, no one is superior to or left out of the wholeness of our precious blue marble, spinning in space.  As it becomes safe to return to gatherings and hugs, may we celebrate the joy of community shared in smiles coming out from behind masks to be shared with those in stores and restaurants. May we express our gratitude to those who work in the farmlands and on the docks, as well as those who tend us in hospitals and residences.  May we greet one another from a sense of dignity and respect no matter what language we speak, clothes we wear, where we live, and education level we acquire.  May our value be inherent in our beingness, without measure of productivity or abilities. 

Someone asked me why interdependence is not talked about more in the disability community.  My response was related to my perception that typically “ableism” minimizes the contributions people with disabilities make.  Inter-dependence assumes that everyone in the community contributes something; there is value in receiving as well as giving and there is an ebb and flow that benefits everyone.  Ableism looks at a request for help or a need for assistance as a weakness and a failing and does not value nor acknowledge interdependence. Ableism values “power over” others above “power with” others. Ableism also ignores the fact that the entire consumerism of power depends on the work and contributions of others.

Radical Wholeness stands for the idea that “physically able” is not the same as “spiritually connected”.  The most able among us may see themselves as separate from the enlivening divinity in each of us. I am not criticizing them yet my spirituality calls me to see myself in the perpetual dance of humanity and divinity. To feel separate from the divine impacts many areas of our lives and to feel connected is not a guarantee that our humanity appears like the humanity of others.

          One of the last demonstrations outlined in the gospels was Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.  Afterward, Jesus didn’t say, “I did this so that you know who is in charge!” or “I did this for you and now you owe me!” Rather he said, “So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.” John 13:14-16 NRSV.  I read this as an admonition for interdependence. It is an invitation to continually acknowledge our oneness in Spirit; the inherent wholeness in each of us; and the joy in a community caring for one another.

Post script: as I prepare to post this, I ache for the people of Ukraine seeking to live in peace and I ache for the people of Russia longing for the same peace.  We are connected without regard for distance and I pray for a peace whose outworking is not apparent in this moment but possible through Spirit nonetheless.


7 Dwarfs, Munchkins and Fairy Tale Fallout

          With roles in Station Agent and Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage has worked hard to establish himself as a serious actor.  Recently, he has used his voice and public platform to call out Disney productions for half-stepping diversity progress.  Apparently, the new Disney production of the age old “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs” will take the white out of Snow White but leaves the 7 Dwarfs, and its accompanying damage, intact.  Maybe because Dinklage uses the F-bomb liberally in his comments, maybe because no one wants to hear or understand what he’s talking about, Dinklage is being dismissed as simply, “an angry little man”.  What is all this about?

          Fairy tales, for the most part, involve mythical things or powers that don’t really exist.  While extinct dinosaurs might resemble the imaginary dragons, you cannot find the elusive flitting fairies, gargoyles that leave their stony perch, vampires or giants bigger than trees.  The challenge with short-statured people in fairy tales (dwarfs, leprechauns, trolls and gnomes), is that short people do exist.  They are real human beings just like everyone else.  They are never portrayed in tales as heroic beings like everyone else.

          Many Unity ministers love to use The Wizard of Oz to examine metaphors and lift it up as a spiritual tale.  I do not.  What do you do about the Munchkins?  One of the primary tools of discrimination of people with disabilities is “infantasizing” them, or making them childlike. If you go to Munchkin.com you find a company making baby products.  This village in Oz is filled with one dimensional (height) people with cute little costumes and no real identity or characteristics.  One day I found myself in the grocery store, going up and down the aisles to gather my groceries.  A man sidled up to me and with a sneer said, “Look what we have here!  A Munchkin!”  I was very uncomfortable and moved away from him.  He located me in another aisle, “Are you gonna tell me where the wizard is?” The evil in his tone and demeanor was starting to freak me out.  I abstained from saying, “May a thousand flying monkeys come out your ass,” because I was a pastor and that was not a very pastoral thing to say.  Instead, I found my daughter and hurried out of the store.  I should have told the store manager.  The problem with portraying people with dwarfism in fairy tales is that a fair number of people cannot distinguish fairy tales from reality.  Dinklage, like most of us, did not grow up with people looking at us as potential romantic partners, as leaders of industry, as inventors, as creatives or people to respect. We were “the dwarf” in class, in town, in our work environments, often in our own families.  It is a minimization that few are interested in undoing.  Dinklage hoped he had the recognition to make a change. Sadly, I think he was wrong.

          Disney is in the business of fairy tales.  In recent years, they have begun to identify some of the damage done in the typical fairy tale.  For generations we have taught young women that they need a man (ideally a prince) to rescue them from danger (not that the men cause the danger, that is left to evil older women) and finding the right prince is the only real path to happily ever after.  Young men are taught fighting is the answer to any conflict, physical strength is the primary characteristic of success, and you also need to find a princess for happiness.  Newer stories are being told about women who fight (Mulaun, Maya and the Dragon), women who don’t get rescued (Tangled and Frozen), men can lack physical strength, be sensitive and prevail in peace (How to Train Your Dragon-not a Disney film, DreamWorks) and the absence of beauty as necessary (Shrek, also DreamWorks).  Still, we leave the dwarfs intact as not real people, even though we have real people in the roles.  Snow White in the forest with 7 little men is not in any danger because they aren’t real men, they are dwarfs. They have no capacity for violence, sexuality nor heroism.  Only one out of 7 seems to be very smart (Doc vs Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey).  Maintaining this one-dimensional portrayal of people with dwarfism is what Dinklage is calling out as the perpetuation of the damage done in fairy tales, while appearing to correct the bigotry of Snow White-ness.  

          Dinklage’s comments are being countered with wails of “So should we do away with all fairy tales?”  “Why does everything have to be politically correct?”  “Why can’t kids have stories anymore?”  So here is a thought.  Before we cast out damaging fairy tales, we need to first, acknowledge the nature and existence of the damage fairy tales have done; and second, we need to write new stories that counter the damage. What if it was The Princess and 7 Men in the Woods?  What if the men, maybe a mix of short and tall, had real strengths and weaknesses, and a devotion to protecting and caring for the princess?  What if they performed heroic acts to keep her safe?  What if it was a dwarf man who summoned the courage to kiss the poisoned girl they all had cared for and the princess awakens to a love born out of caring and courage—which might actually be the foundation for a happy marriage? I would suggest that we cast the princess as a woman of color and short stature but then observers could dismiss it as just a “dwarf tale” not really relevant to “real people” or in our value system, tall people. Just as even winning an Emmy has not been enough to eliminate references to Dinklage as a “dwarf actor” not merely a talented actor.  Putting that “dwarf” label in front of anything is like adding a demerit, or a negative sign.

           People with dwarfism are real people.  They are in pulpits and classrooms and boardrooms and hospitals.  They have hopes and dreams; they have marriage and divorce and children.  Like all real people, they have diseases and pain and yet, like all people, the measure of their worth is not their height nor their productivity.  We all have sacred value. Minimizing the value of anyone, based on any characteristic in this material and temporary manifestation in the world, is injustice.  We need to stop telling stories that perpetuate injustice.  We need to create new stories to lift up the characteristics that lead to true success—kindness, compassion, courage, wisdom.  We need to start NOW.


The Blessing Jar

A couple years ago I found this idea in an article and I’ve adopted this practice ever since.  Last Sunday was the end of the first full week of the new year.  Having experienced the uncertainty and unpredictability of the last two years, I am confident things will continue to surprise and sometimes disappoint me in the coming year.  That has not dissuaded me from setting intentions and maybe even a few goals.  Yet that is not what the practice is about.

At the end of the week, or Sundays for me, I stop to reflect on the blessings of the week.  2020 was packed with the drama of retiring in a pandemic and moving across the country.  Last year, I have to say, sometimes I considered an uneventful week a blessing. 

A day is lived moment by moment.  A week is built by seven mostly ordinary days.  And a year is filled in by 52 weeks.  It’s fine to have a New Year’s ritual of looking back at the year but my memory vision is not what it used to be.  I have found a weekly recording of blessings both keeps me present to the gifts of my ordinary life and gives me a scrapbook of memories for my New Year’s Eve reflection.  I enjoy the challenge of looking for gifts as the isolation of our pandemic continues to disrupt the adventures we used to look forward to. Nature offers her gifts in the silence and isolation that always exists and I return to her often. Sundays I take time to take a page from a calendar or a small note sheet and fill in my blessings.  I tuck the note into the Blessing Jar and release it.  New Year’s Eve is a pleasant surprise as I (and family if they are here) pull the notes, one by one, out to review the year.  There are always more blessings than we remembered. 

If you have no Blessing jar, any container will do.  If you don’t have a page-a-day calendar, recycle any piece of paper.  The important thing is to take time to sit in gratitude and savor the blessings of the now moment.  If you think you have nothing to be grateful for, consider the mishaps that didn’t happen. I had one of those driving days yesterday. I sighed as I pulled into my parking space, grateful none of the accidents I narrowly avoided happened.  Grateful for my reflexes and a reliable car.  And a parking space by my door. It’s not too late to begin a Blessing Jar for 2022.  Find the gifts you might have overlooked and allow gratitude to guide you through this year.