The Weather Report


There is a universality to a wounded person. I have witnessed this time and time again. I have experienced it too. I have crossed paths with one needing a hand and responded without giving it much consideration. Strange, how brokenness draws out sudden tenderness.
John Hockenberry is an award winning journalist. Perhaps you heard his reporting when he was with the National Public Radio. Hockenberry has been a correspondent with Dateline NBC since 1996. At the age of 19 he sustained a spinal cord injury in a car crash. The accident left him with paraplegia from the waist down. You can read more in his biography Moving Violations.
The journalist in him is always looking to enlighten others. People often ask him questions about his disability. He answers and never sways from the truth. “I cannot walk.” “I have lost the use of my legs.” “I use a wheelchair.” “I’m a guy in a chair, crip for life,” are a few honest replies. “Everything you think about me is right. Everything you think about me is wrong,” he adds. Hockenberry strives to help other people to understand his experiences and then, bridge any gulf that separates.
I thought of the journalist recently on the occasion of my introduction to Philip Rogers. Philip is the youth resident that the Center for Youth Ministry Training has matched with Immanuel Baptist Church. If the match is agreeable to both parties, Philip would move to Nashville and begin work in July. Philip is in a wheelchair one hundred percent of the time. He has spina bifida and cannot walk. Philip drives a car and lives an active life. Philip is a disciple of Jesus Christ who has been called to youth ministry; he is eager to prepare.  
You will have the opportunity to meet Philip June 1 -3 when he is in town for an introductory visit. My guess is that Philip has had many an encounter with strangers claiming the right to ask bizarre detailed questions about his disability. After an introduction and a bit of time we will no doubt learn more about him.  For example, his name is Philip, but he prefers Phil. He is a Colorado Rockies fan. He has completed training as a Stephen Minister. Despite knowing some about the present brokenness of Immanuel, he is excited about meeting us.
One of the deepest human predispositions of our biological inheritance is our instinctive aversion toward people with severe birth defects resulting in physical disability. The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould believed that we inherit the slant. But he does not stop there. He continues by reminding us that nature can only supply a predisposition, while culture shapes specific results. Meaning, we can be trained in a compassion that pushes us to judge others by their qualities of soul, not by their external appearances. Such a love is our birthright as disciples of Jesus Christ.
I am looking forward to seeing Phil and his service dog, Romeo. My guess is that he will see me more clearly than I will initially see him. Meaning, he will not feel the urge to stare or have to manage the instinctive aversion for those uniquely different. It is likely that Phil has developed an eye for the crippled hearts of some people whose bodies are whole and sound. Chances are equally good that his body will draw sudden tenderness from me, and in time, my brokenness will do the same for him. At that moment, seeing each other as wounded, we will exchange a lighthearted compassion and embrace one another.       —Steven