Doing Life Together

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by Marvin Miller
 
The three of us met on the first day of Kindergarten.  And like typical five year olds dropped into the strange world of structured yet unstructured education, we were amazed at all things new:  The green plastic army toys, the smooth grained wooden blocks, and the foreboding board books with grand illustrations and unknowable “words” on each page. 
 
But one horrible and indelible impression cemented into my memory (while hiding behind my mother’s coat)—each of us young boys had identical stamped-metal lunch pails. The previous day, I had confidently selected mine from the shelf at the local grocer, assured my unique selection would be distinctive.  So I learned my first social story of kindergarten—I have more in common with others than I think! As youngsters we didn’t perceive the differences between us.  We just played together, scouted together, and even occasionally got into trouble together.  That’s what friendships are all about—doing life together.
 
I never had the opportunity to become school age friends with persons with disabilities when I was in elementary school—that was before special education laws were ever enacted.  Four decades later, my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, grows up in a different world.  Everyone knows her in the hallway.  She shouts out their name; they call out hers.  Her friends teach her to sing and to cheer and to put on makeup.  She teaches them how to dance—and if the conga line hasn’t started yet, she’ll get one going!  That’s what friendships are all about—doing life together.
 
An interesting model of inclusion and exclusion, friendship and togetherness, and worship and holiness emerges from a veiled passage in the ancient Levitical law.  While many people point to the verse where a priest with a disability is excluded from service, an alternate perspective is portrayed in Leviticus 21:22.
 
In this passage, the tribe of Aaron offers a model to the rest of the nation on how to treat those with disabilities: table fellowship as ultimate friendship and inclusive environment.  Eating together, laughing together, celebrating together, grieving together.  And while the “imperfect” priest was ineligible to present an offering, his imperfection becomes made perfect when residing in the presence of God at the holy table.  This image of hospitality resonates with baptized believers in Christ who share in the new table, the new covenant.  We realize that together, in Christ, we are all once again qualified for ministry and service together.  And in Christ, all means all!
 
My kindergarten buddies and I were not just friends, but also partners, co-laborers.  We taught each other as much as we learned from each other.  That’s what real friendships are all about.  That’s what I like about Friendship’s new curriculum, Together.  It gives us all a chance to learn from each other, teach each other, and partner alongside each other.  In other words, we have the awesome privilege to do life together.
 
Oh, speaking of together, my Emergency 51 lunch box and its matching Desota & Gage thermos definitely belonged together.  I wish I still had them!
 
Marvin J. Miller is a bi-vocational pastor in rural Kansas on Sunday and a caped crusader/special educator during the week. His recent doctoral dissertation focused on bridging the divide between clergy and families with disabilities. A former member of the Friendship Board of Directors (2008-2015), he recently co-founded the Faith Based Schools and Organizations caucus of the Council of Exceptional Children and has been appointed 2016-17 Chair for the Kansas Department of Education’s Special Education Advisory Council.

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Comments

Thank you for this great article. A great story of friendship since kindergarten.

- Gustavo Woltmann

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