Picture a playground of children picking teams for a game. One by one team captains chooses their teammates. Waiting to be called. in clear apprehension, is the child with red scaly patches on their knees and elbows.
There is a chubby kid who wears glasses looking off into the distance. The child with an obvious physical handicap, malformed knuckles, and webbed fingers expects to be last. A child with a vocal tic knows those who mock her will ignore her. The boy who stutters feels the same as does the one too shy to make eye contact. The unfortunate world of exclusion.
Inclusion means to allow to be a part of something. Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines it this way in selections one and four:
(1) the act of including the state of being included
(4) the act of practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes.
The story of David in the Bible is a favorite of mine because it is to me, the embodiment of inclusion. You may be familiar with the David, a shepherd boy, wearing no armor, who slays the giant Philistine, Goliath, using a slingshot and stones. There’s more to the story of David than the shepherd boy and his mighty slingshot.
The Prophet Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to choose a man from the house of Jesse who would one day be king. Jesse had many sons, but The LORD gave Samuel specific directions. Each man was presented and had worthy qualities, The LORD said no:
“But the Lord told Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. A man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks in the heart.” [1 Samuel 16:7 NIV]
Jesse did have another son, he was young, and out tending sheep. Samuel requested he see him and when he was brought up from the fields, The LORD spoke to Samuel saying this was the son he should anoint to be the future king. David had the heart the LORD wanted.
David played many roles. He was a shepherd, a musician that played to soothe evil spirits afflicting King Saul, a warrior that fought for Saul’s army and later crowned King.
One of King Saul’s sons, Jonathan, was also David’s friend. David made a promise to Jonathan that he would provide and care for his family should anything happen to him, his father the king, or his brothers. King David then kept his promise to Jonathan when he inquired if anyone of the house of Saul survived to whom he could show kindness.
Though Saul’s former servant, Ziba, David discovered Jonathan indeed had a son living. His name was Mephibosheth. “Ziba answered the king, ‘There is still a son of Jonathan, he is crippled in both feet.’” [2 Samuel 9:3 NIV]
Mephibosheth’s nurse saved him at the age of five running away from people who wanted to kill all remaining relatives of Saul. She dropped him and his feet were crippled.
To wonder why it was important for Ziba to tell King David Mephibosheth was crippled in both feet isn’t hard to understand. The sick, crippled, and diseased were shunned, excluded, and made to live away from those without afflictions. We can read Mephibosheth was crippled in both feet twice within the twelve verses of this short chapter.
At the time King David made his request Mephibosheth was in his forties, married, and rearing a son. He lived in a place named Lo Debar, the name meaning land of nothing.
Mephibosheth viewed himself unworthy and devalued. These feelings are recognized along with probable low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Mephibosheth arrives and stands in front of King David to receive an offered inheritance and a place at King David’s table as part of the family forever.
Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant that you should notice a dead dog like me?” [2 Samuel 9:8]
Mephibosheth despite mental and physical problems and shame chose to rise above his situation and take his inheritance enabling a better life for himself and his family. David offered inclusion, and Mephibosheth accepted.
The LORD requires us to accept and include people in much the same way as King David included Mephibosheth. The passages found in Isaiah and Jeremiah, speak to the inclusion of all individuals.
Isaiah writes from the Lord,
“Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of them foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? [Isaiah 43:5-9 NIV]
Jeremiah also writes from the Lord,
“Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, And I will gather them from the remote parts of the earth, Among them the blind and the lame, The woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; A great company, they will return here.” [Jer 31:8 KJV]
Writing stories with a disability requires our characters feel comfortable talking with the disabled. Another important aspect is portraying the disabled character as productive as their non-disabled counterparts. Why? To reduce a stigma where the characters with disabilities are unproductive as compared to the non-disabled characters.
A dialogue between disabled and non-disabled characters is a significant step toward encouraging inclusive behavior by the reader. Creating a sense of ease around those with disabilities isn’t as hard as one might imagine. Any place a person goes, people with disabilities go. Like anyone else, they go to school, shopping, movies, amusement parks, take the bus, ride the subway, drive cars, keep house, and go to work. If you see someone observe without staring, maybe start a conversation, you can see if they are willing to answer questions.
There are always people with disabilities who need care or assistance. If a person is in an accident and breaks a leg they need someone to care or assist them until they heal. If their break is severe or combined with other injuries, there may be no healing. This person is the same as they were before – on the inside. The heart stays the same. The inner person remains.
My parents were uncomfortable in the past when I’d ask questions of the disabled, “What happened to your leg? Where is your arm?” Was this a problem of their uncertainty of not knowing what to say, how to act, or being uncomfortable in the presence of a disabled person or was this the collective norm?
If inclusion had evolved since the days of King David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, perhaps this wouldn’t have been the case. In Jeremiah 31:8, I don’t read these words and think to myself some, a few, only the best and brightest, the most productive, or those without a flaw.
I believe we want to lift and include all people for the glory of the Lord. Everyone belongs. Everyone should be included. I’d like to think as writers we can follow the words in Proverbs 23:12:
“Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.”
 Definition of INCLUSION. (2017). merriam-webster.com. retrieved 10 July 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inclusion