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Reaching Out

Too often people are afraid to touch people out in the margins. Physical touch by people in the margins is considered dirty or unhealthy. I often wonder what Jesus’ disciples thought about His habit of touching the “unclean.” My friend Frank has cerebral palsy and, as a result, drools uncontrollably. Frank doesn’t feel the drool coming out of his mouth so his aid or I will prompt him to wipe his mouth. Frank carries a small towel for just this purpose. Even with a little assistance Frank still ends up with a large drool spot on his shirt and with his hands covered in drool. Everyday that Frank enters my class he does his best to smile (which is difficult as a result of the CP and missing his front teeth) and then offers his twisted drool covered hand for me to shake.

Susie is another friend of mine who loves to shake hands. When Susie comes into my class she will rush right by me and head for the restroom. Susie typically forgets to wash her hands and has been known to put her hands in inappropriate places. Yet, as soon as she leaves the restroom she comes by my desk before going to her seat and insists on shaking my hand.
Some people would implore me to refuse shaking hands until the students have cleaned-up. This is said in attempt teach the student social skills. I understand this way of thinking and I do try to teach social skills and proper hygiene and all of those necessary things within my classes. Other would suggest that I go ahead and shake hands, but have the hand sanitizer at the ready as soon as I am through. While I do have the mandatory teacher-strength hand sanitizer at the ready, I refrain from using directly after shaking hands and choose to wait a few minutes until my students have gone to their seats and began their work.
I’ve had a lot of opportunity to see my friends with disabilities interact with their non-disabled peers in public. One thing I notice is the apprehension by people without disabilities to shake hands, embrace or make physical contact of any kind. It seems that disabilities cast the same pale shadow that leprosy has for centuries. I’m not sure why people are afraid to reach out and touch another human being (I have my suspicions), but they are. That being said, how can I not embrace or touch, at least shake hands with my fellow man?
I know professionals, social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. who will refrain because they are acutely aware of the poor hygiene associated with some of my friends or they know the places my friends might put their hands from time to time. This might be true; however, I have to reflect on Revelation 3:20. Here Christ stands on the door and knocks. He desires to enter our hearts. He, more than anyone, knows exactly where our hearts have been. He knows the foul places our minds have gone. Yet, He does not ask us to get some heart sanitizer or clean-up first. Christ takes us as we are. There is comfort in knowing that when we feel like an outcast, when we feel that we have failed to meet some standard, when we feel shunned by the church or society in general, Christ, the spotless one, reaches out to us. Paul says that while we were still sinners Christ reached out to us by way of the cross (Romans 5:8).
If our compassion is the compassion of the Christ, if we are to emulate His compassion, then our compassion must be a compassion that Reaches Out to those marginalized or shunted away by society and the Church. We must look at ways in which we can reach out and bring people into the loving arms of Jesus.  We must look at ways in which we can turn our congregations into places of welcome and comfort to those who are in need. We must look at ways in which we can bring a real community to people in our midst.