Pastor Devin Strong
Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
Crip Camp opens with grainy video of a few dozen severely disabled teenagers exiting a ramshackle bus on a hot day in the summer of 1971. Some campers walk, some ride, and some are carried.
They are at Camp Janed in New York, one of the nation’s first retreats specifically for young people with disabilities. This 2020 documentary, available on Netflix, follows the lives and struggles of half a dozen campers with varying disabilities. The company reveals how these young people who came of age at Camp Janed have become the front lines of the disability rights movement in this country since the first rehabilitation bill in the 1980s, which required all institutions receiving federal funding – schools, libraries, city buses, etc. – are made accessible, to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 which requires that all public buildings of any kind be accessible to people with disabilities. In particular, Crip Camp shines a light on Judy Heumann’s marches, sit-ins, and fierce leadership on behalf of people with disabilities.
I am one of the few pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to live and minister from a wheelchair, and I am ashamed to say that I knew little of this story.
I went to summer camp much like Camp Janed in the mid 70s. I went to an inaccessible high school, I was bused to an accessible high school, I went to a semi-accessible middle school and two semi-accessible seminars, and I’m still largely ignorant of the history that made disability rights possible!
Certainly, I face my own challenges in schools, churches and in society at large, most of which are driven by fear rather than malice, but I have also been blessed by teachers, neighbors and many friends who went the extra mile. to make room for me. As we reflect this week on how far we have come as a nation and how far we still have to go, I must say that I am one of the lucky ones who has encountered more support than anger. Growing up, I didn’t know how bad it was for others in wheelchairs because it wasn’t for me.
I am deeply grateful to live in this country.
I am also deeply pained to see and feel the conflicts that exist between us on a number of issues. Looking at the news footage of the protests at Crip Camp, I was surprised at how much it looked like the marches of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, and the gay rights movement, but I don’t haven’t heard of the disability rights movement in school. because I live it.
At the risk of oversimplifying things, I want to make an observation. Most of the conflict in our society right now (and perhaps always) is because disparate groups of people want a seat at the table. They want to be heard and they want to know they belong at the table. We need to stop meeting at separate tables and yelling at those at another table. We need to make the table bigger and help those who are scared and angry believe that they are not losing their place at the table. Indeed, Scripture teaches us that a bigger table is a better table. I recommend the movie Crip Camp, and I thank Judy Heumann and so many others who helped me make room at the table.
God loves you, and so do I.