One of the most popular issues in our ‘politically correct’ world is the issue of accessibility. Whether you are in a wheelchair or just have a bad limp, the ‘correct’ thing for others to do is to find some way of accommodating your special physical needs. Some will provide enhanced accessibility and accommodate your special needs whether you ask for it or not. Some will even go out of their way to find special needs that they can accommodate, even if those needs don’t really exist. It’s the sensitive, 90’s thing to do.
One chain of fast food joints that I’m aware of has a special menu available with no words—to accommodate those who can’t read or don’t know English very well. The menu is picture based, allowing someone who is afflicted with reading, speech, or language barriers to make their own menu choices by pointing to the items that they want. In today’s multi-lingual world, This is really a great idea, but there’s one small problem. The only notice that is posted on the premises is a small sticker on the door that says, in English, “picture menus are available upon request.” This means that the people who most need the picture menus – those who cannot read, or who don’t know English – have no way of knowing that the picture menus are available. It’s about as brilliant as posting a notice about the availability of food stamps on the bulletin board of a posh Country Club in an affluent suburb.
I occasionally have a strong enough stomach to endure a sandwich at one of these franchised burger joints, and every time, I find myself looking at that sign and marveling in its stupidity. How could anyone expect a person who could truly benefit from a picture-based menu to know that one was available when the only notification was in a language that they can’t read? I suppose that a customer could stand at the counter and display their lack of understanding of the words on the menu board, embarrassing themselves to the point that someone might think to offer them the picture menu. In reality, most of us, if placed in that same situation, just wouldn’t go into the place to start with. We’d be too embarrassed.
As I was exercising my jaw on a sandwich yesterday, staring at that ridiculous little sticker on the door, I had an image come into my mind. The image was of a young woman standing outside of a church on a Sunday morning, looking at the sign. The sign is loaded with Christianese jargon and terms that she doesn’t understand. She knows that something deep inside her is hungry. She knows that she’s been bruised emotionally and spiritually. She hopes that, somewhere, she can find something to satisfy the hunger in her soul, and to heal her bruised, broken heart. As she stares at the sign, trying to figure out what the title of this morning’s sermon means, people are walking past her on their way inside. Those who’ve noticed her simply assume that she knows what the sign she’s reading means, because they certainly do – and so does everyone else that they know.
Will she go inside? Will she find what her heart is longing for? Probably not, if she’s like most of us. The environment is too foreign, the language is hard to comprehend, and it’s safer to just keep walking down the street.
I recently saw some statistics that said that 97% of unchurched people who visited a church did so as a result of some form of personal invitation. The most effective way of getting the young lady to come inside the church would be for someone to notice her, greet her, and invite her in. In most cases, she would have gratefully accepted the invitation. An even more effective invitation would have come from someone that she already knew – someone involved in her life, who knew something of her heartache, and gently ministered healing to her.
There are hurting people all around us. Sometimes, we’re just too busy to notice them, as we scurry past them, carrying the healing balm that they’re longing for. Lord, please help us to pay more attention, and accommodate the hurting people that you send our way. There are a lot of people out there that need you – and since we’re your hands and feet in this world, that means that they need us, too.