A few weeks ago, our pastor, Madison Shockley, gave a mini sermon on the politically correct terminology on referring to his race and culture. You see Madison is of a minority status in our congregation. In an effort to improve communication with his 90% white congregation, he ended his mini sermon by saying that he preferred being referred to as an African American or Black Folk. I wanted to yell back, "I prefer to refer to you as Madison!" When I told him I would like to respond with my thoughts about labels, he agreed to let me address the congregation.
Here is what I told the congregation:
Labels are for jars, not people.
Labels are intended to describe who we are, what we have done, or some other characteristic. However, labels never tell the whole story. At best, they only speak of a small part of who we are. They can be based on fact or perception. I am white. Madison is black. Those are facts. You can tell that from a distance without ever meeting us. Some people refer to me as "disabled." Am I disabled? Well those who are visiting today would no doubt say, "Yes, of course you are!" But those who have known me for years would probably argue with you by stating all my life accomplishments. Am I disabled? It is a matter of perception. I have a disability, but does that make me disabled? Some will think it does, but others won't.
In the 80's, a small group of people with developmental disabilities living in an Oregon institution formed a new self advocacy group. They needed a name. Judy Cunio, a severely physically disabled woman, said, "We are people first. Our disabilities are second." That was the birth of People First, a self advocacy organization that is now an international organization. If anyone here would like to know what it means to 400 individuals who are constantly labeled to be considered "people first," I invite you to come to the San Diego People First Conference at the Marriott in Mission Valley on Mother's Day weekend. We have volunteer opportunities and I guarantee it will be an unique learning experience.
There are many labels people can or have used on me--disabled, amazing, sinner, lefty, and a label given by one young member of our congregation, Sam. He calls me "the lady with the dog" (Andre is my service dog). But there are only two labels I accept. One is my name "Linda." The other is "child of God." As a child of God, I know I am loved, accepted, and forgiven no matter how others perceive me. With God, I am always a person first.