Joe by Bob Wickizer

Rev. Bob Wickizer
Exodus 19:2-8a; Psalm 100:1-4; John 12:1-3; Matthew 9:35-10:8
13 June, 1999

Maybe it's the heat of these summer days and the intense experience of summer bugs, humidity, dust, rain and just being outside that draw me so naturally to think of sports, of youth and the kinds of spiritual questions that arise from the fiber of our bodies. Summer is a time of intimate physical experience with the outdoors, yet I just can't get the image out of my mind of young Joe in the seventh grade running in the cold wet grass of an early spring.

In grade school, Joe the Polish kid with an unpronounceable last name just fit in as an average kid. He was not the brightest or the most popular nor was he the kind who sat in a corner unnoticed. Joe was just an average kid. But suddenly Joe became very ill and he went away from the class for a long long time. When he came back it turned out he had polio and he was barely able to walk. He would come into the class and get seated before everyone else arrived, but one morning I was there early enough to notice him walking so tenderly with his crutches under each arm kind of half dragging one leg as if his mind had one idea and the leg another.

Some of the kids in the class would giggle when they saw Joe trip over things or fumble about just getting into his seat. There were of course a few whispered gossip items going around and while kids don't often intend to be cruel, Joe was no longer average, he was different and that scared people. When someone in a group behaves in a different way, or is physically different the group will often convert their fear of that difference into words and behavior that hurts. It's almost as if the group itself has a desire to maintain a center or an average, and energy is required to defend that average against people who are different. That of course is the behavioral explanation of racism and all the "isms" that confront our church and society every day. That is the ex ...

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