- Wayne Chasney
Challenges and Gifts
Nathaniel said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." (John 1:46)
Jory Fleming is a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in marine science. He is also a Rhodes Scholar and author of a new book titled, "How to Be Human." Fleming was also born with severe autism, among other serious health challenges.
I was introduced to Fleming in the book by Walter Isaacson, "Code Breaker." Isaacson is telling the story of gene editing and the scientists whose discoveries have made it possible. Fleming appears in the story late in the book as Isaacson addresses some of the sticky ethical questions that go with genetic engineering. For instance, if it becomes possible through gene editing to eliminate autism, should we?
Fleming is not so sure. He said, "You'd be removing an aspect of the human experience, but for what benefit exactly?" Then he raises a point that really challenged me, and I hope all of society. Fleming argues that though autism is a difficult condition to have, many of the challenges come from the fact that society "is not good at accommodating people whose emotional lives are different." He asks, "Should society change to recognize the benefits of autism instead of just the challenges?"
When we encounter a person with a disability, what is our first response? Empathy? Pity? "There but for the grace of God go I?" Can we shift our thinking to wondering what gifts that person brings to the beloved community of God? How can society ensure those gifts - every person’s gifts - are able to be expressed and shared?
Jesus' first disciples could not imagine that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. While Philip convinced Nathaniel to "come and see," I wonder if there were others who dismissed the possibility altogether and missed out on their chance receive the gifts Jesus had to offer.
I look forward to reading Fleming's book, "How to Be Human: An Autistic Man's Guide to Life." I hope it will help me to better recognize the gifts every person brings to the beloved community of God.