Alyssa Kaplan, Baltimore, MD

Warm-up Questions

  • What does it mean to be blessed?
  • When have you felt most blessed?
  • What are the biggest blessings in your life?

More Than Merely Inspiring

Stella Young, in her TED Talk, challenges the common perception of disability and its relation to inspiration. She shares her own experiences, growing up in a small town and later becoming a teacher. Stella discusses how people often view disabled individuals as objects of inspiration rather than recognizing their everyday lives and challenges.

She introduces the concept of “inspiration porn,” where images and messages are created to inspire non-disabled people by showcasing disabled individuals accomplishing ordinary tasks. Stella argues that this approach objectifies disabled people for the benefit of others and perpetuates the idea that disability is a “bad thing.”

In line with the reflection on Matthew 5:1-12, or the Beatitudes, Stella’s message resonates with the principle of recognizing the intrinsic value of every individual, regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Matthew 5:1-12 emphasizes qualities like mercy, humility, and seeking justice, which can apply to how we perceive and treat disabled individuals. Just as Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5 urge us to challenge societal norms and values, Stella encourages us to question our preconceived notions about disability.

She emphasizes that disability is not what makes a person exceptional, but rather it’s their resilience, strength, and their ability to navigate a world that often fails to accommodate their needs. She advocates for a world where disability is seen as part of the norm, and where disabled individuals are valued for their genuine achievements, rather than being objectified for inspiration.

Stella’s message aligns with the idea that recognizing God’s presence and justice means seeing the value in every individual, regardless of their circumstances. It reminds us to challenge stereotypes and prejudices, and to treat disabled individuals with the respect and dignity they deserve, consistent with the Christ’s  call for empathy and compassion.

Transcript of Stella Young’s TED Talk

Discussion Questions

  • Most of us have been inspired by stories of folks overcoming physical challenges.  So why does Stella Young say that these stories are “inspiration porn” and what does she mean by that term? 
  • When you think of disability, what comes to mind?  Should we expand our concept to include unhelpful attitudes toward those said to have a disability?
  • What will it take to change the way we think of persons with a disability?

All Saints Sunday

Revelation 7:9-17

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

At the start of Matthew 5, we witness a pivotal moment in Jesus’s ministry. He has become known far and wide for his teachings, the Good News he preaches, and his miraculous healings. People from all walks of life are drawn to him, seeking solace for their souls, understanding for their minds, and healing for their bodies. As Chapter 5 begins, Jesus takes his disciples up a mountain, likely contemplating the needs, hopes, and fears of the crowds that have been flocking to him.

Imagine the weight on Jesus’s heart as he encountered countless stories of suffering, saw the depths of loss etched on people’s faces, and felt the collective longing for liberation, love, and community. These interactions left Jesus and his disciples deeply moved and likely filled with questions.

As they ascended the mountain, perhaps they wondered about the possibilities and challenges that lay ahead. The crowds were growing, suffering was pervasive, and the yearning for a better world was tangible. This was just the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, and the journey ahead was uncertain.

No doubt, their hearts carried dreams of transformation, concerns about expectations, and a profound empathy for the pain surrounding them. In that moment, Jesus sat down with his disciples and shared valuable teachings on how to navigate days when the world seemed overrun by the weight of injustice and suffering.

Even when we intellectually understand that God favors the suffering, the oppressed, and the marginalized, it can be hard to feel it when faced with the world’s pain. It can appear that God has forsaken those in poverty, turned away from cycles of retributive violence, or abandoned the earth to our disregard.

Our culture shapes our perception of what is valuable and what is not. Yet, God offers a different set of values that challenge these cultural norms. It’s natural to be confused by these conflicting messages, as we must unlearn the ideas ingrained by ableism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and other corrupt systems.

From an early age, we are shown or even explicitly told that money equals happiness, power is the path to meaning and security, societal rejection implies worthlessness, self-interest prevails over collective well-being, conformity is best, and differences are threats. These narratives  maintain power structures, perpetuate shame, hinder transformation, and have been passed down through generations.

Our faith equips us to see beyond these illusions, to recognize the emptiness of excess, the deadening impact of participating in evil, and the false promises of power. Jesus offers us these teachings, known as the Beatitudes, as a counter-cultural guide to living with God’s perspective.

The Beatitudes affirm what we need to hear repeatedly: God’s favor, closeness, justice, presence, and love are always working to restore balance in the world. When we look around and see evidence of the world’s injustices, the Beatitudes guide us to perceive, live, and relate differently. They help us recognize that when crowds gather in pursuit of justice or to mourn the world’s pain, it’s a sign of the Kingdom drawing near—a testament to God’s presence and a source of hope for all.

Discussion Questions

Jesus’ beatitudes and Stella’s reflections serve to flip on our traditional understandings of blessedness and blessings on their heads.

  • What do you think the ‘Beatitudes’ from Matthew 5:1-12 are trying to teach us about how we should live our lives? Are there any of the Beatitudes that stand out to you in particular?
  • How do you see the principles outlined in the Beatitudes aligning with or differing from the values and expectations you encounter in your daily life and in society?
  • In the context of the reflection we discussed earlier, how can we apply the teachings of the Beatitudes to address issues of suffering, injustice, and the treatment of marginalized individuals, including those with disabilities or other challenges?

Activity Suggestion

Stella Young uses a wheelchair. Walk around your worship space, fellowship halls, youth group space etc. Note which spaces she, or other wheelchair, users would have access to or not. Would Stella be able to participate fully in your worshipping community? How is ableism hidden in our worship spaces? What about your home or school? How could your youth group improve awareness of the limitations of our worshipping communities? What about folks whose disabilities are less immediately visible? How can we grow in relationship and justice for all members of our communities?

Closing Prayer

Dear Creator,

As we conclude our time together, we gather with gratitude for the wisdom found in your Word and the insights shared in our reflections. Thank you for your teachings that call us to recognize your presence amid suffering and injustice. We acknowledge the importance of embracing these principles of mercy, compassion, and justice. We also reflect on the issue of ableism, which can be a barrier to understanding the unique abilities and worth of each individual. Help us break down these barriers and challenge the biases that perpetuate injustice. Guide us, O Creator, to be agents of change, promoting justice, inclusion, and compassion. As we depart from this gathering, may we carry the light of the Beatitudes and awareness of ableism into our daily lives. May our actions align with your teachings and may we be beacons of hope and love in a world in need. In your name, we pray. Amen.