When I was a kid, my parent were waiting in a doctors office and a little amish boy ran past them. The father called out for “Gideon” to come back. My mom said to my dad, “Gideon. That’s a great name, isn’t it.” Dad agreed and they spend some time planning out a middle name that would go with it. “Gideon James” was decided. They went home and thought very little about he conversation.
A couple of weeks later my parents got a call about a little baby with down syndrome who was going to be born in New York City in a few weeks. The family was putting him up for adoption. It was already known that he would need heart surgery after he was born. We all got exited about the prospect of a little downs baby. Everyone, that is, except my mom. She did not like the idea of bringing a baby into the house. She was unsure about the whole thing. I have been told that I even challenged her and asker her, “Where is your faith?” Apparently my gift of exhortation came on early.
We talked about if for a couple days, with my mom holding her line that she did not want to do this. She sat down for her morning devotions and to read a book she was part way through by Elisabeth Elliot. She opened the book and read the words “Take Gideon.” It was as if they jumped off the page and grabbed her. The actual sentence was, “Take Gideon, for example.” But in those first two words, my mom was taken back to that conversation at Shriners hospital. It was as if God was saying to her, “Debbie, you can trust me. I already gave you the name for this child before you even knew he was on the horizon.” Mom changed her tune, and my parents flew to NYC to get Gideon a few weeks later.
Gideon had surgery a couple of weeks after that. He nearly died in my mom’s arm thanks to an errant decimal point on a medication. But he survived, and he has been such a blessing to us ever since. When he was a child he looked like a little Keebler Elf. As he got older he did not like to crawl on his knees, so for several years before he walked he would bear crawl everywhere with his butt pointed to the sky. He loves watching bullriding and is a season ticket-holder for the local minor league baseball team. He blasts his music and movies until someone goes up and turns them down.
People with down syndrome can be in a wide range of social and cognitive levels. My brother is pretty severely retarded and would probably be on the autism scale if that was used for those with down syndrome. He makes a humming sound sometimes in groups of people and when he is nervous. If you are around it a lot it disappears in your mind, but if it is new to you it takes some adjustment. I remember one time as we we looking for churches during a time when my dad was working in para-church ministry. The pastor of a larger church in Erie actually asked my dad, who he knew form ministry contexts, to take my brother out during the sermon. He suggested that he be taken to the cry room- a glass room where the service could be heard but the sound inside could not go out. The problem with that idea is that my brother is going to make that noise for the rest of his life. I can imagine my brother 20 years from now still sitting behind that glass unable to come fully into the community or into the presence of God. And he can’t be back there himself, so that decision exiles my mother there as well. We did not go back to that church. Even worse, that was not the only church that this kind of exclusion happened in.
The church misses out people like Gideon can find no place. His joy is so needed. Sure, his logic is very simple, but the way he loves and gets excited about simple things is inspiring. Church is a huge part of my brother’s life. He loves church and sees it as a dialogue between my dad and his including a lot of amens. He is the pentecostal in the family.
I learned some of my best theology from Gideon. One of the things that Gideon has trouble with is prepositions. When he looks at pictures he will see himself and say “me.” When asked who my mom is in a photo he will point to my mom and say “me,” I guess because that is how she should answer. This makes for some interesting moments in the language of the Trinity in worship. Gideon knows that he is his father’s son and often calls himself “son.” In my dad’s prayer or when the congregation does the Lord’s Prayer, my brother says: “In the name of the Father, the ME, and the Holy Spirit.” Gideon inserts himself in the place of Jesus. I actually think that Gideon’s theology is better than most of the people in the pews. That is really what happens with Jesus. He takes our sin and brokenness and we get his sonship in his relationship to the Father.
Gideon has taught me about joy, grace, the church, and even the Trinity. He is such a joy to me. Would Gideon be welcome in your church?