Tag Archives: limits

Why the Church Needs People with Disabilities

 

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This is the cartoon on the front of my students’ syllabus!

Over the past five years or so, this blog has taken a massive shift in trajectory toward exploring the lives, needs, and gifts of people with disabilities, in China, in our local church, and through my own experience with my daughter.  (In fact, I’m realizing how much I need a new tab for disability on here!  Coming soon…)

What I’ve found as I’ve only just begun to embrace this collision of my anthropological, theological, and spiritual life is that our theologies, when it comes to understanding disability, are quite limited.  They’re often not broad enough to consider the gifts of the Spirit people with disabilities possess, because they’re caught up in a rhetoric of healing, medicine, suffering, or overcoming.  Or they’re plagued by an anthropology that makes disability some surface form of neoliberalist inclusion rather than a deep paradigm shift for us all in what diversity and its value really confers.

We human beings are searching for theologies of disability that ring true when it comes to the light, challenge, and wisdom people with disabilities bring to life–theologies that confront our hollow concepts of both diversity and God.  But we need to learn and hone and witness to these theologies through practice rather than mere intellectualism, recognizing the transformative experience of life lived with other and with God.

I’m excited about being part of a recent series on Youth Ministry and Disability organized through The Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary because the authors are making the case that the Church needs people with disabilities rather than the another way around!  I think this is a really exciting moment for the theology of disability, and I hope you will read all the posts and leave your comments and continue the conversation.  I’m including mine below, but please do swing by this one from my colleague, Joel Estes, and one of the great theologians of disability, John Swinton, among others!

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On Being Transformed

“You never know. Maybe she will get up and walk. Maybe she will be able to eat and talk like other kids…maybe someday she will be normal.” 

I have often heard these well-meaning words from friends, colleagues, and church folk about my daughter, Lucia, who was born with a progressive genetic disease of the brain. From the time she was just a couple months old, from her seizures, to her feeding tubes, and onto her diagnosis, our family has been confronted with the idea that Lucia is abnormal. But perhaps especially because she’s our first child and we know no differently, or perhaps because my husband and I have learned so much from her, I bristle at statements that suggest life would be better for us or Lucia if she would conform a bit more to the standards we hold for other kids. As a person of faith, I often wonder what God would have to say about our ideas of normal and how God might use children and youth like Lucia to fight against a culture that (perhaps un-self-consciously) worships ability and regards disability as a problem.

Keep Reading at The Institute for Youth Ministry…

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Called to this life.

Blurry shot of beauty this morning.
Blurry shot of beauty this morning.

It’s been another full week: the United States celebrated the second term of its forty-forth president as Princeton Seminary ushered in its seventh president.  In both personal and public places, and in the first month of a new year, we’re in the business of reflecting on where we’ve been and where we’re going.

This weekend, I was challenged by the words of Dr. King, as he embraced the present moment despite its imperfections, as his moment, to which he was called.  On Tuesday, as I heard the new president preach at the seminary, I was moved by his charge to allow God’s dreams to interrupt our small goals and to use our limits as a way back to God.  As he mentioned his thirty-one years in ministry, and as I looked around the congregation filled with pastors and hopefuls, I felt that call, as I’ve felt it many times over the year, to serve, to lead, and to minister.

But then I realized: talking to a Chinese friend that morning, and forming words in another language that might provide some comfort, some empathy, some peace–I felt myself called to that.  Discussing anthropology and faith earlier this week with my faculty mentor at the seminary, I felt myself called to that.  And worshipping God on Tuesday in community and feeling free and full, I felt called to that.

Princeton Seminary from afar.

And I wondered, perhaps we are the ones who put the limits on our lives, who cling to small calls when God has wider, fuller dreams?  I feel gratefulness choking me up when I realize that a life where every moment is spent in service and praise of God makes ministers of us all–no more, no less.

My expectations brim with faith these days, faith that our definitions of call are too narrow for God’s infinite wisdom and abundant vision, faith that my limits speak of possibility when they draw me nearer to God, and faith that the kingdom of God isn’t fleeting or futuristic or finite–it’s here and it’s in you and me and all around us!

May you go this weekend in the knowledge that you are imperfectly, humbly, yet emphatically called to this life.

Amen.