Sometimes, in the dead of night, I wake and I think in the stillness. I think of the pain that wakes me, the noises that disturb me, the problems crowding my brain and preventing me from drifting back to sleep. I know I should be able to lay them at your feet, Jesus. But worry wraps around me like a weighted blanket, heavy yet somehow soothing, and I just can’t ever seem to let it go.
Be with me inside my cocoon of worries, God. Meet me where I am. Maybe all these prayers of release are just a step to far. Right here, right now, I am tired, sick, fractious. Before I can give it all to you, Yaweh, draw as close to me as the breath I take which echoes your name. Be with me in the midst of the here and now, with the peace of rest and the anxieties of life.
Then, wise Spirit, you decide the prayer. Lead me in what to ask for. You know my heartfelt needs better than even I do. Draw into my consciousness the next step towards healing and wholeness, so I may prayerfully co-create my journey forward with you.
What do we do, when peace is so fleeting, and conflict so rife around us?
Look to the sky. See the soft, rolling clouds and watch the gentle movement of the earth. On and on it turns, in a constant, life-giving path. Know it turns to give you the sunlight you need, and the darkness to rest. That is how much God loves you.
Look to the earth. See the green shoots, abundant in the country or persevering through the cracks in urban space. On and on they grow, in a constant, life giving effort. Know they grow to give you the air you need, and to clean the air in turn. That is how much God loves you.
Look to your heart. See the space within where the Spirit lives, rests and resides in you. On and on They work, in a constant, life giving endeavour. Know They are there, purifying, pruning, gently weaving the strings of your heart together with their own in a beautiful braid. That is how much God loves you.
Feel the Peace that comes with the knowledge and understanding that this is how much God loves you.
‘That’s mental!’ ‘There are crazy discounts right now!’ ‘He’s just blind to the truth’ ‘You’re so lame’
If you really start to think about it, our language is absolutely rammed full of ableist terms and phrases. As a disability activist, I will hold my hands up and say I have got it wrong, publically and recently. On an almost daily basis I find myself about to say something, thinking about the root of what I was about to say, and choosing differently.
When I was little, it was common to use terms like spastic (and derivatives), mongol (and derivatives), retarded (and derivatives) to describe people, all coming from authentically used disability language. I have Music Therapy text books on my shelf which are still set texts and still use such terms. We would not use them now as mainstream language, we know they are offensive and in general society has actively chosen better. We choose to honour the wishes of the communities living with those disabilities, using person first language, or not, as guided. We choose to listen to the experiences of harm indicated to us by people living with such disabilities and adapt our behaviour accordingly.
So why is it so difficult to do the same with more mainstream disabilities? Mental health, visual impairment, hearing impairment? ‘I told you to put the washing on this morning, are you deaf?’ ‘Come on ref, are you blind?’ ‘That tune is mad man!’
The same context applies. We have clear voices telling us using such terms and phrases are problematic at best, harmful at worst. Yet as a collective there can be a sense of ownership, even entitlement, to use our language, metaphors or phrases from literature that comes above our acceptance of the impact these terms have.
Our use of one word or phrase may not cause clear harm in the moment. But consider the impact if we all challenged our own language habits, made new actively inclusive choices, listened when innocent responses were pointed out to be problemmatic, and learned from disability advocates instead of seeking to defend the status quo? I’m happy we no longer use ‘handicapped’, ‘invalid’ and ‘uneducable’. Let’s keep the movement forward.
Recently, I was introduced to The Beatbox Gospel by Rev’d Gav Tyte. I was raised in the classical music tradition. and the one beatbox training session I had for my Music Therapy course was more hilarity than success. However, I have used it to connect with people in my work, my son and I have an incredible ‘Charmander Rap’ on video for his 18th birthday party, and I love the way beatboxing can open doors in a way other forms of expression cannot.
Cue my very confused husband walking in on me joyfully beatboxing the Magnificat in full Sister Act 2 style with pure joy in my heart and tears in my eyes.
This work is a piece of art. It is beautifully constructed, and wholly true to the essence of the Gospel of Luke. The care which has been taken to make it as accessible and usable as possible was plain to see, and it has been a true pleasure to explore. What a fresh and vibrant way to engage wirh familiar texts!
You can download a recording of Rev’d Gav himself performing, or a script for your own perusal – but don’t just read it, this work is meant for ‘lectio divina’ as it has never been done before! Find it at https://thebeatboxgospel.com/ and enjoy!
(Rev’d Gav is a member of our Ordinary Office community, this is not a review for commercial gain but purely a blog sharing how fab I think his work is!!)
God of all, we thank you for this day filled with newness of opportunity, life and time to spend in communion with you. Time to spend in your presence. Time to spend in worship. For where would we rather be?
We thank you for independence, to make our own choices and to follow your unique calling on our lives. To follow what we know to be true and just, to follow the ‘Way’. To hear you speak into our hearts and have the independence to actively say ‘Yes, God. I’m in’.
We thank you that you bless our endeavours when we step out in faith. That from small seeds, great things grow. We celebrate the amazing dreams you have for us, if we only trust in you enough to follow each stepping stone you lay before us, secure in the knowledge there will be another beyond it.
Today, I choose to thank and celebrate. There is much to mourn, fear, concern, stress, upset, hurt and worry. But today I am more capable of joy and thanksgiving than many. So today, Jesus, we shall revel in it all, together. Come, Holy Spirit, Come.
Triune God, whose very essence is mystery, fluid, relational. We thank you for all of the varied and beautiful ways this is expressed in our humanity.
For those who stand proud with their loved one, in same sex union of any kind. We thank you for the steps towards wider acceptance, and we ask you for continued progress to be made. For Love is your greatest commandment, over all.
For those who are unsure of who they should love, what gender they are, how their internal personhood matches who they were assigned to be at birth. We thank you that awareness is better and help is available, and we ask for continued progress to be made. For Love is your greatest commandment, over all.
For those who have cisgender, hererosexua privilege afforded to them by societal norms, let them use it wisely to help their marginalised siblings up, not hold them down. We thank you for strong, vocal allies throughout society, faith groups and communities and we ask for continued progress to be made. For Love is your greatest commandment, over all.
Where biblical translations over rhetorical devices and ambiguous wordings may lead to unfair marginalisation of your queer children, God, may we always remember the absolutely clear direction to Love Thy Neighbour. For if we love, how can we judge and harm?
As I have been reflecting on recent weeks, and the discussions around embracing diversity, I keep coming back to the idea of unity. How can we ever find unity if we invite so many voices to the table? I can almost begin to understand the gatekeepers who want to only make decisions with those who agree before the discussion even starts.
But how can we ever learn from eachother in those circumstances? How can we ever hear fresh perspectives, find new ideas or make effective change?
There is a tendancy for the majority to stand together and the minority to be apart. The majority then make the decisions, have the loudest voice, hold all the power. If this inherent power dynamic is denied, that is a huge problem. And it so often is.
In the topsy-turvy kin-dom of Jesus, the unity would be WITH the minority. The majority would stand WITH the minority, as one. They would raise their voices as loud as possible in SUPPORT of the minority. They would be doing whatever they could do REDUCE the power dynamic.
Yet so often we just want to cling on to where we are, what we have, the status quo. There is a fear, and a sense of threat, that comes with relinquishing it. Those who are demanding change must be unreasonable to expect such a sacrifice of us.
Yet the cost of not moving towards the minority in unity, is that the minority continues to be marginalised while the majority carries on regardless …
Yes, we have awareness weeks, inclusion initiatives and legislative developments. But until hearts change and everything is infused with true intent, it will all be lip service and performative actions.
Instead of prayers today, I thought I would share with you the text of the sermon I gave as part of The Ordinary Office Sunday service this week. I wish I could say the exclusion and abuse of disabled people within churches was a thing of the past, but sadly these issues are still commonplace across western society today. While awareness of physical and safeguarding issues grows, mental and spiritual abuse, neglect of needs and misunderstandings abound while attitudes are rarely challenged; when they are, those doing the challenging are often tone policed, patronised or ostracised. We don’t want to upset, offend or be divisive. We just want parity, reasonable treatment and fair access, as equal children of God. I invite you to read on.
I wonder at our Bible reading today (Acts 3:1-10), at the people who took the man to the outskirts of the temple gate in Jerusalem called the Beautiful Gate every day, but never within. The people who left him there begging because that was the only way a man who couldn’t walk could get money. The people who didn’t take him to a local workshop to whittle spindles with his perfectly good hands, because his legs had a weakness so that rendered the whole of him useless. The people who placed him outside of the temple but not in it so he could hear the teachings of the Rabbis, because his legs couldn’t hold his strength so his brain mustn’t be able to hold the words. I’d like to say that in 2000 years attitudes have changed. I’d like to say that.
What is it about disability that we find so threatening as a society? Is it that seeing disability in another brings us face to face with our own vulnerability? That to accept disability and embrace it would be accepting and embracing our own fragility? That we are only as strong as our weakest element? That the topsy turvy kin-dom of heaven Jesus preached to us in the Sermon on the Mount is a challenge to our very personhood?
I look around our community, at what some of us have to live with every day, at the experiences and the prejudices and the refusal to give up that our lives are testimony to, and I challenge the view that disability equals weakness. When a daily existence involves enough pills to make a person rattle, enough physical, mental or emotional pain to make it a challenge to get out of bed, and the guarantee of misunderstandings, discrimination and institutional ableism that is nowhere near as close to being recognised as its sister ‘isms’ are; when that is what life involves before a person even starts to meet the day where a person living without disabilities does, how dare anyone dub us weak…
And the emphasis on healing. We must change to be accepted. This man could access the Beautiful Gate once he could walk, of course he could! Peter and John even decided for him that would be a greater gift than money – at least in the parallel story of Jesus healing a physically disabled man in John’s Gospel, Jesus asked him first. As an aside folks, always, always, get consent from a person before you minister to them in any way, praying for healing however well intentioned if it is not consensual or fully wanted is spiritually abusive.
The Bible tells us this particular man was joyful to be healed, and walking, and entering the Beautiful Gate. Praise the Lord. But we must be careful of applying the story of one man in one scenario to all disabled people across all time and space. Would I want to be healed of my neurodiversity, of the way my brain is wired which makes me uniquely who I am? Absolutely not. Do I ever want anyone to pray for me to be healed of this? That would be grossly offensive. Another individual would feel different about their own individual circumstances. So we must always ask.
Had this man ever considered healing before? What lies after healing? So many of us find our identities and our disabilities inextricably linked, in our own eyes or the eyes of others. What happened to this man a week after his healing, when he could no longer beg but had no trade? Did society embrace him as a miracle and therefore support him? The records we have of the early church would indicate they did exactly that. But what does this story say about the community judgement of this man’s worth before God had transformed the strength in his ankles, and then after, when we know God was sat there outside the Beautiful Gate with him all along? God’s presence with him hadn’t changed, God’s value of his life hadn’t changed, so why had societies?
We here at The Ordinary Office, for many different reasons, sit outside of the Beautiful Gate. But we’re not begging for coins, and we aren’t here waiting to be healed. We may have people who have placed us here, but we’ve made something more. Because we believe in better than what society believes in for us. We believe that God is out here with us, not just in there waiting for us when we are ready, conforming, healed. We believe that we can make things with our hands even if our legs can’t carry us, we can use our brains even if our ankles are weak. We believe in celebrating what we can do, rather than what we can’t. If we heal, we heal in our own way, at our own pace and with consent, because it is what we want, not because someone comes along and decides it for us. Peter and John were led by the Spirit to enable a miracle of God for one man. Let us be led by the Spirit to enable a miracle of God for the Church. A miracle in the way Disability is viewed. A miracle where we are not left outside of the Beautiful Gate any more, but where the boundary of the Beautiful Gate for disabled people is no more.