Disability, Society & Me

Because disability is about more than just physical impairments and genetic conditions …

Some of you who follow my work may have noticed I have moved in recent months towards Disability Theology, and dare I say it, Activism. While I have never considered myself to be disabled, I regularly am disabled by numerous conditions that I live with, and have recently come to understand that while I may never receive a diagnosis, I am Autistic. The validity or not of self diagnosis in a world where medical diagnosis for grown women in a cash strapped NHS is nigh on impossible, is not something I want to get into or wish to justify. Needless to say I am more than comfortable describing myself as such given the story of my life, contextual factors and how I now understand it.

Having worked in the field of SEN Education and Therapy for 15 years, I have been steeped in various theories and discussions around Disability Theory for a long time. One of the main takeaways, and a framework I strongly champion, is the Social Model of Disability. In a nutshell, this means it is not a person and their disability that disables them, but society and the infrastructure around them. A wheelchair user is not disabled because they use a wheelchair to reach a raised platform, they are disabled because there are only stairs and not a ramp to reach it. See how that works?

The more I reflect on this, the more I want to take it one step further. What makes a person disabled? Is it because they have a set of indicators the relevant diagnostic manual allocates to a diagnosable condition which society then designates a disability? There are a lot of barriers for many people to even get to that point, does that mean they must not be disabled if they don’t? What if no diagnosis can be found, or agreed upon, or if the current DSM hasn’t yet included their particular set of indicators?

I may have a day where I have no issues at all, my neurodiversity has no impact on my life, I experience no aspect of disability. I may have a day when, because of the huge traumas I have experienced in my life and the potential for triggers I live with every day, I have to walk with a stick, I can barely leave my house and I am most certainly disabled. For others, their experience of disability may be much more clear cut. For many, it is as complex as this and even more so.

We have moved in many areas to talk about spectrums, scales and journeys. This is in recognition that we need to view human experiences in a more fluid, flexible way. I suggest we need to apply this to disability also. We need to give much more thought to what disability is, how we experience it, is it a permanent state of existence or is it a spectrum of potential states? I don’t have the answers, but I do know the conversation towards a more inclusive society, even within our own disabled society, could do with starting here. While ‘What is your disability?’ is still asked of those contributing to Disability Studies and Theology, we’re going to have issues …

I can only speak to my own experience and understanding, and it will be different to many I am sure. Am I diagnosed or ‘labelled’ as disabled, no. Am I sometimes disabled, absolutely. I’ve blogged about it before, for example here. Am I disabled enough to be a Disability Theologian or Disability Activist? For some, no. For others, my lived experience and the weight of my words are credentials enough. For those, I continue to speak.

Peace be with you

A Prayer for Sunday 2nd May 2021

God of Unity, today I am thankful for Community.

I thank you for leaders who give their all, however much or little that may be, from whatever position that may be, to one person or many. Bless us all in our service to eachother and to you.

I thank you for communities where all are listened to, all felt heard, suggestions are welcomed and acted upon where possible. Help us to become those communities wherever we can. Bless us all in our service to eachother and to you.

I thank you for your vision of Kin-dom, where the low are raised and the weak are strong. May we be active in raising those we know of needing support, and strengthening those around us who need our additional weight behind them. Bless us all in our service to eachother and to you.

For yours is the Kin-dom, which we strive to bring here on Earth, loving God.

Amen

Peace be with you

A Prayer for Sunday 25th April 2021

Like a gull soars over the ocean, roaming watchfully, may your gaze soar over us.

Like a dolphin plays gracefully in the waves, dancing lightly, may your Spirit dance with us.

Like a child watching the sand trickle through their fingers, gasping in awe, may we always stand in awe of you.

Like a crab scuttling to find the perfect shell, seeking hopefully, may we always find a home in you.

Like a seal basking on the rocks, resting peacefully, may we always find a place too rest with you.

Wherever our situation, whatever our experience, however we find you God. Draw us always to find you.

Amen.

Peace be with you

Prayers for Sunday 18th April 2021

God of Joy, who created a world infused with Joy in nature, nurture and the name of Jesus, teach us how to rejoice in Joy today.

When it is easy, dance with us in our ecstasy. Sing with us in our gleeful expression. Celebrate with us in our appreciation and revel with us in out abundance.

When it is so, so hard, encourage us to keep looking. Draw us to your light. Call us to notice the blessings around us, and never let us forget the potential for Joy again.

May we be a people of Joy Seekers, not in wealth or aspiration, but in spirit and peace, finding our Joy in the flowers in the cracks, the birdsong on damp mornings and the candle that flickers in the dark.

In Jesus name we pray,

Amen

Peace be with you

Prayers for Sunday 11th April 2021

God who celebrates us as we are – whole, scarred, confident, nervous, joyful, angry, and everything in between – be with us this day.

Be with the bereaved, as we are given a stark reminder this week that death comes to us all. Bless all those who mourn, from the Royal family to our closest neighbours. For all are treasured by you.

Be with the uncertain, as more restrictions lift this week and we each have our own responses to navigate. Temper our enthusiasm with wisdom, and soothe our anxiety with peace. For all are treasured by you.

Be with the vulnerable, the ones watching from their windows as they feel life returning to normal for everyone else. Reassure us, Jesus, you are walking with us at our own pace, and we are never alone. In each individual journey there is meaning and purpose. For all are treasured by you.

God who celebrates us as we are, who was resurrected to us scarred in Jesus so we could know wholeness as we are, may we learn not to stick our fingers in our own wounds today, but to have faith in your presence above all. Draw our gaze to you. In Love.

Amen

Peace be with you

Would Jesus have said #MeToo?

A Good Friday well spent, methinks!

TW: There are some mild references in this blog to sexual abuse and rape which you may find disturbing. Please use your discretion in reading further. Peace be with you, and blessings should you need them.

Have you ever wondered why the Romans dressed Jesus up, only to put his clothes back on him? Seems a little strange don’t you think? Have you ever considered this means Jesus was stripped naked three times over, in public circumstances, for an intensely private man from an intensely private culture. He was beaten naked. I doubt his genitals were avoided. What would we call this, if not sexual abuse? The question posed by this book, is how far did the abuse go?

In a way, that doesn’t matter to me. I don’t say that to diminish it, I found it incredibly compelling in the potential presented (importantly, nothing claimed as fact) for Jesus as a victim of rape in the Roman praetorium, and it made sense of a lot of things for me that didn’t quite sit right before. This is shocking. I fully accept for some people it is a step too far, and that is absolutely your right to feel that way. Just, stay with me a moment though, please.

The sensitivity with which this book spoke about real survivor issues was just so touching. It radiated from every page, almost visible like the warmth from a candle. When I read about Thomas needing to touch Jesus’ hands to believe, and that being related to victims of rape having to undergo rape kits in the aftermath of their traumatic experience as part of their ‘proof’, I got that completely. When the book wondered if any reference to Jesus being a victim of rape had to be erased because that would make him less believable in our collective psyche, I got that completely too. How many women take the stand in rape cases knowing the actual person on trial for the truth is them? If they get that far …

I know there are concerns that this is a can of worms we really don’t want to open. Women I massively respect and care about have shared that view, and I want to honour that. This is a hugely sensitive subject with massively personal resonances that we must engage with carefully and prayerfully – or perhaps choose not to at all. Women’s experiences are being eroded all around us, and to bring focus on Jesus as a victim of sexual violence at a time when women are crying out to be heard on the issue may well have been a little unfortunate in the timing. That isn’t anyone’s fault, just the way it happened. My view, for what it is worth, is that if anyone of any gender expression has been subject to the power violation that underpins sexual violence, then embracing their need is a more urgent response than the political agenda of Feminism. But the latter must still be championed. Nothing is ever simple, but love is greater than struggle. I hope we can find a way to better balance the two demands.

Because for some of us, this is the most healing, the most true, the most empowering, the most engaging, the most direct and the most beautiful book that has drawn us the closest to Jesus we have been in years. And I repeat, in a way, the detail of what did or didn’t happen in that Praetorium, or how we interpret the penetration of nails into Jesus’ skin, or how we define enforced public nakedness, isn’t what matters. What matters is that we can have the conversation. What matters is that the potential for Jesus’ voice to be heard as part of the #MeToo movement is being recognised. What matters is that all of the noise in my head around my own experiences, life story and the somewhat radical theology I have developed to make sense of it all has just been reflected back to me in a book and I thank God for it.

And if you disagree, that’s ok. You are loved, and I thank God for you too.

Peace be with you

What an Easter!

Never would I have imagined last Easter the journey I would have walked this one.

I sat up on Easter Monday and realised I hadn’t done my blog prayers on Easter Sunday! And I smiled. For there was no guilt, no shame. I wasn’t going to beat myself up for that. Alleluia! He is risen indeed.

For what an Easter journey it has been. I have felt so disconnected. Lost. Apart from it all. I have been working very closely with an online community, The Ordinary Office (find them on twitter @Ord_Off or online at https://www.anordinaryoffice.co.uk) and have been honoured to preach for their online services, in particular on Easter Sunday. God was at the heart of it, and They delivered. But at times it all felt so abstract. Unreal.

Yet, there is nothing more real than the pattern of Easter. Of complete searing loss, devastation, emptiness. Of finding a way to live again after that was seemingly impossible. We do it all the time. After a relationship breakdown. After a redundancy. After a death. Granted, not usually literally. But once Easter had passed, and the expectations were over, the traditions were fulfilled and the routines were complete, once I had the space to look at my own life, look where death was looming and declaring victory, and pray resurrection into it, then I could see Easter for what I needed it to be.

Not an observance of a story in the Bible, the Church’s response to that, and society’s commercialisation of a springtide tradition. But my heart’s reflection on the darkness in my life and the Spirit within me’s reassurance that life would win. If I let it.

This week, I have lived like I am letting it. It has only been three days. But I am happier, my home is breezier, and my soul is lighter. Easter has never lifted me before like it has this year. Not from traditional Church, but from Online Community. Not from following rites and communion but from following where the Spirit led and engaging actively in Twitter community/the community in my street, on my doorstep. Not just from the Bible, but from scholarly books actively engaging in discourse around the Easter narratives – more on that later!

Now I am no longer tied to a Church, a tradition, a denomination, I am free to live Easter in the Wilderness and just see how God wants to speak to me, 1:1, just us. As Jesus did, as John did, as Moses did. It’s amazing. The journey to the wilderness is tough. But once you get used to it out here, it’s a fine place to be. I’m gonna stay for a little while …

Peace be with you.

A Prayer for Sunday 28th March 2021, Palm Sunday

God who showed us the way to live is not through greatness, but through humility, help us to always seek the way of service over the way of glory.

Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, knowing what was to come, help us to always walk the path before us with grace even when we can see hardship before us.

Spirit who never leaves us, resides within us, and stirs our hearts to the way of our God, stir us this Holy Week to listen, receive, and follow the journey we each have laid before us.

For you are good, and you are love, and we honour you this Easter time and always.

Amen

Peace be with you

A Prayer for Sunday 21st March 2021

Spirit who calls us to brave and bold steps, may we never lose the courage to say ‘yes’.

Spirit who leads us as we speak out against injustice, may we never lose the courage to raise our voices loud.

Spirit who refills us as we run empty from our endeavours, may we never lost the trust to work for justice as you call us to do.

God, Jesus, Spirit. Here we are, use us. We say yes, we use our voices, we work for justice. All for the love of you, and your kin-dom here on earth.

Amen

Peace be with you

A Prayer for Sunday 7th March 2021

God who parents, nurtures, co-creates and delights in our growth. We thank you today for all we are.

For the melodies you sing over us and the tapestries you weave, knowing we will become them one day even as we weep into the broken mess which is all we see; we thank you for the beauty, God of Light.

For the steps you place before us, often seemingly random or disjointed but always leading us onwards to fulfil your purpose for our lives; we thank you for the beauty, God of Light.

For the faint and wavering hope even in the deepest despair and darkness, that we hold for eachother even when we dare not hold it for ourselves; we thank you for the beauty, God of Light.

Keep shining your light for us, Oh God, that we may reflect it for others and become beacons that light up the world with Love. For Love will win, Love will light, and Love is You, God of Light.

Amen

Peace be with you