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Poet, theologian, group worker, and leader of Corrymeela Community of Northern Ireland, Pádraig has worked with groups in Ireland, Britain, the US, and Australia. With interests in storytelling, groupwork, theology, and conflict, Pádraig lectures, leads retreats and writes both poetry, prose, and music..
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Today, I share a personal story as springboard for something about compassion offered in context.
Many of you might not know that my husband and I have a special needs son named Nathan. (We also have a normally-developing daughter named Gabrielle, who we usually call “Ellie”. See photos of both of them below.) It’s been very arduous over the years with Nathan’s myriad of challenges and a strain on the whole family in many ways. To those friends, teachers, family, and others (too many to name) who have been helpful and supportive over the years, we say “thank you”.
What I am sharing today relates mainly to Nathan finding rich connection, friendship, or being truly accepted among his self-identified Christian/church goingpeers. Acceptance is a challenge for many typically developing children and teens. Children and teens by nature are immature, so I don’t (and didn’t) expect things to go perfectly!
His story is far from unique and neither is my pain as his parent watching it unfold. In a Christian setting, we’d like to think that rejection doesn’t happen too much because children might be influenced by church teachings and leadership. Or, Children and teens might be influenced by their Jesus-loving parents to act in ways that loving receive others with equality, but that was not our son’s experience.
When “being a mascot” is the best your child can hope for in terms of acceptance (that is to say that being ostracized is normal and being treated as a ” ‘Hey there little buddy!’ mascot” is a more rare but rather humiliating experience), your context as a family, how you help your child cope, and who shows up as your salvation, can take a surprising turn.
This personal story is the springboard for a deeper reflection today: about how we find our way in the world, make life better for ourselves and others, and maybe find some healing in the process.
What our family’s experiences showed me was that we can provide for others best out of the context from which we come, eventually. Examining those needs, hurts, and context can (possibly) yield a harvest of “good fruit”, eventual healing, and service to others. And maybe (with some new awareness), as we become more mature we can be increasingly mindful to ways we distance ourselves from people we fear. We also distance ourselves from people who unconsciously reflect parts our own weakness or insecurities back to us, and sometimes we distance ourselves from others we deem un-preferred to our sensibilities (or our cultures’ sensibilities) and are unlike us. If we can begin to see this, it’s a start.
• Thanks for listening today! Blessing and peace.
See the show notes below for my two previous fantastic conversations on the theology of disability and hospitality from Dr. Thomas Reynolds. He offers some truly inspiring and enlightening things in these areas that are likely to be completely new ground for you and your community.
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Pictured in photo: Nathan, his friend Cori, Nathan’s sister Ellie, and Luna–our dog. A little bit about Nathan: Nathan loves to make videos on his youtube channelabout trains, how-to videos, and animation videos. He loves working at his part-time job (large scale yard work), spending time with friends, making things from soda cans, drawing, playing with Luna, and coming up with fanciful business ideas. He also enjoys posting on his Instagram account. You can follow him on those outlets and encourage him, if you’d like. He loves connecting with new friends and fans. (And if you send him train video footage or interesting video script ideas he might try to create new videos with them.)
Nathan’s video channel trailer:
More on the the study and theology of disability and hospitality.
Tragedies bring out the questions of Theodicy (or so-called “weak theology”) and the questions of why good God would allow humans to suffer. We talk about how we perceive weakness compared to how God might encounter or solve that. It’s a loving term of weakness.
Looking at Jesus dying on the cross as a metaphor for weakness. (sacrifice)
Violence begets more violence.
The solution is a surprising one.
Beliefs are constructed through history are relatively stable (this is why they last throughout time) but they are also relatively unstable then too. It’s both dangerous to mess with the beliefs and dangerous to keep them frozen too.
Shownotes: PART II
A conversation with Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, author Tom Reynolds
Tom joined the Emmanuel College (part of the University of Toronto) faculty in 2007. He is committed to an interdisciplinary, practical, and relational vision of theology, and his teaching and research address a range of topics related to constructive theology (particularly the doctrine of God and theological anthropology), theological method, intercultural and interfaith engagements, contextual theologies and globalization, philosophical theology, disability studies, and the thought and influence of Friedrich Schleiermacher.
Who sinned? (disciples of Jesus thinking of blindness as a curse)
So the glory of God can be revealed. (What might that mean that we haven’t understood yet. [Lisa])
The story is less about curing the disabled and more about reveal Jesus’ power and legitimacy as the Messiah.
NT Wright author of Evil and the Justice of God
(on the Problem of Evil)
• God as the Incarnation steps into human suffering as a means to assuage it and also, in that, provides us a model for how to encounter it in the world ourselves, practically speaking.
The answers to suffering can become “incarnational”, not cerebral and (held) at a distance.
The why questions signal a (good) unsettledness which can be productive…
1. God is bigger than our questions and we should feel free to engage in dialogue with God and each other about God.
2. And because it calls us to live into the world and the lives of people will engage who ask, “Where are you?” and we can be there in presence and not (just) with answers.
(The heart of Incarnational living.)
In many cases God’s own presence is us to each other.
“Care isn’t so much “doing for” but “being with”.”
1 in 5 families regularly encounters a serious disability of some kind.
We (as a family) chose to continue to come to church even though it was sometimes messy so he (and everyone) could figure out how to make it work. (Lisa)
How can people in Christian Communities or leaders in Christian communities do better when it comes to being truly hospitable and caring well for people with disabilities.
Training ministers to come along side is important.
In his mission and intro to Theology class, what is framed is practical wisdom lived out in relationships of caring regard with other people. (not in the academic halls or in isolation).
On developing the perception to see/understand differently and to see places where people have been harmed by certain ways of seeing these…like the healing narratives…illness as curses from God, or metaphors of seeing and hearing language and attitudes (able-ism) for example.
How to show consideration:
Asking before you assist someone. Or asking how you can best help and not presuming that you know (or know better).
Listen first, then do.
Ministry doesn’t have to be deficit-focused to the “needy”…but rather possibility focused.
As all people of resources and gifts [are] welcome among the community…this turns things upside-down.
Think of people as sites of wisdom that help a community of belonging.