Episode 21 (PART II Tom Reynolds) “Care isn’t so much “doing for” but “being with”

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Tom Reynolds
Tom Reynolds, PhD


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.

His recent Articles

Email: tom.reynolds@utoronto.ca

MIN 00:30

Tom on Theodicy – The question of why does God allow suffering and how should we think about suffering.


How would Tom, as a theologian answer the question, “Why would a sovereign God allow a person to be born disabled and encounter such suffering?”


The Why questions and the answers are messy, ongoing, and evolving. These answers are limited and open to ongoing revision.


Reframing needed. Question the question and its suppositions about seeing suffering first and foremost as the issue.


If we are pitying a disabled person and seeing them how we would interpret suffering, we might be off base.


Exclusion as suffering. Social suffering is something we can alleviate as the church or community.


Tom on the central questions of Theodicy.


What would a good world be? Interdependent and that holds up the preciousness and fragility of life and human experience as valuable. Good things can be fragile things.


Does God cause suffering and determine it? Maybe it’s (all) unfolding for us in mysterious ways.


Book of John, chapter 9: The man born blind.

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.


1 Cor 12:25

Members having the same care for one another. All can care and contribute.

Living out the image of God with shared affinity.


Transformative and vulnerable communion within our communities…being together.


[There is] dignity in participation. (Lisa)

Allowing people to serve along side means that we are equal.


Equality isn’t sameness. Difference doesn’t mean a hierarchy.


(Tom) Music is my therapeutic other life.


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Episode 20 – Puncturing the Illusions of our own Ableism and Flawed Ideas of Normal (with Tom Reynolds) part 1

Tom Reynolds
Tom Reynolds, PhD


Shownotes: PART I
A conversation (in 2 parts) with

the author of Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, by practical theologian 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, 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.

His recent Articles

Email: tom.reynolds@utoronto.ca

MIN 4:00

Incorporating the theology of disability into his work training pastors at Emmanuel Seminary, because theology is personal, and not disconnected from the real world concerns of the church and people living their lives.


About his son Chris sparking his interest and work in the theology of disability.

5:30 Learning that disability isn’t a problem to figure out, but rather it’s about a person who I love and live with, and care with and for, which radically reoriented my perspective on theology.


Disability and God’s Providence

(Questioning does God “cause” disability as a curse or opportunity for healing…or a kind of moral lesson…)


His son exploded the theological categories (and assumptions) pertain to Providence…making everything confusing and needing to be re-thought.


What is abnormal? What is “faulty” humanity?

Amos Yong, Hans Reinders, John Swinton writing on the topic too.


Tom details the new book on the Theology of Care which builds on the first book.


Some churches stress Cure over Care in terms of disability.


(Lisa) My visit to a church where the leadership was interested in healing my son from his non normative experience of the world.


The range of responses churches have when encountering people with disabilities.

The  church’s “urge to cure” is better than outright exclusion, which plenty of families have encountered.


It comes from the the idea of remaking and fixing someone in a way that is more comfortable for non disable people and normalcy (what they consider normal). Not helpful or Christian.


About the church that didn’t want his son as a disruption and a church that did receive them.


“How can we help you?” was water for his parched soul. How the church accepted and welcomed the uniqueness of his son.


Hospitality vs. a narrow view of what is preferred.


The messiness of various kinds of people, in general, means we have to expand our view of grace.


Who gets to be a full-fledge member of the church community?

and the “mascot syndrome” for those with disabilities.

16:30 – 17:50

Levels and types of responses:

• Tolerate disabled, but they do not get to be a true part of the church.

• “Inclusion” sometimes means means the the “outsiders” get invites to the inside group based on the good graces of the in group, but are still treated as problems to be solved, or people that are to receive the gestures of charity from others (people for whom things are “done for (them”)”. Doing for instead of “being with”.


What is access? In is not just accommodations (i.e. ramps and special bathrooms) and alterations but ongoing…

Faith communities may be not expecting and not ready to receive those with disabilities.


It’s not an issue about outsiders, because disability extend to a broad range of issues, both visible and not visible, including mental health challenges that are already there.


Thinking of the word “BELONGING”

as in “to be longed for when you aren’t there in the fullest sense.”

John Swinton and belonging


Jean Vanier “In giving and receiving do we really thrive as people”


Unconscious bias that includes “fear of the stranger” and “fear of the stranger within”.


We fear weakness and vulnerability.


Before “mainstream”…the stigma of “retard”…and fearing and disposing weakness.


Nathan means gift. (Lisa) I learned that I had to recognize weaknesses (shortcomings) in myself the I saw reflected in my son…and communities can do the same type of thing unconsciously.


“The encounter with disability punctures the illusions of what we think of as our own strengths.”


The journey with a child with disabilities is isolating.


Societal epidemic that fears being vulnerable or perceived as weak or unable to perform in ways that are considered valuable by society.


We have to see what are myths about autonomy, independence, and productivity where are assume we are self-reliant and these qualities are prized so highly. “Able-ism” (The idea that being able in body and mind is normal and most vital which serves as the lens by which we see and judge the world and others outside those parameters as faulty.)


Tom’s latest work called “A spirituality of attentiveness”. Christianity: St Paul’s strength in weakness serves as a prophetic witness against a society that prizes the strong as the main thing of value. 1 Corinthinians pretense of strength undercuts our ideas of grace)


We are all only temporarily-abled. (Lisa).


On hearing “You must be so blessed to have a disabled person as a teacher.” Is this sometimes a reframing of the situation that spins the situation to be more palatable? A glossing with spiritual truths and making it about spiritual growth.


Instead, Chris’s life seeks its own flourishes, and he may at times function as a teacher.


Thoughts on intellectual ability (or inability) and belief in terms of Salvation.

God’s works God’s own path in different ways and in different capacities with people. This undercuts my arrogance (as a theologian), so I don’t think I can so easily map it out definitively and universal for all people in all places.


His son’s atheism (who is the God he doesn’t believe in)…and how that challenges our presuppositions about God.


“It is in the kind of relationships of mutual belonging that the full image of God is borne out.”


(Lisa) To my son I said, “when you see someone who is loving you, you are seeing God.”

(Lisa) On how I changed from thinking “right belief” as the way to understand God was central. Our intellectualizing what God has done is not salvific.


Martin Luther’s theology of the Cross:

The pretense that we know exactly where God is and how God works. Where God is most hidden is where God is most vividly revealed in saving ways.


“Who I am to declare that God’s grace only works in some ways? and the God’s capacity and God’s own mystery is limited to what I would deem and my community would deem adequate.”


What the practical theology of disability tells us about Grace with God and relationships with others.


“The longer I live and work as a theologian the more I realize the limitations of theology and the true infinite mysteries of God.”

Jesus was disruptive to religious pretense and suppositions. “You say this..but I say this…”

Theodicy – The question of why does God allow suffering and how should we think about suffering.

How Tom, as a theologian, answers the question,
“Why would a sovereign God allow a person to be born disable and encounter such suffering?” (This is great!)

The best is yet to come! Come back for part II next week.

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SHOCK & BAWL: A Tale of Jeep Rage

Boston I-93 Tunnel

Creative Commons License Rene Schwietzke via Compfight

Somedays you need to read uplifting or humorous posts to soothe yourself. I GET THAT. Friday seems two weeks away. You and I both know that sometimes we must find a way to laugh so we don’t freak out on someone, or weep uncontrollably into our Dunkin’ Donuts napkin.

This is probably not going to do that for you. But, you can read it, and shoot up a quick prayer thanking God that you aren’t my spouse. So, that’s a pick-me-up. You’re welcome.

True Story:

Once I made a horrible driving error. I’m pretty sure it was the one and only time, but I completely cut someone off on the Interstate.

So, I swing into the passing lane and make a guy in a jeep brake and swerve. Panicked, and intolerably stupid, I flee the scene…by intricately weaving through traffic, no less. Maybe if I’m out of sight I can be out of mind too, I think. No, it’s actually more of a pure flight-or-fight response. I was about 7 year old at the time, and my frontal lobe was under-developed. 

Indeed, it’s all a crescendoing avalanche of foolishness. Incited, second motorist blows his horn and starts to tail me in a move of solidarity against vehicular injustice. Things are getting totally nuts. No doubt he’s readying a tall finger for my witness. My NASCAR lane changing moves soon best him, or maybe he realizes a highway fatality is too high a price just to send a hackneyed message.

As I flee I see the victim in my mirror. He’s frothing and out of his mind with rage. He’s waving limbs around in wild fury, gassing it. He’s in hot pursuit. It’s a Jeep thing, maybe.

Now, I’m terrified. I taste the bile in my mouth.

My heart pounding, I realize this all could end very poorly. And soon.

That blaze of glory stuff is an awesome idea until you start thinking about the minutia of funeral arrangements, or wreckage in general. Yes. The poor man swerved to avoid a smash style killing of both of us. It could have been a horrid pileup too. We truly had eluded death by narrow margins. 14 guardian angels later file grievances. 3 others walk off the job immediately in complete frustration.

Jeep guy was quite good at swerving, actually, and keeps up the swerving through interstate congestion to reach me. Maybe for seconds. Maybe for kilometers. Things are getting weird. A few truckers start honking, to support me, I assume. (They probably notice my professional driving acumen. What 7 year old can draft and weave with such precision? I’m a prodigy. Surely they recognize that. It’s a rush to have their approval. They’re pros after all and they know motoring prowess when they see it.)

At this point I realize Mr Jeep guy is going to try to pull some kind of payback stunt. He’s all in.

Battle of the Stupid Driving Stunts is the theme of the afternoon, but who can blame him? At this point, he’s jacked up pretty good. I’m in a subcompact. How bad will this get? Does he have a gun? Or, will he keep it simple and just run me off the road with a triumphant fist pump? Will I be late for Girl Scouts?

How is this going to end?

I do some quick thinking. Finally. Thoughts not just reactions. I mentally pat myself on the back as my synapses fire two or maybe three times…in a row with no problems!

Actually, I stopped breathing for 8 minutes.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, right? Well, it is. I am inventing a solution with  an unfettered brain buzz that comes just before you die or you nearly die. I’ve scene this in the movies: It’s always in slow motion.

I do the only thing I think will hit the reset button. (Yes. I know there’s no real reset button. Curse you, Staples! Or Vanilla Sky…)

I decide on the element of SURPRISE!

Of course, I had just surprised him quite a bit a moment earlier by nearly snuffing out his life. “Surprise, dude!”

Yet, this is precisely why he will never see a second surprise coming. Really, I had him right were I wanted him.

(If only the roaring terror in my brain had let me enjoy that precious moment. Alas, no. Not at all.)

I enact my own creative SEAL 6 black ops tactic I now call:

Operation Boo-hoo.

It’s go time!

I burst into tears.

I cry.

Sob, really.
Or, I pretend to.

Who has the time to form actual tears at such a high rate of speed and in heavy traffic–before they’re about to be murdered in an act of heedless revenge? Me neither.

Armed with a fistful of tissues I wipe my eyes and feign bawling. A lot. He approaches in haste (of course, because he’s ready to kill me).

From me: Zero eye contact. (Like he’s not even there. A genius move. Remember that for later in your own travels.)

Peripherally, I see him. He edges up to my blind spot. Hovering. Ready to pounce.

He’s poised. He peers. He notices me. He witnesses total hysteria. …and then…mercifully… eases off. (Perhaps I turned out to be a 3 gallon bucket of mess and he only has a 2 gallon bucket that day.)

Yes, I counted on his attitude changing once he thought something else was going on with me. Something mental. Something suicidal or wickedly moronic–barely thwarted by his quick reflexes.

Or, just something too crazy to understand.

Shock and bawl.

I was going for, “Wha….?” 
Is it Grief? remorse? madness? sorrow? a lost puppy? What. is. the. deal?
Whatever…let me just say it worked. Perfectly.

Later, I rewarded myself with a new box of Kleenex…with aloe.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t armed with aloe tissues in the first place. But, never again.
Because that would be crazy.

If that was you in the Jeep, thanks.

I wasn’t paying attention and I didn’t see you. We both avoided certain doom.

P.S. (I might have not been 7 years old at the time.)

9/11; and the Interview & Confessions of a Funeral Director…


View my 3 Part video interview with Caleb here.


The 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy a week from this Sunday. We will once again see images and recount the horrors of that day, and try in memorial to accept the reality of this world. Most of us don’t encounter death and our own mortality too often. Most of us don’t constantly see suffering, and witness grief and loss.

Please take some time today, or this weekend to remember that the events of 9/11 still bring pain to many. Loved ones are missed, and we can’t gloss over the national tragedy that left a collective hole in our hearts, even ten years later.

This seems a fitting time to discuss an author who is very acquainted with death. It’s his job to be, and his perspective can be very helpful to us. As promised a couple of weeks earlier, the following is my personal interview with blogger and upcoming author Caleb Wilde, a 6th generation Funeral Director, seminary student, husband, and expectant adoptive dad.

My Questions for Caleb:


1. Being a 6th generation funeral director, you have quite a unique vantage point on life, loss, and mortality. How do you think you live life differently than other Christians because of where God has placed you?


Caleb: In traditional religious calendars, the day in-between “Good Friday” and “Easter” is called “Holy Saturday”.  “Holy Saturday” is the day the disciples’ hopes and beliefs were engulfed in death and silence, as they viewed their Messiah’s death without the knowledge of the resurrection.

In some sense, I live the life of Holy Saturday.

As funeral directors, we’re paid by families to be a human shield to death, whereby we make death somewhat easier, less real and more proper.  As this human shield, I’m affected.  I’m affected by the brokenness, by the grief, by the hopelessness I see in faces, by the newly fatherless/motherless children, the tragic deaths and the accidents.

All this has made my personal faith more sensitive to questions of God’s goodness and justice.  It’s not easy for me to understand ideas of “eternal hell”, or ideas of “meticulous divine providence” or even “absolute foreknowledge” or “omnipotence”.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m still a Christian.


2. What do people misunderstand most about your work?

Caleb: We’re a lot like pastors.  Our jobs are really quite similar, except that one is recognized as “ministry” while the other is “business.”  That’s probably the largest misconception … there’s no way funeral directors can meet with grieving families through the most difficult time of their lives and come out on the other side as “business people.”

Everything else is true, though … we are dark and we are odd people.

In ancient times, death practitioners were ostracized from normal society by rule.  Today, we’re partly ostracized from the norm of society by practice.


3. The constant stream of customers (people dying, and their families burying them) can make one grow numb or cold toward the concept and process of death and burial. Do things still surprise you or impact you? What kind of things?

Caleb: There’s something so unnatural about death that (save the very old) it’s difficult to become numb.


4. You’ve probably thought about what you’d want your own funeral to look and sound like. Can you tell us about that?


Caleb: About two years ago, I started taking one minute video clips of myself, so that by the time I’m 70, I should have a montage of age progression videos that can be used for my funeral.

I’ve also talked about recording a message from myself to my family and friends that could be shown at my funeral as the eulogy.  But, by the time I’m ready to die, I figure they’ll have holographic projections, so I’ll wait for that tech until I record my final goodbye.


5. The saddest funeral I ever went to was for a 13 year old boy who took his own life. What have you learned about people during the time of more tragic circumstances that you’ve been a part of?


Caleb: Funerals/death are a perfect storm: you have death, the inheritance money, high emotions and family you might not like too much who are around you all the time.

Funerals intensify people’s real character.  You see the best in people and you see the worst.  The bad people will do horrendous things at funerals, like start fights, curse out their family members over money.  And you can see Jesus in the good ones.


6. Do you find your work mostly depressing, hopeful, profound, mundane, etc.? Would you recommend this vantage point to others?


Caleb: It’s a tough ministry that has little boundaries.  Many funeral homes are also generational, so many of us work with our dads, grandfathers, uncles and cousins, which can make this at-need work that much more difficult to set up healthy boundaries.

Similar to any ministry, I think there should be a passion for death work … a calling of sorts, whereby you know this is what you’re supposed to do.  And being a “calling”, few have witnessed this vantage point.

It’s unique.


7. Do you want to stay in the family business? Why or why not?

Caleb: Next question : )


8. Tell us a bit about how you view suffering, pain, and death from your unique perspective…which probably has a lot to do with the message in your book.


Caleb: I’ve built my understanding of God around suffering, pain and death.  It’s a local theology.  And my understanding of God, suffering, pain and death in light of my faith is the content of my upcoming book, “Confessions of a Funeral Director.”  Hopefully, it will be out in less than a year.  You can get an idea of how death has affected my view of God at my blog, www.calebwilde.com.  My book, though, will contain much more narrative than my blog.


9. What’s your best idea for a Smart Phone app.?


Caleb: I live near Lancaster County (PA), home of the Amish and Mennonites, so there’s a lot of intermarrying in these parts.  Not to mention, most of the towns in the rural areas of Pennsylvania have families that have lived there for centuries, so many of them are related.

I have an idea to partner with Ancestry.com and create an app the lets you bump smart phones with another person and it will tell you how you’re related to them.  My theory is that this will greatly help the evolution of humans by creating a purer gene pool.   The apps name is “Bump it before you Hump it”.

 THANK YOU, Caleb, and best wishes on your book. I’m really excited to get a copy. 

The working title for Caleb’s book is Confessions of  Funeral Director. A bit more on that here.

So, my reader friends, what are you curious about? Ask Caleb your deep, dark, or even silly questions!

To Cuss or Not to Cuss…7 Tip Offs

Potty mouth?

Cuss / noun
1 an annoying or stubborn person or animal : he was certainly an unsociable cuss. 2 another term for curse (sense 2).

Disclaimer: I’m not using a moral arguement against cussing, though you might expect I would, at a site with spiritual flavor like this one. While, many may say it’s a sin to cuss, I think what may be the truest thing is that the intention of using the vulgarity that is the real issue at stake. Nevertheless, I won’t go in that direction. My contentions are not nearly so deep or heartfelt. This is simple practicality and common sense at work:

Simply put: I don’t think foul language is powerful enough. I finding it lacking. Any great use of the stuff tips me off that I’m in the company of communication amateurs.

In truth, I’m not very offended by expletives. The shock wore off in high school. And high school–childhood–is about the only time a certain amount of cussing is, sort of, understandable. By nature, kids don’t know how to express themselves very well. Salty language makes rookie humans feel older and more formidable. It gives them a sense of power, as they flex their ” ‘I’m growing up’ muscles”. Yet, it’s the running myth that if something is bleeped on tv, it resides in the realm of “grown-up language”, and signifies something more heady and legit. In fact, expletives are quite banal.

I cuss quite rarely, and when I do it’s actually because I’m having trouble expressing myself. In some foolish desperation I concede to inferior “describing words”. So, really, cussing takes away from our points, rather than aids them.

Just for the sake of developing better communication, we needn’t use them. Maybe you enjoy tossing around a swear here or there. I don’t really care. But here are 7 points to remember on this topic:

7 Cussing Tip Offs

misnamed swear tin (for keeping fines)

1. Cussing quickly reveals one has a diminished vocabulary or the inability to use their vocabulary very well. (This can become a worsening habit also. Hence, it is sometimes combated with a Swear (fine) Bank.)

2. It displays a rather uncreative mind. (What could help? Simple: A thesaurus.)

3. If a cuss word can be used as an adjective, noun, and verb, it’s hackneyed, and by consequence, impotent. Let’s just say it’s, “lame” in a hobbling sense.

4. While cussing may somehow help one reveal emotions, or relieve stress, it doesn’t help one’s case. Quite the opposite. Logic is a better choice. Give it a try.

5. Foul language tells a bigger story about the person and his/her hang ups than it does about whatever the person is trying to convey. (It’s sort of sad, really.)

6. Cussing offends people for a myriad of reasons, but strangely enough, much use of it boils down to spotlighting simple bad manners and poor taste. Throughout history, “vulgar” language has some sort of reflection on social or economic status. [Ex: A mother says to her child who has been running around with the kids from “the other side of the tracks”, “No, honey, we don’t talk like that (or them).”] Most often people mentally associate foul language with an uncouth boorish social class, or uneducated and unrefined upbringing.

7. “Dirty words” are given meaning by a culture, not the other way around. What is the massively cussing person trying to prove, then? And why? [That’s the bigger question.] Here, subtext trumps communication. so probably a #fail

What are your thoughts?

My favorite cuss quote:
“Are you cussing with me?” -Fantastic Mr. Fox