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.

Will you help me meet my goal of raising $100.00 in August to keep Spark My Muse going? Use the Donate button on the left sidebar. Thank you for being a big ball of love!

21 Century- Divine High Places

We’re not so different than the ancients. Here’s why:

See the image below? It is a “high place”.

For the ancients it is, unquestionably, the best place to reach a (pagan) god.
A god of human making.

Not good.

2 Kings17: 7

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods 8and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.9The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. 10They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 11At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. 12They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.”b

(ancient high place used for worship)

Why a high place?

They built on the highest parts of mountains to tap into unseen power.
They erected “antenna” to communicate with the gods of their own making.
They knew that the high ground was a prime location in their pursuit of more of everything they desired.
They sacrificed their time, energy, blood, sweat, effort, animals and sometimes their children  to get the upper hand the mountain high places could provide.

So do we. Yes?

(A child sacrificed and handed over to the god of our times?)

On our high places we build towers to better our lives that would look like religious shrines to anyone one who stumbled on them millennia later.

And aren’t they, really?


(21st Century high place)

Tech is certainly our Baal.

Instant access and fast communication are two of gods we love.

We love access to the internet, high speed wifi, speedy download times, cable or digital tv, reliable mobile phone service.

And we need our high places for all that.

It seems we don’t have moral superiority on this.

The ancients aren’t more foolish or more gullible than us…not as we may suppose they are.

Couldn’t the ancients accuse us of the same sorts of categorical trappings and devotions?

It is humbling.


Verse for reflection:

John 4:23 “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24“God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” -Jesus

Adventures in Chew Toys

mean dog

The following is a true story:

About five years ago, we had neighbors living on our south side. The mister of the family was a truck driver, and one day he found a strange dog at the rest stop and brought him home.

They told me, “Don’t let your children go near our dog, he bites.” The dog was red, fierce, and usually bristling or barking. They kept him in a pen in the back yard.

One day, I saw him playing in his pen. He was pouncing with his front paws on a squeaky toy about the size of a man’s shoe, and having the time of his life. He’d bite the toy, and it would squeak, then he would toss it in the air, and continue playing. I stared at him for a while.

Then, he threw the squeaky toy high in the air, it hit the ground…and ran. It ran squeaking. He pounced again, and started biting. It was a rat. A half-dead rat. Very shocking!

So, you tell, me, what would be a good moral of this story?

What is the strangest thing you’ve seen a pet play with?

toy rat

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