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!

New Beginnings!

Today, I’m synching up with the Deeper Leader blog over the question:



What new beginnings will there be for you or your team?

Well! I just started my second 9 week class in my Masters of Arts in Christian Leadership. (It’s sort of like a power-packed Christian MBA)

This weekend we met for class (the rest of the learning happens online).

The time was packed with insights and new material, all of which will be so helpful not just with getting to know my fellow-learners, but in every environment I am leading in and will lead in.

The course centers on leadership theories and involves a lot of searching and self-awareness, learning of one’s strengths, temperaments, and personal leadership styles. Sometimes this is encouraging, but other times the process reveals blind spots, wounds, and flaws. 

I’ve realized that a wounded but healed leader is the easiest for me to trust.

The insights we gain from knowing ourself and others better works like getting bionic limbs just before we climb a mountain. Things that were confusing, personalities that seemed perplexing, and the power for gifts and talents laser into focus.

Here are a few of the books I’m learning from that I’ve really been enjoying. (Two Big thumbs up!)

Another test I took for the course has to do with using a social and emotional competency inventory tool (ESCI). Social and emotional intelligence is too rare a commodity in bosses, in case you haven’t heard. :)

Plus, I did the Myers-Briggs Test. (I’m an EN(F/T)P, almost split F&T)
Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs test?  (If so, what are your letters?)

Have you taken the Strength Finder test (it comes with the book)?

I highly recommend it! You will be blessed and so will those you influence!


5 Tips to Vision-casting…

In the start of a new year…sometimes we cast a vision for the next 12 months.

Sometimes it’s through a New Year’s resolution or a multipage strategic proposal.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you craft a healthy vision for the months to come.

• Don’t decide a vision in a relational vacuum. 
(Make use of community to account for the blind spots or gaps you’ll have. Trust me you have them.)

• Don’t forget to have “check-ups”
(Every 2-3 months re-energize the vision cast by reiterating the vision, for some extra oomph. Gosh it’s fun to type “oomph”!

• Adjust the vision when needed.
(Since vision-casting is future oriented, it’s a mistake to act if it’s written in stone. During the check-ups see what needs to be adjusted, added, or put aside.)

• Focus on the strengths of your team.
(Whether it’s a personal or team vision-casting for the year, play to your strengthens.)

• The vision trifacta! Set immediate, intermediate, and longer-range goals.
(Part of making progress is sensing movement. Accomplishing some short term goals right away boosts morale. It’s a psychological edge.)


This post is part of a synchro blog. To access other thoughts on vision-casting, or to add your own to the mix go HERE.

90 Seconds to a genuine inner gaze

Two things that don’t really go together are SPEED and Introspection.

But in 90 seconds, I think you can get off the blocks and make that crucial first step to the kind of growth that can only happen by linking up with the transcendent through your unique humanity. An inner gaze has to start somewhere. If not, we get stuck.

Be warned, once you look inward it can be painful. This is one reason why it happens too infrequently. The point though is to get started. Sometime during the holiday weekend I’ll post something of a followup. Creating a useful tool for yourself…the spiritual autobiography (which is something I too will be doing for my Masters class work. I hope you’ll join me).

For now, follow these simple steps: 

  • 1. Get paper and a pen
  • 2. Jot down the first things that come to you mind as you read the list below. (Don’t linger on this list. Be speedy.)
  • 3. Put away your paper for 1-3 days.
  • 4. Revisit your notes in 1-3 days when you have 20 minutes or more. (I’ll remind you, here at the blog.)

Consider these questions:

  1. Look at your failed or troubled relationships and list similarities, and note what makes you angry about them, or things you fear.

  2. Examine past patterns and recurring themes in your thoughts and behavior. Note any patterns that you see.

  3. Uncover the commonalities in your interpersonal difficulties. Do the same troubles with others come back again and again? Note them.

  4. Label areas of stagnation in your life, (i.e. work, relationships, poor habits, etc.).

  5. Consult with trusted friends and objective sources to ferret out problem areas. Okay, this takes some time, so for now jot down a few names.

  6. Include a list of your good qualities/strengths, and places or ways you find encouragement. [This should be easy, because it’s the feel good part. Briefly, look for all the good you can and mark it down.]

(So, what did you think about these questions? Was it hard to do?)

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