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!

The Familiar Enemies

RiskBelow are some of my “field notes” I collected from this extended and uncut interview with Brené Brown on Krista Tippet’s show “On Being”


[emotionally toxic / unhealthy] people suffer from similar traits:

• Perfectionism

• Self-righteousness

• Tying self-worth and personal value to productivity and success

• Wanting to perform and get validation

• Using exhaustion as a badge of honor

• The quest for certainty


• The enemy of creativity is comparison.

• Vulnerability is the core the heart and the center of meaningful human experience.

For woman the biggest fear/risk looks like this: “do it all and do it well and look perfect doing it”.
For man it looks like this: “do not appear to be weak”.

If people have never really struggled with adversity it shows up as hopelessness.

Hope is not an emotion; it’s a cognitive behavior process that is a function of struggle [and resiliency]. It doesn’t happen in the absence of pain or when we are spared pain.

Our defining moments (what makes us who we really are) happen not in joy but in adversity.

(Vulnerability is uncertainly, risk and emotional exposure ….and it’s courage. —my note: all things artists and innovators MUST have.)

When we don’t have space to be vulnerable and have fears we become dangerous.

If these sound like helpful, juicy nuggets to you, listen here:

“Survey says!” (7 second Survey results of 2014)

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.


Did you take the survey? Thank you!

A few weeks ago I created this The 7 Second Survey to see who was reading this blog and what you like best.


Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 1.49.59 PMFINDING #1

I was going to post much more heavily on the thing that brings in the $ in my “day job” this year. I was hoping to get more work and inspire other creators and writers like me.

That’s right, Marketing Communications tips and tactics. But, it appears my reader base is mostly the original one from my first blogging efforts in 2007. Overwhelmingly so.

That’s probably good news, and honestly, it surprised me.

So, I will not discard the topics and theme that started it all!

Once per week, at the very least, I will hit on a spiritual topic. It may be anything from a Christian spiritual practice, to theology, to Christian living, or personal and spiritual transformation and improvement. If that’s how you found me, and that’s why you visit, I’m glad I know better now!

Also, I will be a bit more aware of including my brand of humor, which as you may know, I have determined as “damp”. (i.e. Almost dry humor)

(Please note that unlike many “Christian author” websites, I will very rarely step into the fray of controversy so commonly seen on religious blogs. I just don’t have the stomach for it anymore…for a while now, really. I find it 95% shallow and disheartening. If you like that stuff, you have plenty of options, though, and I hope you find what you like for that.)


Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 1.50.09 PM


Another thing I learned is that I don’t have too many folks who come by to read more than once per week, even though I post 2-3 times per week. Now, I’m wondering if I’m writing too much. Maybe. Or maybe you should come back more often!

I’m guessing that there are two possible solutions, or three, to cope with that:

1. I can encourage you, my dear readers, to list the blogs you read through the super handy free reader service called Feedly which houses posts you haven’t read yet. It works like a catalogue of awesomeness. No more bookmarks and time-killing web surfing. You just paste in the websites you like, and boom, they’re all in one place. The best part, no more relying on your memory to visit a few times a week. What a relief! (Can you tell I use it?)

2. I can encourage you to get email delivery through free Feedburner service (top right sidebar)…for no more silly and random blog searches and relying on your memory.

3. Don’t sweat it.

(I’m doing all three.)


The third question was open ended…”fill in the blank style”. About half of the respondents left something to answer the question:

“What would you improve at the website?”

The funniest one (or whatever) was…

“Use spellchecker.”

As if I don’t.

…Yes. This site is full of mistakes. Typos. Proofreading issues. Editing errors. Etc. I try to hunt them down. I find plenty too late and some not at all.

If you see a problem that bothers you or you’d like to help me out, please use the contact button and let me know. I do like the help. :)

Also, I’m flawed and weak human–awash in imperfections. I’m more creative than I am a good speller or editor of my own work. If I ever have the money, I may hire someone for that. But, I’m doing #3 on this. (The “Don’t sweat it” option.)

In truth, I use this site as a sandbox. I build stuff. I sculpt the messy sand of words. I don’t worry too much. I would be creating posts even if no one came to read them. I cannot help it. At all.

It’s like this:

Sometimes you’ll find a few lincoln logs from the cat of imperfection here in my sandbox, as it were,


but hopefully more often you’ll find that what you’re reading is still worth it despite the shortcomings.

Thank you for reading and journeying with me through these years. I appreciate it immensely.

More great things are brewing!

The next post is here. It’s about the day I turn 42. The photo will give you a chuckle!



The Letter X: The Key to understanding the Bible (tribute to Dave Dorsey)


This post is part of the continuing series I’m doing to honor the late Dr David Dorsey.

Don’t forget to read the others:

1. Faith = Eggs in a Basket
2. Follow Mosaic Laws?

The letter X.

It’s the shape of something. It’s the shape of the structure of how the Pentateuch (and Joshua) was composed. It was authored carefully with a structure that helped ensure it was remembered in a world where people memorized stories and rarely wrote them down or read them.

Chiastic refers to the letter X (“X” is Chi, in Greek, of course).

Check out the wikipedia article on ancient literary structure:

a field that Dave contributed to that is likely one of his most enduring legacies.

It shreds the 18th century theory, borne out of cultural ignorance and literary ignorance of ancient texts. One that has prevailed for too long: The Documentary hypothesis. (This theory came about when a French medical professor (Jean Astruc) thought the Pentateuch was very oddly written. No, he wasn’t a biblical scholar or historian, sadly, but he read the Bible and wanted to postulate. (Soon after, German liberal scholars jumped on his theory, expounded on it, and proliferated it as it aided their objectives in the 19th Century.)

Reading the non linear narrative form had him confused. He postulated that multiple authors at different times probably wrote the text and then it was cobbled together. After all, some things were mentioned twice, but how could that be? Must be a mistake or proof of multiple authors lending their two shekels.

Modern narratives are written in a linear form, usually, hence the puzzlement.

Astruc was a bright man, but his acumen was clearly restricted to the medical sciences. He had never pieced together that all the ancient texts tended to be written this chiastic way as a memory aid because they had been transmitted orally at first, sometimes for many hundreds of years. The book of Job is a very good example of this. It dates back to long before Abraham.

Thankfully, our understanding of the ancients is much improved now and it’s easy to spot this same structure in ancient tales like the Iliad and the Odyssey, for instance. Perhaps it is because of the stronghold of liberal bias in the scholarly world that this poor rabbit trail tends to still be esteemed. (Truth be told, its prevalence also works toward discrediting or tempering aspects of the Bible which is a happy agenda for a great many scholars.) So, this 18th century misunderstanding still prevails.

As one understands the chiastic structure of the bible, the main points are easily underscored. The Mosaic Law for instance, centers on the importance of protecting the weak (in that culture: females, foreigners, the the poor classes), the marginalized, and the outcast. The Law then, is an excellency picture of the heart of God that should be the same as ours.

So Remember:
The climax and thrust of a passage in the first 6 books stands out in the middle and the supporting text flanks it on either side. A sandwich of meaning: the meat is in the middle.

If you’d like to understand it for yourself here’s the best book for that:



In my final tribute post, I’ll share about Dorsey’s most famous archeological discovery. It’s a great story!

The Story Behind the Song “Jesus Loves Me” (a poem by Anna Bartlett Warner)

Here’s the Story behind the song Jesus Loves Me.

The song most of us have sung, Jesus Loves Me was written by Anna Bartlett Warner  who was born August 31, 1827 – died January 22, 1915. Warner was an American writer, the author of several books, and of poems set to music as hymns and religious songs for children. (Via Wikipedia)

Anna’s family home was quite close to the United States Military Academy at West Point, in New York, in the era just before the Civil War. Each Sunday Anna taught Bible classes to the cadets. Her remains are buried in the military cemetery, and her family home is now a museum on the grounds of  the United States Military Academy.

Undoubtably, her most well-known work (and the point of this post) came from the poem from her and her sister’s 1860s quite sentimental and best-selling novel entitled Say and Seal. It was soon set to music by William Bradbury, who added the chorus we still sing today in one of the most well-known children’s Christian hymns of all time…you guessed it! Jesus Loves Me. Many soldiers on the battlegrounds during the War Between the States sang this hymn and found spiritual comfort.

In a scene that brought many people to tears in the novel, a child lays dying and is comforted from his pain, as the main character recites a poem:

Jesus loves me! This I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong;

They are weak, but He is strong.

Children of God, let it be your simple prayer today.