This was the title of an excellent CME presentation yesterday dealing with the Church’s attitudes to disability, which Mark has already covered on his blog. I came worrying that it would be all ramps and loop systems (which, though excellent in themselves are unlikely to be anything over which I have huge control, specially in my current context) but my fears were groundless. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t get One Pedestrian out of my mind as I know that many of our well-intentioned thoughts and fumblings towards a theology of disability would probably seem deeply unsatisfactory from her perspective. On my own doorstep, I was disturbed by the realisation that our church, while not bad at the physical practicalities of access, was probably not yet ready to welcome anyone who fails to conform to perceived norms of appropriate behaviour during worship. Heck, they find it hard enough when the Curate forgets that they prefer to kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer! By the end of the day, I found myself praying that God would, at top speed, send us a family with learning disabilities to challenge us to move beyond our comfort zone.
I was inspired , too, to revisit the work of John Hull, who had spoken to us during ordination training. He has much to say about the negative images of blindness prevalent in the Bible, and startled us with his announcement that he neither expected nor longed to recover his sight in heaven. His website is full of challenging stuff…I wanted to weep when I read
When I studied the New Testament as a sighted person, it did not occur to me that you, Jesus, were yourself sighted. We were in the same world, but it did not occur to me that being sighted was a world. I thought that things were just like that. When I became blind, then I realised that blindness is a world, and that the sighted condition also generates a distinctive experience and can be called a world. Now I find, Jesus, that I am in one world and you are in another.
(John Hull: Open Letter from a blind disciple to a sighted Saviour)
By inhabiting a specific culture, Jesus seems to have become trapped by its particular constraints. Hull contrasts his attitude to the blind (and, by extension, to others with disabilities) with his attitude to women (not among the 12, but nonetheless affirmed and given the joyous task of witnessing the resurrection) and other outsiders…tax collectors and sinners. The blind, deaf and lame are the recipients of ministry but not included among the disciples until they are healed. It seems almost as if Jesus had bought into the medical model of response, which sees disability as a problem to be fixed, rather than an essential part of the identity of the blind or deaf person….
So the blind disciple comments
On an individual basis you are sensitive and tactful towards blind people, and while acknowledging their condition of economic deprivation, you insist upon their inclusion. Nevertheless, you did not include a blind person in your closest circle. In your presence blind people felt the hope and discovered the reality of the restoration of sight but you did not offer to blind people courage and acceptance in their blindness. You would have led me by the hand out of blindness but you would not have been my companion during my blindness.
(Hull: source above)
I'm left wondering if there are disabilities and degrees of damage so extreme that it is only through healing that the person can truly be freed to be themselves? I cannot presume to answer that...Hull arrives at a resolution when he understands that Jesus too experienced blindness in his last hours. Blindfolded by the soldiers who whipped him, plunged into the great darkness that filled his time on the cross, he shared even this element of the human condition. Meanwhile, Urban Army quotes Mother Teresa, anxious that we should avoid giving
“people a broken Christ, a lame Christ, a crooked Christ deformed by you”. In the light of Hull's views, this could open a whole new chapter in the discussions....