Thinking about Christianity and Disability

This post is a collection of thoughts and reflections on comments from Dr. Debbie Creamer, PhD, author of Disability and Christian Theology Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities, during her lectures at Ministers Week at Brite Divinity School at TCU and University Christian Church.

Dr. Creamer’s first lecture addressed four modes of reflection on disability: 1) moral, 2) medical, 3) social or minority group, 4) limits model. These four models have strengths and weaknesses. They impose limitations and blind sides to our perceptions, while also shedding new and different light. They reflect normative views in our culture and over time. Dr. Creamer’s work, along with others referenced below, is to discover new ways to imagine and articulate disability and God and our relationship/experience of both.

Churches think of themselves as inclusive, when what they often are at best is accessible. Inclusive means that people have full access so that their involvement is not a bother or problem for others. They are not only invited and welcomed, but can initiate. We often provide cutouts in pews, but how often to we readily enable access to positions of leadership in worship, such as the chancel and pulpit?

From access to inclusion – the insights of Brett Webb-Mitchell in Beyond Accessibility: Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Faith Communities

She then spent time “playing” (her word) with images of disability that might surprise and enlighten us.

“Disabled God” Nancy Eiesland – “The Disabled God”  the image of a God who uses a powered “sip/puff” wheelchair. Powerful, mobile, assertive. What would it feel like to imagine God as disabled?

Jennie Weiss BlockCopious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities  –

“Interdependent God” Kathy Black, Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability – dispelling the illusion that we are independent. What if God is interdependent as well. God tells us stories of community where Jesus relied upon and needed others in his life and ministry.

“Bold God” – Disability requires people to be more assertive, and in this boldness we may see the image of God.

“Authentic God” – what if we think of disability as normative, as what it is to be human? We all are or will be disabled at some point, unless we die young and suddenly. We are made in God’s image, and thus what we are somehow reflects what God is. There are things that God can’t do. Limits can be good.

This was a helpful conversation, and I commend Dr. Creamer and her work to congregations and others who are interested in exploring and responding to these issues and to discover anew our common experience of God in the world.

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A helpful brief article by Dr. Creamer is Theological Accessibility: The Contribution of Disability in Disability Studies Quarterly.

Set your face – the meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.”
A day of repentance. The beginning of Lent.
ash-wednesday1-940x250
Perhaps the real meaning of Lent is found in this passage from Luke 9:51-62. Lent is about us turning and setting our face toward the cross of Christ that he bore, and the one which he calls us to bear. Jesus’ harsh words in vs 62 may actually be self-talk. Perhaps he is drawing into his inner thought life, his prayer life, and acknowledging that from this point forward, the journey will not waver to left or right, at least not for him. All of the apostles will abandon him in the garden, even Peter who swore he would never desert Jesus (Mark 14).

The structure of Lent, with forty days bookended by Ashe Wednesday and Easter, is certainly reminiscent of Jesus’ baptism and 40 days of temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13). This harkens back to the periods of 40 found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the story of the flood, it rained for 40 days and nights (Gen 7:12). Moses went on the mountain of the Lord for 40 days (Exodus 34:28). The spies, including Joshua and Caleb, spent 40 days spying out the Land of Canaan as the Lord instructed. When they returned with ten giving a bad report, the Israelites decided they would not go where the Lord was trying to lead them. And so God said that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for forty years, one for every day spent spying the land. (Numbers 14) In fact, Moses’ life is marked by three periods of forty years – the first growing up as a prince of Egypt, the second in Midian tending his father-in-law’s flocks, and the third leading the Israelites toward the promised land. Forty signifies transformation, a shifting in way of life, a laying aside the old and taking up the new.

And that period of forty begins with one step. That is the point here. Ash Wednesday is that one step for us, the beginning of the journey of transformation for this year. It is worth noting that at his baptism Jesus did not set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem. He seemed to wander randomly from town to town, with intermittent trips to Jerusalem for the festivals, for three years.

The beginning of his earthly ministry was in a sense the start of his path to the cross. Even so, a second decision was needed. There came a time when all that he was doing and saying up to that moment would coalesce into one singular vision – the cross. The cross represents Jesus’ final confrontation with self-centered power. Ash Wednesday (as figured in Luke 9:51) represents the commitment to walk that road and not turn back.

Repentance is a turning from one posture and direction in life to another. Repentance from sin is turning from a life focused on serving only self to a life directed toward serving God first. Jesus himself received the baptism of repentance from his cousin John. What this means, at least in part, is that Jesus was repenting of – turning away from – his life as a carpenter focused on his family and community obligations in Nazareth. Instead, he turned his face, not specifically toward Jerusalem, but more broadly toward the ministry of the Messiah who came to proclaim in word and work the inrushing of the Reign of God.

As we begin this Lenten journey, may we join with all who have followed the Christ, turning once again away from a self-serving life and choosing instead a life that embraces all as we are embraced by God. We enter anew into a process of transformation. We recognize that the life we have been living does not work. We turn away from the destructive habits (behavior and thought patterns) that have shaped our lives. We set our faces toward the New Jerusalem – the City of God that is descending, even now, as God seeks to dwell in our midst and redeem and restore all things.

Christianity 101: Jesus is Lord

Jesus is Lord

Acts 10:36 (NRSV)

34 Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what .is right is acceptable to him. 36 You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. 37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Luke2

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the
Messiah, the Lord

12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

4 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Acts 2

29 “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. 33 Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. 34For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
35 until I make your enemies your footstool.” ‘
36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

Video Clip Scenes

In Matthew 22 Jesus teaches about the Christ.
From Visual Bible: Matthew
Acts from Visual Bible: Acts

Questions:

  • What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord?
  • Jesus is ruler with God the father of the Heavenly Kingdom.

John 18: 33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” 35 Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered. My kingdom is not from this world.”

Phillipians 2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

  • Jesus is ruler over the lives of his followers, as they are citizens of heaven.

    Philipians 3: 17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4: 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

  • Those who know and accept him as Lord will live as he taught and commanded, by word and example. To make him Lord is to “abide in him”.

    1 John 2: 3 Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4 Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5 but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 whoever says. “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.

All authority is given to me…Go therefore…

Sermon notes for 05132012 – Matthew 28:16-20

All authority is given to me…        Go therefore…

The “Great Commission” as it is called is based in our acceptance of Jesus’ authority from the Father.

In Matthew 10 Jesus gives authority to the Apostles and sends them out with a similar mission: 7 As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Here the mission is dependent on Jesus’ sending with authority. They are to go as he goes. Jesus goes in power and in humility – not an easy combination for us humans. We either shy away from power and fall into self-loathing and incapacity, or we embrace power and fall into self-glorification and go on an ego trip – either low self-esteem and impotence or grandiosity and aggressive abuse of power. Only when power is held in humility can it be held in faith and integrity by God’s children.

Just what is this authority?

In the first story (MT 10) they have authority to preach, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. They have power over situations and powers, not over people. Jesus never exercises power over people. In fact, he contrasts in Luke 22 the power exercised by the Gentiles with the model his own disciples are to follow: 23 Then they began to ask one another which one of them it could be who would do this. 24 A dispute also arose among them as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. 28 “You are those who have stood by me in my trials; 29 and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The one in power must assume the posture and attitude, must treat the others, as if he were the youngest. The leader of the group must relate to others as though she were a servant. This is power held with great humility, for it is not our power, it is God’s power.

And notice again that it is not power over, but power for, people. The power is over situations, over spiritual forces and natural forces, not over people but on their behalf, and for the glory of God.

When Jesus gives this commission in MT 10, perhaps we are missing some punctuation as well. Perhaps it should read: As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.’: Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” What if “cure…raise…cleanse…cast out…” are expressions and illustrations of “proclaim the good news” – they are proclamations of the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near?” The authority is over illness, death, social ostracization and demons – for the sake of proclaiming the gospel of the coming kingdom.

That authority still rests with the church to this day.

Prayer is an interesting and complex phenomena. People of all religions and no religion pray. It seems built into our DNA even if a uniform belief in God is not. And what people believe is accomplished in prayer varies as much as the people who hold those beliefs. I personally believe, from my study of scripture and Christian teaching, and from observation and personal experience, that prayer does not change God or get God to do something God was not going to do anyway. When we pray for healing for someone, we are not praying that God would heal them, as though we think God’s will or action depends upon our prayers. That is not what scripture teaches – certainly not the New Testament. When Jesus prayed for healing, he either spoke to the person, or to the sickness or demon, not to God. Jesus never said, “Father, please remove this sickness/demon from this woman.” He said, “Be well!” or “Come out!” and they were made well and set free. Jesus power and authority were over the sickness and over the spirits of possession on behalf of those who were troubled. And this is what we see Peter, Paul and others doing. They speak to people to rise above their illness, and to demons to depart. Acts 3:6 is the first instance of this after the birth of the church at Pentecost: Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” This miracle gave Peter and John opportunity to preach to the Jews, and even to the authorities who had them arrested. There was a discussion of where they got the power or authority (by what name?) to do this. With authority comes power – power to do the work of the one in whose name the authority rests. Jesus received authority from the father – all authority in heaven and on earth – and bestowed power and authority upon the church in Jesus’ name, as Peter rightly states. This is the pattern followed by all the rest of the miracles in the New Testament.

Remember there was an instance when Jesus’ disciples attempted to use the power and authority given them to heal an epileptic boy but were unsuccessful. After Jesus healed him they asked, why they could not. His answer: “This kind comes out only by prayer.” (Mark 9:29) This is preceded by Jesus saying, “O unbelieving generation.” And “Everything is possible for him who believes.” To which the boy’s father replies, “LORD I believe! Help my unbelief.” The father misunderstands. The issue is not the faith of the father or the boy – rather it is a lack of faith on the part of the apostles, faith in their own authority to do that which Jesus has called them to do. Do they lack faith in themselves or in Jesus/God? Or is it simply that because their prayer is insufficient, they are not strong enough in the spirit to channel the spiritual power required to accomplish this miracle? By contrast, Jesus does have faith in his ability to do these things because he KNOWS that he has received power and authority (or authority with power) to heal. Remember his self-affirmation in Luke 4 in Nazareth: “18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This came after he hear the Father say, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased,” and after he had overcome the three temptations of Man – to self-preservation, self-glorification, and self-salvation. Because Jesus had experience of success in overcoming evil, and because he knew confidently who he was, he was able to live fully the authority and power that were his.

Jesus states that “everything is possible for him who believes,” (Mk 9:23) and “with God all things are possible,” (Mk 10:27) and “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 17:20) This is certainly not our experience. There are ways of understanding Jesus’s statements as metaphor or hyperbole that let us off the hook and take the power out of these pronouncements. Jesus seems to believe what he says, and the writers seem to believe it, and the early church seemed to believe it at face value. So what is amiss? Again, we are up against a question of power and authority, its use, abuse, and absence or failure.

What is it that we lack in our lives so that we might live this authority and power in the world?

  1. We have to accept that our worth rests in God’s opinion, not our own or that of others.
  2. We have to release any attempt to cling to our own life as a personal possession.
  3. We have to resist evil with the promises of Faith
  4. We have to dwell in God as Jesus did. God already dwells in and around us – it is our lack of being fully present in response that hinders our experience of God.
  5. We have to pursue only God’s kingdom and God’s righteous justice for ourselves and for those we can impact.

We were talking about the Great Commission, remember. Jesus says, “All authority is given to me…therefore go…” We are being sent under Jesus’ authority with Jesus’ authority to “make disciples…baptize…teach…remember.” All of this is based, again, on the nature of the authority and power that come to us from/through Jesus by our faith.

We are to think of this work as an extension of the former discussion from Matthew 10 – it’s about proclaiming the kingdom of God, and now building the kingdom of God. And we have Jesus’ authority and power to do it. Remember, though, that this power and authority are not over others, but over the systems of destruction that work in the lives of those around us. We have no right to begin to try to speak to those principalities and powers until we have spent considerable time addressing the ones that seek to rule us. And once we do that, we move into the world as a servant to others – a slave to those we seek to set free. What would our ministry be, what shape would it take, if our lives were formed in this way? If we moved into the world with the full confidence and faith in the power and authority of Jesus at work in our lives to proclaim and build the kingdom, and then engaged with our neighbors as their humble servants.

What would we do? What would we say? What would we not?

What strongholds would we come against on behalf of others, but as their servants, being sure that nothing we say or do causes injury or harm to the very ones we are trying to help? If someone in your life is overcome by a destructive force, that person is not your enemy. They are you master and you are their slave, but this is in the authority and power of Jesus over the thing that is destroying them – the attitude, habit, thought pattern, addiction, belief, illness, injury, system, or spiritual force.

What kind of person would you be? What kind of church would we be, if we related to the people who drive us nuts in this way? If we related to the people we find it difficult to respect in this way? If we related to the people who are hurtful and hateful toward us in this way? If we related to the vulnerable and frail, to those who can’t help themselves, to those who should be able to (we think) but don’t (for reasons we can’t comprehend)? What if we related to others the way God relates to us. When we could do nothing to save ourselves, and when we couldn’t even look God in the eye because we were too busy looking ourselves in the mirror, God came to save us from ourselves and from all the destructive lies and myths that we tell ourselves and one another. What if we go to others as servants in the same way that Jesus came to us as a servant? What if that is our approach to making disciples? The very one that Jesus took from the beginning? What might happen then?