Categories
Disability

Things You Learn Lying On the Bathroom Floor

This blog is also forming the basis of a piece I’ve been asked to write for this weekend’s event at the Vatican, Living Fully 2016. This looks like being a fantastic event. I’m sad not to be attending, but very happy to be able to offer this contribution to the discussion and debate. 

Things You Learn Lying On the Bathroom Floor

Recently, I was enormously privileged to be asked to both preach and act as a co-best man for two dear friends of mine, Matt and Ruth. This happy event took place towards the end of a period of seemingly frenzied activity in the life of the Churches in which I am Assistant Curate, The Emmanuel Group in Northampton. I was nervous before I spoke. There’s so much that one wants to say in a wedding address, particularly for close friends. Fortunately, I managed to strike the balance between providing a warm up for the best man’s speech later that evening and speaking words of love, truth and blessing to Matt and Ruth from God as they began their married life together.

Prior to that day, the week had contained several other events which had been noteworthy. A couple of apparently serious incidents involving people in the life of our Church community provided both opportunities for exercising ministry and opportunities to take on more worry and tension than I perhaps should have done. In the same week, I found myself praying for the new Mayor of Northampton, Cllr Christopher Malpas, as he began his term of office by inviting me to be his chaplain. I can tell you that these events are not normal in the course of my life and work. What is normal? And why might I begin a piece about disability, fear and leadership by talking about things which to other ministers might seem fairly normal, even mundane?

Let’s return to Saturday night. It’s around 10pm, the wedding is starting to wind down and I’m laughing at another joke from a friend I see far from often enough. And then it happens. I feel a tightness around my core, the muscle group that stretches around the middle of my body. I know what’s coming. Fortunately,  I manage to attract my wife’s attention before I am unable to speak, and she propels me along to the bathroom, which is mercifully vacant. As the door closes, wave upon wave of spasm hits me and I am doubled over in agony. I can’t breathe. I can’t speak, except in groans and to say the most important word I can think of at that moment: ‘sorry’. I’m sorry to my wife that she has to see this, to deal with it. I’m sorry that I nearly had an ‘episode’ in a very public place. I’m sorry that my body is out of control. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

In short order, I’m lying flat on the bathroom floor and, in the cold light of day a few days later, I’m not ashamed to say that I am whimpering. I am scared. What if it doesn’t stop? It did last time, a year and a half ago, when an over-busy Christmas period ended with me on my parent’s lounge floor putting a dampener on the beginning of our Christmas celebrations. It did immediately after I arrived home from playing a show with my band (in a former life!) in Trafalgar Square to (I’m told) 10,000 people, but what if it doesn’t this time?

Fortunately, it did pass. I was able to re-enter the fray of the wedding before too long and have spent most of this last week recovering my equilibrium. But there were a few moments lying there on that bathroom floor, and I say this advisedly and without seeking to overly dramatise the event, where my life, and my immediate future, flashed before my eyes.

During those moments, convinced that my body was letting me down, I decided that there was no way I would be able to undertake in future the functions of the priestly role. What use would I be to people if, when under a modicum of stress, my body decides to stop allowing me to work?  From there I find myself in a cycle of reflection. What is the priesthood about? Does it require bodies and minds to be of a suitable consistent standard to be acceptable to God and deemed as priestly? Leviticus 21, particularly vv16-c20 has the potential in thought processes such as these to be a source of terror and a weapon of tyranny.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.

This passage, taken in context, is about ritual purity or impurity. However, for me, at times when my sense of worth has been challenged, it has the power to rear its head as a judge and jury: I am not enough. I couldn’t be. My body does not measure up and because my body doesn’t, neither does the rest of me. You might read this and feel like my exegesis is off (it probably is) and that I’m being overly-dramatic (I very well may be) but feelings and deeply-internalised thoughts can be heavily consequential and hard to shift or shake off.

A combination of the glorious fulfilment of the law by Jesus and the belated flourishing of institutional common sense has made it possible for a slightly more representative selection of the Body of Christ to be considered suitable for ordination and leadership in his Church. I found it instructive, however, that it was in the moment and aftermath of reduced functionality that my sense of priestly identity, something which I think I know can only be imbued by God, was challenged, by me, in my own head. Have I, have we, in rightly emphasising the importance of honouring God in calling, training, equipping and sending leaders, misplaced our sense of balance? I would argue I certainly have, perhaps you have too.

We all know that the weaker (in whichever sense we are denoting weakness, certainly impairment does not equate to weakness in all cases) parts of the body are to be given the greatest honour. We know, too, that the greatest, and arguably most powerful acts of Jesus came in his weakest moments. In submitting to suffering, in emptying himself of all but instead of imposing his will and his way on all people, so that those very same people could have eternal life, life to the full, access to the grace and peace of God. Our God was not in human terms physically, mentally or emotionally, at his strongest when he was at his most efficacious.

And yet, as I writhed on the floor in agony, it was my ability to prove myself effective in the future, immediate and long term, as a minister that I most worried about. To put it bluntly, if this situation didn’t improve, or change, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. Rightly or wrongly, probably wrongly, this was my instinctive reaction, one that I had to fight against in the moments of uncertainty that followed for me in the proceeding days. I don’t believe that anything or anyone but God can give a person what is necessary for them to be a priest. Neither could anyone but God truly revoke that calling and identifying. 

The diocese in which I live and minister, Peterborough Diocese in the Church of England, has been fantastic for me as I explored a calling to ministry, had that calling affirmed, trained and now am completing the second year of my curacy. At most stages along the way, my impairment has been a ‘live’ issue. Both the diocese and I have had to work together on finding approaches to life and ministry that are appropriate and effective for me. I want to say here that I greatly appreciate the care, support and incisive challenges that have been given to me by my Bishops, my Archdeacon and other senior staff in the Diocese and wish to honour that. I had, and have, at least as much to learn about the ways in which I can live as a priest as ‘the Diocese’ in this regard. Similarly, my Training Incumbent, Margaret Johnson, truly has enabled me to flourish during the two years I have worked with her. I am incredibly grateful for that. These might seem like unnecessary things to say in a piece like this, but I think they’re important. Many people and institutions have collaborated to ensure that I have become able to live and work out the calling that God gave me. I know other people with impairments and disabilities have had good experiences in this regard, whilst for others similar processes have been hugely painful. There is, though, hope.

Our Churches benefit hugely from being ministered to by people who run the full gamut of the wondrous glory of God’s creation. Some of these ministers will be all-action, placed in physically and emotionally demanding situations and circumstances. Some will be able to offer less physically. Still others will offer a level of academic rigour in their dealings with Scripture and theology that will be far and above that offered by other ministers. There is not a minister of the gospel who does not, in offering to serve God and his people, find themselves in the position of needing to sacrifice, to suffer for the outworking of their calling, whichever element of themselves, their lives, or the lives of those they love might be squeezed for the sake of the Church. Ministry, like the Christian life, looks subtly different each time it is gifted by God to a person. Therefore, there is not one ‘successful’ approach to Christian ministry, there are, in effect, as many as there are ministers. Some need to be catalysts, some pragmatists, some spend more time listening, some tearing down the walls of unjust structures, physically. What do all have in common? They shine the light of Christ into the world, as sacramental presences, drawing communities of worship and praise around the divine, communities that are then sent out to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. An effective ministry is not a busy ministry per se. As Eugene Peterson (who always says things that I wish I’d thought of first) says, the busy pastor is the lazy pastor. A good point for reflection, that.

An effective ministry is one that points people to Jesus and his glory. People with impairments and disabilities, temporary and permanent, have at least as much to offer in this as those unfortunate enough to think that they are in no way impaired. Indeed, I, as an impaired person, have a crucial role to play in this. Without us, the ministry of the Church is limited, deficient. With us it is more fully equipped to minister to the world in all its breadth. Those of us involved in this event know this. Pointing out to the Christian world and the world at large that fullness of life, abundance, grace and mercy, as well as brokenness and blessing can come in many shapes and forms is an urgent prophetic mandate in our day. If that means that the functional demands made of priests and ministers have to change or be more readily flexible in some instances, as time goes on, a wider and wider spectrum of the Church is, happily, coming to this realisation too. then so be it.

God identifies us as his children, reconciled to himself in and through Jesus. that word will not be unspoken. I wonder how many people God calls to ordination for whom his word of affirmation and invitation is never heard because our expectations and requirements do not permit it. For the Church holy, catholic and apostolic truly to be living fully, we have to continually be open to expecting the unexpected from God, for him to breathe life where there were only dry bones, for the wind of the Spirit to blow in unforeseen, unlikely places. On that bathroom floor, it felt once more, and all the more, unlikely that I had what it takes to be a leader in Christ’s Church. Yet here I am, when I am in pain and when I am not; when everything is working and when it is not, privileged and blessed to be such a leader, learning and growing all the time. I pray that we would be open across the breadth of the Church, to affirming the calling to Church leadership of more people who may look at first glance like unlikely ministers, but on whom the Spirit rests. Then we may, writhing on the bathroom floor in weakness, or rejoicing in the strength that only the joy of the Lord can bring (or whatever the opposite of writhing on a bathroom floor is), truly be living fully.

 

 

Categories
Disability

Can You Be Disabled and Be a Man? (Sorted Article)

Can you be disabled and be a man?

 

It’s the kind of question that probably brings out an immediate “yes” from you, dear reader. Perhaps even a “why are you even asking that question?” Perhaps you’re reading to see if I’m about to be incredibly crass, even offensive. Perhaps you’re about to turn the page (no, wait, come back, it’ll get good in a sec). While the immediate answer to the question might be straightforward, sadly, as we’ll see here, some of us actually live, and think, like the answer is a lot more complicated.

 

17% of the population of the UK, according to the 2011 census, had a disability (as disability is defined by the government). 16% of the population of the UK, according to the same census, were under the age of 15. Stop and think about that for a moment. There are more people in this country who are disabled than there are children. Judging by the amount of children there seem to be in the country that means there must be a lot of disabled people around somewhere.

 

According to a recent survey from SCOPE, 43% of people said they didn’t know any disabled people (seriously, how is that possible?), whilst two-thirds of those surveyed said that they felt uncomfortable talking to a disabled person. As a disabled person myself, I can vouch for at least one of us (me) being a little odd, but seriously, what is that about?

 

As a Church of England minister (with attendant white plastic dog collar), a wheelchair user, a man with an increasingly impressive (and manly, so my wife says) beard and a penchant for wearing purple trousers, I have a fair number of experiences of people staring at me in the street. I, of course, prefer to think that they stare at my because of my film star good looks and suave, debonair charm, but I fear it might be something else. Thinking about it, perhaps it’s no wonder that 66% of people might be uncomfortable talking to me. I remember one particular occasion when a young gentleman stared at me again and again as he walked away from me up the high street, incredulous at the wonder of my beard (I assume) until he walked in to a lamppost. I may have chortled. I remember another in WHSmith (that bastion of propriety) where I was calmly going about my business and a guy came up to me and said, apropos of nothing “I f*****g hate disabled people” before getting in the lift and disappearing. I was a bit baffled by that one, but at least he made his point succinctly, and he thought I was a person.

 

As entertaining as these experiences, and others like them can be, though, I have a growing sense that fear, and a sense that I am somehow “less-than” as a disabled person, are coming, or returning, into play in our society. In most times in history, the clearest way of seeing how a society is doing is to look at how much compassion it shows, in general and to those considered to be its weakest members in particular. I don’t personally think, necessarily that impairment = weakness. Far from it. It’s pretty clear to me that in the way God created the world, at the very least the possibility of impairment was present. Nowhere are we told that people’s bodies and minds would not be different from one another. Nowhere are we told that we would all go through life like some cross between Jesus, Arnold Schwarzanegger and George Clooney, the perfect specimens of humanity in every conceivable way. Christians have no problem, it seems to me, holding up Jesus as the ultimate example of what it is to be a man, but he was nothing special to look at (the Bible, Jesus’s best PR, tells us so itself), was quite prone to losing his temper, said the wrong thing all the time, and most of all, achieved his greatest success and victory by becoming impaired to the fullest extent possible, before defeating death in the resurrection, but maintaining his scars. Jesus’s “blemishes” were part of who he was as he showed that he was who He Was.

 

So, we have a problem. As a bloke, I feel like I’m constantly being told that I have to prove that I’m worth it. Whether that’s through “contributing to society”, through how much money I earn and how nice my house is, whether I’m a net drain on the state because I take too much money in benefits as opposed to the amount of tax I pay, whether it’s the money paid on drugs and medical treatment to keep me going from one day to the next could perhaps be better spent on someone closer to the Clooney Utopian Model of Man, my sense of self is constantly under pressure. You might think I’m being silly, or facetious, but look at the questions asked about benefits and welfare in Britain (and other parts of the world at the moment). They all, in the end, come down to what we think a human life is worth. There’s a danger that we’re moving the goalposts, so that less people who are actually men, can be considered such. As soon as we stop viewing each other as equals, beloved of a Creator (a foundational aspect of creation) and view each other in terms of a hierarchy, we are in trouble. And the thing is, as a man, I feel that’s one of the things I’m constantly challenged to do. I’m to measure myself, and my success, against others. It’s competition that I’m engaged in, survival of the fittest. If I’m not seeking more money, promotion, more security, more happiness, more recognition, then somehow I’m not doing life properly. I’m letting myself down, and I should get out of the way and let someone who really has the hang of this capitalism thing achieve all the success they deserve, because they work bloody hard.

 

We have a tendency, I believe, to socially disable others in our society. Social disablement is the constructing of society in such a way that others are excluded and unable to take part. This happens all over the place. Whether it be trying to get into buildings, onto the Tube without feeling like death from having my face in someone’s BO-filled armpit is just around the corner (alright, this happens to everyone), finding it harder to get work (it is demonstrably harder to gain employment as a disabled person), build relationships, form community, or whatever it is, we live in a society where we like to keep each other in our places, where the only way that we can be “socially mobile” is if we deserve it. Do you deserve to be upwardly mobile? Do I? Who gets to decide that?

 

This is all fine until things stop working. We slow down. Bits start to sag, fall off, fall out, or stop to stand to attention. What makes a real man then? Does what a man is change when you get older, when you gain more experience, when you become senile, when you’re round the corner from death? In our culture it’s easy to think it does. It’s easy for us who might be in the prime of life to value ourselves more highly than those whose function, or intelligence, or productivity is lower than ours, but what happens when we become one of those people who functions less well, is less productive, needs to be looked after more than we can look after others? By some people’s logic there’d come a time when none of us are valid humans any more and we should all be gently assisted off this mortal coil. It is actually a fear of mine, hidden away deep down somewhere, that this might happen to me someday.

 

If what a man is, is down to how much power or authority we have, how much autonomy we exercise over our lives, then all is lost. Jesus lost everything to save everyone. We have to learn how to have less, to be less powerful, how to need to be less in control, so that we can understand that impairment, loss and decay are important parts of life. 95% of us will spend some time in a wheelchair at some point in our lives. It’s alright, it’s quite good fun. Have you seen some of those Wheelchair Rugby players? And anyway, if you could sit down all day, why would you walk around? I’ve never understood that.

 

To me, what it is to be a man is to be who you are, when people are watching and when they’re not. It’s not about how strong or weak you are. It’s not about what you do on your best day, or even on your worst. It’s about the spark of the divine that is within each one of us, recognizing and responding to it as far as we are able, and learning contentment. Ideally we’d learn to live together, like and love ourselves, love others and, at a push, love God too. If we’re going to do that, then elevating ourselves over and above other people has no place in our lives, our communities or our societies. And even if we were going to view ourselves, or someone else, as better or worse, it certainly cannot be on the basis of physical, mental or emotional ability or lack of ability. To view ourselves and others like that is to step on to a slippery slope which allows us to dismiss or eradicate those we don’t deem necessary, as I said. This is a chilling thought.

 

I have a hope that things can be better than this. I have a hope that we will learn to accept ourselves and others and stop fearing each other so much that we think it’s ok to practice injustice on one another as we disable one another. After all, we actually all need each other. Impairment and disability might well be coming to all of us at some stage. Ultimately, though, my hope rests in the idea that the God who impaired Himself to the largest extent possible for us all, also achieved ultimate victory, so that our broken senses of self and perspectives on life, love, hope and freedom could be fixed and renewed. There will come a time when we will no longer disable each other, whether we are impaired or not. Maybe I’ll be able to walk in heaven. Maybe I’ll have a gold-plated wheelchair. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the slightest. What does matter is that I’ll be who I was always meant to be, in the place I was always destined to be. So will all of us.

 

So can you be a man and be disabled? Of course you can. Should men be disabled? No they should not. We should not live and behave in ways which disable each other. Do we really believe that every living person is of equal value? Are we going to live like that is true? If we do and we are, then we can make it one of our goals to accept that sometimes we will be weaker than we want to be. Sometimes we will have impairments that we don’t want to have, but we can also make a promise to ourselves and others to not devalue or disable someone on the basis of what they can or can’t do. Jesus doesn’t do it. Neither should we. Jesus lived a life of radical love, generosity and self-sacrifice. Let’s do the same and follow his example.

 

Thanks to Mat Ray at Livability for the statistics

 

 

 

 

Categories
2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

September 11th 2014: Acts 9:32-43

Read Acts 9:32-43 here

As the good news of Jesus Christ the miracle worker is spread far and wide, this passage today recounts several healings of Peter, the Rock on which Jesus said His Church would be built. The healing miracles show Peter in a good light as the one who follows Jesus’s lead as the head of the Church. They also clearly result in many people coming to belief, baptism and living faith, as the fledgling Church grows. We can get excited about the drama of people being healed. It is exciting. We can run the risk of seeking merely to emulate the faith of the early Church in seeing the dramatic. It can be intoxicating to see God at work.

More than both of these though, let’s ask God to use us in whatever way He chooses so that many people might be added to His family, in believing, being baptised and living in faith.

Categories
2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 25th 2014: Acts 3:11-26

Read Acts 3:11-26 here

As we’ve seen in the previous post, Peter and John have just undertaken a great healing work in the Colonnade, in the sight of many people. Now we see Peter’s opportunism at work, as he is able to give a powerful lecture in historical theology to explain the purpose and context of this miracle – it is complete healing brought about by faith in Jesus, and for HIs glory, much more so than simply for the good of the man himself. The onlookers, and the readers/hearers of the story from Luke Acts, are to be in no doubt, it is not Peter’s ministry of healing that has brought this about, it is God’s ministry of salvation and reconciliation, which will not be thwarted by anything, least of all, the inadvertent killing of the Messiah.

This, to me, is a comforting story. God is in control, He has the power and all the cards. I don’t have much power in ministry, and if I ever get too far ahead of myself, I just have to look at a story like this. Peter is quick to point to Jesus as the source of healing and salvation. It is important for us as people, for the integrity of our witness to the gospel, and for the growth of mature Christians and strong, unified Churches, that we take the same line when taking about the power and the glory of life and ministry.

Categories
2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

August 24th 2014: Acts 5:12-16

Read Acts 5:12-16 here

It is undeniable what the message of this passage is – there were many signs and wonders done by the apostles, and all who came to them were healed (cured). If you’re bored of me wriggling around the healing and cure issue, you’ll be glad to know I’m not going to do that here – everyone got healed. Personally I don’t see why that makes us think that everyone will be healed or cured today, but that’s another issue.

What interests me today is the idea that people felt like the shadow of Peter would heal them. It’s similar to the sense of the woman with the persistent bleed who was desperate to touch the hem of the garment of Jesus, and yet, if anything, the sense of faith and trust in Peter’s power is somehow given even greater weight here. I wonder why that is, and why the people misunderstood what Jesus had done. Perhaps the apostles didn’t really know what they were doing themselves. After all, it’s not long since their friend and master had died, risen again, and then disappeared in a cloud, and here they were, finding favour in the sight of all the people and inspiring fear and faith in equal measure. My guess, and it is a guess, is that they had no idea at all what they were doing but they simply tried to be obedient to what they felt God was asking them to do. Perhaps, too, they enjoyed the sense of power and authority that had suddenly come to them in this time of fear.

Sometimes we can be so keen to understand everything, to have a workable theology, a systematic theology if you will, that we have to make sense of everything before we do anything. The problem with that is though that the Christian faith makes no “sense” at all, and yet the evidence of Christian history is that the claims of Christ to be the saviour that the world has longed for and needed desperately, are true.

Categories
2014 Lectionary Ramblings Lectionary Ramblings

July 12th 2014: Luke 17:11-19

Read Luke 17:11-19 here

Today’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of Luke is the well-known healing of the ten lepers. “Jesus, Master, have pity on us” say the ten lepers in verse 13, as Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. In this they are acknowledging Jesus’ authority. Were they asking for healing? Attention? Cleansing? Cure? Jesus sends them, quite rightly according to Mosaic law, to show themselves to the Priest, and they are cleaned. But was the purpose of the cleansing mere cleansing? It seems perhaps not. When the one returns, a Samaritan, foreigner, enemy of Israel “loudly giving thanks to God” it is this, and the lack of thanks to God from others, that Jesus remarks upon. We can almost here his shoulders being shrugged as he notes that none of the lepers who may have been Jewish have acknowledged God’s part in their cure. As they are restored to the potential of inclusion in community and life itself, it seems that Jesus intervenes in compassion, but also to draw those who have been cured into a living relationship with God.

A pause for thought: Are we seeking an intervention or an interaction with God just to get past a problem or issue, or are we seeking an ongoing living relationship with God? Are we seeking just to be made how we want to be, using the power of God for our own ends, or are we willing to worship God primarily with our lives?

Jesus can heal or cure anyone who asks if it is the right moment for their healing. Ultimate healing is salvation. We all have weaknesses and sicknesses, most of which we would like to see removed. However this is not all of life, or the whole point of meeting with Jesus. The good that can result from meeting with Jesus is to come into the relationship with God that we were made for.

Categories
Disability

When Healing Doesn’t Come

All of us, I think, want to be healed of something. Whether it’s something outwardly obvious, like a condition or an illness, or something internal like depression, or even a character trait or flaw that we or others perceive, none of us, if we’re truly honest, would say there was nothing we would change about ourselves. And that’s quite apart from the game some of us like to play where we look at others and decide how we would change or improve them. We’re a fun bunch aren’t we?

If you’ve read my stuff here before you’ll know that I have issues with depression. You might well have picked up too that I have Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair to get around (and to gain free entry to sporting events). As I’ve grown up around the evangelical charismatic wing of the Church, I’ve had a pretty wide variety of experiences of healing. I think I’ve seen miracles happen. I’ve definitely seen medical professionals and carers act as agents of the miraculous in changing my life and the lives of many people. And yet I’ve also seen many people who have had sicknesses, ailments, life-ending diseases, for whom grace and mercy has not included a cure or healing. What are we to make of this?

Thinking about answering the question though, I’ve kept coming back to one thought: Are we seeking healing so that we can be who we were created to be, or are we seeking healing so that we can be someone else? In short, are we seeking healing from ourselves? Jesus healed the sick. So did the disciples. We are called to do likewise in His name. Often, healing encounters in scripture begin with “what do you want me to do for you?” or some such question as this. The question is not “what do you want me to make of you?” or “who do you want me to make you?” There is the possibility of us carrying a prototype image of the perfect Christian man or woman around with us and aspiring to that. Personally, I think this is dangerous.

The only measure of success in the Christian life is in our fruit and in our being changed more and more into the likeness of Christ. Sadly, and I do mean this, I have had to find a way to come to terms with the idea that Cerebral Palsy might be part of the person that God designed me to be.I believe, instinctively, that this is possible, whilst at the same time believing another person with Cerebral Palsy might be healed (although I’ve never heard of such a healing taking place). What I mean by this is, in the provision of God, I don’t always get what I want (probably a good thing), but somehow I have to trust God that He knows what I need. If I could have convinced Him to get rid of my CP I would have. So far it hasn’t happened. We all need the (promised) healing of salvation, though. Perhaps we also need to ask God to heal our senses of self, our perspectives on who we are, our aspirations, so that when good and bad things come, we can remain firm in the faith that has been set before us, and find some way of staying thankful.

I realise that I have by no means explained why healing doesn’t always happen. I think it would be a falsehood to claim it were possible to explain it all. Wherever you find yourself as you read this, whether you are aware of your need for healing, or whether you rejoice in having already received it, or you mourn for the lack of it, I want to close by encouraging all of us to look to Jesus.

Jesus may not answer every question. Some do, maddeningly, remain unanswered. He will, though, go before us and stand with us in whatever we face. As His strength is most clearly shown in overcoming the ultimate weakness of the cross, so when I am weak, then the strength and vulnerability of Jesus, His victory, is what I can look to. So can you.

 

Read the Original Post here: http://www.threadsuk.com/when-healing-doesnt-come/

Categories
Disability

Please stop Pretending I’m Not Human

 Please Stop Pretending I’m Not Human

“Good morning sir. May the Lord God grant you the healing that you need. Amen”
I had an interaction this morning, of which this was the sum total. As I was pushing along towards Abington Street in Northampton, a man walked towards me, said those words, hit me on the shoulder and carried on walking. He did not look back. I know. I checked.
This isn’t the first time this has happened to me in my life (I figure I must need an awful lot of healing, but then don’t we all), but today, in the light of a lot of things that have happened in the last couple of years, the camel’s back has been broken by the straw. And so, unusually for me, I’m posting a blog on Facebook, to make a plea:
Please, stop pretending I’m not human.
There, I said it. I have Cerebral Palsy, it is a neurological condition, through which I have decreased mobility, increased spasticity (I have a great deal of spasticity, I’m sure you’ll all agree) and use a manual wheelchair to get around. As any of you who know my story will be aware, I am, in fact, very fortunate to have the level of ability, lifestyle, prospects, loving friends and family and everything else that I do have. I could easily, very easily indeed, be dead by now.
So what’s the problem? Well, it turns out that, in spite of the fact that the government and welfare system are pressing in on disabled people to a greater extent than ever in recent times, this isn’t the problem. It also turns out that, in spite of the fact that it is still demonstrably harder for disabled people to get jobs, build relationships and find, be accepted in to and maintain and develop community than it is for virtually any people group in our society, this isn’t really the problem either. It also turns out that, in spite of this being the easy answer to any question or desire to apportion blame, God isn’t the problem either and, wonder of great wonders, neither am I.
No, in actual fact, to my increasing disappointment, it turns out that Christians are the problem.
Now, I am a Christian. I should be, I’m training to be a minister (I know, ridiculous, let’s talk about that another time shall we). I also, those evangelicals amongst you will surely be pleased to know, believe that God is living, present, active, intimately interested, in love and involved in the lives of His people, and that He is engaged in the healing, reconciliation and redemption of the world, and the people, He made for Himself, as He delights in us, so that we might delight in Him. God heals. Now, today. I’m living proof of it. I know many of you are too.
But I’ve reached a point where I’m not sure I can put up with the dehumanising theology that many of us have foisted upon us by weak, possibly even false teaching. We all have a need. That need is Jesus. No less, but no more either. Jesus, I believe, fulfills every need that any of us has, or will ever have. More than that, He is who we were made for. We don’t really have any other purpose other than to love Him, accept love from Him, love ourselves and love others. Nowhere, not anywhere, in all of Scripture, the experience of humanity, or just common sense, does it say, anywhere, that we will not have troubles in this life. In fact, when the Spirit is sent to be our friend, guide and counselor at Pentecost, isn’t it actually because we WILL have problems in this life, whether they be being persecuted, sickness, relational difficulties, or even just living in a Conservative-led country. I’ve been thinking, and saying for quite a while now, that actually, it is a misunderstanding of God and His purposes for us as people, to think that difficulty shouldn’t be part of our daily life. It should. It’s crucial. It leads me to lean on Jesus in humility. It causes me to realise I can’t do life on my own, and even if I could give it a go for a while, I don’t want to, because it’s a pointless waste of energy and time. The healing that I need, I am more and more convinced, is a healing of the heart, of my mind, of my perspective. I long to have a right sense of my own identity and importance, and to respect and honour God, as I seek to respect and honour others.
So, yes, I do need healing. As someone said to me recently, Jesus willingly allowed himself to be demeaned, slandered, hurt, criticised, insulted, even killed and, even as He (humanly)must have been frustrated and crushed in His disappointment, prayed “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” The gentlemen with whom I had my brief encounter has no idea what he has done or continues to do to me. He probably thinks he’s doing a good thing, following a teaching, being obedient to God. He has no idea of the hurt and distress, questioning, and anger his actions caused me. I too, have no idea what led him to say what he said. I do know that, whether he meant for my physical body to be healed or not (I strongly suspect he did, but want to give him the benefit of any doubt) there’s much in me that would benefit from being different or changed: character, temperament, behaviour, language, sense of humour (!) and so on. I need to be humble and keep coming back to God with those things and parts of my life.
At the same time, I need you, friends, brothers and sisters, to help me out. We’re all people. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and as I said above, I personally believe we all have a need. We all have the same need, whether our bodies are good, bad or indifferent. It remains the same whether you are a PhD toting MENSA member, or whatever the opposite of that is. It remains the same whether you have a Masters (or even an MTh!!!) in Theology, or the extent of your theological education and knowledge is thinking “this life is a bit crap, there must be more than this.” Whoever you are and whatever you’re doing with your life, we’re called to life, to love, to hope, and to freedom, because of the God-man Jesus Christ. We need to come to him and ask, and receive, the life that he offers to us, afresh everyday. I honestly, truly believe, and not just because of pigheadedness or unwillingness to change, that to limit the view we have of what God wants to do with us to some kind of higher state of humanity where all the guys end up like George Clooney in his mid ER period, and all the ladies can strut their stuff like Angelina Jolie, but that in both cases we’re also much more pious and Biblically literate, is just hogwash. But so many of our Churches look like they are aiming for this. Why is that?
Jesus, when he was resurrected, was recognisable by his wounds. They weren’t shameful, they were signs of victory, of a war won once and for all. I’m proud of my weaknesses, the physical ones, and the ones you can’t see. I rejoice in them, because they show me that I am real, I am alive, that I have experienced life, the way God intends me to experience it, warts and all.
So yes, I do need healing. So do you. But I don’t need healing in the way you think I do. Nor do you, my friend, necessarily need healing in the obvious ways that I can see. We need to relate to ourselves, to God, to one another, and come in humility to the grateful place of receiving whatever God has for us because, and I am certain of this, it’ll be much better than any plan I can come up with for how I’m going to make my life better.
Please stop pretending I’m not human. To be human is an enormous, wonderful privilege and blessing, as well as a responsibility. It is to identify with God. God loved humans so much, He became one and came and lived among us, just so we could have a common experience and share in the wonder of it together. The fact that I am alive and breathing today is fantastic in itself. Jesus breathed in the same way that you and I do. He struggled in the same way that you and I do. He felt pain, loss, joy, elation, sorrow, excitement, the whole nine yards. He was also probably quite short, and not much to look at (check the gospels) and virtually everyone he ever spoke to misunderstood what he was doing, what he was about, and what the outcome of it all would be. He could have done anything he wanted to, but he loved humans so much, he let them make mistake after mistake after mistake in how they dealt with him, just so that they, and we, might have our own opportunity to see him as he really is, and respond to him. I don’t need to walk to be human. You don’t need to be a brainbox, or musical, or have people validate you by buying your CD, your book or anything else. We could all do with understanding the stupendous blessing and opportunity we have and pray that the whole world, not just those that look “broken” or “sick” might be healed, so that we can all enjoy it together.
Even as I finish this, I’m a bit nervous to post it. Some of you are Christians. A lot of you aren’t, and may think this is all a bit silly, or ill-advised, or downright dangerous. I’m also a bit nervous because my theology isn’t all neat and smooth-edged. I’m probably not exegeting correctly in parts. My hermeneutics are very suspicious, and I’m being entirely postmodern in a) thinking that anyone should give a monkeys (I nearly wrote something else there) about this, or b) that my opinion matters. But even so, this is honestly how I feel today, and I’m fed up of feeling like this.
As I’ve been writing and thinking about this, I’ve been really struck by a song from the new album from The Ember Days, Face in the Dark. The chorus says,
You healed the lepers when they called your name
You healed the broken
Will you heal me?
Now, Janell and Jason are acquaintances of mine. Their band is awesome, and I have a pretty good idea about the circumstances which led to this song, which give a huge amount of added poignancy to these words, which would otherwise seem pretty simple. Later, Janell sings
Take what’s broken
Heal the pain
Take my heart
Have your way
What’s broken in me? Is it my lack of ability to walk? I don’t think so (you might have guessed that by now).
So let’s do a deal ok? Next time you walk past me in the street, if you feel led to pray for me to be healed, think again. If you still feel the need to pray for me to be healed, be ready for me to do the same to you, and be aware that I’m asking for a lot more than just to be able to walk when I pray for my own healing, and for yours. New life, transformation of character, personality, behaviour, situation. Let’s go for that instead shall we. I think God’s a lot more bothered about that. He’s already raised the dead, so re-instating my dead brain cells probably isn’t that big a deal anyway. What He really wants is for both you and I to understand more of who he is, who we are, and the wonder of what life together, and with him looks like. You can’t do that while you’re walking away from me in the opposite direction.
Walking’s for losers anyway.