A recent BBC article has provoked conversation about disability theology – I reproduce this guest post from my friend Rev. Haydon Spencely, whose personal story predates that interest…
“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.
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, to make a plea:
Please, stop pretending I’m not human.
There, I said it. I have Cerebral Palsy, a neurological condition, through which I have decreased mobility, increased spasticity, 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 questionor 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, as 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 andsisters, 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 anMTh!) 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 brain box, 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 abit 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 inthe 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.
Thankyou for reading. I think Haydon’s is a powerful story, and invites us to consider Jesus and the kind of things that Jesus said and did, and says and does.
If you are interested in some of the implications and issues raised by some of the stuff Haydon has written about, then you might be interested in a couple of books I’ve reviewed, Roy McCloughry’s “The Enabled Life” and Gordon Temple and Lin Ball’s “Enabling Church“.