Month: March 2010

disability and theology #4

Is disability situated in the body? If you’re anything like me, you may well say ‘obviously, yes’. But I was challenged about that.

In the literature on disability, people identify two models for understanding disability:

  1. The medical model is what most of us are familiar with. In the medical model disability is thought of as a loss of bodily function. Disability is by definition negative in this model and treatment is directed at restoring function. It is understood as a deviation from what is acceptably ‘normal’ and specifically located in the body of the person with a disability. This way of thinking about disability as deviance from the norm can lead to ways of talking about people with a disability as less than whole, where something is missing.
  2. The minority model is probably what you’d hear disability activists espousing. And it makes a lot of sense! This model shifts the focus of attention from the person with a disability as a patient (to whom things are done) to the person with a disability as citizen (who does things). It locates disability in the society that facilitates exclusion and therefore calls for changes in society to allow the full participation of persons who have some form of physical or psychological impairment. The social model of disability is therefore necessarily political, in that it calls for changes in values and attitudes rather than scientific advances.

Both these models are useful, but neither is sufficient. It’s interesting the way healing narratives in the gospels describe Jesus restoring people’s bodies and addressing their exclusion from the community and from relationship with God.

So, for example, in Matthew 9, Jesus heals the paralytic as evidence that he can heal the much more important wound that is sin. Jesus restores the paralytic not only to health but to relationship with God. In Luke 5:12-16, Jesus heals a leper, making him clean and freeing him to rejoin the community and participate in worship.

Jesus is not concerned simply with either physical restoration or restoration of community. He heals the body as a means of restoring relationship (for more check out the Berinyuu article in my reference list).

‘behold, the Lamb of God!’ (i)

This is a serialised version of a sermon preached as John the Baptist. Perhaps consider it a kind of ‘true confessions’ of that first eye-witness of the Lord.

I met Jesus the other day.

I guess one day that might be a claim to fame. But I have to say, it was kind of odd. I mean … it’s Jesus — Jesus bar Joseph. Little cousin Jesus.

He’s my cousin, did you know? Twice removed. My mum and his mum were close before I was born, but his family moved away to Egypt for a couple of years and now they live back over in Nazareth in Galilee and. You know how it goes!

In fact, I reckon one of the last times we were together was that Passover, back when we were boys. I suppose pretty much every family has one of those Passovers! But this was something different! I’ve got to tell you…

The whole family had come up to Jerusalem for Passover. It had been a really special time. Everyone had partied hard, celebrating God’s deliverance of us in the exodus. And before you knew it we were waving good-bye to Mary and Joseph and a whole crowd of pilgrims. We’d headed back home, dad disappeared out the back to have a snooze while mum and I started doing some tidying up…

But the next day, just when we thought things would get back to normal, Mary and Joseph appeared. Banging on the front door. They looked frantic. They’d left the group to travel back. And they wanted to know if we’d seen Jesus?

Apparently Mary thought he was with Joseph and Joseph thought he was with the other kids. So they only started to get worried when he didn’t show up for breakfast.

(He turned up eventually, of course. He was actually in the temple talking with the rabbis — would you believe it!? But the panic and worry on Mary and Joseph’s faces. Now that was something. I know he’s their firstborn son and all. But they obviously thought he was quite something — they were killing themselves with worry.)

It was a Passover to remember alright. That last time I saw him.

So, anyway… There I am, waist deep in the Jordan. I’ve got my soggy camel-hair shirt tucked into my belt. And it’s itchy at the best of times! The crowds up on the river bank are as thick as the flies swarming around my head.

And in amongst the crowd, there’s Jesus! I hardly even recognised him at first. He’s so unremarkable: Late twenties. Medium build. Not short (but not tall either). Broad shoulders. Of middle Eastern appearance. He had the look of a tradie. Rough hands. Sunburn. Not a plumber. A mechanic maybe? A cabinet-maker? Pretty ordinary all up. I even reckon I spotted some prominent nasal hair!

Worse, he arrived with that mob of Galilean hicks! Imagine a bus-load of Westies rolling up at the one of the Eastern beaches in the middle of summer. Over-dressed. All bling-ed up like you wouldn’t believe. Whooping and carrying on like they hadn’t seen water for a decade…

I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that much. He does live in Nazareth after all. But that grating Galilean drawl. It’s too much!

It really was a bit of a bolt out of the blue when God’s Spirit swooped down and settled on him. He wasn’t what I was expecting at all…

an open letter to NYC

OK. We haven’t actually been to Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens or Staten. But we have been from the Battery to the tip of Manhattan (and out to Princeton). And we’ve had the song stuck in our head the whole week.

NYC has shattered our expectations at every turn:

  1. That uber-busy New Yorkers wouldn’t have time to help others (lost tourists and locals alike)
  2. That it would be hard to find fresh food and good coffee — and no, our standards have not dropped
  3. That we wouldn’t feel safe (wandering the streets at night, riding the subway, etc)
  4. That we’d be cold — it has been cold, but even Aussie clothing can be effective when layered
  5. That we’d American accents on every corner — there is just so much diversity…

And now for some photographic highlights:

Taking night shots with a hand held camera can be challenging

Great view from 'Top of the Rock' (Rockefeller Center)

We waited until after hours, so it was window-shopping only!

Princeton: a magical fairy-land for nerds

We could never tell if the subway trains were going to stop

disability and theology #3

There are a lot of people with a disability in Australia: over 800,000 people are considered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to have a profound or severe disability that limits their independence in three or more core activity areas.

It’s important not to think that this ‘group’ is homogenous — there’s a lot of diversity captured by the term ‘disability’. But that’s still a lot of people. More significantly, there’s a very real possibility that you and I will be counted in it one day. Disability is almost unavoidable as we age.

Some authors talk about the ‘able-bodied’ as ‘not yet disabled’ or ‘temporarily able-bodied’. I find this quite helpful. It’s a constant reminder of my own frailty and what we have in common.

‘and they will bear you up’

It’s time to wrap up this series on the responsibility of stewardship — specifically creation stewardship. Just to review the ground we’ve covered as we’ve dwelt on the invitation God extends in Jesus: namely, to enter into our full humanity and privilege as children of the Father:

  1. ‘if you are the Son of God…’ — I justified my use of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness as an anchor,
  2. ‘not by bread alone’ — I highlighted the challenge of trusting God at the heart of stewardship,
  3. ‘do not put the Lord to the test’ — I sketching the shape of stewardship: thankfully receiving, frugally enjoying and generously sharing God’s good gifts, and
  4. ‘serve him only’ — I considered the goal of stewardship: drawing out the potential of creation to glorify God (and not ourselves).

I have just one question to ask in conclusion: Have you noticed the odd the way the temptation scene ends — with angels attending Jesus?

Now, I know there’s really not much made of this in the texts. It’s merely registered before the scene shifts and the narrative whisks us forward. But isn’t this the very thing the devil has already suggested Jesus lay claim to as the Son, God’s Messiah? Isn’t angelic ministration something he was urged to cling to as an entitlement? And wasn’t it something Jesus rejected — along with that whole way of trying to be the Son of God?

Well … yes. But at this point in the story Jesus isn’t selfishly claiming anything. There’s no sense of him standing on his rights or putting God to the test. He’s not making demands. Rather, God is graciously bestowing the unlooked-for gift of satisfaction upon his obedient Son. And this is nothing short of the Messiah’s vindication.

Because Jesus is God’s Son, you see. His refusal of the devil’s earlier suggestion to throw himself down expecting that angels will bear him up was no denial of his Sonship or Messianic title. It was a refusal of the devil’s timing — and his arrogant attempt to make God operate by our timetable.

For us who share by grace in the status Jesus naturally and eternally enjoyed, I think this means:

We are most satisfied in serving God when he is most glorified through what we do (to up-end a famous saying).

So, when it comes to our care for God’s world, we can probably expect it to be uncomfortable and inconvenient at times. Obedience often is in the world that sin has invaded and wrapped its destructive tendrils around. But we can also expect that obedient stewardship — in which we live out our trust in God, seeking his glory by thankfully receiving, frugally enjoying and generously sharing the resources his makes available — will prove deeply satisfying, in all sorts of surprising, God-given ways.

disability and theology #2

A gift to start us off!

You can download a list of the references I worked through here.

All research is about setting boundaries. I went looking for theological books or articles that explicitly dealt with disability; it got a little broader — but not much. My top 3 recommended resources from the list are:

  • Creamer D (2009) Disability and Christian Theology: Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Hauerwas S and Vanier J (2008) Living Gently in a Violent World, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove Illinois.
  • Reynolds T (2008) Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, Brazos Press, Grand Rapids Michigan.

I’ll share more about what I found later this week.