“The Slow Dance of Friendship: a Sermon for Wine Before Breakfast.”

I preached this sermon yesterday, Tuesday, November 28th, at Wine Before Breakfast at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto. My text was Mark 7:24-30.

I hope you like it!


Long ago, when I was very young, I used to hate middle-school dances (on P.E.I., we called that level of education “junior high”; the idea’s the same). You remember: people would crowd into a darkened gymnasium at night, in sock feet, and we guys—especially we nerdy ones—would wait with eagerness and dread for the dimming of the lights for the slow dances. As we heard Savage Garden’s “Truly Madly Deeply,” or Bon Jovi’s “Always,” or other sappy, poppy songs, we asked ourselves: would we be chosen? In particular, I wondered whether girls would even notice me, with my awkward loping gait and my emotional intensity, or whether I would be passed over. Very rarely, even in high school, did I feel chosen or included in that way.

Now that I know I can dance, row great distances in five minutes, and do fifteen or more chin-ups, of course, I see it differently. That said, back then it was about being chosen. Do I belong? Do I fit in? Will the people in the inner circles of cool accept me? Am I as cool as, say, a Simon Beairsto, or a Dave Krause, or a Deb Whalen-Blaize? Have you ever felt that way? I’m sure that sometimes you have: standing in church, longing for a touch, a word, a smile of recognition. I remember longing for affectionate touch when I was thirteen or fourteen; I remember aching for it, even within these walls at Wycliffe, as recently as a few months ago. That feeling…the yearning for welcome by people who understand us…never really goes away. Even when the sunshine has come, my friends, the shadow remains.

That’s sort of where we come to today’s text, Mark 7:24-30. This is Part I, Explanation.

In today’s passage, after disputing the Pharisees over tradition and winning yet again, Jesus is tired. He goes to what he thinks will be a quiet place for a couple days’ vacation: he goes to Tyre, where nobody knows him…and he looks forward to lying on a beach for a couple days…

And then his vacation is interrupted. This Gentile woman has heard about Jesus’ healing powers, and she follows him to the house where he stays; I imagine that she beats down the door. She’s longing to experience Jesus’ love, because she knows that he can make the pain go away. “Sir,” I can hear her moaning, “My daughter has a demon. Can you…can you help her, Jesus?” The scene paints itself vividly on our minds. The scene reminds me strongly of some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words from a sermon around Christmas 1934. Referring explicitly to people with disabilities, Bonhoeffer says, “The Christian relation between the strong and the weak is that the strong has to look up to the weak, and never to look down. Weakness is holy; therefore we devote ourselves to the weak.” Wow. That’s mind-blowing. Weakness is holy.

So we wait, with bated breath, for the Holy One to devote himself to this weak person; we hope that the Saviour will reach out with a kind word and a gesture of inclusion to this woman, and so…well, his response may surprise us. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to dogs.” Sorry, wait. Can you unpack that, Jesus?

Jesus’ words surprise me, mostly because they’re mean. A few weeks ago, I had a short chat with Joanna at and after breakfast. She was working on her sermon, the passage before this one; at that initial point, she summed it up rather well as Jesus saying, “Don’t be an asshole!” Unfortunately, I was away during Jo’s preaching last week; the way that I read that passage, the Pharisees are the legalistic ass-hats who judge people for the way they wash their hands, their cups, their food, but here…here Jesus, opponent of the Pharisees, stops this woman cold in full-on legalistic ass-hat mode. Jesus is being the kind of person he decries. He’s not being generous, as we’re asked to be this Offering Tuesday; here, I find Jesus cold, distant, and pretty selfish.

Generally, this is the image of Jesus that we stay away from: many people in mainline and evangelical churches, like the ones many of us come from, want to portray Jesus as gentle and meek. That Jesus talks softly and carries a big stick; he doesn’t upset our desire of who is in power, of who will receive healing. That Jesus doesn’t mess with our ideas of who gets God’s provision. That Jesus would want to dance with everyone in harmony and intimacy. Right?

That Jesus, God of gentleness, would never call a woman a dog—let alone a not-nice name for a female dog that I won’t put in a sermon! But this Jesus just did, so…why? Our old friend Walter Brueggemann has a couple ideas. He says that every society has purity laws…and that this Gentile woman takes Jesus to task about the narrowness of his social and religious vision of purity. Brueggemann observes that the woman has to school Jesus in the use of his healing powers, and to give him space to grow in his own liberating spirituality.

As we hear in the text, the woman does reprimand Jesus softly but soundly. “Yes, sir, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from beneath the children’s table.” She takes the insult and turns it on its head; in a way, she reclaims the term and uses it to get what she needs from Jesus. She yearns for, and asks for, healing—healing to which only the children of Israel are privy, in Jesus’ view. So, of course, he’s shocked. I imagine him thinking quietly for a moment, then taking her hand, and rewarding her faith with a few choice words of blessing. “That’s a good point. Go home. The demon has left your daughter.” It’s not, “Go in peace, for your faith has made you well,” as it was a few weeks ago for the woman with the flow of blood, but it works.

That ending makes us feel pretty good, right? Jesus grows as a person, because the foreign woman who has totally interrupted his vacation and invaded his space forces him to enlarge his concept of hospitality. She’s not a female dog; she’s a full human being, just as Jesus is. She moves from being an unclean Gentile to being part of God’s family. She’s moved into the space of being chosen. Brueggemann says that the woman forbids “old racist distinctions” from “determin[ing] who will get healing.” That’s super cool! The woman implores Jesus to dance with her intimately, and so changes his worldview. That said, our journey isn’t yet complete.

This leads us to Part II: Application. What remains for us as a community in terms of this passage? There are a number of angles: in his sermon, Brueggemann discusses racism.

For my part, I want to talk about ableism. Ableism is the systemic and personal discrimination against, and oppression of, people like me. People with disabilities exist on the periphery of Church and society. Tanya Titchkosky, a sociologist with dyslexia who teaches at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, calls people with disabilities “unexpected participants.” Let me explain: the people who built Wycliffe College, as good and well-meaning as they were, did not expect to see people in power-wheelchairs who would be Anglican priests…because they were only used to seeing people who had completely functional legs, and could walk up a set of stone steps; and don’t even get me started on Robarts Library, with wheelchair access in the back. No, friends: ableism is alive and well at the University of Toronto. It occurs daily on the TTC; it lurks behind the beauty of Trinity’s chapel across the road; it’s everywhere…and this passage, especially this passage’s ending, cries out for it to change.

The woman in Mark 7 had a daughter with an “unclean spirit.” That can take many forms. It could have been epilepsy, or pretty much any neurological disorder; the girl’s mother cries out for her healing because the girl cannot help herself. The family background of “Syro-Phoenician”—not Jewish, and not Roman citizens, but likely Gentiles with Middle Eastern and African roots—oppresses her, because the colour of the girl’s skin will impact her access to health care. So, rather than trusting Roman surgeons, the woman tells Jesus her story.

The woman in this story is yearning for healing, the gentle and substantive healing that comes from Jesus’ touch. She feels fragile, and longs for Jesus to make her and her daughter whole again. She yearns for what I call affective access to God’s equity in my dissertation: this woman wants Jesus to dance with her, rather than to turn away coldly, as he’s almost done here. She longs for a sort of Eucharistic wholeness, the kind where people can be vulnerable and available to each other. Even with the “crumbs from the table,” a small morsel of spiritual food, she wants to feel the intimacy that Jesus can show to believers with all abilities, and to know God’s friendship…because God’s friendship offers constancy, comfort, and strength.

In the same way, we people with disabilities are longing to tell our siblings of able body our stories, to have you see us and choose us as friends! People with low visual acuity, people who use wheelchairs, friends with MS and ALS, and people with virtually any sort of mental-health issue struggle to find purchase in the Church…and long to be understood even in the simple and kind of blunt way in which Jesus understands this woman. We—people with disabilities—yearn for believers of able body to dance with us, in the slow dance of friendship.

It was hard for me to dance slowly and gently at first. I have fewer neurons on the left side of my head than most of you. That limitation knocks out my spatial reasoning, constrains the entire right side of my body, and makes it difficult for me to discern, let alone control, some of my emotions. Yes: as many of you have noted to my face, I’m an intense person. It takes so much friggin’ energy for me to focus, and to make my way towards a goal that I can often only see at a slant, that occasionally I am quite intense. My body makes me feel sad and angry most of the time. Of course, that’s not an excuse for me to loose my anger on others; I’ve done that before, and I regret it. Indeed, the thing about this community that gives me the greatest joy is that in my longing for clarity and balance, in the midst of my pain, you accompany me, and we accompany each other. You offer me far more than what the Gentile woman, and Bono, call the “crumbs from the table.” You choose me; you make my yearning worth it.

In late October, Aileen wrote to me to ask for a couple pieces of material I’d used in the community-inclusion workshop through my work at OCAD, so that she could share those materials with Brian and Marcia. She did so, and later Marcia shared the staff’s accessibility action plan with me. The chaplaincy’s nascent plan made me very excited, because it shows that people of able body are starting to acknowledge the importance of the physical and social tasks of inclusion, and to bring people with impairments into God’s family. Plus, we’re about to experience the Eucharist together; as I said before, the Eucharist binds us together as a community by reminding us of our vulnerability and availability—the same vulnerability the woman shares with Jesus, and the openness that he eventually offers her in return.

This passage shows that inclusion is difficult but worth it. It’s hard, because it involves reflecting on our prejudices; it’s worth it—oh my God, so worth it!because, when we include each other, we become stronger and greater than we are alone. We become who God wants us to be…and, as the woman does, we may find that God is changed by our experience.

I hope that we can take these lessons into this cold Tuesday morning. In the name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer…

Amen!

 

 

 

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“Becoming the Body of Christ: Accessibility, Vulnerability, and Solidarity Among Believers of Diverse Abilities!”

I presented this workshop to justice-minded members of the Anglican Diocese of Toronto, some of whom had disabilities, this afternoon at St. John’s York Mills Anglican Church in North York, Ontario, Canada. I hope you like it!


A. Theological and Practical Avenues to Churchly Access

Hi! My name’s Mike Walker, and I’ll be your facilitator this afternoon. Can everyone hear me? Good! Then let’s go. J

This workshop will explore some of the theological and practical aspects of a sacramental ecclesiology of disability. That is, it’ll concern how baptism and Holy Communion can help Christians with and without disabilities to create accessible, just, and loving church-communities. I’ll focus that sacramental lens on the contours of physical, intellectual, affective, and spiritual access to divine justice for believers of diverse abilities, and explain how the transformed perception that makes that access possible lends itself to covenantal relationships. This workshop will be very dialogical, and thus quite participatory. That is, at specific points, I’m gonna make you all talk to each other, and tell me what access to God’s justice looks like

B. Every Body Matters: Defining Disability

The first and most important part of justice for believers with disabilities is that all people—everybody, irrespective of ability—is made in God’s Image. As I occasionally say, every body matters, and everyone reflects God’s desire to relate to God’s creation. Who are people with disabilities? People with disabilities are those who experience functional, physical and intellectual limitations in social contexts. Blindness, deafness, and cerebral palsy are all physical disabilities. At the same time, intellectual disabilities, such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia, are those that affect people’s capacity to perform cognitive and emotional processes. Furthermore, one could also call depression and anxiety emotional disabilities. For instance, I’m a person with spastic cerebral palsy. I experience constant tension in my muscles, my limbs shake all the time, and I have one fully-functional limb—this one (wave left arm).

So, everyone, including people with disabilities, is made in God’s Image. In Genesis, God creates human beings to relate to each other, to God, and to the earth where they live. The human beings’ encounter with the serpent complicates that relationship, because the snake introduces the two people to shame. The serpent claims that God doesn’t have human beings’ best interests at heart, and so casts doubt on the people’s relationship to God; that introduction of sin—the acting out of desires that do not spring from our relationship to our Creator—creates the conditions for the ableism that all people of varied abilities face, inside and outside the Church.

C. Ableism in the Church(?!): Different Forms of Ecclesial Ableism

I said that sin makes room for ableism. Simply defined, ableism is the systemic (and, distressingly, sometimes personal!) discrimination against, and oppression of, people with disabilities, by people of able body. Ableism is the confluence of different factors that allow some bodies—the beautiful, healthy, young, able ones—to take priority over those of us with mobility issues, like me; those of us with intellectual disabilities, like me and like others you know; and those of us who have other difficulties, like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. And so that I get to say it aloud, in your hearing: ableism is sin.

Within the church, ableism takes several forms. First, believers of able body often disconfirm the experiences of believers with disabilities: that is, they’ll deny people with disabilities the voice and agency to act for themselves, and/or refuse to affirm their existence. For example, Jennie Weiss Block, a noted Roman Catholic disability advocate, tells a poignant story. She writes, “I was once eating dinner in a very nice restaurant in Washington, D.C. with a well-known disability activist. He has a law degree, heads a large disability agency, is married with three children, and uses a wheelchair. The waiter looked directly at me and asked, ‘What will he have?’” (2002, 47-48). Or try this one: Cyndi Jones, a survivor of poliomyelitis, remembers that in the 1950s, when she was in elementary school, she felt put down by an advertisement of her—with her picture—that clearly told children that they didn’t want to look like her or other polio survivors (Shapiro 1993, 13). Honestly! Who would write that?

Disconfirmation also appears in the language that people use for each other. Jennie Block lists many names that people with disabilities encounter because of our unique modes of perception. We are called names like “idiots,” “retards,” “deaf and dumb,” “lame,” “spaz,” “differently-abled,” “physically challenged,” “mentally different,” “partially sighted,” “afflicted,” “crippled,” “victim,” and “deformed” (Block 2002, 48). I don’t like those names! In particular, I detest names like “lame,” “cripple,” and “retard,” all of which have been applied to me. These words have no place within a loving church-community. I am much more a fan of names like friend and brother; these are names that some in this room have often used for me.

Second, ableism appears—even in the Church!—through the low expectations that people of able body have of people with disabilities. People assume that a young Jewish man with multiple disabilities cannot study effectively for his bar mitzvah (Block 2002, 2002, 48-49), that a woman with no arms and no legs cannot effectively join the choir in a church (Eiesland 1994, 35), and so on. We who have disabilities are continually oppressed by low expectations. When I was born, in the fall of ’84, my parents were told that I would struggle to walk, to talk, and to have a normal life. You may be pleased to learn that I can dance, write a good English sonnet, play board-games, do chin-ups, and write highly-effective prayers. J

Ableism isn’t just about disconfirmation and the low expectations of people of able body, either. Third, ableism consists in people with able bodies “taking over,” deciding what’s best for people with disabilities without our consent. In Eugene Peterson’s Message, Romans 12:7—a crucial part of one of Paul’s discourses on the Body of Christ—reads thus: “If you help, just help; don’t take over.” All Christians, of all abilities, are part of Christ’s Body, so all its members have to work together. Problem is, many Christians of able body are friggin’ terrible at helping without taking over. Many people of able body assume that they know the perspectives of their siblings with disabilities, without actually knowing them. For instance, when a child with Down syndrome or autism is born, many parents hear, “Oh, it must be God’s will” (Black 1996, 47-51). How do believers know what God’s will is? And some people of able body speak to us thoughtlessly. I sometimes hear, “Oh! You have cerebral palsy? That must be so hard for you.” No, it isn’t really. The hard thing for me is listening to people who should know better project their fear and distaste onto my lived experience. Once, at my college of registration at UofT, a very impertinent older woman actually asked me outright, “Did you get it done for science?” What? Why would I do that? And if I wanted to, what business is it of yours?

Plus, some people with able body simply dominate people with disabilities: they tie us to our beds when we need to be dressed or changed; they refuse us access to our money, or forbid us to see a movie in a theatre because we happen to use a wheelchair (Shapiro 1993, 107-8, 138-39). Those actions are both irresponsible and unloving. People with disabilities need agency too! For instance, Jeff Gunderson had terrible experiences in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Wisconsin nursing homes until he found a personal attendant who became a good friend, who would cook and watch TV with him (ibid, 238-49). That is the kind of agency Christians of varied abilities need, in order to flourish; that’s the power sacramental community gives to us!

By this point, you may have noticed that ableism is a failure of perception, whereas access, its opposite, is successful—by which I mean “open” and “generous”—perception. When I say access, I mean a point of entry—or, ideally, multiple points of entry—to God’s dignity and joy. Tanya Titchkosky, a sociologist with dyslexia at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, asserts that access is a radical and generous form of perception where people of different body types are asked to “wonder” about the way that society is set up, and to ponder how human beings can encounter each other generously (Titchkosky 2011, 3, 145-47).

That’s where we’re going to go next. The sacraments, rituals that make Christ present to church-communities, offer access to God’s promised wholeness and integrity for people of all abilities, and indeed for all creation. I’ll give you just a little more theory, I promise. First, we’re going to have a few minutes for small group discussion of your experiences of ableism within the Church. Then we’ll talk about what baptism and Communion are, and then we’ll discuss (again, in small groups) what they do for believers of varied abilities. Are there any questions?

D. Sacramental Solidarity: Two Rituals, and Four Modes of Access

Okay. So I’ve said that access is a series of entry-points into God’s dignity and joy. The sacraments provide that entry. Simply defined, a sacrament is a material sign of God’s grace for human beings: like a wedding-ring, a piece of poetry, or a bouquet of roses, the sacraments are signs that God has promised to give God’s abundance to God’s people.

When I say “sacrament,” I’m primarily referring to baptism and Holy Communion. Baptism is the initiatory ritual of Christ’s Church: this rite of water and the Word can represent Christ’s forgiveness of sin, unite people in Christ irrespective of essential characteristics, and give believers a foretaste of God’s abundance to come in the Last Days. Furthermore, Holy Communion—this ritual goes by many names—is a meal of bread and wine where people can experience some of God’s material sustenance, engage each other in fellowship, forgive each other, and partake both in Christ’s death and resurrection. Because of their embodied nature, both rituals enact God’s solidarity with people who are oppressed. I’ll come back to that.

The sacraments provide access to God’s equity because they free human beings’ creative and connective energies. That access occurs in four related but distinct modes: that access is physical, intellectual, affective (emotional), and spiritual. Let me explain each of those in turn.

Baptism and Holy Communion offer human beings physical access to God’s justice for several reasons. First, because they reunite us to our bodies, both of these rituals provide believers of all abilities with healing and strength. Both baptism and Holy Communion represent God’s solidarity with people who are oppressed; in an ideal sense, these rites allow people of diverse abilities to share power, and to offer each other intimate and deeply-embodied hospitality. They allow human beings to create the space for freedom of movement, for full and abundant nutrition, and for integrated, creative expression in our bodies. Notably, because it involves edible elements, Holy Communion also calls for an end to extreme material poverty.

Moreover, baptism and Holy Communion offer people of diverse abilities intellectual access to divine justice. Through simple narrative and symbol, these rituals free our imaginations to grasp the risen Jesus’ life. Like Jesus’ parables, the sacraments tell simple stories that describe the appearance of God’s Reign when justice is done. Both rituals enjoin believers strongly to use simple language in worship and in sermons. Moreover, both mysteries empower believers of all abilities to “watch our language”: we are called not to create interlocking circles of “us” and “them,” but a series of spirals where we are all included, irrespective of body type. Baptism retells the story of Christ`s regeneration of individual believers, and of communal life, while Holy Communion recounts the links between Jesus’ liberating ministry and the ways that people with diverse abilities embody Christ’s life. Overall, in terms of divine equity, both rites engender disability’s imaginative episteme that makes way for the unexpected.

Significantly, baptism and Holy Communion also create the space for affective access to divine justice through their material resonance with God’s desire. That is, these rites give people of diverse abilities points of entry into the dance of friendship and intimacy, by showing us what the triune God’s love looks like. The water of baptism can lead believers of all abilities directly into Jesus’ embrace; thereafter, in Holy Communion (ideally, anyway!), we can find Jesus’ embrace replicated in the embrace of others. Again, our experiences of affection in the Eucharistic community in particular can help believers with diverse abilities to both resist and dismantle ableist structures within the Church. I have so much personal experience of intimacy in sacramental community that I made it a very big part of my doctoral research. Ideally, the next breakout session will help you describe your own experiences too.

Lastly, baptism and Holy Communion offer people of varied abilities spiritual access to God’s justice—that is, they testify to the truth and reality of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and coming again—in several ways. The rites remind us of our unity: baptism unites all believers in our love for Christ, and Holy Communion connects us to the Earth and each other. Baptism catalyzes our joyous solidarity: our baptismal vows allow people of all abilities to aid each other when we see each other suffering or in trouble, and Holy Communion helps us to remember and re-enact instances of past availability and solidarity. Moreover, baptism and Holy Communion both engender affective access to divine equity by reminding us tangibly of Christ’s love.

Now we take our second quick break, and we perform another small group activity, with slightly more complicated questions about your relationships to the sacraments. In a couple minutes, we come back to see how all this plays out in covenantal relationships.

E. Covenantal Relationships as an Aspect of Justice

Baptism and Holy Communion do one other thing in Christian communities that’s hugely significant: they create the space for mutual compassion within covenantal relationships. Human beings are interdependent; we—all of us, of all abilities!—need each other in order to be fully human. Hear me clearly, Diocese of Toronto: human existence does not centre on productivity. We’re not machines that break down and need fixing; rather, people are most ourselves in loving relationships. One Hebrew name for that relational love is chesed, covenant-love and faithfulness. Friends give to each other out of reciprocal fealty, and can mutually grow in love.

In the Jeremiah Community, my church in Toronto—an intentional community that used to worship in an Anglican parish—one of my good friends represents the import of chesed for me. This joyful older fellow with multiple disabilities knows Anglican liturgy and hymnody backwards; he responds to every prayer with a loud, “Amen,” but often struggles to understand our conversations, and to listen sometimes when people ask him to do something. That said, the rest of us help him with his cognitive processing, and he helps the rest of us by offering us passionate and unflagging affirmation. My friend truly lives out an aspect of chesed.

Similarly, Jennie Weiss Block retells the story of one Judith Snow, a Torontonian artist with disabilities. At one time, Judith was depleted physically and mentally because she could no longer care for herself, so five of her friends formed the “Joshua Committee” to care for all of Judith’s needs. These friends empowered Judith to live in Toronto, and to thrive as a person (Block 2002, 160-62). And here’s a personal favourite: Adam Clayton, bassist of U2, served as best man to Bono, the band’s singer, in May 1982; in spring 1987, Bono received a death threat before a concert in Arizona. During the show, he found Clayton shielding him with his bass guitar. Chesed allows people of all abilities to lay down their lives for each other (John 15:13).

Plus, I think I alluded to this next point a minute ago. In sacramental communities, God’s grace empowers people to be open to all other people. Baptism and Holy Communion can lead Christians to affective and spiritual openness, enabling us to become catholic personalities. I’ve borrowed that phrase, “catholic personalities,” from the Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, student of Jürgen Moltmann. That phrase means that people reveal in themselves, and in their relationships to each other, God’s mutuality and generosity. Volf asserts repeatedly in his fascinating book After Our Likeness that the Trinity—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—exists in perichoresis, which is sort of like the dance of friendship I alluded to a few minutes ago. The Godhead’s three members dwell in each other mutually in perfect love; unfortunately, while human beings can aspire to that love, we can’t emulate it perfectly (Volf 1998, 194-209).

Human beings can only yearn for the Trinity’s love because we’re limited. In order to embody God’s boundless love, people of all abilities need clear but permeable affective boundaries. Just as the members of the Trinity interact peaceably with each other, so God calls God’s friends to dwell mutually with each other, and to welcome each other in our varied needs (Volf 1998, 172, 192ff). Significantly, Volf claims that, whenever people live out these mutual relationships with each other, using our Spirit-filled gifts to benefit each other in the covenantal and sacramental ways I’ve described, Christ dwells among us (ibid, 227-44, esp. 228-30).

When we live into these covenantal and mutual relationships, our relations to physical and social space can change. So, for instance, during one phase of the worshipping-life of the Jeremiah Community, we used to constantly reshape our worship-space. On Sundays, we would bring out extra chairs; we’d strive to make the music audible and sing-able; and we’d involve the children in the service as much as possible, singing simple songs and making them sacristans. Our liturgical commitment to our baptismal vows and our solidarity with our neighbourhood, cemented in our sharing Communion with our friends from the street, empowered us to create safe and welcoming communal space for our vulnerable friends, and, really, for everyone.

Having said that, hospitality by and for believers with disabilities and others in community necessitates clear boundaries. The practice of the Peace of Christ in the Jeremiah Community demonstrates that bounded clarity. For a couple years after we moved to Parkdale, we were unsure of tactile boundaries, but our leadership team eventually asked all of us to shake hands, rather than offering each other more comprehensive forms of embrace, during the Peace of Christ. Handshakes allowed us to offer each other real intimacy and trust in sacramental community, while also still creating a basic level of emotional security. At our best, without giving ourselves away, we recognized the limits of our energies, and gave each other God’s love.

The Peace shows us something else, too. In sacramental communities that contain covenantal relationships, Christians of all abilities can learn humility. When people of able body and people with disabilities welcome each other, we begin to empathize, and we  know what practical theologian Peter C. Hodgson calls “intersubjectivity” (Hodgson 1988, 66; see also Moltmann 1993, 349). In the humble empathy emerging from sacramental community, as Christian poet Bono claims, we can become one, though we’re not the same (U2 1991, 17-18).

Volf argues that this humble, empathetic person is decentred from him- or herself, and centred on Christ. That is, the cross and baptism reorient the person who chooses Christ. This ideal person, filled with the sacraments’ embodied joy, can feel and know Christ’s gifts to humankind, because her baptism reorients her to Christ’s earthly presence in creation and community. This means two things in terms of the Church. First, baptism and Holy Communion can ground the openness that Christians of all abilities display towards each other, because they testify to our mutual connections in our bodies. Second, these rites can allow Christians of varied abilities to “walk through walls.” They can empower us to incarnate God’s full love and justice just as the risen Jesus does in Luke 24:36-37 and John 20:19-31. Humility and empathy can form Christians of diverse abilities into more whole human beings who can act out divine equity.

Furthermore, God makes us into what I call “faithful community” in the sacraments. Baptism and Holy Communion mark our loyalty to each other and to God, and empower us to accept each other in our uniqueness. In an ideal sense, Christians of all stripes don’t just love because we feel like it. We love because we’ve made a covenantal promise, and we intend to keep it! Love expresses covenant, and covenant binds people together in sorrow and in joy.

In light of all that, I have a few more questions for you about covenantal relationships. They’re a bit simpler than the second session; when they’re done, that ends our time together.


Here are all the workshop questions:

Part One: Questions on Ableism:

  1. How have you, or your loved ones, experienced people’s disconfirmation, low expectations, or assumptions this week?
  2. Think about your week. Name one experience that helped you to perceive people with disabilities positively. Alternatively, tell us about an experience where you befriended someone with a disability.
  3. We mentioned names that are often applied to people with disabilities, even in the Church, like “idiot,” “retard,” “lame,” “spaz,” and “physically challenged.” Choose one of these names and write a gentler expression of it to share with the larger group.

Part Two: How Do You See the Sacraments?

  1. In a couple sentences, talk about your relationship to other people within your church community. How could a sacramental orientation towards justice change your view of your community?
  2. Have you experienced the connection we’ve described between Holy Communion and material justice? If you have, tell us about it briefly.
  3. How do you experience your connection to the earth as a Christian?

Part Three: People in Covenantal Relationships

  1. Name an instance of covenantal relationship in your own life; you can share it if you’d like.
  2. How can people of higher cognitive ability befriend people with intellectual disabilities?
  3. Has your congregation ever experienced a moment of shalom, where you did something really good and important as a group? Describe that moment for us.

“Fierce Desire.”

I wrote this one last night under the influence of a can of  Boneshaker. It concerns my decompression from my thesis. I hope you like it! 🙂


Fierce Desire

I feel a quietness suffuse my soul,

A calm that rolls through me like seaward tide.

I feel the gentle loss of stern control

That comes on me when I let go of pride.

It doesn’t matter what the page will say;

It matters little where the footnotes fall.

I wrote a cogent text, in my own way,

Because I felt its urgent, whispered call:

I can live out the joy, the vibrant grace

That is my birthright from the holy flames;

I must discern a loving, welcome space

Where all my friends can hear Love speak their names.

My text is holy, full of living fire,

Because it joins true love to fierce desire.