Tag Archives: Disability Theology

Pentecost People: Theology as Disabled Learning

Photo 14Disability Theology
Many voices dealing with disability and theology speak to the gift of the resurrection in understanding disability[1]. To look at the resurrection as presenting a broken body or disabled God as the model of resurrected life their thesis becomes clear and understandable. Christ resurrects with a tear in his side and holes in his hands and feet. Salvation in the disability theology model means we are not saved away from our broken bodies but into a deeper relationship with them as sites of resurrection and goodness in the world.

Disability theology in this way challenges our assumptions of normative bodies and of salvations ability to heal us from difference into normative states. If we look at the time of Christ – a time when we have no medical plans, no health care – then when Jesus engaged in the act of healing he was not moving them from abnormality to normality but was instead moving them from normality to abnormality[2]. It is into the recognition of the goodness of our bodies, broken as they may be that we are being saved into.

Broken Bodies/Broken Attention
This model does not work for the learning disabled, called herein the Differently Wisdomed. To engage in a discourse of the body centered in this particular understanding of resurrection leaves no room for people whose disabilities are invisible. To be gifted with an invisible disability is to be located in a very particular situation: a normative body but a brain or body chemistry that functions in a manner that is not normative in its information processing, emotion regulating, attention span, stimulus management, and which affects relationships and is considered disruptive by society.

It is my assertion that the Differently Wisdomed provides a model for church and society about the nature of dis/abling our learning and wisdom assumptions so that unconventional wisdom and learning may challenge our assumptions of power. Invisible disability, such as the Differently Wisdomed which is our main focus but also the bipolar, dyslexic, and those with aspergers syndrome and many others, can be seen as a model of the Holy Spirit.

The resurrected Christ provides little in the way of salvic model here, but the upper room of Pentecost may. Like the Holy Spirit the Differently Wisdomed erupt in the midst of our controlled environments drawing attention to the realities of chaos and begging that we pay attention to those places often overlooked in our power, ministry and educational assumptions.

A Differently Wisdomed Theology
Theology at its best is a disablement of our understanding of the world and of God, in the best tradition of liberation theology[3]. Theology is not set to the goal of propping up the powers that be but should instead be engaged in the practice of radical de/construction of our assumptions of knowing and learning. It is in this way Theology dis/ables our learning. Learned systems of oppression, for example, must be disabled in order for the wisdoms of the oppressed to be heard and to create a space of challenge for our knowledge assumptions.

To think of the Differently Wisdomed theologically is to envision the gifts of a people who bring to us w/holy disruption. To be Differently Wisdomed in the classroom/boardroom/workplace and human relationships is to disrupt our safe assumptions of knowledge and to allow other wisdom systems to present new possibilities from outside the box.

Engaging in Disability Theology as a methodology is to seek out those places in culture and the world where those who have been labeled as invisible by the nature of their disability continue to challenge our normative assumptions. What and how we learn is not only limited to the classroom or workplace but also involves the attitudes and ideals we learn socially. Many of these learning’s lend themselves to systems of oppression based on race, gender and economics. To be gifted as Learning Disabled or Differently Wisdomed theologically is to engage in the practice of disrupting learning, knowledge and the ordering of bodies so that those who suffer under oppression may be liberated.

Theologically speaking then we must be Differently Wisdomed. We must engage in a work that brings about disruption to oppression so that the people of God, with their plurality of gifts, can flourish in the human space. To dis/able our learning then allows us to disrupt ways of being that lead not to health but to death and enable ways of being that engage our deepest levels of humanity.

This is what it means to be church. The church is called into a position of radical disruption by which we form community out of those society has cast aside and named as being dis/abled or dis/abling. It is only here at this location that we are able to participate in the welcome of Christ.

1) Holy Spirit
In this model we turn to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the invisible presence of God. To draw on the panentheistic model of theologian Sallie McFague[4] is to view the earth and all creation as the body of God (but God is not the earth). In this way we can understand the way in which the Holy Spirit fills all of creation with the presence of God.

Differently Wisdomed peoples know themselves as disrupters of our learning assumptions. Like the Holy Spirit we often find ourselves filling the life-world of our social context. Like God in McFagues model the differently wisdomed are the unseen who hide in plain site, ready to erupt into the life world of our community at any given moment.

Theology as Disabled Learning then could see its self as a way of being in the world, a way those with invisible disabilities can see themselves[5]. Like the Holy Spirit our task is to transgress boundaries and to disrupt our knowledge assumptions. Like the upper room we are to interrupt our speaking and language when it becomes a form of ingrouping/outgrouping, abuse or discrimination. Differently Wisdomed people are called to speak Babel in the face of oppression, to announce the chaos of life and the God that is present in it. When society disables people and ignores their wisdom and knowing we are to lay on hands and proclaim that despite what the powers-to-be have said these are healthy people and they belong to God.

2) Babel
Like the Holy Spirit which disrupts ordered language with tongues, disrupts ordered worship with prophecy and which speaks Babel in the face of those who insist the world is easily ordered[6] and controlled the Differently Wisdomed disrupt our ways of thinking and being. The DW, by the nature of invisible disability, can disrupt our expectations of relationship, communication and learning. It is an attack on our assumptions of power and authority, an attack on our assumptions of control. The individual with an ADD brainstyle can and will interrupt our structures with insights and ideas from far outside the box. The gift of this person is, like the Holy Spirit, the moods, insights, and realities of ADD cannot be controlled. Like the spirit they blow here and there, dragging disruption and blessing in their wake.

William Stringfellow quickly addresses the notion of speaking in tongues in his ‘An Ethic for Christians and other Aliens in a Strange Land’. To engage in Bable is to speak nonsense in the face of systems that seek to create control and order in our political and religious systems. Babel then is to engage in a holy form of chaos when the church or world seeks to define and control the giftedness of human persons to the living space of the world.

The holy gifts, or gifts of the spirit, as described in Corinthians could in many ways be described as the gifts of the Differently Wisdomed people[7]. Like those filled with the spirit – and maybe to be Differently Wisdomed is to be in/spirited– the Differently Widomed may speak prophetically (pressured speech when all your ideas can no longer be contained, speaking truth due to a lack of impulse control) or may disrupt our gatherings and learning environments with a Babel that draws attention to an ecstatic inner dimension of information processing (disruptive behavior, communication breakdowns, a sidetracked imaginative addition to the discourse). The gifts of the Differently Wisdomed can be seen in the way in which spiritual gifts are imparted in the laying on of hands, built into the insistence that to learn wisdom and to encounter the voice of God in the world must happen through tactile learning.

The very gifts created as a model of what the church is to be in the world, spoken metaphorically by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, are the gifts of the Differently Wisdomed. The nature of the Differently Wisdomed in the church is to speak Babel as a call to repentance. It names that the nonsense speak of one may in fact be the wisdom of God entering the world, a new type of upper room.

Babel as holy vocation then is to engage in a consistent dis/abling of our assumptions. Speaking Babel announces that the ordered world creates ways of knowing and knowledge that ables forms of abuse, neglect and oversight of those who fall through the cracks. By creating Babel – Holy Chaos – we enable those ways of knowing and those who are Differently Wisdomed to claim the space of chaos – and any dyslexic or ADHD student, worker, business person or artist can tell you about chaos – as holy space.

3) Dis/abling salvation to enable salvation
To move our language from Learning Disabled to Differently Wisdomed is to speak that the state of being disabled in this manner is not a thing we can be healed or saved away from. Instead it is an opportunity to name our truth as whole people whose very existence is a challenge to the assumptions we make in the world. A disabled person is a person who must be ‘abled’ through accommodation. A Differently Wisdomed person is a person whom, by their disabled nature, bring gifts of wisdom and knowing.

In turning towards the bible the Differently Wisdomed Theologian will naturally move his or her gaze toward Jesus Christ. I am not suggesting that we view Jesus as disabled but instead as embodying the best traits of the gift of the Differently Wisdomed and other/wise invisibly disabled. In the face of ordered structured ways of knowing – ways of knowing bent on the support of systems of oppression and the codification of knowledge systems/ways of knowing that supported Rome and the imperial agenda – the message of Jesus breaks in and dis/ables the safety barriers and assumptions of cultures. By being a DISruption in the knowledge and wisdom of the world Jesus enABLES ways of living wisdom that announces the validity of bodies and learning styles that break out from our assumed norms.

The Differently Wisdomed disrupts our social norms and assumptions, the primacy of the individual in her/his human and social relations[8]. The differently wisdomed, by the nature of their gifts, insists that human relationships, including cognitive relationships, function best in relational communities. To be differently wisdomed, in the educational system, workplace, or your human and romantic relationships, is to insist that multiple wisdoms work best when they function as a communal exercise of mutual dependency. The Differently Wisdom challenges our assumptions of autonomy and instead insists that humanities true nature is interdependence or in/dependence.

To be in mutual dependence, Differently Wisdomed people insist, is to recognize that relationships involve the breaking down of barriers and safety zones and the creation of areas of mutual dependability, vulnerability and support. The Differently Wisdomed person functions in relationship the way the church should: the community of people join together in mutual mission and pool their gifts for the benefit of those both in and out of the community. Where one community member lacks the other members supply their own gifts, or collaborate together to create community. Differently Wisdomed people, who may have trouble organizing or sequencing information, who may have to step out of a dinner party for a 20 minute walk to regain their focus, begs the members of the community and family to recognize they are not mere consumers with each other of a product but are, in the biblical phrase, co-creators.

Independence then is in/dependence[9]. Relationships exist in mutuality and co/dependence. To function as a community means to be communal. For the church it means not only reclaiming our practice of Eucharist[10] – a communal event where we celebrate the God who comes to us as broken – but also a reclaiming the symbol of Pentecost.

Conclusion
To enter into a way of being that sees the church as a distributed presence throughout the world whose goal it is to disrupt the assumed learning’s of power and oppression is to enter into the gifts of the Differently Wisdomed. If the church and world can more fully take stock of its Differently Wisdomed members then the task of the Differently Wisdomed having come into ownership of their way of being may have provoked a change in the world.

For the Differently Wisdoemd to come into a model of Pentecost – of the Holy Spirit disrupting life – is to come into a model of a way of being that asks that we view holiness not as normative learning and information processing but to instead view it as a type of w/holiness[11] rooted in the gifts of multiplicity. To enter into the gifts of Babel is claim that in what the powers-that-be and our normative assumptions claim as nonsense is the people of God taking root in our life-world. To name the Differently Wisdomed as being a Pentecost people, people gifted with Babel, is to see their way of being in the world as being a gift to the human whole.

Bibliography
Lisa Curtice, “The Social and Spiritual Inclusion of People with Learning Disabilities: a Liberating Challenge?”. Accessed 2008.
Nancy L Eiesland,. The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability Nashville: Abingdon Press
William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other A lines in A Strange Land Eugene, Or: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1973
[1] Nancy L Eiesland,. The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 101
[2] Eiesland,, 101
[3] Lisa Curtice, “The Social and Spiritual Inclusion of People with Learning Disabilities: a Liberating Challenge?” . Accessed 2008.
[4] Multiple conversations with Dr. McFague at the Vancouver School of Theology. Can be found in her book ‘Body of God’.
[5] Curtice 1
[6] William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Alines in A Strange Land (Eugene, Or: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1973) 143
[7] Curtice, 5
[8] Curtice
[9] Curtice 5
[10] Eiesland, 115
[11] Curtice