Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

IMG_4144

I’ve been doing Lego Based Therapy with autistic children in my schools for a couple of years now and often deliver training to teachers and care staff in how to run these sessions. I’ve been thinking for some time about how this might be used in a church setting as the children usually love the structure and format of the sessions and their communication skills develop really well in this context.

So what is Lego Based Therapy?

Lego Based Therapy has not been developed by Lego (who don’t endorse it) but by an autism clinic in America. It’s actually a communication, social interaction and problem solving therapy. Here is more information if you’d like to learn about it.

Over 12 weeks the children work in a group of three and take on a ‘job’ with a specific and clear role. There is the…

Engineer – this role is in charge of the creation. They hold the plans (as in a Lego kit) and have the responsibility to communicate each step of the plan to the right person.

Supplier – this role is in charge of the Lego pieces and has to listen to the Engineer so they can find the right piece to pass on to the…

Builder – this role is in charge of building the model. They have to listen to the engineer to put the pieces given to them by the Supplier in the right place.

Each child in the group rotates through each role so they have the chance to experience and develop in each one. When problems occur, the children are encouraged to work it out together rather than relying on the adult to come up with the answer. They are encouraged to build a good and trusting relationship with each other as a team and to develop social chat through this and free building which they do as part of the session.

I love these sessions because many children with additional needs in schools become very reliant on adults to tell them what to do, and learning to solve problems without adult interference is a great skill for them growing up.

Lego and the Bible

Lego is very inspiring and interesting to many children. Some children with fine motor difficulties may struggle to put pieces together, and children who do not use verbal language may either need specific support such as visual or voice communication apps…but adaptations could be explored to make this activity accessible to all.

Rachel Harris, our church’s Children and Families worker, has been using  Lego Bible books below at her Lego club that she runs at a local school.

But first I am going to share with you how I thought we could start to look at creation and the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit through using a Lego Therapy approach.

The Trinity – A relationship 

God the Father can be like the Engineer.  He has the plans and communicates his plan to the Holy Spirit who is like the Supplier (of all things!).  Jesus the Son becomes the Builder.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth didn’t have any shape. And it was empty. There was darkness over the surface of the waves. At that time, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.   God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.  Genesis 1:1-3

In the beginning, the Word was already there. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  All things were made through him. Nothing that has been made was made without him.  John 1:1-3

Bible Truth

When we do a Lego activity where 3 people have to work together to make something, by each fulfilling their allotted role, we can discuss how the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a relationship.  This particularly difficult concept is much more than we can really understand,  but for children and adults this might be a good way to start.  When we use analogies such as the sun (3 parts – physical, light, heat) to explain the Trinity, then we miss out the interactions of communication between the three parts.  Doing an activity that develops a 3-way relationship can help us begin to explore the pure love, communication and working together of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 Now, grace and truth come to us through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God. But the One and Only is God and is at the Father’s side. The one at the Father’s side has shown us what God is like.  John 1:17-19

Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip? I have been among you such a long time! Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?  John 14:9

But the Father will send the Friend in my name to help you. The Friend is the Holy Spirit.
He will teach you all things. He will remind you of everything I have said to you.  John 14:26

Once we have worked together to make a model we can examine how our relationships worked.  Were they perfect like the Holy Trinity? – of course they won’t be! But we can look at how being connected to God, following his Son and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can join in with that beautiful relationship and know how we are loved completely.

David and Goliath
There are many more ways we can explore the Bible using children’s interests in these little plastic coloured bricks.  I have bought a couple of books and will be starting to try some things out at the Lego Club in the next few weeks.  The most important thing to me is to make sure we communicate who God is and how he wants the children to follow his son Jesus.  We can make scenes and learn stories, but it is important to learn the truth of God’s absolute love for us in the process.

Here are some resources for you to try:

Bible Lego cards

Slide shows from presentation

Lego Bible videos by Josh Carrol https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHT2JbV1RjL3CI_rA3skmCQ

Jesus your my Superhero song in Lego

Great books

The Brick Bible.

Dreams and Disappointments

Are you fearful and worried?  Are you disappointed with a dream you had that isn’t happening?   Are you trying to make things happen and barriers are in the way or there seems to be no response?  Do we feel that our lack of faith is making our dreams fail?

I have a dream of reaching out to people with learning disabilities with the gospel and equipping others to do the same (especially learning disabled believers themselves).   I’ve had this dream since I even before I became a Christian, even though I didn’t know what that desire really meant until I did know Jesus…. Then the context became clear. 

But when we face disappointment or failure, when we see the world but too many barriers in the way, then it is easy to question your dream.  Is it really from God?  Am I doing it wrong?  Do I not have enough faith? 

We can learn a lot from the dreamers in the Bible.  And the most famous of all is Joseph.  He dared to share his dreams, somewhat naively, to his brothers.  And we know how that turned out.  Don’t you think that when he was taken into slavery and later thrown into prison, that he questioned his dreams?  All those long years of it not turning out right.  I would have questioned God,  I would have asked him why had I got it so wrong?  I would have thought that maybe I needed to lower my expectations of what God was going to do, that maybe I’d got the dream wrong in the first place. 

I’m talking about this because I am dealing with my disappointments that my dreams, that I believe are God given, are not working out… but that is my pride.  I imagined the way my dreams would work out… and in pursuing my own plans I forgot that God works differently.  The other problem we often have is numbers.  How many times are we impressed by Christian and secular people who have thousands of responses to podcasts or you tube videos?  Of those with thousands of followers on any social media platform.  When you touch just one life do you think it is not enough?

Let me encourage you. 

When God touched your life – was it important?  

It was important to you… and it was important to God. 

So when we touch one person with kindness or encouragement or accessing the word of God, then we have made God’s dream come true.  There is so much frustration about what isn’t happening, so much comparison of numbers that we can forget that Gods measure of success is upside down from this world.  Just bringing up your own children with additional needs to know Jesus is a huge dream come true.  Just changing one attitude towards disability in your church is a huge dream come true. We don’t know the after effects.  But God’s plans will not fail. 

One day we might see huge numbers and huge changes, the things we dreamed about.  That will be in God’s time.  Joseph waited and waited faithfully.  He knew what disappointment was and so do we.  God is doing his work and he is giving us the privilege of sharing his dreams.  Our dreams are coming true in ways we can’t even imagine.  You are going to be amazed.  Worship and thank him now.  He is with you.  

I am disappointed but not discouraged and neither should you be. Come to Jesus and lay all your life before him. Surrender and humility isn’t popular in our society, but it is what will bring us into that place where Jesus is in the right place in our life – right at the centre. I am yearning for that holiness, and for holiness to be over all the self-reliance and over-effort I put into everything. Our time of not meeting, of being isolated from our Christian families, does not mean that Jesus has gone anywhere. He is there always. He is more than able to work in you to bring peace, hope and to fulfil HIS dreams in your life.

I have my dream.  I am wondering when it will happen as I imagine,  and I feel frustrated that I seem to be knocked back and getting nowhere.  But these thoughts about Joseph remind me that waiting is just part of the journey.  God’s will, will be done. 

The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act  and The Human Rights Act state that people with disabilities have a right to a spiritual life.   There are studies that show hoe beneficial a spiritual dimension is to many people’s lives such as this:

“Common transcendent narratives that may be particularly relevant to people with disabilities include the belief that God endows each person with dignity and worth that is intrinsically based, cares about the pain and suffering people encounter in life, and has a redemptive plan for each person’s life experiences. Such narratives—when internalized, bestowed with sacred meaning, and reinforced by others—can foster positive health out- comes (Liu et al., 2014). In addition, theorists have noted the social support that flows from interacting with like-minded others in religious communities may positively affect wellness (Koenig et al., 2012).”

Health & Social Work Volume 44, Number 2 May 2019 Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/hsw/article/44/2/75/5248513 by guest on 06 September 2020

But also, it is often found that adults in care homes and supported living are denied a spiritual life because staff lack training on how to support this.  I’m beginning to look at the writings and research on this issue and will be sharing more as I learn, but one thing I have noticed in my own experience of leading the Good News Group, that support from carers is vital to people with learning disabilities being able to access spiritual activities.  I have known a GNG member be discouraged from going to the group, being told “You don’t want to go to the GNG tonight, do you?”.  It was another carer who found this had been going on some time, when I had got in touch to see why the person hadn’t been attending. 

I think it is clear we need to pray for carers, who are often poorly paid, given little training, and would be terrified of answering spiritual questions from their residents in case they were accused of misleading or directing them to a particular religion.  Many carers have no religious belief themselves and would not feel confident in talking about the bigger questions in life.   Carers are part of our ministry too.

What is your experience?  Are you a person who feels left out or included on your church. Does your church make itself accessible for your needs? You may be in a church that provides a service for people with learning disabilities (such as the old Prospects Groups or our Good News Group) or you may be providing accessibility for children with different abilities and additional needs in your children’s work.  Children are often brought to church by their families, who have brought them because of their own spiritual belief.  If we work to make our children’s work more accessible to all, we can build a child’s faith and confidence that they belong in God’s family no matter what the world says their value in society is.   But there’s a huge gap in the guiding of children with additional needs into an adult life and an adult faith.  They are too often treated like children forever.  I really want to do something about this.   I haven’t been involved in the Good News Group for 2 years now and in that time I have reflected on where God would want me to get involved.  I have read and prayed and come to the conclusion that it is adults with learning disabilities that are neglected in churches and in resources online.  Lockdown has given me chance to talk with some of my differently abled friends and ask them about their faith, hope and ambitions in church.  They often don’t see a place for themselves apart from what others do for them.  I’d like to see more opportunities for them to grow in faith, lead others and share the gospel with people who haven’t heard it yet.  There is a Baptist study that showed that adults with learning disabilities are one of the most unreached people’s in the UK.  

We have all been challenged by not being able to meet.  It’s been so encouraging to see groups for adults doing services online and sharing ideas.  But the fact is that we are not going to be able to meet physically for a long time yet, as often the people in our groups are medically very vulnerable.  So it really is time to rethink how we reach out to people with learning disabilities.  It’s going to be a challenge and one I am praying and chatting to people about.  Making communication accessible, making online access accessible and thinking about those who cannot access the internet or our physical buildings all need to be included. 

Please do share your thoughts and links to useful information or research.  I’m interested in turning this blog into a more accessible website but have no technical skills to do this – so if that is on your heart and you do have those skills (or know someone who does) please do get in touch. 

One church at a time

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will have seen me agonise over leaving the Good News Group and struggling find a place and purpose in what God wanted me to do next. It is that leap of faith we need to take sometimes – but it isn’t very comfortable.

It has been a time of visiting other churches and finding one we could settle in. Each time we visited another church it was refreshing to look at what impression of accessibility each one gave us in that first visit. We finally settled into Buckshaw Village church – back in the CofE (I was surprised about that having been more comfortable in ”free’ churches in the past). It meets in a community centre and isn’t too far from where we live. It’s lively and I began to feel free enough to raise my hands in worship without feeling ‘weird’ again.

The Friday before shutdown happened, I plucked up the courage to meet with the minister, his PA and the children’s worker to share with them my story, my vision and my passion. I am very blessed to be in a growth group with the PA and Children’s worker so they knew what was coming 🙂

I shared my heart like I have done on other occasions. When I did this in my last church I was given a favourable response, but then NOTHING changed. I was left deflated and patronised. Like they’d sent me away with a pat on the head. It always felt like the Good News Group ticked their accessibility box.

But this time it was different. James, our minister listened. He made a couple of notes and listened some more. At the end of my passionate speech he said one simple word… “YES”. And he’d already written a plan of action.

And then on that next Monday, the country shut down. Church buildings shut down and work shut down. Suddenly we all had to rethink what we were doing and how. A few of us had attended a Makaton training day before Christmas and started to sign the memory verse at the front of church each week. Once church went online I was asked would I please continue this. So each week, I have filmed the Bible verse in Makaton and it forms part of our online recorded service.

Then we started including some signed worship songs. And we set up a Saturday signing for worship group. And bit by bit, Makaton signing has become mainstream in our church. Learning to sign worship songs has been a challenge, but aided by the wonderful Becky Makaton Tutor , my own worship in lockdown has been wonderful. I was able to use some of this in making the two Good News Group services that I filmed for them and put on You Tube. I have learned so many tech skills which opens up so many new possibilities.

As we begin to think about reopening our buildings, it is vital we do not close this online door to those who can’t get to our buildings. The lockdown seems to have given many people in our church time to reflect and see that being more accessible can be a very natural process if you let it be part of what you do. Buckshaw Village is willing and I have asked if I can write my blog about our journey. It’s one church, but I feel it can be a beacon for what other churches can do. We’ve done one thing and its made a difference. My friend who has learning difficulties says it makes him feel like he is welcome and part of the church family. The Makaton helps him understand the words.

And we were part of this WONDERFUL song

There is a lot about this church I love. I love its heart for people and its cultural diversity. I love how James, Rachel (the children’s worker) and others have preached in smaller chunks and made their words clear and easy to understand whilst covering some deep truths of the gospel. I love the prayer montages each week and miss all the people so much.

I think the next step will to be speak to the church leadership and see if we can gather everyone together in this. I have ideas and want to help everyone feel they are part of this. So please do follow our journey. We will be honest and share what works and what barriers we come up against.

And do pray. That what this one church does, others might try too.

Lynn x

MM

Hello,  I hope you have been well and safe during these past few weeks.  I’ve been learning even more new tech skills (but still not mastering any of them!)

I am grateful to God for giving us these tools to keep in touch with our Good News Group and even to reach out to others who don’t normally come to the group.  We’ve now put together another service, this one looking at when Mary Magdalene met Jesus as he rose from the tomb.  When great sadness turned into great joy.

I hope you enjoy this and please, please do share it wherever you can.  Our Good News Group members are praying that this reaches out to new people who can’t normally get to a church or when they do, don’t find it easy  to understand the teaching and what is going on.

Here is the booklet of symbols and activities:

Mary Magdalene booklet

And here is the link to the Lego Psalm 129 that I referred to in the talk. 🙂

God Bless you all and do keep in touch.

Lynn x

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men. Colossians 3:23

Hello lovely friends,

Since the lockdown I have been busy trying to fulfil a 3 year long ambition to put accessible worship and Bible teaching online.  There are too many older teens and adults with learning differences who cannot get to church and even when they are there, cannot access the teaching.   I’ve said time and time again, we cannot solely rely on talking…we can use so many other ways of communicating.

At the Good News Group we have learned that if we use a variety of communication techniques then everyone in the group can find most of the service accessible and learn something from it.  We use visuals for those who cannot read, and sensory activities for those who cannot see or who are sensory learners.  We use simple key-word based signing (Makaton) for those who understand that and it helps us all learn to slow down our verbal language and think about what the key words are.   We also use puppets (who command attention much better than we do!) and lots of practical interaction.  We sing with signing and shaking our instruments – it’s a joyful sound!

So I have spent a week learning how to edit and arrange videos on iMovie, I’ve learned some new signs and videoed them with music played by Elaine and Tim.  Gill has done a puppet sketch and some of our members, Stefan and Colin, have written prayers.

Here is the link to the service.  It is 40 minutes long but being on YouTube you can watch it in smaller chunks if you like.  My prayer is that it reaches adults with learning disabilities at home or in care homes who miss church, but also those who have never got to church.  Let me know (on You Tube or by commenting on here) what you think as I will be trying another one before this lockdown is done.  And if you have any suggestions for improvements or song requests – you can send those too.

There’ a booklet to download and colour in.  If you want to search some craft activities to go with this story you could do that easily online.

Jesus calms the Storm printables

I will be doing some simple signing songs to add to the includedbygrace youtube channel so watch out for those.   I have to say, the time to pray more and do this work that I’ve longed to do has come about because of the lockdown.  I am so aware of the pain and worry of many families who care for adults with disabilities.  Some of them are unable to see their loved ones as care homes are in lockdown.  I want to assure you I am praying and doing what I can locally to find help where people need it.  I can only hope that the peace and hope we have in Christ makes this time bearable…and maybe fruitful in all our lives.   God Bless

Lynn x

boy

I did a talk at St James Church, Lower Darwen in lovely Lancashire this week.  I will be adding the text of my talk and hopefully a video that was recorded so that people can listen to the training themselves, and share in your church if you would like to.  I was really nervous as this is the first time I had delivered this training for churches, but hopefully it will help you all reflect and respond to behaviour that challenges you in a way that supports a child and shows them just how much Jesus understands and loves them.

…but for those that were there – here is the powerpoint handout I promised you and the rest will be added later. Just click and it should open up the pdf of the handout.

Belonging- Behaviour

Finally here are some more events people might like to look up – I’m going to all of them!

12th February, St Thomas’s Lancaster – Belonging: Supporting Autistic People in your Church  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belonging-supporting-autistic-children-and-adults-in-your-church-tickets-87953121153

14th March, Manchester – Through the Roof – Disability Inclusion Events (Be a Roofbreaker in your church – I’m going!)  https://www.throughtheroof.org/forchurches/events/

16th March, Blackpool  – Belonging: Understanding ADHD  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belonging-understanding-adhd-tickets-88558379497

25th April Preston – New Wine National Additonal Needs Conference http://additionalneedsalliance.org.uk/event/new-wine-2020-national-accessibility-conference-preston/

The Story of Aslan

A little different post before we get going on more sensory posts.  I have loved following people who are engaged in accessible church ministries and like the Good News Group, making church work for children and adults with different needs.  Aslan is a church group for young people at Tonbridge Baptist Church and here is their story…

Picture .png

‘I’ll help with the music, but I won’t have time to lead it’ –my initial reaction in 2013 when a few people in my church were wanting to set up a group to support an autistic boy of 14 who had been through Sunday School with a 1:1 helper, but now found it very difficult to join in with what was on offer for his age group.

I was enjoying being part of the music ministry and helping with Alpha courses.  I felt I had enough to do, having also recently been appointed an Elder.  In addition to those things I was the music teacher in a school for children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs. My life was full!

However, God had other ideas and as I started to get involved it was clear to me that He was putting all sorts of thoughts into my mind. For the first few weeks, it was fairly unstructured. James played with his vast collection of animals and we enjoyed seeing him make up stories about them. I played a few children’s worship songs that he seemed to engage with, but it didn’t seem enough. I knew, from my years of teaching in special education, that there was an expectation for any child of any ability to be able to learn. We had to do our best to find creative ways to tap into their potential.

With this in mind, I started to imagine how this ministry could develop. We could have focused, constructive sessions. Children with special needs could learn about God’s love and the Bible in a safe space, with dedicated people to help them.

As the ideas began to flow, I recognised God’s hand in gently guiding me to a place where I wanted to take a lead and develop this group. We still only had James, but it wasn’t long before others showed interest.

Two months later we heard about Joshua. He was 10 and the oldest of four boys. His parents wanted to attend church but one of them always had to stay behind as Josh was reluctant to come. He didn’t engage with church services and didn’t want to go into Sunday School. He came to our group and decided this was okay! Within a few months we had another two boys, bringing the number to four.

STRUCTURE

We then decided to settle on a routine for the morning. We started with free time – the boys could bring something that would interest them and for 10 minutes they could play on that activity. Then we came together for a prayer, Bible story and song. This was followed by a snack time – biscuit and drink, and then an activity linked to the Bible story. We finished the morning by allowing the boys free time until their parents came for them. This routine worked well and has continued to be the framework of the morning, as we found the predictability of the structure was very helpful. In addition to the structure of the session we wanted to underpin it all with prayer, so we made it a priority to gather to pray for 10 minutes before the start. It remains such a good way to focus on the reason for being there, to pray for every aspect of the morning, to pray for the families and to pray for each other.

NAME

As we became more established, we started to think of a name for the group. This was quite challenging and various suggestions were made but nothing seemed quite right! One day I sat down with a piece of paper and jotted down some of the words about us… special, loving, nurturing. I played around with the letters and soon had organised them into ‘Aslan’: All Special needs children LovedAnd Nurtured. I liked the idea of the individual letters meaning something but also loved the idea of using Aslan, the representation of Jesus from the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ as our symbol. We asked James, who inspired the vision, to draw a picture of a lion head which we still use in our logo.

LEADERS

We meet 3 times a month and have a rota of 3 teams. Over time it has become clear that partnering the children with the right leaders is an important part of the planning. Some of the best faith conversations go on during individual activity times and we are blessed with dedicated and gifted people.

RESOURCES

In the early days of Aslan, I scoured the internet for activities to support Bible stories but was surprised that it was so difficult to find suitable resources. There is a wide range of ability within the group and I wanted to find things that were engaging and meaningful for each one.  In the absence of anything ready-made, I prepared activities differentiated at 4 different levels of ability. This was a lot of work and I started to think that it might be helpful to others if I shared these resources online. I believe it was one of those God-planted thoughts! My son Dan was Youth Team Leader at my church at the time and was keen to help me set up a website. It was a long and sometimes arduous process, but it has now been running since April 2018 and has all the resources to enable anyone to run a 3-year Bible-based curriculum: http://aslan.tonbridgebaptist.church/

TODAY

We have now been running for 6 years and currently have 7 boys and 1 girl in the group, with all 4 levels of ability represented.

FACEBOOK

I love being part of this ministry and hope to encourage others to set up similar groups. Recently, I decided that it might be helpful to set up a facebook group,  Aslan | SENchurch,     to be able to interact more easily with anyone using the material. New members are always welcome!

With many thanks to Jackie Potter for writing and sharing this story with us.

Like most people I used to think there were just 5 senses but we now know there are at least 8 main sensory systems that allow our brains to take in information from the world around us and process what is going on, where we are, whether we are safe and how we might respond to that sensory information.    After this introduction, I am going to explore a different sense in each post and I have been particularly inspired by Dr Naomi Grahams book, “Love surpassing knowledge”.

Love Surpassing Knowledge

I highly recommend it.   She writes what I would have loved to, so in these posts I am going to mention what she says and add my own research, ideas and insights too.

Overview of the 8 key sensory systems.

  1. The Visual system – the eyes and the sights we see.  This is also the pictures created in our minds from our visual memory or imagination.
  2. The Hearing system – the ears and the sounds we hear.  This also connects to the vibrations that are detected through other sensory organs like the skin, muscles and bones.  A bit like when you block your ears and you can hear the blood pumping through your veins.
  3. The Olfactory system – this is our sense of smell but the channels from our noses are also connected to the back of the throat and our taste sensory system.
  4. The Taste system – the mouth, tongue and sense of smell are all connected to help us decide if a food or object is safe to eat.  Young children also use this sense to explore objects as the lips and tongue are extremely sensitive and can tell the brain a lot of information about the thing they are touching.
  5. The Touch system – not just our hands but our whole skin is an organ sensitive to touch.  Also our mouth and throat are touch sensitive on the inside (as we feel the texture of food as we swallow it, for example)
  6. The Vestibular system – thesis our sense of balance, in our inner ear.  Giving us a sense of movement, security between us and the ground and helping us know about speed, direction and how high or deep we might be.
  7. The Proprioceptive system – our central nervous system is connected to every bone joint and muscle to give our brains information as to where our body is in space.
  8. The Interoception system  – our central nervous system connected to our internal organs and systems.  This sense doesn’t just tell us when we are hungry or need the toilet, but is the major factor in connecting us with our emotions.  For example, you know you seem nervous because you have noticed that your tummy or your heart seems to be fluttering.

8 senses

You created the deepest parts of my being.
    You put me together inside my mother’s body.
How you made me is amazing and wonderful.
    I praise you for that.
What you have done is wonderful.
    I know that very well.
None of my bones was hidden from you
    when you made me inside my mother’s body.
    That place was as dark as the deepest parts of the earth.
When you were putting me together there,
your eyes saw my body even before it was formed.    Psalm 139: 13-16 NIrV 

We often read this passage and I don’t think that any of us really understand how complex and awesome a human body is.  Just reflecting on the complexity and wonder of those sensory systems is mind-blowing!  The senses enable us to experience life and creation in all its glory.  Even if one of those senses do not receive messages too well,  there are so many other ways the body can experience the wonder and majesty of what God has created for us.   Those senses keep us safe, it’s how we know to keep away from busy roads and hot fires.  The brain can work in an instant to pull us away from a fast moving car or sudden loud noise.  We often don’t have to think about our reactions, we just do.  Of course, the senses can sometimes need support. Sometimes brains may have difficulty managing all the sensations.  But for this post let us just consider the awesomeness of this body that God has designed for us.  Not only is it perfectly suited to help us interpret the world around us, it enables to experience wonder, joy and love.  Not just the basics…but so much extra that we didn’t need to survive…but as a gift to enable us to have the fullness of a relationship with God.

The Bible also tells us that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.  That we are to look after it but even more amazing – that the Holy Spirit will live in us.  That’s tricky if you can’t see him or wonder how someone else can live inside you!  But I’ve often thought about how I know the Holy Spirit is with me – and the thoughts and experiences that show this is true come through my senses.  I ‘feel’ his presence through an emotion or a picture he gives me in my mind.  Sometimes its an interpretation of a sensory experience he helps me with – ever had that sense that you need to go and phone someone in need…right now?  Some people talk about a ‘fragrance’ that is of God, or a touch, a sound or a voice.  I have heard God’s audible voice before.  Once I was in a terrible situation and his voice came to reassure me it would be okay.

When we rely on Bible teaching and discipleship based on words and discussion, we miss out on our sensory experiences.  Naomi Graham’s book gives lots of examples when God spoke to Biblical people through the different senses, or used their sensory systems to teach them something.  We are all sensory beings.  And when we read we are made in the image of God – it is logical to assume that God is a sensory being first.

And we are made to share sensory experiences, as a community.  We worship, pray and experience community together.  We touch, hug, sing, experience silence and engage in relationship and learning together…if we care to…if we take the time to create space and experiences to be able to do so.   We use touch to show we care and to be intimate.  We use shared meals to bond and spend time together. We make music and clap together.  We move together, standing up, sharing the peace, dancing, praying.  So many different sensory experiences are enriched when they are shared experiences.

When we do church with people who do not have good spoken language or who cannot read, or have a physical or sensory disability we can do so much more together by connecting with God through our different senses.  I was talking to a deaf person a while ago who hears God’s voice very clearly.  We needn’t put restrictions on people’s sensory experiences.  God is the author and creator of our bodies.  He knit them together in all their sensory wonderfulness.   It is a way to connect with people on a different level, through different experiences and in doing so, connect us to God through shared experiences.

I’m thinking – how awesome is that?!

Slide 5

Next…let’s look deeper at the Visual Sense…

 

slide 7

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”    Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

 

There was a post on Facebook this week about a new Barbie doll.  The post that had gone viral was from a wheelchair user called Laura  (see the post here) who said how a Barbie doll was given her as a child “to encourage her to walk”.  She felt from that early age that she was not enough because she could not walk. The new Barbie doll, one that had a wheelchair like her, seemed to go some way in validating that it was okay not to walk.  It was okay to be her.

barbie

image from smythstoys.com

And I had a wonderful catch up with a friend this week.  A friend who a couple of years ago was diagnosed with autism.  As is often the case, autism in females just wasn’t recognised when she was younger, and she spent her life wondering why she wasn’t enough.  She’s been almost burnt out with religion (hence using the verses from The Message Bible) and we both felt that the pressure to fit in, be doing stuff and to be someone else’s idea of good Christian  was making church and faith joyless and actually sucking the faith out of people who can’t fit into the box that is created for people to fit into.

Another friend who was born with foetal alcohol syndrome was told he couldn’t be in the Sunday school with the other children as he was too much to look after and wasn’t clever enough to keep up with the other children.

But we are finding out something really important, and my friend gave words to it…

We have permission from Jesus to be us!

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.”                               Psalm 139:14-16  The Message

I have been privileged to meet Elly Chapple who has started a revolution called #FlipTheNarrative (see her short Ted Talk here) – it’s about how we view and value people with differences and disabilities.  How we treat them as if they are not human and we need to change our perspective. So many people cannot speak up for themselves, either because they have no speech and people do not listen to their communication, or because people have been bullied into thinking they have no valid voice – that they are not enough to be acceptable.  But everyone needs to be at the table and valued for who they are.  Does this remind anyone of the Gospel?  Jesus told the parable of the banquet and one aspect is that people only wanted to invite certain people, but Jesus said invite those who are on the outside.  It’s so important that we don’t try to invite people into God’s family by telling them “but first you must _______”  (try to walk, want to be healed, do what is expected, be more like the rest of us… fill in your own version….

I have realised that in some parts of the church, the Pharisees are alive and well, still telling us who can be in God’s kingdom and who is not enough to be included.

“But Jesus put it right back on them. “Why do you use your rules to play fast and loose with God’s commands? God clearly says, ‘Respect your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone denouncing father or mother should be killed.’ But you weasel around that by saying, ‘Whoever wants to, can say to father and mother, What I owed to you I’ve given to God.’ That can hardly be called respecting a parent. You cancel God’s command by your rules. Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye: These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it. They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it. They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” Matthew 15:3-9 The Message

So this post is reminding you, whoever you are, whether you feel ‘typical’ or have differences that you think are too much or not enough in this world…

You have permission to be you.

You don’t have to join in the peace, you don’t have to stand up for songs, you don’t have to be sociable when you need time alone, you don’t have to sing or go to meetings or pray in a set formula.  So many ways people try to control and manage how we live out our faith.  I confess, I have done that too.  I have learned as God has shown me his grace, and shown me how to see his grace for everyone.   I am full of joy for the people in all parts of the body of Christ that are learning this as well.  I am continually encouraged, challenged, loved and prayed for by people who cannot do groups, or find Sunday services exhausting.  Yet on a 1:1 they are the best people to help me grow in my faith.  They don’t seem to mind me getting a bit over-excitable, or when I interrupt or go off on tangents either!  

We have permission to stim, to fidget, to laugh, to cry in a service.  We have permission to answer rhetorical questions and ask questions we don’t know the answer to.  We  have permission to sit at the back, on the floor, lie down or walk around.  We have permission to have a quiet day at home instead of forcing ourselves to go to church when we might be in pain.  We have permission to make church a free and accessible place for all of us.  (Radical idea…might be different…ha ha!)

img_2983

“The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.                    Romans 3:23-24 The Message

We were told by Jesus to love God and love others.  All others.

These are the best (but not easiest) commands EVER!

And here are some of my favourite songs that I listen when I am needing God’s extra care and want to be reminded of His truths, click on the title to listen…

Strong-arm by Lenny LeBlanc

The Lord’s My Shepherd by Stuart Townsend 

Everlasting Arms by Lou Fellingham

Just be Held by Casting Crowns 

Who am I by Casting Crowns

Amen

 

 

%d bloggers like this: