Nothing, especially God, is simple.
If someone was born with a disability; and if I believe psalm 139 about God creating us in the womb; then has God created the person with that disability or impairment?
Ummm…hard and uncomfortable question…
These past few days I have been encouraged and challenged to dare to ask God and myself the hard things I wonder about disability. The things I usually push to the back of my mind…fearful of not knowing…or not wanting to explore the deep places of God where I might find some answers and probably more questions.
It started with the Association of Christian Writers weekend at the gorgeous Scargill House in Yorkshire. Adrian and Bridet Plass along with Sheridan Voysey, encouraged and challenged us writers to ‘Pan for Gold’ in the story of our lives and of those we write about. Gold, you see, takes some patience to collect. It settles in miniscule flecks and after a lot of patient ‘panning’ to filter away the unnecessary and irrelevant.
The gold of our lives can be found when we look with patience and perseverance, carefully sifting and finding. As writers we looked at how we share our stories in memoir that can be meaningful to our audience. Sheridan Voysey shared his story and how he had brought it under a theme, of broken dreams and new beginnings. But honesty is very important. God can deal with our honesty because we bring it to him with all the repentance, confusion, emotional baggage and rawness that go with it. God loves us to come to Him as we are, not as we pretend to be.
My life story is inextricably linked with people with a disability. I have supported and worked in care, education and churches for a long time. I realised that I have many questions I haven’t dared to ask. Many of them are linked with those “Whopper questions” that dare to ask God ‘WHY?’ They sneak about the back of my mind threatening to make themselves know while I politely push them back and tell them…Not now!
So, here were these questions about why people are born disabled, why do they face so many obstacles, why do they suffer… and then a huge cavernous hole with devouring monsters opens up in front of me, threatening to unleash the whole caboodle of tricky questions about life, suffering, death, blessing, growth and God! Thanks Adrian…I thought they had been well-sealed away.
And two days later I attend the Enabling Church conference of the Churches for All organisation in West Bromwich, near Birmingham. So many people, worshipping, listening, discussing and sharing together. There were signers and interpreters, Braille hymnbooks, subtitles, wheelchair users, blind, deaf, learning disabled, able-bodied and autistic people – all together with the purpose to find out how to make churches more inclusive.
And we didn’t dwell on the big questions, or did we? Here are some of the things that made an impression on me…
Professor John Swinton started it off by saying
“There are many different ways of being a human being and encountering the world.”
He encouraged us to;
“Be a guest in the world of a person with a disability, learn from them and their lives, let them serve and give to you.”
Haydon Spenceley, a PHD student who happens to be a wheelchair user said;
“People with disabilities have enough pain, suffering and injustice, without the church making it worse.”
Ann Memmott explained how an autistic person can be supported in church and that current research is showing maybe up to 1 in 30 people have autism. What are the statistics in your church?
Jonathan Edwards, (the Baptist Minister), challenged us to find out what the reality of the Welfare Reforms mean to people with disabilities in our congregations and communities. He said we should be speaking up for the vulnerable and speaking out for those who have no voice, or who can’t.
Finally I listened to Care for The Family’s additional needs team. They spoke about how we all long for acceptance AND for significance…therefore HOW can we identify and encourage people with learning disabilities and additional needs to develop and use their gifts in our church?
This post is not about providing answers. In fact the questions may not have any neat or simple idea or answer. I am exploring questions and challenges God has brought to me through these two experiences and praying about how they challenge us in our church. I have to ask myself –
Do I trust that God loves us, accepts us, helps us, blesses us, builds us, moulds us, disciplines us, is delighted with us and brings out the tiny flecks of gold in our lives through patient, careful ‘panning’ of the experiences, the pain, the suffering and the triumphs of our lives?
What about you, dare you ask some big questions?
Isn’t that panning for the gold?