This post is a collection of thoughts and reflections on comments from Dr. Debbie Creamer, PhD, author of Disability and Christian Theology Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities, during her lectures at Ministers Week at Brite Divinity School at TCU and University Christian Church.
Dr. Creamer’s first lecture addressed four modes of reflection on disability: 1) moral, 2) medical, 3) social or minority group, 4) limits model. These four models have strengths and weaknesses. They impose limitations and blind sides to our perceptions, while also shedding new and different light. They reflect normative views in our culture and over time. Dr. Creamer’s work, along with others referenced below, is to discover new ways to imagine and articulate disability and God and our relationship/experience of both.
Churches think of themselves as inclusive, when what they often are at best is accessible. Inclusive means that people have full access so that their involvement is not a bother or problem for others. They are not only invited and welcomed, but can initiate. We often provide cutouts in pews, but how often to we readily enable access to positions of leadership in worship, such as the chancel and pulpit?
From access to inclusion – the insights of Brett Webb-Mitchell in Beyond Accessibility: Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Faith Communities
She then spent time “playing” (her word) with images of disability that might surprise and enlighten us.
“Disabled God” Nancy Eiesland – “The Disabled God” the image of a God who uses a powered “sip/puff” wheelchair. Powerful, mobile, assertive. What would it feel like to imagine God as disabled?
“Interdependent God” Kathy Black, Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability – dispelling the illusion that we are independent. What if God is interdependent as well. God tells us stories of community where Jesus relied upon and needed others in his life and ministry.
“Bold God” – Disability requires people to be more assertive, and in this boldness we may see the image of God.
“Authentic God” – what if we think of disability as normative, as what it is to be human? We all are or will be disabled at some point, unless we die young and suddenly. We are made in God’s image, and thus what we are somehow reflects what God is. There are things that God can’t do. Limits can be good.
This was a helpful conversation, and I commend Dr. Creamer and her work to congregations and others who are interested in exploring and responding to these issues and to discover anew our common experience of God in the world.
A helpful brief article by Dr. Creamer is Theological Accessibility: The Contribution of Disability in Disability Studies Quarterly.
I am excited that today I get to formally launch my ministry coaching with a display table at Ministers Week at Brite Divinity School, TCU and University Christian Church. I am looking forward to hearing the stories of friends and colleagues and sharing words of encouragement and hope. Each of us need someone in our corner, someone who cares about our faith, life and ministry, who is rooting for us and praying for us.
Ministry is hard, even in the best of circumstances. And the best circumstances are rare.
We are, like all others, broken people in need of repair, wounded people in need of comfort, sick people in need of a physician.
We are also, like all others, beautiful people, created to reflect the glory of God in the world. We are precious and good and worthy of being loved.
We bear the in-breathed Spirit of God.
We are miracles to behold, and
WE ARE CALLED!
But it is easy to forget the latter in light of the former. We receive negative messages from all around, telling us that we are not…
Ministry coaching for clergy, congregations, and all followers of Jesus, is designed to restore us to the integrated and synchronous life God intends for those Christ calls. It is about being transformed into mature disciples of Christ. Transformation is neither a quick nor an easy process – it takes time and energy and prayer.
Whether a single conversation, an ongoing process, individually or as a group or institution, coaching has a way of opening our hearts and minds to the insights that are most often deep within us waiting to come out. It then helps us claim who we are and live fully the life and ministry that God dreams for us.
And I can’t wait!
I just read a thoughtful post by Erin Wathen over at Patheos.com entitled “The New Anonymous”. She was actually responding to an earlier and equally helpful post by Matt Rosine on his blog Mosaic: Stop Writing Anonymous Letters and Stop Reading Them Too. Whether the anonymous criticism comes written on paper or across cyberspace, it can be hurtful. It is typically mean spirited, though the author likely considers themselves writing out of genuine concern, and perhaps even in “Christian Love”. I have found that some people are even willing to own their criticisms as they send them, whether privately or publicly. These people may even be claiming scriptural justification for their actions, quoting things like “…speaking the truth in love…” from Paul’s letter (Ephesians 4:15).
While I agree that we should not react to such messages, I do not agree that we should refuse to read them or ignore them once read. The critique is carrying several messages, which can be helpful to the leader, even if no direct response is offered. If we as leaders are going to step into those troubled and troubling waters, then we need to prepare ourselves adequately for what comes.
Leading with strength requires that we not respond from a place of anxiety. This can be difficult, particularly under such pressure as these messages carry. Being non-anxious, or more accurately “less anxious” is a primary focus of Family Systems Theory.
Once we have the insight, we still need some technique. That is where Crucial Conversations from VitalSmarts becomes very useful. This resource gives us additional insights for how to remain in conversation with people when we find this difficult. The book then gives specific steps for what to do and why. It is filled with examples of practical application. The digital version also includes links to online resources including videos.
Knowing what to do, and being able to do it, are two entirely different things. Many clergy and other leaders experience peer learning groups and supervision wherein they practiced an Action/Reflection model of training and formation. After these periods of formal training, many leaders have little or no opportunity for ongoing support in their development. Working with a coach, mentor or peer group on these principles can help develop the insights and grace to remain connected while differentiated. Gather a group of peers, in person or online, and support one another in this shared journey toward maturity and wholeness. Working with a trained mentor, facilitator and coach can be a great enhancement to this experience. Contact me if you would like to explore some options and would like help forming a group.
Ken G. Crawford
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