Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Disability Theology: When Miracles are Part of the Problem: A Guest Post by Charis St. Pierre

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We may wonder why God who had the power to raise the body of Jesus from the dead did not exercise the power to perfectly heal the body, but that is not the point. The continued visibility of the wounds was necessary in order to establish the identity of the person . . . . The body of Christ is raised with imperishable scars, glorious scars, and in a state of wounded power”

Ten years ago a fellow Capernwray student laid hands on my husband Josh and prayed for God to heal his stutter. The young man insisted he’d had a great deal of luck in the past, a near perfect track-record of banishing illness and disability in the name of the Lord. So Josh sat quietly with the man’s hands on his forehead, nervously awaiting the moment when the prayer would end, eyes would open, and he would have to speak.

It’s an awkward thing, to be someone else’s failure.

Of course, that wasn’t the first time people had prayed Josh would be healed. Parents and pastors had been praying it since his childhood. The speech therapists had been praying it too, in their own way, doling out fluency exercises as alms in hope of an elusive healing and that didn’t come.

And always, there were the promises. One day, things will be set right. What was sown perishable will be raised imperishable. A world without death or mourning or crying or pain. You will not stutter in heaven.

Prayer by prayer, session by session, promise by promise, the message from church and society was exactly the same: Your body is broken. You are not the way you should be. There is something very wrong with your voice. It would be much better for you, for all of us, if that stutter would just go away.

Nevermind the disability activists who have been arguing for decades that what disables them is not their bodies, but a society that discriminates against those bodies it deems to be abnormal.

Nevermind the accounts of the many disabled people who do not want to be healed from their disabilities: those in the Deaf community who oppose hearing-aids, cochlear implants, or any other devices which treat deafness as a sickness to be cured rather than a culture to be celebrated; the autistic student who writes, “I would not survive being cured of autism. It doesn’t matter if you think there’s something wrong with me, if I wasn’t autistic I wouldn’t be me”; the men and women in this video who do not bring up their developmental disabilities when asked what one thing about themselves they would like to change; Josh, cuddled next to me on the couch one summer evening when I ask if he would cure his stutter if given the chance, who emphatically answers, “No.”

"The Incredulity of St. Thomas" by Caravaggio (1601-2)
And nevermind that the glorified body of the risen Christ still had a wound gaping enough for Thomas to stretch his hand into it. The firstfruit of God’s new creation was a broken body that stayed broken but was called perfect. Even at the resurrection, being made right need not mean being made “whole.”

Let me make a bold statement. God’s new creation will not be freed from racism because everyone is made white. It will not be freed from sexism because everyone is made male. Nor will it be freed from ableism because everyone is made able bodied. The solution to oppression is never found in “fixing” the oppressed, but in humbling those of us who oppress them.

Some disabled people want to be healed. Others don’t. But neither are served by a church that just assumes their bodies are a problem and healing is the goal. As long as we think of disability in terms of broken bodies needing to be fixed, we will think of exclusion as something that “just happens” instead of something we actively do. On the other hand, when we realize that disability isn’t caused by people’s bodies but by our own discriminatory practices, paces, languages, staircases, and inattention, we can start to bring about the sort of “healing” that doesn’t need to interfere with anyone else’s body at all. That sort of healing doesn’t start with praying for a cure, it starts with learning to listen.

Near Jericho, Jesus met a blind man and before stretching out his hand to heal he asked a very simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

The very least the church can do is follow his example.

Charis St. Pierre does administrative work for the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. She lives with her husband Josh and adorable puppy Scholar.

Caravaggio image is public domain, used from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Caravaggio_incredulity.jpg