How NOT to Tell The Story
(CW: child abuse)
One day, there was a Dad who made some kids. Dad wanted power and control over all else. So, he put a jar of cookies on the counter, and told the kids not to eat them. Then he left them for an entire day, and the kids got hungry. So, they ate the cookies.
Dad comes home, yells at the kids, makes them move from their bedrooms into a closet. Makes them do chores. Alternates between loving them (kind of) and punishing them by making them sick or get hurt in fights. Finally, Dad decides that he'd rather have kids totally dependent on him in a sort of happier way. So, he provides a final solution. He's set his kids up to fail, and now needs a way to make at least two of the kids totally dependent on him. He tells the three kids that if they choose one to die, the others are forgiven for the cookie thing, and all the other things, like the fights. Even though Dad started the fights and made the kids have them.
So Dad kills one kid, then everything is fine with the other kids. They get forgiven any time they do something wrong. They are completely dependent on Dad, but also fear him punishing them. They are grateful they are saved, but also sad about missing their sibling. They tell stories and sing songs about this sibling, being grateful to them for saving the others. This makes Dad very happy. It keeps the kids dependent on Dad for all forgiveness. Even though the forgiveness was born from Dad setting the kids up to fail, providing violence as an answer, and then creating dependence.
How I Tell the Story
As I am often in a position to tell small children this story, here's the way I tell it.
In the beginning was God and a mess (chaos). God wanted to help bring order out of the mess, and so created the whole Earth. Then, God wanted to create humans, and so created all kinds of them. They had all kinds of genders and colors of skin and languages and personalities. Although life could be hard for people, they loved God for always trying to help them out of their messes. Life was messy, and people were glad God was there with them. People told stories about how amazing God was and developed a relationship with a God who loved them deeply, and often forgave them when they made ever bigger messes.
Then came a time when Caesar, a bully who was selfish and mean wanted power and control, sent his soldiers into a land to be in charge of it. The people there did not like this very much, because Caesar's soldiers took a lot from the people. The soldiers wanted all the money, gold, clothes, and food for themselves. People were very poor and struggling. God knew that the only way to save the people was to come in the mess with them. So Jesus was born. When Jesus was born his parents were not married, and he was homeless. His Mom was probably a teenager. There was another King who worked for Caesar. He tried to kill baby Jesus, but Jesus and his parents went to another country. This is a big word, but they were refugees. This means it was too dangerous for them to stay in the country they were from, and had to live in another one. After awhile, they came back to Judea.
Jesus was God being on earth with us, in all the mess. Jesus healed people and taught them to share. He said that everyone should have clean water, enough food to eat, and be healed. He healed a lot of people, and didn't want people to be sick. Do you think the soldiers and the King who worked for Cesar liked Jesus saying that? No! The greedy bullies wanted all the things for themselves, and would not share AT ALL. The more Jesus talked about sharing, the more people loved him. The more Jesus said that everyone could be equal, the more the poor people loved him. And, the more the government wanted to kill him.
Eventually, Jesus knew that he couldn't keep telling everyone to share and spreading joy, love, and healing without getting in trouble. In the time Jesus lived, it was illegal to say that anyone but Caesar was God. Because Jesus was God on earth, and because people loved him, they called Jesus a God. They called him Lord and King. This was illegal. The government was scared Jesus was going to take over and make them share more.
Jesus organized a protest. He rode through the streets of the capital on a donkey while people shouted about Jesus being a King. Remember, this is against the law. Jesus knew that he would get in trouble. He was protesting Caesar being so greedy and taking all the things people needed to live for himself. So, Caesar, and the Kings who worked for Caesar, they killed Jesus. They hoped that by killing him, people would forget all about sharing, healing, and love. They hoped that by killing Jesus, people would go back to not shouting about how Caesar was hurting them.
Did It Work?
Of course not! God is bigger than all of that! While people killed Jesus for saying everyone should share and having healing, God said, nope, that's NOT the end of the story. Although Jesus knew he would have to die for challenging the government and having a protest, he did it anyway. Because he loves us. After Jesus died on the cross, they put him into a cave, called a tomb. He was in there for three days. I imagine that while he was in there he took all my bad and messy stuff, too. All the times I didn't share. All the times I said something or someone else was God. Jesus buried those things with him. And then, three days later, Jesus came back to life! He got to live on Earth as a human for about six more weeks. He let everyone know that he had forgiven them. That death doesn't win, ever. Life wins. Sharing wins. Love wins. When Jesus came back to life, he made so many promises to us. That's what's so great about Easter. We are given New Life, and the chance to try again. At the end of those weeks, Jesus had to go back into heaven with God, but he sent his Spirit to be with us always. He's still there for us, but in a new way. Because lived here, he knows our mess. He knows how hard it is. He knows that we'll make mistakes. And he forgives us. And gives us life. And the chance to try again, proclaiming that God is God and we can live.
A WOrksheet on Ways to View Jesus
English Bible Version Link
Short Version and Comment
Woe to you who feel the need to debate the humanity of others.
Woe to you who spend your time on people having sex as consensual, loving, caring, adults.
Blessed are you who have ever known exclusion or death. God sees your humanity.
Blessed are you who know divine joy and pleasure in the body God gave you, mutual pleasure is a gift from God.
Guess several denominations I know should heed some warnings from Jesus, and several people completely outside the church are being blessed by God.
Long Version and COmment
Jesus heals people. Then, he says something that today might sound like:
*Blessed are you who are poor and can't afford housing, food, or health care, for yours is the kingdom of God.
*Blessed are you who live without because of the greed of the economic system, for you will be filled. God is on your side and working to bless you, even if it is sometimes impossible to overcome the greed of others.
*Blessed are you who weep now because your children are Black, and the police killed or imprisoned them for who God made them to be, for you will find laughter when others are punished for their mistake in denying the Image of God in your children.
*Blessed are you when you show up and shout that you have a right to LIVE, that #AccessisLove, that the kyriarchy must die, and that Black Lives Matter,
*Blessed are you when people hate you and exclude you for showing God's love to everyone.
*Throw a party on that day and dance, for surely your reward in great in God's kin-dom; for hating, reviling, imprisoning, and killing prophets is what the comfortable people do.
==> But woe to you who are given unearned privileges in this system, for the system blesses you, but your soul is hurt.
==> Woe to you who have more than enough food now, for you will someday know hunger.
==> Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep when you are shown how your actions killed and harmed others.
==> Woe to you when the system and those privileged in it speak well of you and lift you up, for that is what the ancestors did to the false prophets.
So, like most of us, I'm blessed in some ways, and being warned to use my privledge now in ways that lead me to feeling empty, crying, and knowing the pain of others. This is not a "we can keep people poor because God blesses them" or a "slavery and the current PIC is fine because God will take care of those we harm in heaven". This is a "people we've harmed need good news, and we're being invited to know their pain, to give up some of our earthy wealth, to cry with them, and to make it better". We've been warned by Jesus. This is your invitation not to whitewash, spiritualize, or make comfortable these challenging words of Jesus. He spoke them to people who were actively being harmed by the greed of others and the economic system. These were radical words. Radial words that eventually led to the death of Jesus.
For now, check this out for a take on #decolonizethebase written by Jenny Sung and Myself.
The Spoon Theory: The equivalent of the health points or lives you typically get in a video game. Those with disabilities get fewer of them, and they are more concrete in number. The effects are serious and tangible for using too many spoons in ways unique to those living this way. Often, we don't just get tired, we end up in the hospital.
A Note To REaders With CI/D (Chronic illness and Disability)
Note to my readers with their own chronic illness and disabilities: This essay uses spoonie language. You can read The Spoon Theory if you don’t already know about it. I’m going to reveal how I’ve been working to undo my own ableism. I had internalized much of it and was previously ok with several things being said in church. Since working so hard to decolonize my brain, and to unlearn kyriarchy, my thoughts have changed. While I treat myself as more fully human, I am aware that I am also sensitized to what others say in new ways. Fighting to be fully included is exhausting. It takes spoons. And I cannot un-learn or un-experience what I know. If you, as someone living with CI/D (chronic illness and disability), do not have the spoons to think deeply about this, and to fully see the ableism in the world around you, skip this post. Because I’m new to being aware of it myself, and it takes lots of spoons. In some ways, while I liked myself less, it was easier not to see the oppressive world and want to fight it. I liked the world more before I was paying attention. Now, I have fewer spoons, but I like myself and my body more, and see myself as more whole.
If You're Out of Time, Here's the Point
If this article is too long for you, I’ll cut to the chase. Value the differences in how we worship. Value differences in posture, position, and movement. Don’t assume the best/right/only way to worship is YOUR way. Examine your internalized ableism and value structure, if you can. There are many references at the end of this article to help you accomplish this. Words used in worship communicate what a congregation values. Keep reading for words used in worship that communicate there is really is no room for people who worship differently than you. In online clergy spaces, we’ve been talking about words to use to ask people to stand during worship. Don’t be militaristic about it, it's not about that. Don’t not listen to person in front of you in your congregation because of a blog post. These are my suggestions based on my own work and progress around ableism and language in church. I do this knowing that until our guides, rubrics, and patterns in worship are changed, we’ll never be fully inclusive.
However, please do not comment until you’ve read the entire article where I share some of my own deep pain. Unless you hear my pain, or are living with your disabilities, please do not argue that your way is best or act like you have nothing to learn.
Now you have some better ideas about how to live in our present moment,
so change your language by examining your values.
If You want to know the hows, whys, and process, keep reading
I know things in the world and church are hard right now. I know that Pastors are weary and that the thought of adding anything more to our plates is stressful. One new place of pain, one new complaint, one new way of thinking about how you do things. I get it; I really do. I used to say that listening to the pain of People of Color, people living with differing abilities, and suggestions about how to lead worship in less oppressive ways was nice for others, for other congregations, for other Pastors, and not for myself. My congregation and I did not have the energy to change these things in our worship. But, in order to do that, I had to ignore the pain of my siblings in Christ in order decide that my context was the most important. I’m learning to decolonize my own brain, too, and to listen when I can to those who have the most hurt.
Today, here on my own blog, I’m asking you to open your heart and listen. Maybe bookmark this and come back to it later if today isn’t the best time. I honor your boundaries and ask that you make time to read this later.
Here are three more definitions for you. I easily got blackout Derailment Bingo when previously trying to explain my position to clergy colleges. Hence, this blog post.
My Thoughts Changed
Here’s why I now see ableism in words that I previously thought were fine:
Saying “please stand/rise as able” still centers “being able”. When I hear that in church, I hear that the people who are “able” are the most valued. I’m no longer content to be thrown a bone that makes me happy a worship leader knows I exist; I now want to be included as fully human, and to not have “being able” thrown in my face all. the. time. The more I hear the world “able” in worship, the more I know what the congregation values– and know that it isn’t, and won’t be, me. Please stop centering “being able” as an indication of worth or participation. That is literally the definition of ableism.
Our worship service was written by able bodied mostly white or Middle Eastern men, basically from the beginning of Christianity until now. We make little revisions every so often, but we never change the whole entire structure to something like this. Simply the structure of sit/stand/kneel, sit/stand/kneel assumes that being able to do certain movement is vital for worship. And on the flipside, the structure implies that those who can’t follow along lack faith and worth. Asking me to have to rise in spirit when my body just can’t communicates that “rising” and “lifting” and “standing” are what matters in worship. What if I get into a place where those things are impossible for me all the time, not just some of the time?
If you are interested in the problems of mind/body dualism from a feminist perspective, you can read my writing here. Pay attention: Jesus cared about bodies. He touched his disciples' dirty, sandy, dusty feet. Jesus hung out with lepers. He wanted health, healing, and wholeness for all. The church does not seem to know this: please see this article. My personal reality is that if we didn’t have money in a IRA we could take out to pay for health care, I’d spend my life in bed on disability. I need a whole team of specialists and medications to keep me functioning, and in our capitalistic system, that costs money. Jesus healed so many, I believe he wants healing for all bodies, and whole people.
I’ve spent so much of my life hating my body. Jesus healed that. Around the communion table, I see a Jesus who cares about bodies eating, being whole, being in community. If God didn’t truly care about human bodies, why did God want one? I have so much comfort for pain and suffering because Jesus knows pain. He suffered with the flu, stubbed a toe, had dirty diapers, nursed. What kind of God loves us so much as to want to know what it is like to be with us in all ways?
I’m not interested in my spirit being valued over my body. I used to be, but that just caused pain because it caused me to ignore my body. I didn’t take care of it and only concentrated on spiritual things. Spiritual things meant I rarely slept or ate. Sure, I was and still am good at lots of things, but I also have a habit of running my body into the ground. to fulfill the New Testament Greek mind/body dualism paradigm. The Greek philosophers had this idea that our bodies and spirits were separate from one another. I rarely hear Jesus say things to support this worldview, but Paul sure writes about this a lot, and it is what I absorbed and learned growing up. I’d like to be whole person. (I don’t believe God caused it, only that God’s job to help good, healing, hope and New Life come with it.)
As these conversations about what to say when asking people to stand in worship were happening in several places, my favorite answer came from my friend Kelly Colwell:
"I try to say 'please find a posture of reverence, however that works for your body,' or 'please find a posture that supports your singing/praying aloud,' if it's a song or prayer. But that works in my context because I've preached about it and explained it a bunch of times. If there are newcomers who haven't heard my spiel, I will say 'you are invited to kneel if comfortable or find a posture of reverence that works for your body,' or 'you are invited to stand if comfortable or find a posture that supports your singing/praying aloud.'
What do I wish?
1. Share this post!
2. Change your worship language. If you’d like a personalized newsletter article for your congregation to explain your change in worship language, please purchase here.
9. Use me as your sensitivity reader for ableism. As a bonus, you can also get regular editing for grammar, writing style, organization. Sermons, articles, whatever you've got.
1. Twitter Hashtag #disabilitiesinchurch
2.Shannon Dingle created the #disabilityinchurch hashtag and this article by her is a big deal and educational.
3. Follow Sharon Dingle and read on her website.
4. Follow Erin Human and read on her website.
5. Twitter hashtag #actuallyautistic (If you are alltistic (not autistic), DO NOT USE this hashtag. You can #askanaustic if you are invited into a conversation.)
6. Follow Disability and Jesus
7. Follow Erin Human on Facebook. She writes about being aware of and curing ableism.
8. Read The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability By Nancy L. Eiesland
9. Read this statement by the Autism Self-Advocacy Network. It explains many things about how to be a good ally. Read things written by people with disabilities. Do not do the Autism Speaks puzzle pieces, that org is not run by Autistic people, and often leads to the deaths of Autistic people with their ableist ideas.
10. Read My Needs Are Not “Special” -by Michelle Sutton.
11. Read #SayTheWord, Not “Special Needs” -by Erin Human
12. Remember people with disabilities killed by their own families by learning at this site.
13. Nick Walker’s “What Is Autism” seems to be the most widely accepted description of autism among #ActuallyAutistic people.
14. Autistic Families International (an organization run BY and FOR autistics) describes autism similarly.
15. Consider reading The Real Experts, reading by autistic people for parents of autistic kids. It'll give you a good look into the lives of those with all disabilities.
16. One more definition. You can read more here.
Language: Identify first or person first? Disabled person or Person with a disability? Autistic person or person with autism? Deaf person or person who is deaf? Different people and communities prefer different ways of dealing with this. Language is like pronouns. Ask people what they prefer. Many Autistic people and Deaf people communities prefer identity first, in my circles of chronic illness and disability, person language is preferred.
1. If you have disabilities other than mobility, what are other ways worship could make more room for your or be more inclusive? (I shared some of my ideas here.)
2. What questions do you have?
3. Why do you think these things are hard to hear?
4. What will it take for the church to become more inclusive and welcoming?
5. If you are qualified to answer, what did I leave out? Share how you're qualified, please.
Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Leader's Desk Edition, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, Minneapolis, p. 646
The congregation stands as they are comfortable.
A The night of the first day of the week had worn slowly away. The darkest hour, just before daybreak,
had come, pregnant with possibilities. Christ was still prisoner in his narrow tomb. The great stone was in its place and the Roman seal was unbroken; the Roman guards were keeping their watch.
P May the Warm Love of Christ rising in glory dispel the death-dealing parts of our hearts and minds.
The Paschal Candle is lit.
A The Glowing Joy of the Risen of Christ!
C Thanks be to God!
P: Rejoice, now, all heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exalt, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ is risen! Celebrate the divine mysteries with exultation; and for so great a victory, sound the trumpet of salvation. Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the love of your savior! Christ has proclaimed LOVE and LIFE the winner! Glory fills you! Death-Dealing vanishes forever. Rejoice, O holy church! Exult in glory! The risen Savior glows upon you! Let this place resound with joy, echoing the mighty proclamation of God’s people:
P: Christ is Risen!
C: Christ is Risen, Indeed, Alleluia! (several times)
Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Leader's Desk Edition, Augsburg Fortress, 2006, Minneapolis, p. 187
It is indeed right, our duty, and our joy, that we should at all times and in all places give thanks and praise to you, almighty and merciful God, for the glorious resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, the true Paschal Lamb who gave himself up for LOVE, to take away the death-deal. In dying he has destroyed death, and in rising has brought us to eternal life. And so, with Mary Magadelne, the other Marys, and all the witnesses of the Resurrection, with earth and sea and all their creatures, and with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:
Not adapted, please write Some Worship Texts from PastorJess.com, used with permission by Creative Commons License.
Easter Eucharistic Prayer
Blessed are you, O God of our salvation.
Thank you for your creation of the world, and for saving it time and again.
Thank you for being there when we mess up –
When Adam and Eve had to leave the garden,
you did not abandon them.
When a flood covered the earth,
you saved people and animals.
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt,
you brought them out of the awfulness of death-dealing slavery
and were with them in their passage to the Promised Land.
When your nation was conquered again and again,
you stayed with your people
and offered them hope and the promise of a human Savior.
Yet, when this Savior came,
he did not conquer other nations with blood and swords.
He did not kill to get his way.
He came and loved, especially the poor and the outcast.
He healed many, and brought many into a full relationship with you.
When he died, you did not abandon him.
You took his death, and created life.
Thank you for the empty tomb.
Thank you for the women who were the first witnesses,
and for their courage in telling your story of death turned into life.
Thank you for promising, especially
through your Son, Jesus the Christ,
that you care about our world.
That you are here and participate with us,
to give us hope, and to give us life.
We celebrate that hope and new life now
through the meal your Son left as one of his many gifts to us.
In the night in which he was betrayed,
our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;
broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take and eat; this is my body, given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.
Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks,
and gave it for all to drink, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.
Do this for the remembrance of me.
Remembering your unconditional love for us
and your constant work of salvation,
we offer our praise to you, along with
this bread and wine. Accept these things
as our full embrace of your
presence in our lives. Lead us to love you in all areas of our lives, public and private, so that through the strength of this meal all may have sustainable lives.
Cover this bread and wine with your Spirit,
making them blessings in our lives,
and concrete evidence of your love for us.
Use this meal to strengthen us to be
your people in the world.
Giving all praise to you,
And Ever-Present Spirit,
we come ready to feast on your love,
through the work of your Son, Jesus Christ,
our Savior and Lord. AMEN
I Hate Capitalism, But I Gotta Eat
If you donate for your use of these texts, you will be e-mailed a Word Doc for easy copy/paste/adaptation. Thanks!
WELCOME/SHARING THE PEACE
The presiding minister and the congregation greet each other in the peace of the risen Christ.
P The peace of Christ be with you always.
C And also with you.
The people may greet one another with a sign of Christ’s peace and may say:
Peace be with you or similar words. Please ask before offering handshakes or hugs,
waves are always a safe no-touch choice.
P: We are here today to celebrate reformation.
C: God, please re-form us.
P: Hold us, O God, and
C: Help us to experience you in new ways.
P: We are here today to honor our tradition and history.
C: God, thank you for all that has gone before.
P: We begin and celebrate in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
P: Let’s get this party started!
C: We’re ready! Amen!
The post below assumes some things. First, that you know or have just clicked on and read the Bible passage this post is about. Second, that you already know, or are willing to pretend for a moment, that white fragility is a real thing that exists, and that it hurts all of us. Third, I will likely only tangentially mention this in my sermon on Sunday in a long list of ways we play out this story of Jesus in our lives. Fourth, if you want more information, or references for the things I say below, you know how to use Google because I only have so much time to put in hyperlinks.
In this parable, Jesus says some things that we don't want to hear. Things that we often don't want to know about the kin-dom of God. Things are too hard for us about God's dream for the world.
Because I read this passage, and I think, that's not fair! The person hired at 5:00pm got paid that same as those who started earlier. And then I know that makes me sound like a jerk, so I think a little bit more. Why wasn't that person hired? I know plenty of people who are of Color or LGBTQ or women who don't get hired (or called to churches) because of their appearance. Was it fair that those last workers were passed over to begin with? I also know that it is still true in our church that men of the same education and experience level earn more than women.
Also, don't those workers also have families to feed? Do I really think that people are valuable and deserve to make a fair living wage to support themselves and feed their families no matter how hard or how long they work? That's a dangerous question in our current economic system that rewards the ability to earn money, without regard for systems in place that make it easier for some to earn money than others.
We often spiritualize this passage. For some, this passage means that as long as someone repents on their death bed, asks for forgiveness, and confesses belief, they will get into heaven.
But what if Jesus used an example of economics because he wanted us to see God's dream for the world here and now? There are so many places to go with this, from the Dream Act, to Health Care, to a fair living wage of $15/hour.
What strikes me, though, is that this is where I'm at as a white person. Our consitution says that all men are created equal, yet we've never treated all people as equal. Maybe the Black Lives Matter protests are simply those workers who were promised a wage that they were excluded from all. day. long. Perhaps us white people are those grumbling. People are fighting for what they've been promised, and honestly, deserve as full human beings, and the other workers, us white people are grumbling about it. We think that it is somehow not fair that everyone gets what they agreed to work for.
We get fragile as white people. We think that creating a world where People of Color lived and are valued equally to us somehow means we've lost something. But have we really? Didn't the generous landowner give everyone what they agreed to at the end of the day?
All analogies fall down after awhile. Yes, I know there's a problem saying that People are Color are working at 5PM and less hard. But why is that a problem? And, especially if all lives, if everyone's ability to feed their family is all the same, can't we value all the workers equally? That's what the generous landowner did, anyway.
And in this parable, many people agree that the generous landowner is God, or at least how things are supposed to work in the kin-dom of God. Yes, we can never realize that fully in this life, on this earth. But if economic equality, paying what a person needs to feed their family, and not holding it against people who were prevented from the system is what God wants, there is a clear invitation to the church. We, as disciples of Christ, we as the Body of Christ, are invited to help make the world more like this parable.
And while that's threatening to us, just like it was to the workers who were hired earlier in the morning, then this parable clearly says what we need to do. Get over it, and let God's Dream for the world come closer, because we as the church are helping make it more of a reality.
If we think of white people as those who were hired early in the morning, there is incredible power in this parable to offer us a new way of living. One where we can see the system clearly, and work to change it. Not just for getting into heaven, but for life in the here and now.
1. What do you think?
2. What things have led you to feel fragile lately?
3. Can you follow a Jesus who says the kin-dom of God is to turn our economic system and the ways we value people upside down?
4. What is most threatening to you about this?
5. What is most hopeful?
These questions are also posted here, when you can also comment:
God of justice and peace,
We pray for the family and friends of Anthony Lamar Smith. Send them your love and care. Empower them to work for justice, even in the midst of their deep grief. Protect protestors and let their appeals to be heard. Help us as the church to understand what you need us to do to help bring about a world of peace and justice where all can expect to be treated fairly. Protect the communities that need protection this day, and inspire leaders to see the larger picture. Help us know what the world needs from us, your people, and most of all, grant your peace that passes all understanding to those grieving Anthony’s loss.
Lord in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.
Idea from Rev. Korla Masters, Edited by Rev. Katya Ouchakof
Now you know what to pray. No excuses for not knowing.
For those of us with neurodivergent and physically differently abled bodies, worship can be a true challenge. My family - made up of two parents and one child - includes many physical and neurological differences. Sometimes, the idea of coming to worship is so exhausting for us, we simply don’t go. The adaptations we must make to simply belong and participate, the stuff we have to take with us, seems overwhelming at times. Here are five things I wish that churches would stop doing - and five things I wish they would start doing.
1. Stop making everyone do things in only one way. Stop valuing conformity in worship. I don’t just mean that you make it ok for some people to sit if they are not able to stand. I find that to be horribly isolating and like I stick out like a sore thumb. Also, since I’m young, the comments I get for sitting during worship, even as a pastor are terrible. “How could you disrespect God by sitting during the gospel?” “You look fine, you’re young. If I can manage to stand with my arthritic knees to worship, you can, too.”
2. Stop making hurtful comments. For example, see above. You do not know and cannot see what it is like to live in the bodies and brains of my family. I am in change of my own joints, and my own energy level. Consent culture applies to able bodied people and to those who are dealing with chronic illness and pain for the first time in their elder years. I’ve lived in chronic pain every day since I was 13 years old. I know my limits and my needs. They are likely very different from yours. I also have no expectation that my pain will be over in 10-20 years when I go live with God. I likely have many more years of chronic pain on this earth, and if I want to do things, I can’t just suffer through until I die.
3. Stop ignoring the many people who ask you to turn the music down. My body can feel like I’m in a cement mixer if the organ is all the way open, or the speakers are blaring. I have yet to find many people who like the music loud. I find a few band members, and a whole bunch of people who refuse to listen and pretend they are helpless in the situation.
4. Stop making assumptions. You have no idea what life in my family is like, how hard we must work to appear “typical”, how many extra things we have to do to get out of the house in the morning. (Three people need meds, two of us need different kinds of therapies, it takes us a long time to move well and wake up our bodies and brains.) I don’t care if you got your kids to church on time when you were a young, tired working Mom. I don’t care if your neurotypical child sat perfectly still for the entire service. Can you make room for me and my story? Can my life experience be different from yours, and just as valid?
5. Stop confusing “cure” and “healing”. Stop preaching at me in ways that tell me that I count less, or am less whole because I am in a broken body. Would I want Jesus to come up to me, lay hands on me, and heal me of my pain? Maybe. Sometimes. But living my adventure with chronic illness and disability that includes my spouse and child can be life-giving, too. We are kinder, more compassionate, less judgmental people. Don’t tell me that my goal in life should be cure. When things are rare and genetic, there is unlikely to be cure. Can you preach on a healing story in the Bible that values restoration to the community and healing over the physical or emotional thing being completely gone? What if the demons were not the mental health problem, or what if being blind wasn’t really the issue? What if the issue was that the community had no places for those with demons or those who are blind? What if the point of the stories are to teach us to make room for all kinds of people in the kingdom of God? Honestly, my life would be a lot less pain if the world were set up to have room for me, and I would wish for a cure less often. I live a happy and whole life with my chronic illness and disabilities. Can that be ok with you, church?
1. Letting people worship with their bodies however works for them. Make room for chaos. There are days that my brain and energy levels are fine, but I can’t sit or stand. I wish for a recliner in church, or even the ability to lay on the floor on pillows in the front. I bet there are others, of all abilities, who would like the option to sit on the floor, stand, not stand, dance. Can adults color during worship? See, if everyone can participate in the best way for them, while creating worship together, then I’m not singled out as the only person who can’t stand that Sunday. Not everyone in church need to know if I’m having a hard day. They often make comments like those above and ask me about it later.
2. Inviting all. If you are going to do a creative worship thing -- at a conference, in your church, always offer at least two ways of participating. Especially if you’re doing a really big thing like standing for a long time, doing yoga, or painting a huge picture together, just letting people know what you’re doing can make a huge difference. If a conference, for example, had just collected a list of those who might need accommodations, and sent us an e-mail ahead of time with the big plans, I could easily tell them the one or two adaptations that would make it possible for me to participate. At one conference where I was on crutches, I just needed them to move a chair before worship. Instead, I was left out of several parts of the service. Why didn’t I move my own chair, you ask? I was on crutches and needed my hands to walk. Also, because sometimes it would be nice to be cared for by the church instead of treated as too much work. Or as requiring too much communication.
3. Listening. I know my body, I know my brain, I know my stories. I know the bodies and brains of my family. Church, can you just believe me? There are so many ways I’m told that I don’t count or am too much work or that I’m not believed about what I need to fully participate. Find the people in your church with differing abilities, ask them what they might need. It might be as simple as a cushion on a hard pew.
4. Talking about human beings as the whole people God created us to be. Part of my problems are because I learned to shut out the voice of my body for the sake of the Gospel. How often in church do we deride the flesh things and concentrate on the spiritual things? I learned to hate my body, which helped me become sicker for a longer period of time. God didn’t create us to shut down parts of ourselves. There are other interpretations of Paul’s language around that. Look them up. Find them. Share them.
5. Learning. For all things, ableism included, the biggest thing you can do is seek out the stories of those different from you. Read stories about the lives of our trans siblings, our siblings of different colors from us. Learn about the lives of those with different abilities, or the pain of those who are shut out of society, and often our church. The stories are there in books, blogs, youtube. Actively look for those stories and share them. You might be surprised about how you will find the kingdom of God when you look there.
Thanks for reading my story. I’d love to hear in the comments your experiences of church. If you have chronic illness or disability, what do you wish churches would stop and starting doing? If you are typical, or temporarily abled, are there parts of this that resonate with you for different reasons? If you have come to chronic pain as an elder adult, and you have permission to think about church outside of conformity, what might make it better for you?
Pastor Jess, Author
Loves Jesus, Loves and Hates the Church at the Same Time, Calling Us to Honestly, ELCA Pastor
This work is licensed by Rev. Jessica A. Harren under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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