Welcome to the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast, hosted by Miriam Spies and Amy Panton, which comes out of the Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability. We both live and work lands that have been homes and remain homes to the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Huron Wendat, the Neutral and the Ojibway/Chippewa peoples and other peoples who have cared for the land. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land and are mindful of the need to repair broken covenants.
On this episode Amy Panton and Miriam Spies are joined by Robbie Walker and Laura MacGregor to tell reflect on words that have shaped and continue to shape our crip and mad theologies. Together we explore our hope, passion, and "crunchy" theology where we sit with ambiguity and discomfort. We also briefly dip into theologies of healing. We would love to hear what this conversation sparks in you, what resonates with your experience, and what questions are lingering for you.
This podcast is an opportunity to model how faith communities can engage in theological and spiritual conversations around madness and cripness.
To see a video of this podcast along with subtitles visit https://youtu.be/xNzRo-VM-YM
Welcome to the Mad and Crip Theology Podcast, hosted by Miriam Spies and Amy Panton, which comes out of the Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability. We both live and work lands that have been homes and remain homes to the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Haudenosaunee, the Huron Wendat, the Neutral; and the Ojibway/Chippewa peoples and other peoples who have cared for the land.. We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on this land and are mindful of the need to repair broken covenants. This podcast is an opportunity to model how faith communities can engage in theological and spiritual conversations around madness and cripness. If you need a full transcript you can find videos on our Youtube channel. We want to say before we begin that topics and conversations we are raising throughout our time together are often hard! They are hard for mad and crip people ourselves and hard for our families and loved ones. So, do what you need to do to take care of yourselves, your bodies, minds, and hearts. And now, here is our episode.
So welcome to this episode of the Mad and Crip Theology podcast. Today we're delighted to be joined by Laura MacGregor once again and Robbie Walker will be joining at some point during this episode. So we thought today we would talk about um someone who who has said something that has shaped or encouraged our theological work, whether they're from theology or from outside the discipline since we want to lift up good theology and sources people may have heard before or may want to look into again. Amy, have I covered everything?
Yeah I was thinking too when you were talking, like I don't know how other people feel but like I feel like sort of, as a person who's in the academic world we spend so much time critiquing other people in the field. We're always looking for problems or you know things to argue about basically, civilly, politely but um today I think being able to honour some people who've gone before us is really um something that we're delighted to do. And um the other thing I might just put out there like as we're getting started I was thinking about this you know that that subreddit that's called shower thoughts, I was having shower thoughts this morning as I was getting ready to go out, and I was thinking um while I was in the shower that um there can be a bit of a, I pick it up here and there in some of the things I read, a bit of a romanticization of some people either with disabilities or with mental health stuff going on um. And I hope that we will be able to find the right tone today, um I don't want us to be romanticizing other people's suffering or um I don't know, I find sometimes um when people, well I mean it will happen to us too you know when people think back on our lives after we are gone they're going to think about certain certain things about us and exclude other things, but I find um especially for the person that I'm going to be talking about Anton Boisen. There can be a bit of like a romanticization of his suffering um when I hear some people write about what he's gone through, so I hope that, I hope that I don't do that today when I'm talking about him and I'm able to give like a full like a full uh picture or like honour some of that suffering as well, like talk about the bad stuff too is what I'm trying to say, not only the good stuff. So yeah, hopefully that makes sense.
Everybody's nodding. Yes of course it makes sense. For those who are listening everybody's nodding. Is there, who wants to who wants to start us off?
Maybe Laura you can. We'll volunteer you Laura. Thanks put me on the spot um sure, would you like me to read the quote first and then talk a little bit about why i chose it? Great so I chose a quote. It was a bit of a debate about what to choose thinking through some of the writers who have most influenced my academic and theological formation and I waffled between John Swinton and Arthur Frank. And Arthur Frank, for those who don't know, wrote "The Wounded Storyteller." And he talks about illness narratives and I became very interested in a chaos narrative because it seemed to capture my life but that's not the quote i chose. Um oh are you holding up "The Wounded Storyteller" Miriam? It's a good one, yeah it's a good book, if you haven't read it I recommend it. It it's a very very good book by Arthur Frank.
My background is not showing it. So the book I ended up choosing or the the passage from the book I ended up choosing was from "Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil by theologian John Swinton out of Edinburgh. And here's the passage that I decided I wanted to talk about: "To tell a mother whose baby is dying of starvation that it is really for the good and that you will learn valuable lessons through the experience is to develop a theodicy that may be theoretically interesting but that in practice is evil. What kind of God are we left with if we manage through clever intellectual moves to fit such obscene forms of cruelty and evil into a framework that somehow justifies it and draws it within the boundaries of the love and righteousness of God when we try we blame either the victim for making bad choices or God? And in doing so reduce both God's love and God's power. Normally the former, blaming the victim is the safest and easiest options." So that's the the quote I chose and for those who may not know my story which has been shared in other podcasts, um I'm the mother of a child of three boys. Um I have three boys I sometimes talk exclusively about one in these podcasts, but I have three um and my middle one, my middle son Matthew lived with very complex disabilities until his death at the age of 21. And I found as his mother and as his caregiver particularly I think because Matthew was very visibly disabled that I often became the recipient of other people's stories. And other people would look at me and look at Matthew and they would slot us into a story they had pre-decided. And unfortunately often the stories took on elements of theodicies. They took on elements of rationalizing God in the face of what they perceived as suffering of a child or a mother. And I received these theodicies both during Matthew's life and following his death. And for me, particularly in the early years of Matthew's, parenting Matthew, and and trying to make sense of my own faith and faith journey, this became very challenging. Um I wasn't sure how to make sense of this God that people were telling me about who would choose my child to be the recipient of significant challenges or suffering. And I appreciated Swinton's work in naming those theodicies as particular forms of evil that these theodicies that made God this cruel agent who handed out difficult challenges to unsuspecting children and their mothers, um I appreciated how he labeled that as troubling, as problematic, as evil, and ultimately um a challenge to faith in a good and benevolent God. His work goes on to unpack that in far more depth but in terms of my own theological formation and journey both academically and personally his work critiquing those theodicies was particularly helpful for me. So is that kind of what you wanted to hear in terms of a passage and why that passage has been meaningful to us?
Yeah I think so.
I think so. Um I wanted to ask you Laura, um have you been able to share some of Swinton's, um like this particular passage or some thoughts that come out of this passage with other people who've gone through similar um things to you and what did the what have they said? Do they agree? Do they disagree? Yeah I think both to be really honest. Um so part of my research is talking to parents and often mothers who are caring for very complex children and my MA work looked at mothers who were caring for very medically fragile children and, if I think through those mothers um out of the very small sample size I was working with, many ultimately would lose their children, their children would die at very young ages. Um and many of them talked about how difficult it was to hear these stories for lack of a better word because that's how they would hear it these explanations and justifications for God that allowed other people to sustain their faith, to keep it intact, um not being sensitive to the fact that it might ultimately erode another person's faith. And we would talk about the fact that that there are people who critique this and that name these um explanations of God as particularly evil, as as a form of you know of a problematic theodicy unto themselves. Um that said I've also talked with people who really value these theodicies who really value um belief in a God that will not give them more than they can handle, that who would who has pre-decided a story well before time began and they're living through their part of it, that for many people these for many for some people I've worked with these stories have been really important um these theodicies allow them to sustain faith. And so that's I think that's a real challenge when for those of us who maybe work in more the pastoral care pastoral theology side of things: how do we address these um and make sure that we understand where people's faith in God is? And I think the other thing is that if people are living through challenging times, their story and their faith with God is a constantly moving target sometimes--that they may believe one thing one day and and come to believe something different later. And I know that after some of my research I had to spend real time thinking about how do I make sense of these these stories that come from different sides. So certainly I've talked about it with other mothers and and they have, uh if I had to sort of summarize the majority would say they found the theodicies challenging, that they ultimately were hurtful and challenged their faith. However there certainly were I can think of a handful of parents over the years that found real comfort in that particular idea of God, so being sensitive to where people might be and what their faith looks like I think is really important.
So I'm hoping that some clergy and some congregation members will hear these podcasts and I wonder you might share um how would you like Matthew to be talked about in church? How how would you like um
like him to be known and to be seen oh and unseen in church these days? So sorry how would I like how would I have liked Matthew and i to be seen in church rather than a source of inspirational narratives or theodicies? And now following his death how would you like to be cared for or to be ...
Yeah that's a great question. Um I think sort of during Matthew's life, um my main request would have been to not be the recipient of inspirational narratives, not be the source of inspiration (it's called inspiration porn for those who aren't familiar with the term--this idea of developing an inspirational story based on someone else's story that meets your need for inspiration but but may or may not be what's happening with the individual living it out). And I think that goes with other people's um theodicies, why they place "this happened because God is like this" would help them maintain theirs, who they believe God to be. Right yeah these theodicies really worked for them, it didn't work for me. So you know what would I have wanted I think really really just first of all to to listen to what my story was, um rather than to tell me what my story was big. bell hooks-like, Miriam. Um yeah to sort of stop and hear what is my experience, what is my story because it's far more complicated than the story you've attached to me and it's not all bad, but it's also not all good, it's complicated. Um and so i would have liked that and i think that just applies to both during his lifetime and following his death. Um it's just and I think it you know I summarized my so some of this was part of my MA work and I I summarized my MA work with a sentence, and I'll be I'll be blunt, I said "Shut up and bring coffee." Um what would I have wanted: shut up so don't tell me my story, listen to what my story might be, be willing to hear my story, um and don't offer your theology, make space for my theology. And bring coffee, be a friend um, hang out with me do typical everyday stuff, don't turn everything into some sort of inspirational moment, just be in the space with me and listen to me and have coffee with me and that's that was sort of the summary of my MA work and I think that's that's what I would say you know for people who are living through these complicated stories, "Shut up and bring coffee."
That's awesome What kind of coffee do you drink? I'll drink pretty much anything, I'm a huge drinker and I like it with milk and no sugar. Awesome got it.
So I see Robbie's here so let's invite him into the conversation.
Hey Robbie. Hello.
Your camera's working today, yay yay. Yep figured it out. Awesome. Amy do you want to share next?
Yeah sure sure. So Robbie we just uh, Laura just shared some of her um what she liked from John Swinton's writing, so I'm gonna share now something um that's helped me in my journey, and that is Anton Boisen's writing. So he um he he died. He died in 1965 actually, and he was born in 1876 in Indiana so he's an American um and he was hospitalized due to mental distress and he was diagnosed with dementia pracos, I hope I'm uh pronouncing that right, which is now what we would consider to be schizophrenia, so he was going through some really dark times and his family thought, "Okay like you really need help. We need to figure out what's going on here." So they they did have him hospitalized and he's a really interesting person because he um he writes, it's so interesting,
so he wrote a book based on his experience in the hospital and he was in a couple of psychiatric hospitals in in the Boston area. And his book "The Exploration of the Inner World." It's out of print but you can get it um here and there like through through libraries and stuff. It was published in 1936. And so it's such an interesting book because it's like his reflections on actually being a patient in the hospital and what shitty shitty spiritual care he received while he was in there um which was basically like none uh and the pastors that they would bring in would be giving like they would come in on like a Sunday and they would give sermons that were like totally inappropriate for a mental health environment where people were really struggling--like they would preach on like violent psalms or like portions of the bible that were on like battles and stuff and he would think like "Oh this is not good for people's mental health being in here. We need to like um do we need to do better." So basically what happened was um he was hospitalized many times throughout his life, but during the times when he was out of the hospital he was able to um start working with his one of his colleagues, um I can't remember which university it is, I'm so sorry, but basically um him and this professor were able to start bringing theological students into the hospital, the same hospital that he was that he had been staying in and so basically he's he's known as sort of like the father of um Clinical Pastoral Education which for most people who have an MDiv or MPS or anything, a lot of those degrees, professional degrees you have to do units of Clinical Pastoral Education in order to earn your degree. So it's because of him that that exists um and I think he's interesting because he he talks about, so on page one of "Exploration of the Inner World" he says, "To be plunged as a patient into a hospital for the insane may be a tragedy or it may be an opportunity. For me it has been an opportunity. It has made me aware of certain relationships between two important fields of human experience which thus far have been held strictly apart (and he's talking about psychiatry and theology there). And it has given me a task in which I find the meaning and purpose to my life." He also talks um a little bit later in the book and this is the quote I wanted to share with everyone today, about this idea of, in 19 in the 1930s when he was hospitalized we didn't have the kind of spiritual care departments that we have, like you couldn't basically you couldn't really call with chaplain like you can now. Um so he he talks, he he provides a reflection on this in the book and he says, "It seems therefore not inaccurate to say that if a man has a broken leg he can in almost any part of the country be cared for in a church hospital at church expense and under church auspices but if he has a broken heart he is sent to an institution thereby there to be forgotten by the church," and I think when I first read this quote I thought, "Oh my goodness. I feel like such a affinity with this man who is so different than me and has lived so long before me," but also um has really put his finger on something that has given me a lot of um like direction in my own sort of research and also my own way of thinking about how we can do work on madness and mental health from a theological point of view. Um and lastly I'll just mention that, um actually two things real quick. So when he had the students come into the hospital to do work with the with the patients they weren't allowed to like "prod them" or "lecture them." Those are the two things they were not allowed to do. They were only allowed to listen so they would go out with the patients for walks and sit with them and eat with them and um they weren't there to preach so to speak, they were there just to be there with them on the journey which I really like and I'm so glad that we still have that model. Um the other thing that was sort of mind-blowing to me about Boisen's work is it was the first time I ever read about Jesus being mad and this is something, that I I I would like to say some things in mental health or mad mad studies kind of like cycle, so I feel like Boisen kind of like touched on this about 100 years ago and now it's coming back around and people are interested in it again. So he he writes very bluntly that he believes that Jesus was experiencing hallucinations and uh like for instance during his baptism, or when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and also during the transfiguration and he asks like "Was this psychosis?" And so for Boisen he thinks that having these experiences were very important for Jesus because he was able to gain the insights he needed to be able to speak with authority about the meaning of his life. And so um okay I remember I presented this theory to some of my students in a class I taught this summer and I could see over Zoom their eyeballs exploding and their brains like are like like all over the place because they're like "What I've never heard of this before?" And I and a few of them maybe were a little, I don't think they were upset but they were a little shaken by the idea, and so I had to say to them you know maybe this is controversial for some people to think this way but it's an important part of a conversation, and um this this conversation about like you know diagnosing people in the bible or you know um thinking about people in the bible through the lens of modern psychiatry is is something that in my opinion has cycled back again and we're we're at this stage again where we're rethinking about these things. Um for instance like diagnosing God and diagnosing Jesus and other people from the bible and I think it's, personally it's fascinating. Some other people might be like "I wouldn't touch that with a 10-foot pole." But I really I really I think it's really interesting. So yeah that was my Boisen talk.
I wonder what what difference, like why do you find it so fascinating? What difference does it make to think of Jesus as mad? It's important to me because I feel like um when I first read, there's a few articles that came out maybe 10 years ago um that talk about giving God a diagnosis like depression, um there's another one with giving a bipolar one diagnosis, also narcissistic personality disorder, a few of these ones that are popping up, and then you know there's uh Jeff Hood's book, "The Psychosis of God,"' and these different books I think are interesting because like it's comforting for me to um know or believe or think that there's a part of god that understands some of my lived experience and maybe God's lived experience is the same as mine. Um yeah and I I think also if if that is true, if part of God's experience, like let's say if Jesus was experiencing hallucinations or some kind of psychosis, that means that I think his heart is closer to some of the people that I've spent time with in my life then we might care to admit, um because I think for me at least, I've talked about this before on podcasts um previous podcasts, I grew up with a very powerful God and a very powerful Jesus--like they'll just like blow everything up, and like they're very strong, and they never sleep, and all this stuff and thinking about um a Jesus that needs to rest, maybe would have been on meds if he was around now, um these things are really, like I don't know, meaningful to me, very meaningful.
Robbie and Laura, do you have questions for Amy?
I think I you asked a bit of my question I think Miriam, but I think maybe you know some of the same question or part of the same question you asked Miriam and that is you know if you were to be speaking to people in congregation so maybe outside of an academic context where it's not an academic exercise you know, what do you want people in the pews or in leadership positions in the church to understand about mental health and and God and Jesus and that interrelationship maybe?
I think I'm still trying to figure that out honestly, okay um yeah I'm still trying to figure that out I think that. Um for me we were talking, i think we were talking were we talking before the podcast about how, I don't want to like give away what Miriam's going to be talking about today, but some theology some good disability theology, some good mental health theology, we don't encounter usually like just like regular people going to church, coming home and stuff. For some reason, some of that theology, in my opinion some of the best theology that I've ever encountered is, like it's not hidden but it's like saved for some reason for seminary, and I don't know why. Like I think um some of this stuff is like important and there's a lot of truth in it at least from my point of view. Um I think if we could talk about a God who has vulnerabilities and also um shares in some of our, well we talk about God sharing in our suffering, I don't know why there's, like it seems to me that there's certain kind of suffering that's like okay and certain kind of suffering like we still try to hide or we we're like maybe we're ashamed to think of God as sharing in that. I don't I don't really know I haven't figured that out um or maybe there's like suffering that's um, oh my God what's the word I'm I can't think of the word right now, but suffering that you're okay with people seeing some suffering that you don't want people to see. Anyway um yeah I I hope that some of the work that I'm trying to do through my teaching will be able to help students think about new ways of imaging God um you know, there's a, I talk a lot about in the sort of therapy end of what I, some of the teaching and TAing that I'm doing at Emmanuel college about people's God images right? So what kind of God image do you have based on like Anna Maria Risotto's work um, what kind of god image do you have and can some of that image be changed or is it forever burned into our brains? Um I hope it can be changed and I hope some of these conversations will open up open up the dialogue so that we can start to think about God in new ways. Hopefully that made sense. Yes, thank you.
I have a question if you don't mind because I'm because mad studies isn't my field, I wonder sometimes if there's a difference between living with mental illness and being mad?
Um because Jesus didn't have a typical experience of reality and, but he might have been perceived incorrectly. Uh do you know what I mean? And so if if somebody says or you know um there's a whole strand of um social science from the 1950s for example that when they speak about you know Pentecostals speaking in tongues it's a form of psychosis right? Okay right and so you know, and and you know these people what do you mean miracles, like what do you what do you mean you know casting out demons? Um and so I just, but now there's a there are lots of strands where it's like well let's see whether this is socially useful what is this what is this for what is it doing um and maybe they just have a different framework for interpreting reality. And so um because I'm still somewhat at home in that world, you know Minnesota multiphasic uh personality inventory, I have never had a vision true false right? And I'm so I said to the woman who was sitting there you know invigilating my exam so to speak it was fun but I said like what does this mean. She says you need to interpret so I had to say false because I have um I don't think I was diagnosable with something, I don't think my experience of having visions was quite probably what the authors of the Minnesota multiphasic meant, and yet I had to speak truthfully inside my own worldview, so I'm quite sure that people who are like Jesus has gone mad you know, he casts out demons by Bealzabel right? So there's there's this idea of we can't compute your experience of reality which may be different than Jesus is diagnosable with something perhaps. So um you know so I just I'm okay with Jesus being mad. I'm not sure that I'm personally comfortable with Jesus is living with a malfunction diagnosable as you know in some sort of biopsychosocial fashion, I'm, for myself I don't think I'm comfortable with that but what do I know? He'll figure out. Yeah for sure uh I hear what you're saying Robbie and I think it also depends on what you mean when you say mad. Um and uh for me uh it definitely I um I I wouldn't think I'm not saying that I think there's something "wrong with Jesus" or "Jesus needs therapy" or like "Jesus needs to be fixed by going on meds." That's not what I mean. I mean that like um he has some kind of lived experience that like you said is not perhaps what other people might deem to be "normal" and we all know the normal stuff that comes along with disability studies and mad studies so um yeah it's a very like um it's an interesting conversation. And if anyone's interested in uh reading something that just came out on this topic you might want to pick up the new book, "The Bible and Mental Health." It's called "The Bible and Mental Health: Towards the Biblical Theology of Mental Health" and there's a really interesting uh chapter called "Jesus and Madness" in the book by Joanna Collicutt and so she goes through the whole shebang on
madness in the greek and how it's in the text and where different parts of the bible, where people call Jesus mad, and uh talks about it, so it's not like made up, like it's actually in the bible for those people that are like it's in the bible--it's in the bible and so she's talking about like what does this mean when we encounter this word? Um so yeah it's it's very interesting.
Robbie would you like to share yours next? Sure I I don't have a quote unfortunately because I think the book is in storage in Guelph, Ontario. However I can tell you, uh I'm sitting in you know Cabbagetown Toronto and it's you know in in a basement in Guelph. But the book is called um Spirit and the Politics of Disablement by Sharon V. Betcher and one of the reasons that it really impacted me was it was the first time that I encountered a theology that sort of crystallized for me what I was starting to think about I'm such a bad capitalist um and being okay with it being okay with being able to because I'm deemed you know disabled and visibly disabled and it's not your fault you know and so in some ways I get to leverage that in ways that allow me to be parallel to normal processes and sort of sit there and go, huh this is kind of
unhealthy: the way that you know, the nine-to-five rat base and and how cruel academic processes are uh you know for for students and you know all of these things um and so that was that was tremendously useful. And then the part that I has shaped part of what I do is she's talking about you know the colonial and and liberals she's like colonial and liberal are flip sides of the same coin folks let's be real about that um.
She's never, it seems to me that she's never seen a deed of power, she's never seen a miracle because she, you know "I'm a liberal Lutheran and and miraculous cures don't happen in my context um therefore something else must be going on in these texts," and I'm like you're not wrong exactly but what do you do with a deed of power if if you've seen them and that this is part of your conception of what the gospel does for people or what or what the power of God is able to do in the visible world. Um so the part that I appreciated though was really honest passages of encountering pentecostal Christians who were just not consent based remotely you know and and being unintentionally abusive, if I can use that language of visibly disabled people, you know, "Be healed in the name of the Lord" and be hit across the knees with a newspaper when you're using a chair. Um excuse me, what? Okay but is does that happen in pentecostal context? You bet your bottom dollar it does. Okay and so so if I'm sitting self-consciously um self-reflexively as a pentecostal disabled queer scholar or student scholar at this point and someone who wants to be a pastor and care for souls in a responsible journey with rather than "I have all the power and I'm going to tell you how it is," if if all of these things are part of who I want to be in the world, how do I hold I believe in the miraculous ministry of Jesus and I refuse to colonize your experience and a deeply consent based model even for doing charismatic or pentecostal healing ministry? So all of these wheels started to turn in really serious ways when I encountered uh Sharon Betcher so I really appreciate how crunchy her work has made my experience.
Thanks so much Robbie. Um does Laura or Mir(iam), do you guys have any questions that you that you have for Robbie about what he said?
Yeah, lots of questions. Thank you, thanks. Every once in a while I need key terms defined, please define crunchy theology for me. Oh okay does that I I need that term defined. That would be helpful sure um when I when I say crunchy it's like both delicious and uncomfortable. So okay so for me it's or when I say "Oh I'm feeling crunchy today," it's like all of these things that I feel as competitive are all arriving in the same moment and I need to deal with them all at the same time I'm feeling crunchy. Okay okay. So yes so crunchy so her theology is crunchy because on the one hand do I want to be the sort of person who will in my theology of healing and my practice of healing um give people agency to resist capitalist bullshit, you absolutely, yes please. And on the other hand
I'm going to I feel obligated to resist "there's no such thing as a deed of power" and so you know I reach her and I feel crunchy but it's a pret it's product it's a productive level of anxiety or or conflict so that's what I mean by crunchy. Thank you.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
Right now probably... Robbie, I have a question for you. Um I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about your position on healing. I know this can be a difficult subject for people to talk about and I I hope you'll just share a little about a little of what you're comfortable with but and you as you're moving forward into your pastoral work for the future is that something you want to be involved with in your pastoral work or would you prefer not to go there, I just wonder?
I want to be available to go there.
Yeah, when I, the first time my my anglican bishop uh gave me an interview about you know, "oh you're interested in ordination," he said, "So it seems very clear that you want to be a scholar but why do you want to be a priest?" And for some reason this is what came out of my mouth, I said "I write academic papers so that I can lay hands on the sick in my parish." And he said, "Thank you very much. That's a very clear answer." And he himself had been part of the charism and the charismatic renewal in the 1970s in the Anglican tradition and in his words a fairly healthy rendition um so for me
if people ask you know I'm I'm going to do what I can. There will be certain things you know, there will be people I'm sure still um in the contemporary Canadian context who come to me and say "I'm queer and I don't want to be. Will you pray for me?"
And I would say, "Well here's how I can pray for you: I can pray for the spirit to be with you so that you can maximize your own integrity before God and that's that's about as far down that particular trail as i can go." But if someone came to me and said, "I have CP and I don't want CP. I live with Spina Bifida, I don't want to live with it anymore. I have colitis. I have diabetes. I have...Okay there would be lots of things that I'd be like yes absolutely let's go but gently but gently. Um and what I mean by gently is
I have learned ways of doing things from people who understand on a gut level that shame is thoroughly corrosive and I've certainly also experienced that and so I have I have seen and want to model ways of
"We will pray for you we will fully support you regardless of what the outcome is of the prayers. We'll pray more than once because there's nothing wrong with that and you person being prayed for will will never be shamed by us for any reason regardless of the outcome because you as you are are God's treasure um you know and and you as you are have gifts to offer and if healing is something that you desire because of your own integrity before God then yes and amen. And if you are not on the same page as me theologically yes and amen, um you know." Please do what is healthy for your own soul but I take I take the miracle stories in the canonical gospels literally, I really actually think they happened or stories that were very much like them I think that people who were unsighted saw, I think that people who were unhearing heard, I think that paralyzed you know and "crippled people" were not paralyzed and crippled when Jesus was done encountering them and I think that that is if it is desired that is appropriate ministry for the church to offer in today's world. Um so that's so that's where I am but it has to smell like Jesus in order to be worth anything um you know and Jesus in my reading of scripture he always encountered people as though they were God's treasure and so that's the way I want to be.
Yeah it's interesting hearing you reflect on the healing narratives because I think I come at healing with a great sense of suspicion and a great sense of
um healing in order to fit people into some norm that the general population can handle.
So I always say um that CP has made me who I am and has
made me who I am in relationship to God, in relationship to family, friends, others, and that I wouldn't be me without CP so I wouldn't want to be healed or cured or and um that saying that I've had times of depression and I've had shitty times where I don't want to be writing a thesis on ableism,
you know but but that doesn't mean I want to be healed. So I think
I appreciate hearing hearing your thoughts on healing but I think I come at it it with more suspicion and
and think it's been
coopted by the norm in society, whatever that norm is is any given moment.
I I agree with you um because I see these very normy... Um it's really interesting to me. I have a particular church network in my head but I I don't know whether I want to name them maybe I will just to be a shit disturber, but like Bethel Church is based out of Redding, California, pastor Bill Johnson. Okay so his people he teaches his people to pray for healing and apparently they're quite successful. That's fine on a whole bunch of things but the thing that I notice is that this is almost a mega church you know they handle themselves well they're not unethical in that sense but it's a mega church setting he looks very well quaffed and he's got these fabulous glasses and you know a very pentecostal sense of humour, but you know he the first thing he does at the beginning of every sermon is he pulls out his ipad and tells a joke.
Okay and then the politics of Bethel Redding are horrific from my perspective, and so healing ministry, but the norm in his network is people are going to be visibly whole not mentally ill, they don't have cancer they're going to be fabulous anti-queer capitalists--that is the norm right? ...So the so whatever healing ministry is occurring is immediately being co-opted so I think I'm suspicious on that level and yet I think Jesus took the risk sometimes that people came for healing he healed them and some of the some of the people immediately ran and joined and joined society as they knew it with a sense of relief and other people were like "I can't go home, shit, now what?" And so I I wonder I'm curious about whether there are, I want to say norms of what the gospels call the kingdom of God that disrupt other norms, but does God does God have norms? Does God have desires? Does God have goals for creation that we can misalign with um in various ways? So for for me, just to finish very quickly, for me if someone said "Do you want to be healed of CP and you won't remember a [ __ ] thing about having CP? I would say, "No absolutely not," okay, but if my memory is fully intact, "Yes please," because I won't lose the experience that has made me me um in in my opinion. So I think for me it would depend on how much do I remember because if you're going to erase my memory then no, that's not to me that's not healing, that's erasure literally, um and I think there's a difference so yeah but I I hope you can hear some uh mutual appreciation Miriam of your perspective so
Laura would you like to make any comments about our healing conversation? You're you're sitting you know before the way that your camera was angled it looked like these beautiful rays of sunshine were like you look like an angel. Basically for people who are just listening she looked like an angel because the these beautiful rays of sunshine were coming from behind your your head and it was very beautiful. Thank you because I couldn't see anything. The reflections were getting really crazy and all I could see was this blast of light. Wow um this is a fascinating conversation and I I was thinking as I'm listening to Miriam and Robbie talk about their respective experiences of living with Cerebral Palsy and their views on healing, um I found myself thinking well you know, how do I feel? Um I also had a child who had Cerebral Palsy um among many diagnoses but that was one of his diagnoses and you know, I always and I think my answer is I'm I need time to sit with this because I'm not sure where I land. Um and I I can remember being in a church we were not in a church it was not our church we were a guest in someone's church and someone came over and said, "You know if you just play pray hard enough you know God can make this better, God can take away what's going on with Matthew." And I I wasn't sure how to respond to that you know and people would come up to us and say, "I'm going to pray over you" while I'm playing in the park with my children. It was it was all very bizarre at times and I think my feeling has always been Matthew couldn't tell me what his feelings were on the subject so i don't know how Matthew feels or felt um about what he would have wanted, how Cerebral Palsy may or may not have been part of his identity and ultimately I feel that Matthew gets the final decision and I don't know what that decision would be and in whatever happens after this lifetime I don't know what it looks like so I I don't know. As Matthew's mother I would vehemently assertively argue that my son was perfect and whole in his embodiment and ability um and that's I mean that physically and intellectually and spiritually and therefore as his mother I would say that healing was was not necessary because he was perfect um and he was perfect as he he lived as God created him. Um though yeah, and it's interesting I teach a class right now with ministers and we've been talking about some of these subjects and they've had some really really helpful thoughts as well. And I really value this class because I I feel like a charlatan, I don't feel like the instructor I feel like I'm just learning alongside them because they have such fantastic ideas. Um and we've talked about some of these things and they've been very helpful as well so yeah, I'm not sure where I land other than Matthew was perfect, I do not see a need for him to be healed that said um Matthew also suffered he lived with significant pain at times he had significant medical issues and he did not have the verbal ability or intellectual ability to tell us what was happening so his ability to influence dealing with that pain was complicated we often didn't know what we were trying to deal with. Um I would have valued healing in those moments, I would have valued something that could make them better and at times we could not make them better and we didn't handle it well we humans and it would have been nice for God to swoop in and make it better and that didn't happen so it is hard to reconcile some of those ideas with healing narratives where God does swoop in and make things better in a story. Um yeah so I think that's my non-answer. It's it's a great, it's something I think about and I don't know if I have um a really solid answer but um yeah I I believe that disability, intellectual disability, physical disability, mental health challenges, these are all part of God's perfect creation, um and and I would include sexuality and LGBTQ um experiences, um I I I am straight so I I do not um understand those in the same way but this is all part of God's perfect creation and diversity and that's sort of where I land um and beyond that I I think I leave it to thinkers greater than me. Thanks for asking.
So I am aware of time and uh we want to respect everyone's time today and especially respect our listeners time so Miriam still has to share so Mir(iam) I'm going to invite you to share your passage with us. Sure so many disability theology world knows Nancy Eiesland's work. She's kind of like the mother of disability theology in some ways she wrote a book, she wrote some books and edited some books but the most famous one is called "The Disabled God." She was born in '64 and died in 2009,
a life gone too soon for sure. And she was American but we won't hold that against her here in Canada um.
And her book, her book is known for the image, the experience of Jesus following his resurrection with the wounds of that first crucifixion, but the passage that has challenged and shaped me the most is when she talks about her image of god so I will read this quote from page 89: Like a faithful Jew who conscientiously opened the door for a Elijah each seder and spun images of the majestic beauty of a messiah who would shout out an order and the universe would tremble, I had waited for a mighty revelation of God. But my epiphany bore little resemblance to the God I was expecting or the God of my dreams. I saw God in a sip-puff wheelchair, that is, the chair used mostly by quadriplegics enabling them to maneuver by blowing and sucking on a straw like device. Not an omnipotent, self-sufficient God, but neither pitiable suffering servant. In this moment, I beheld God as survivor, unpitying and forthright. I recognized the incarnate Christ in the image of those judged “not feasible,” “unemployable,” with “questionable quality of life.” Here was God for me."
And I just think it's a very beautiful image especially in uh in our conversation around God's power and what and how might God
be less powerful than than we demand of them? So and how does that view of God as as a person in a wheelchair, as a black woman, as a queer in drag, how does that change who we engage in relationship and so she has that sip-puff wheelchair says okay I'm part of God's image, like Amy was talking about before, and I think this ties into her book and and my work, her work on the eucharist being a
ritual of degradation for some people with disabilities being denied being denied the elements, being denied the privilege of
presiding because if we believe in a God who's born in our flesh, then God is born in many different experiences of that flesh and therefore should be seen as holy and as beloved and as worthy of receiving elements and extending elements to others.
We could go on and on. I could go on and on about Nancy and that image but that was the one I wanted to bring to this conversation
and anyone have thoughts, questions, reflections?
This is my favorite Eiesland quote as well Miriam. We were talking before the podcast started and I um I think I've shared before, I can't remember if it was on this podcast but I felt um I, and I'm not being, I'm not exaggerating when I say it, I I feel that when I read this portion of the book it really changed my life. I, because I had grown up with a certain kind of God and reading this I was like I had the brain exploding experience with you know everything happened for me and I was like I really wish I would have known about this a long time ago, um I really wish that this would have been something that I learned when I was little and I could have take I could have had that precious image with me as I moved through um you know stuff I've gone through um and yeah I hope like if I have kids that that can be something that is taught to them like when they're young so that they can um just know that as they're growing up. Yeah to know God is with with us in all our different embodiments.
I particularly love that quote too, um the word I want to use is it's my gateway drug, like that that was the first um experience encounter i had as well with a God that didn't look white and powerful yadda yadda, um this idea that God could be perhaps a woman in a sip-puff wheelchair and for me that that allowed me to go lots of places and I'm thinking of you know Swinton's reflection um where he talks about Jesus with Down Syndrome and Natalie um Natalie Wigg-Stevenson's recent reflection of God with Alzheimer's that all of a sudden all of the possibilities opened up and i could start playing. I like how Natalie Wigg-Stevenson talks about you know the theological imagination and start playing with these different images of Jesus and God and how that explodes my theology in really wonderful and creative ways so Eiesland was my gateway drug for that and I love that quote for that reason so I'm so glad you shared it, thank you Miriam. Yeah how do we think about God I think shapes how we think about leaders in the church, how we think about um community members and so having a very
particular view of who God is is damaging to
people in leadership I think and that's why in the bible God has so many names, God needs so many names and so many images so that we experience a breadth of their love for people.
For those who are listening everybody is nodding. There's a lot of nodding.
What you shared Miriam reminds me of a story that was really helpful to me when I was um going through a divorce and I was struggling with you know I still want to be ordained and is there room for me in the church and all these questions, and I had a mentor, her name was Kathy Campbell and she used to be a priest in New Westminster, the diocesan on the coast of Canada in the Anglican Church, the west coast, and
she told me a story of a colleague of hers who disc-- was trying to discern a call to ordained ministry when I think this was in the 60s early 70s so uh so apparently because I entered the tradition too late it was actually a debate about whether um priests with visible disabilities could actually preside on account of Leviticus for fuck's sake okay okay like let's just do some hermeneutics shall we? Anyway um but here was the debate and so here is this woman, I don't remember her name and I don't remember if Kathy gave me her name but a woman who lived with uh CP that affected her speech and so she's up on the mic giving her testimony and she said you know here was this situation where I'm struggling in the churches, maybe I shouldn't be ordained because of Leviticus and one day I was reading Genesis chapter one and I realized that I too am made in the image of God.
So I decided I could become a priest and here I am and there was just this moment for me of yeah, I there is room for me at least for communities of people who are willing to listen to a woman with CP say I too am made in the image of God so I I really yeah that was what I was reminded of. I don't understand denying anyone who even looks broken even if we wanted to use that language--we literally in the Anglican tradition fracture the bread, we literally break it in pieces and hand it to people--which to me says brokenness whatever we want to call that is something that God uses so how the hell would you deny the communion elements to someone who you think in whatever your framework is is more broken than you. Pay attention God made you know the Holy Spirit may be trying to whisper something complicated and crunchy and life-changing to you through that person uh you know what do I know yeah so thanks Miriam. And that's exactly where Nancy goes in her book, she says the broken body of Christ is our communion and so should be represented in all bodies. Yes well um it's one thing to say
I'm I know I'm worthy to be a minister in the church and I have been deemed worthy by the church to be ordained and to another thing to to find a place to serve in the church that's open to do that um that's where my work is wanting to go so so we will talk more about about that at a later date but for now I am so thankful for this conversation, for the wisdom that has shaped and continues to shape each of us and I'm thankful to be able to share that with listeners and viewers so they might go and read or might go and look someone up on YouTube and find out more. So that's great and we look forward to our next conversation with the topic to be determined so if any of our listeners have a have burning question please reach out to Amy and I.