Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Review: Disability Studies and Hebrew Literature

Book Review

Disability Studies and Hebrew Literature compiles twelve articles reflecting current scholarship on disability as portrayed in the Bible and early Christian thought.  Edited by Candida R. Moss, PhD (associate professor, University of Notre Dame) and Jeremy Schipper, PhD (associate professor, Temple University), the essays are organized in rough epochal order. Each contributor utilizes his or her primary methodology to lift nuance and make visible disability imagery common in antiquity through close analysis of the text. Critical readings include textual, post-colonial, feminist, and gendered perspectives.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Disability & Isaiah's Suffering Servant

Within the worshiping community, the suffering servant language from Isaiah 53 is so commonly interwoven throughout the Holy Week tradition that many forget the rich history of interpretation has only recently identified the servant as a Messianic figure. From as early as the writings of the early church, the servant has been identified as one of dozens of characters, including Job, Moses, or one of Israel’s kings.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Immeasurably More: Embracing Life with Down Syndrome

From generation to generation… tell the works of the Lord. (Joel 1:3)

Effective parenting includes handing down stories — letting the young learn from the journeys of their forerunners.  These narratives shape our cultural attitudes, construct our ethical frameworks and orient our moral compass.  As a child, I remember travelers stopping by our house and spinning tales – my vivid imagination ran wild with the limitless future possibilities of exploring and encountering new adventures.  I was grateful that someone had gone ahead of me, charting the treacherous course and encouraging my journey.

Autism, Worship, and Applied Behavior Analysis

I'm not a trained applied behavior analyst (ABA).  I've taken a couple classes in my special ed training, but most of what I've learned has come in the trenches learning alongside my own daughter and serving in special education classrooms.

4,383 Days of Unique Fatherhood

4,383 days and counting...

Happy Birthday, Lilly!  You entered our life 12 years ago today. 

Like most children, my youngest daughter has been looking forward to this day for a while.

“June Two-Five”, she struggles to enunciate. “My Birthday!?”

She is more than willing to celebrate it several times a week -- It has been sheer

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strained Relations - Disease, Disability and Christian Flourishing in Antiquity

A gospel robed in hospitality, hope, and healing has the power to change history. 

*Burning eyes,
     *Shaking fevers,
          *Constant vomiting,
              --Flaming bonfires incinerating victims.

The imagery of the apocalypse.

No, not a dystopian sy-fy short – but the descriptive reporting

Monday, June 23, 2014

From Doing to Being – Changing the Language in Disability Ministry

Picture Courtesy
The CNN headline screamed out at me – Invisible in India –The story of the disabled boy tied to Mumbia bus stop. The article begged for an actionable response. 

What should we do?

One of the sub themes, which kept boiling up at this past SITD conference, was the importance of “being” instead of “doing.” As a ministry

Friday, June 20, 2014

Missions and disAbility -- Meet Pastor Heather

Heather @ SITD 2014 Dallas
Confession time:  I've never been out of the country -- well not really.  Went to TJ during my college years in Southern California -- and spent a few days in Montreal in 2006 at an AAIDD conference.  But I've never been somewhere outside my comfort zone in a foreign land in mission service.

Heather has.

Not just short trips, but a for a couple months at time, she helps out with the Joni and Friends ProVision Aisa in India program.  When she's not doing that, she's speaking, writing, and moving.  A Baylor Bear and then later M.Div grad, she's an ordained minister ready to speak her voice and write her story.

She's already published several books, including My Friends & I - An inclusive children's book (available on kindle and paperback).  More books are in the pipeline.

If you haven't met her you can -- at Heart of Heather.  It was great to meet a new friend!

Human Life, Liberal Societies, and David Watson #SITD

David @ SITD 2014 Dallas
One of my conference mates this week is Dr. David Watson.  A NT professor, he currently serves as the Dean of United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ontario.  As both of us are parents of young children with Down Syndrome, we have some immediate bonds.  I've enjoyed some of his blog posts reflecting on the proceedings this week at #SITD.

Here's a short sample of his writing on Stanley Hauerwas, John Swinton, and Hans Reinders from the sessions yesterday:

 If our society places a high premium on autonomy, individuality, and agency, then people who are impaired with regard to their decision-making capacity occupy a very strange space, They are ostensibly people, though without full command of the capacities that define personhood and serve as ports of entry into the social world. They are outliers, and that is a dangerous way to live!

To enjoy the rest of his article, click here!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What about Wichita?

Tom Racunas & Nancy Thompson
While conferences drain our mental energy, the real work begins when we leave.  In our table discussion today after listening to John Swinton, Stanley Hauerwas, and Hans Reinders, one member suggested that the theological reflection may be good in academia, but the real rub comes in the trenches (I paraphrased a bit).  To a large degree, she's right!  What good is a conference if we return to our home cities, churches, schools, and jobs without affecting change?

Today, I finally met my neighbor.


It took nearly two years, dozens of emails, and a 6 hour trip to Texas.  Ironically, we discovered we live less than 800 yards apart and shop at the same grocery store. Tom Racunas serves as the Director of Ministry with Persons with Disabilities for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.  I found out that besides a shared home owners association, we have common passions -- we also discovered that the other has a key to unlock greater ministry potential within the city. We both agree that to hold a consistent pro-life position requires congregations and Christian schools to intentionally educate persons with disabilities and fully welcome them into the life of their chosen congregation. Alone, our wheels might spin; together we have the potential to affect faith based societal change for multiple catholic and evangelical congregations.  This is 1 Cor 12 in action.    I look forward to working with him.

Tom also serves on the board of NCPD (National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities) along with Dr. Nancy Thompson (Iowa City, IA).  Nancy and I had a great time getting to know each other over the last few days as the NCPD and Friendship Ministries were set up next to each other.

#SITD #TheologyDisability

Meet the Campbells, Special Needs Consultants #SITD

Cathy & Ken @ SITD 2014 Dallas
I got to meet Rev. Dr. Ken Campbell and his wife Cathy today.  Ken serves with MNA (Missions North America) in church planting with the Presbyterian Church in America.  Shortly after beginning his D.Min program in 2006, his wife received a spinal cord injury.

Fortunately, Gordon Conwell did not let him drop out of his D.Min project and he was able to shift it towards a disability focus. Currently he serves as a special needs consultant and is helping shape church planters with a spirit of hospitality. His academic work focuses on developing best practices for special needs programs in churches and helping pastors effectively utilize resources in developing intentional community with people with disabilities. You can reach him at

Judging by his cap, I'm guessing he's rooting for Calvin College to beat Hope College in basketball this year.  As a one Jan-term alum of Calvin, I'll join in...Go Knights!!

Friendship, Hospitality, Missional Living, and Church Planting

I'm taking a break (at least for an hour) from blogging about the great things going on at SITD 2014 Dallas by catching up on some of my favorite blog posts.

I saw this post from Mark Stephenson, fellow Friendship Ministries board member, and Director of Disability Concerns in the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA).  It's so good, I'm linking to it and copying it directly below.  I'm glad to hear some young pastors have caught the vision that the best disability ministry serves all humanity.  The practice of vulnerability and hospitality in relationship is the best way to transform a church. (all bold markings below are my emphasis)

Meet Rev Dr. Theresa & Ken Taylor #SITD

When I scanned the list and saw that Theresa and Ken were coming, I was looking forward to seeing them again after 8 years.  Our story goes back to a week long Minnesota Special Touch Summer Getaway in 2006, where I was serving as a personal care attendant for my friend Richard.  In our small Bible study sessions, our group of a dozen people got to know each other well.  If you want to hear a good story involving a speed boat, water, faith, and fear -- just ask Ken!

Due to unexpected illness, our reunion was delayed by two days.  But we spent 3 hours at dinner Wednesday catching up on life's journey -- kids, education, setbacks, goals, a book contract, and new vision (a funny word to use to describe ministers with visual impairment!) Their excitement for what God is doing in their ministry can hardly be contained.  Finally, congrats to Dr. Theresa on her D.Min from Bethel Seminary! Can't wait to hear what God is going to do next!

#SITD #TheologyDisability

Reflections: Day 3 #SITD Dallas

The great thing about this conference is every session is engaging, stimulating, and simultaneously disturbing.  One's mind is troubled and is forced to re-hash systems of thought while rejoicing in what God is doing.  This is an exhausting process.

Which makes Day 3 challenging  -- great speakers and sleepy eyes.  Yet they kept me in rapt attention. On the third day, our focus was on the intersection of disability theology and missiology.  As a pastor in a denomination with roots in the 20th century missions movement (Assembly of God), I love this topic.  It was also the topic of one of my early lectures in 2005 on the intersection of missiology and Christian special education at a NACSPED conference.

Judith Snow appeared via a pre-recorded video and then a live Skype interview from Canada. (Thankfully for me, her talk was captioned -- I've struggled this week listening to lecturers without closed captions -- I usually do OK conversationally if I'm directly in front of someone and can read their lips -- which is hard to do in conferences).

Early on, Judith presented her image of God and the church aided by an imaginative disability friendly lens -- God is a paraplegic -- who requires a host of personal care attendants to do (his) work.  This metaphor quickly brings to mind that of some of my other friend's (with disability) discourses on God and the church -- God must have cerebral palsy -- because (his) body doesn't follow (his) commands.  Both these images are helpful to me in the light of I Corinthians 12.  Yet, I am aware that these comments would be considered by others to be too daring in reshaping a picture of Christ.  These illustrations, however, point to the mission of God (missio Dei), the Johannine's "works of God glorified", the Great Commission (variants in Mark, Matthew, and Acts), and my own pentecostal understanding of Acts 2.  Judith reminds us that the gifts of God are distributed throughout the soma (body) of Christ and that even those things which may be annoying, even disturbing, are often God's gifts for which all of us must be receptive.  For the church, as the body of Christ, to effectively spread the eschatological evangel, persons with and with out disabilities must have a space to mutually share, touch, and affirm one another with their charisms (gifts).

Ben Connor @ SITD 2014 Dallas
Dr. Ben Connor (whose book I reviewed last year) continued the missiological theme in the afternoon by illustrating the proccess of creating Orthodox icons as a metaphor for the body of Christ. Delving into the start of the modern mission movement (Edinburgh 1910) he drew upon the insights of Bishop Leslie Newbegin in the 1970's.  While the archaic language of his call to action alongside those with disabilities is problematic, the spirit in which it was written is not.  Those of us who have studied Newbegin and missiology realize his role in shaping the Christian movement in India against culture and privileging the marginalized.  A fellow pastor attendee from India -- Raj -- and I chatted after the session, rejoicing in the legacy that the Indian church has made.  Perhaps as a surprise to us in the western context, the Indian church has many more people with multiple disabilities in clergy and pastoral positions.

As always, I enjoy Ben's work -- it comes from a position of passionately working alongside youth with special needs for twenty years. If you want to read more about the formation of missio dei, I would suggest reading his book -- Amplifying Our Witness alongside John Flett's the Witness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV) 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sandra Jensen / Annie Golden Heart

It's been a great week and exhausting week here at SITD 2014 Dallas.  I got to relax tonight by skyping with my wife and two daughters.  My daughter with Down Syndrome turns 12 this week.  She held up to the screen/camera the ornate extensive artwork conveying to me what she wants for a present.  I think she wants a cat... or dog... or is that a spider?  I'll move mountains to get my daughter what she needs!  (Which is why I don't resonate with some interpretations of the parents of the man healed of visual impairment in John 9).-- as long as it's not a cat, dog, or spider!

Dr. John Swinton @ SITD 2014
My wife asked me if I had seen any viral comments about the President forcing kids with Down Syndrome to die.  Honestly, I am just tired of political rhetoric distorting the true ethical issues and denying personhood to persons with disabilities and their family caregivers.

And no, I hadn't...

 Some of these untrue or half-true viral posts do more damage to the disability advocacy movement.  So to set the story straight, the National Down Syndrome Congress released a statement in its  e-newsletter late last night which I dug out of about 100 unopened emails. You can read the full text of their statement below.

This brings up some of the issues we are grappling with here at #SITD.  I am looking forward to hearing more conversations tomorrow, particularly with ethicists Stanley Hauerwas, Hans Reinders, and John Swinton.

(From emailed newsletter update 17 June 2014)

The Sandra Jensen Story
In 1996, Sandra Jensen, a 34 year old woman with Down syndrome, needed a heart-lung transplant to survive. As far as anyone knew, she would be the first patient with Down syndrome to receive an organ transplant, and initially she was denied. Along with her doctor and her family, Sandra had to fight for the right to receive a transplant. The case gained nationwide attention, arguing that Down syndrome should not be enough to automatically deny a patient a transplant. Sandra won. In January, 1996, she received the requested transplant at Stanford University Medical Center. Her case was seen as a test of whether hospitals could use blanket categories to deny treatment. Since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the establishment of related federal regulations, discrimination against people with disabilities in medical treatment is prohibited.

Today, there is an internet petition ( asking the President of the United States, "Why are children with Down syndrome not considered for organ transplants?" While we love grass roots advocacy, we want to set the record straight by saying it is not true that people with Down syndrome are automatically denied life saving treatment based on their diagnosis of Down syndrome today.

Making decisions around organ transplantation is a terribly complicated process, and the supply of organs for donation is quite limited. People are denied transplants for a variety of reasons. A patient who feels he is being denied solely on the basis of Down syndrome needs to appeal through the hospital system.

Make today the day you sign up to be an organ donor, and help more people receive the organs they desperately need.

Creating Space, Listening to Stories... #SITD

I love listening to the stories of people's call towards ministry and their particular role at the intersection of disability, theology, service, and ethic. As I've said in some previous posts, I'm aiding my memory. I'm meeting some incredible people in the field and getting to know just a brief bit about them.

Devan & CJ @ SITD 2014 Dallas
 Devan Stahl (M.Div - Vanderbilt) is completing a PhD program at St. Louis University in bio-ethics focusing on the human genome project.  I heard Hans Reinders liked her paper -- that's about the highest compliment you can get!

CJ has spent 35 years of her career working in every possible position at the Brenham, TX SLS center - but has taken on her biggest role yet - chaplain.  Only in her current assignment for 2 months, she told me that her years of experience working in the facility has been invaluable in her ability to minister to numerous persons with disability on a regular basis.

Chris @ SITD 2014 - Dallas
I finally got to meet Christopher Philips today.  It's actually been 8 years since I first mentioned him in a post on this site.  He's been an immense help keeping databases and lists up on his site FaithAbility for years for both this event and the AAIDD Religion and Spirituality Division.  Thanks Chris!

#SITD #TheologyDisability

Meeet Greg Little & The Friendship House at Duke #SITD

Greg Little, Director
Friendship House - Duke
Way back in 2008, Nella Uitvlught compelled me to join the board of directors of Friendship Ministries.  My introductory board meeting was hosted by Western Theological Seminary (Holland, MI) and scheduled conjointly with the NCC's Disability policy committee.  (Click here for my post 6 years ago)

As part of that conference, we were able to tour the newly built Friendship House and interact with seminarians and persons with disability who lived together in a new model environment on the campus of Western / Hope College. (While both Friendship House and Friendship Ministries have common origins, similar ethos, and even some shared board members, we are distinct organizations).

I love that this model has been replicated elsewhere.  Greg Little, a recent M.Div graduate from Duke, is the director of Duke's Friendship House.  In my opinion, more seminaries need to develop these innovative housing programs in order to teach future pastors through mutual friendship and relationships much needed lessons about the human condition.  Thanks Greg!

#SITD #TheologyDisability

#SITD Day 3 AM -- Meet Colorado!

Amy & Tonya @SITD Dallas
It was good to see Tonya Whaley again this week. I first met her at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary's (Kansas) week long course on disability last year in 2013.  She has spent the past year serving as a chaplain with the UCEDD at UC Denver, helping develop an integrative model of teamcare that de-emphasizes the medical model while working with patients with disabilities.

She brought her fellow Illiff School of Theology classmate, Amy Petre Hill, Esq,  Amy, a trained attorney, began her career as a public defender in Northern California.  Her experience of defending clients with disabilities, combined with the impact of PTSD in her own life, led her to disability advocacy.  In the past several years, she has been called to the ministry. Having been both a consumer and provider of services, she is looking forward to uniting spirituality with her vocation.  She told me that church is a space where we can move forward to help heal broken legal and healthcare systems. Her goal is to continue to advocate and work with vets experiencing PTSD.

#SITD #TheologyDisability

Reflections on #SITD Dallas - Day 2 - Johannine Literature

Who sinned?  This inquisitive remark within the Johannine literature reflects the congruence of sin and disability in our common human mindset and was the theme of Day 2 of #SITD Dallas.

Quick Synopsis
Dr. Darly Schumm @ SITD Dallas
In 4 different sessions we dove deep and drank from this well. Dr. Darla Schumm, lectured on the healing of the blind man (John 9) from the perspective of a theologian with a visual impairment, challenging those of us temporarily able bodied to experience darkness while listening blindfolded for an hour. Jaime Clark-Soles framed this passages within John’s Incarnation prologue (John 1:1-18) and post-resurrection commissioning (John 21).  She continued in the third session by comparing and contrasting the healing of the lame man (John5) and with the healing of the blind man (John 9).  Jeremy Schipper concluded the final session by identifying the blind and lame characters in the OT- revealing these simple categories of impairment do not reflect the wide spectrum of possible severity.

My Reflections
I appreciated the disability privileged readings and the use of analogic imagination in the gap narratives. Their use shapes the setting and drama of the events, providing potentially new and liberating insights.  In many ways, this imaginative hermeneutic is not much different than that practiced in the inductive studies common in the evangelical subculture.  I, however, as a conservative, evangelical, pentecostal become troubled at some of resulting interpretations which seemed to minimize the interrupting eschatological work of Christ.  In Amos Yong’s earlier comments he challenged charismatics to intentionally read from a non normate perspective, precisely because their global growth coupled with phenomenological experience could lead (and has led) to unbalanced proclamation. To be sure, all lecturers today acknowledged that there is no monolithic experience of disability – For every disability theologian, there is a slightly different take on these texts.

Jaime Clark-Soles suggestion that the parents of the man born blind were perhaps at fault for choosing a life of community in the synagogue rather than defending their son, I, as a parent of a daughter with DS,  became uncomfortable.  I am more than willing to allow scriptural texts to challenge my thinking, yet my mind flashed through dozens of IEP meetings, where I’ve been either the school administrator, the special educator, the independent advocate, or the parent.  I’ve seen the passionate response from modern parents --- yet I am also aware of the practices of antiquity – so I yearn for a different explanation.  Making a binary choice – between community and a son – is harmful to all.  Too many family caregivers have little community and social relationship.  I wasn’t the only parent present disturbed by those images.  For fellow attendee Samuel Caraballlo’s response – click here.

In my final comment, I wanted to explore the hermeneutic of liberation and suspicion.  The rejection of binary paradigms and the influence of Foucalt and Derrida has helped constructive theology to highlight oversights and tease out nuance.  Yet constructive theology based on textual criticism without the influence of the fields of covenental Biblical meta-narrative, systematic theology, and historical theology strain against the three legged framework of church tradition, worshiping community, and scriptural revelation cherished by many evangelicals.  Liberation – like many other categories is a spectrum of thought.  Fredrick Ware’s analysis of three strands of liberation thought within the methodologies of black theology is helpful.  Many evangelicals are comfortable in the first strand, the one based within the worshiping community which uses the Eschatological language of Exodus, yet are uncomfortable in the others.

Finally, I am glad the lecturers are “thick skinned.”  Furthermore, I appreciate their work, insight, and experience and am gratefully transformed by it.  Unfortunately, few voices in the evangelical / charismatic academy have yet to fully address and reconcile their perspectives within the disability.  I look forward to their emergence.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV) 

#SITD #TheologyDisability

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Zacchaeus and the Gift of Work - Reflection on #SITD Dallas Day 2

Chris Horst’s guest post “The Surprising Gift of Work” for Amy Joe Becker’s Christianity Today blog appeared on my Facebook timeline this morning.  In the article, Chris talks of his brother with an intellectual disability, who has been able to fulfill his God given vocation through the gift of work, achieving basic human dignity, purchasing a house, and becoming an essential member of his community.

Coincidentally, the story appeared on my laptop screen during the middle of Dr. Amos Yong’s disability privileged reading of the well-known Zacchaeus passage at the Summer Institute for Theology and Disability.  Dr. Yong reminded us that in antiquity, those who were described by this particular Greek word translated as “short” (pathological dwarfism) had a difficult time finding their place in the community.  Furthermore, the Levitical laws (Lev. 21) prohibited those with dwarfism from coming into the full tabernacling of God.  Dr. Yong suggested that his opportunities for employment may have been extremely limited – to the point that he was willing to opt for a despised position as an agent of an oppressive foreign government.  The beauty of this passage is that Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus as a friend – choosing to tabernacle at his house. (read Dr. Amos Yong’s full article here)

Employment continues to be a critical issue for persons with disability and remains one of the highest concerns of family caregivers. In Kansas, Families Together has made a strong state wide effort through the FEAT events (Family Employment Awareness Training).  Yesterday, I met Dr. Penny Seay from the Texas Center for Disabilities, who told me of a pilot program Putting Faith to Work funded by the Kessler Foundation in several states (TN, KY, TX, MN) where networks of faith communities were being mobilized to help persons with disabilities to find work and fulfill their vocational calling.  The church has a unique role in which it can help provide sustainable hope and dignity through a robust theology of work.  The Acton Institute’s recent emphasis on a reshaping calling, vocation, and work is a reminder of our roles and responsibilities in God’s world; My hope is that those discussions include perspectives of those traditionally not allowed to carry out their calling.

#SITD #TheologyDisability

SITD 2014 - An author, a missionary...

Tim & Larry @ SITD 2014 Dallas
On occasion, I actually meet someone that went to the same schools I've attended!  Meet Dr. Tim Basselin, an alumni of both Evangel University and Fuller Theological Seminary (PhD - 2010).  His latest book is Flannery O'Conner - Writing a Theology of Disabled Humanity

He was here with his fellow Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) colleague, Dr. Larry Waters, currently professor of Biblical Exposition and former missionary to the Philippines.  Dr Waters and DTS have developed a free audio course available on I-Tunes on disability ministry, crafted from his work on the book of Job. As he discussed with me the evolving nature of graduate course work, I was glad to hear that incoming students are now required to spend a minimum amount of hours in compassionate service learning. I think this is key to future ministry leadership training. Thanks for your service to the church!

#SITD #TheologyDisability

SITD 2014 Dallas - Meet Ft Lauderdale!

It's time to meet a few more people!  I don't like sitting in the same spot during conferences, so I invaded a different table today where I met two new friends up from Florida.  I couldn't help but notice that Phil was already complaining about the Dallas heat -- It's barely touched 90, so it's not even hot yet!  But being a Los Angeles basin semi-native for 20 years before locating to Kansas... yeah, I get it.

Phil Letizia's a great guy -- he's got a daughter with Down Syndrome.  Some might say those two things are not necessarily co-relates, but us pastor-dads of daughters with DS, well, we are a rare breed.  My daughter turns 12 this week, while his is still in infancy.  I had a rare-moment of self-recognition -- Now I know what I must have looked like, showing up at a National Organization of Disability (NOD) That All May Worship Conference 10 years ago, surprised that my seminary training had not prepared me for this chapter of fatherhood, much less ministry.  As Rev. Dr. Helen Betenbaugh said yesterday, these are moments of liminality.

Phil & Ed at SITD 2014 Dallas
Another reason to like Phil is his call to church planting with the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian - think Tim Keller).  As he realizes the team around him, undoubtedly the community of believers he leads will have compassion (not pity) as a core value; I guarantee they will seek to enter in and create authentic relationships with those who have disabilities as well as others typically disenfranchised by the church.  I look forward to hearing his reports of the trans-formative and liberating power of the gospel narrative in his congregation.

Ed Copeland serves with Hope South Florida -- the leading provider of entry point services for the homeless in Broward County.  With a coalition of 53 churches, their aim is to provide housing and community, providing hope and restoration to broken families. Studies have repeatedly shown that a large percentage of the homeless population have either visible or hidden disabilities.  Families caught in this oppressive cycle tend to have children at risk for increased learning disabilities due to poor nutrition and living conditions.  While the categories of the poor and the disabled are not a singularity, the overlap cannot be ignored. You can learn more about Hope South Florida's model here. Thanks to both of you for your service to His church!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV)

#SITD #TheologyDisability

SITD 2014- Dallas - Day 2 AM

Part of the fun of these conferences is meeting Christians from all around the world doing ministry alongside those with disabilities and their families.  One innovater I've met this week is Irene Cheung, from the Toronto, Canada region.  She is part of an English speaking congregation comprised primarily of persons within the Chinese community. Currently working on an Ed.D. in Christian education from Talbot (La Mirada, CA), she works with youth and children, particularly those with special needs.  Way to go!

Monday, June 16, 2014

SITD - 2014 Dallas - Day 1

This week I am attending the Fifth Annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.  I am posting my highlights, thoughts and pictures from this first day.

First, it’s always great to meet new people from around the world—Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, Scotland, and Iran.  The Texan hospitality is overwhelming – never had shrimp and grits before!

Dr. Yong is my D.Min Project advisor
Dr. Amos Yong (Professor of Missiology, Fuller Theological Seminary) began the morning by challenging us to develop a Redemptive Pastoral Praxis that begins to move beyond the perceptions of suffering and disability which Temporarily Able Bodied (TAB) – tend to assign persons with disability.  By changing the focus of the disability conversation from causality to eschatology, themes of theological hope emerge.  Yong also hinted at the possibility of looking beyond the crucified narrative towards Pentecost to see the fullness of God’s redemptive story.  Of course, these theological paradigms must be grounded in pastoral practice. The lingering narrative of Pentecost empowers all people to become ministers with – not just ministers to.  People with disabilities are not passive recipients of ministry, but agents empowered to minister to others.

Dr. Jeremy Schipper (Hebrew Bible Scholar, Temple University) and Dr. Jaime Clark Soles (Professor of NT, Perkins) presented an excellent Biblical study of Leviticus 15 as it relates to the Mark and Matthew passage of the woman with the issue of blood.  Their reframed narrative moves the story from an isolated episode of faith healing into the redemptive story of Christ emptying himself and becoming weak, even unto the cross.

Not all the sessions focus on theology or Biblical study, other sessions I missed today included innovative ways to empower the special needs community through worship, and learning to practice presence during pastoral care – and this is only the first day of five!

TX Chaplains Paul & Jim
Of course, often the best parts of conferences are the conversations during lunch and in between sessions. Russell, a minister from St Louis; Peggy, a speech pathologist from Grand Rapids,  Jenna, a social worker from Chicago, Sunil, a medical doctor from Texas, Keith – a Canadian who found me on Twitter.  I met 3 of the 11 chaplains (there’s a 4th one here!) in the Texas state supported living system.  All of them talked of regularly working with 300+ persons with disabilities as being the highlight of their pastoral career.  During the course of the week, I will be chatting with more people and featuring them here.  The collective wisdom they hold will benefit us all.

In the next couple days I hope to introduce a few more people -- Devan, currently working on the bioethics of the human genome project; Lorna, who has created a great parent support model; Sam, reaching into the Hispanic community; and Ben, part of the Joni and Friends Christian Institute of Disability.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV)

#SITD #TheologyDisability

Thoughts from the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability

This week, I am attending the 5th Annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability hosted by the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.  Bethesda Institute and Rev. Bill Gaventa have been instrumental in developing this program over the past several years, bringing together the best scholarship and ministry models from around the world.  (For more background, information, and past presentations, click here)

I've decided to blog daily during this conference.  My goals are to give my friends, colleagues, pastors, and local disability ministers a chance to hear what is going on.  Some might ask, what does this conference have to do with my weekly Sunday School special needs program?  A lot!  Many of the speakers and presenters here "doing theology" have been in this field as a person with a disability, a family relative of a person with a disability, or been doing disability ministry in the trenches ever since Willowbrook was closed 42 years ago. The creation of theology is simultaneously done by the trained academy (professors, clergy) and the local church (people, laity).  On rare occasions the two intersect, sparking rich conversations and ground breaking initiatives. This is one of those places!

I've already met some of the new young faces that are the up and coming face of the movement who are breaking new ground in bioethics and in Spanish speaking communities.  I hope to be introducing them on this blog throughout the week.

This marks my 10th year involved in the theology and disability movement. During the course of that time, I have seen a major surge in the interest of churches, pastors, and theologians in disability issues.  The academic discipline really only appeared in 2004 with the Society of Biblical Literature 's creation of a subgroup of scholars.  Since that time, many of the initiatives I called for in 2005 (see the article here) have come into being in the last decade.  As 35 year disability ministry veteran AG pastor Charlie Chivers of Special Touch told me last month, the sovereign Spirit of God has been moving over his people and disability ministries is moving to the forefront in the US and around the world.

I am attending this year in several roles:  As the Executive Treasurer for Friendship Ministries, I am exhibiting some of the best curriculum developed for adults with intellectual disabilities, used on 4 continents, dozens of countries, and available in both Spanish and English.

I am also attending as a student completing my D.Min from AGTS at Evangel University.  I'm looking forward to hearing my project advisor, AG theologian and now Fuller Seminary missiologist Amos Yong kick off the morning plenary session. I'm scheduled to learn from the authors I've read extensively from over the past decade -- Hans Reinders, John Swinton, Stanley Haeurwas, Ben Conner, Tom Reynolds, Jeremy Schipper, and fellow NACSPED colleague and Friendship Ministries board member Erik Carter.

Finally, I'm attending as friend.  Looking through the list of attendees I see colleagues from past courses and even some 2006 Special Touch Summer Getaway (Minnesota) attendees.  I like how Wichita represents -- Myra Jacobs (my fellow Haysville USD 261 special educator) and Tom Racunas, former principal of HeartSpring and current Director of Ministry for Persons with Disability for the Wichita Catholic Diocese.

It's going to be a great week!

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV)