Thursday, May 28, 2015

Reflections on Day 3 (Thursday) #SITD15

Erik Carter introducing Mark Crenshaw
The third day of #SITD actually started a half an hour earlier than the last few days… unfortunately, most of us were dragging a little bit!  But the speakers were well worth it.  Bishop David Talley of the Atlanta Archdiocese, Barb Newman of the CLC Network (and a frequent Friendship Ministries collaborator) and Mark Crenshaw, our host at Georgia State University and Director for the Center for Leadership in Disability.

Bishop Talley addressed Humility and Service as part of his own spiritual journey.  A former Baptist and seminarian dropout who finally studied canon law in Rome, he was challenged to action by a mother years ago.  Since then, he has made serving people with disabilities a non-negotiable as a local parish pastor and now in his present responsibilities as bishop.

A dynamic speaker, several of his comments stuck with me… 
  • As a member of the clergy, if I am to serve you, I must know how you learn and process.
  •  A life of humility is both a gift and a learned art  -- only then can we move from arrogance and isolation to joy and connection.

There is no question that Bishop Talley is prophetically speaking to congregations unwilling to move towards full worshiping participation.  He juxtaposes the isolation that is often experienced by people with disabilities, with the isolation that will occur when those in the church find they are not living out God’s path.

Barb Newman walked through several chapters of her new book Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship and concentrated on Vertical Habits – encouraging us to take the skeleton of the liturgy and dress it with musculature that is universally accessible (Talley’s description).  Her approach from a special education consultant gave practical ideas (fidgets, rubber bands, visual schedules, early warnings, assistive tech) for people to access the curriculum in kinesthetic, visual, and physical means.  The challenge for many (as evidenced in twitter conversations) is to utilize her ideas outside of the reformed ordered worship setting in which they originated.

Mark Crenshaw, in Recipients Towards Bearers, exegeted the blind Bartemeus story, telling it from the perspective of the subject who engaged Jesus, interrupting the crowd, and obtaining what he needed.  Mark reflected that the greatest gift he has to share (as a connector, often in religious communities) arose out of some of his most painful experiences of disability within the church.  He also reminded us that until we exegete and understand the community and context and are finally trusted to do work on behalf of the community, one may not belong yet.

In the discussion afterwards, we were reminded that a formal weekly liturgy is actually just the template for the real liturgy which occurs during the lifecycles of the rest of the week.
All three speakers revealed that all people with disabilities have gifts.  It is often those of us without current disabilities that must get out of their way in order for those gifts to be realized.
One critique leveled against the speakers this morning was the danger of imposing a particular spiritual communities voice upon those without the communicative capacity to reject that voice.  A danger may exist in that we often may force the presence of G-d or a sign of his into a situation where it does not exist. This is a danger that clergy members – and the larger community of faith – may need to guard against.