Spirituality of Belonging

Posted: September 30, 2018 by Ty in Belonging Pyramid, My Neighbour, Spirituality
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Thank you for inviting me to discuss belonging. This is a lifetime way of life for my family and me, that has left its physical, emotional and spiritual scars upon me. I was not designed for typical church. I was formed in the teachings of St. Francis and Clare of Assisi as a Franciscan, but was mentored by Basillians and Jesuits, and those that were of the social gospel, and sprung from the social gospel. The monastics, like Francis, Clare, Basil and Ignatius…they were of those that cared radically for their neighbour. Serving and learning in those communities, I was able to be apart of the radical love of neighbour that acted in such movements as the social gospel that sprung workers rights, women’s rights, that liberation theology would come from, that would have seeds in the fall of the Berlin Wall as John Paul II pushed for it, and Desmond Tutu in the end of Apartheid. The radical love I got to see in Calgary outside of the shelter system was at the community level. I speak of church families, where they realized families were staying in their church, and it struck the Holy Spirit within them…how do these neighbours shower? it struck on a Saturday, and on a Sunday the plumbers were in building the showers, and the priest was speaking as collection was to pay the plumber currently constructing…or realizing that they could not have all members of the community participate due to lack of a lift…or the food cupboard was empty…and well, let’s say collection for the church budget or the need of neighbour was a living breathing spirit.

But like the social gospel, these orders also had a strain of theology that was offensive. It was quite blatant in the late 19th and early 20th century, in Alberta as late as the 1990’s; and that being eugenics. The active belief those not seen “as typical” by society are deficient and everything has to be actively worked towards to eliminate them, or exclude them.  There is still strong pockets of this from secular and spiritual movements, most notably seen this past summer, with the United Church Observer’s supported work to ban the plastic straw, a device specifically designed for persons with certain disabilities, and without its accessibility would mean death. Most often we just see its more passive, and prejudicial form, of Ableism, most blatantly on display this past General Council with Moderator Nominee Colin Phillips, who with his form of CP uses a wheelchair and speaking aid. He stated in his column after it was a council of awkwardness, and people not engaging-my heart hears, to engage means we have to change, and adapt.

There is beauty in our heritage, but bad theology around the healings of Brother Jesus of Nazareth, has allowed Ableism and eugenics to flourish within the church by oppression or omission of the full Image of God, Imageo Dei in the Latin. And by that omission, we are missing out on the time, talent, treasures and blessings that come with the full Imageo dei. It is from reading the healing stories from the perspective of needing to be healed to belong, not realizing they are about belonging because of the beautiful rainbow of God’s creation to paraphrase Archbishop Tutu. To paraphrase Tutu again, if persons with disabilities, mental health concerns, cognitive issues, on a spectrum ala Cerebral Palsy or Autism, etc. are not in the Kingdom, then it is a kingdom I want nothing to do with.

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Affirming Sunday Oct. 1, 2017 Leland putting up his colour

For the work of the Kingdom to continue in the beautiful tradition of My Neighbour, as J.S. Woodsworth wrote it, the sin of eugenics needed an exorcism. This is the work I have undertaken, in thought, word and deed. It led me through My Neighbour, to what today is being presented as the Spirituality of Belonging. Before we step into that, i just want to take a moment to thank Robert McClure Untied Church for including my family in your community for the past 18 months. We will remember C. coming and talking to Leland directly about Wonderkids, Justina teaching how Advent and Sacred Aboriginal Teachings go together, the Christmas Play, Leland’s moment at the affirming service to step out of the ableism of Christianity with his proud declaration of rainbow colour, “I won Nana”; and B’s wonderful Easter egg hunt balloons so all children could be apart of the fun. Today, you will be a part of my last teaching given in a United Church, as I stated at the beginning to get to this point has taken its toll, and the activeness of ableism and prejudices, have left me today going against my medical support teams wishes and

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“I won Nana”-Leland

presenting. As I opened with, a lifetime of working to build places of belonging for all Image Bearers has taken its toll on my system, let’s just say it has been messy and the worst humanity has to offer I have witnessed. But that is why this work if so important. For this is the next step after the exorcism. This is the spirituality of belonging as the church titled my presentation which has a nice resonance. Belonging is the ickiness of life and the scariest word you will hear today.

It is the next step. But we don’t get to belonging easily, for that carries too much. I designed a simple culmination, the Belonging Pyramid.

It is inverted. The first layer being Accessibility which is the removal of physical barriers. This is the crafting or re-crafting of space so individuals can enter and use. This is the piece where community partnerships matter, money flows, Thanksgiving offerings work, and  government grants can be used.

The next step is the wonderful word most communities stop on. “Inclusion”  it is such a warm and fuzzy buzz word. But it means we got space for you.

The hardest piece, and the smallest that can create tipping and allow for the exorcism to be reversed, is belonging. it is that authentic space where you love your neighbour as yourself and the Holy. It is that space where the ickiness exists, because, you need to look at all angles before making decisions, all ripple effects, you may have to take stands for your neighbour that take your out of comfort, or safety. It is also the space where you heart recognize that one day that space will be empty…

But we do not do it alone, for the Holy Spirit of love was breathed into us at creation, and we live out of it…and the pyramid itself is balanced in Agape.

So great lecture, now let’s do the work…I encourage you to get comfortable for we are going to do liturgy…thats latin for “work of the people” via theology….

Take a moment, centre yourself. Close your eyes. Breathe in deeply, exhale releasing the burdens of the day. When you feel you have breathed all the breath out, keep going, let the joys of the day out.

Enter into this space. Breathe in and exhale deeply twice more.

You are travelling to just outside the church. At the entrance to the parking lot.

Accessibility: Read John 9: 1.

A person with blindness. You are that differently abled person. Perhaps you require a mobility device-cane, scooter, wheel chair, walker; perhaps you experience the world through the lens of mental health: anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, PTSD, and on the list can go; perhaps a global delay, or you are on one of the diagnosis spectrums ala Autism or Cerebral Palsy; perhaps it is deafness or blindness. Here you are, complete and at the gates of a new community.

You have heard there is a farmer’s market. You cannot reach it. The hill has no access for your device, so you turn away home. Or you are able to enjoy the market but need the washroom. Someone has parked a truck blocking main doors. You are directed to a curb to step over to uneven ground to a small dark door. Your left side is weak and you know you cannot lift your leg up or you are in a wheel chair. You have a choice- soil yourself to stay or go home?

You are new to the neighbourhood using a good day of energy to explore, your spouse can drive but requires accessible permit parking. You have heard good things about this church, off a Sunday you see that they use their accessible permit spots to park bobcats. Obviously, there would be no guarantee on a Sunday they would not be used likewise, time to keep looking.

There’s a community garden, you have saved money to rent a spot, but you cannot get up onto the field where the plots are or easily maneuver to your plot? Not worth the hassle, just won’t be this year.

You stir up the courage to come to church one Sunday, only to reach the door and realize that you cannot reach the door handle to enter, and no one is around. You turn around.

Some would say this is not accessibility, but it is through the eyes of the codes, for everything up to that point as not seen as “illegal”, much the way the man with blindness experienced his world.

Inclusion: Read John 9:2.

The world of labels and diagnosis was designed so we could become inclusive. In the best environment it simply shows what is necessary for someone to be brought into the circle. In the worst, it allows for different barriers to be erected under the guise of “inclusion”.

That is the question being asked by the disciples; what is wrong with this guy? What caused it?

You arrive on a Sunday, and someone opens the door for you. Obviously, you can see where the sanctuary is, but how do you know where anything else is in the church? You are non-verbal, possibly use pics or words to know directions but nothing is labelled. No directional signs to the office; or rooms; or Sunday School or youth group, does this church have a library? You heard something in the announcements about the library having an event this week?

It is soup after church. No tables, your wheel chair does not have a tray, how do you balance? Or perhaps you have weakness in your hands? Seeing the heavy table to be brought out you don’t want to be a bother to ask.

Sadly during service you had an accident and now the fabric chair is ruined, but you don’t want to be yelled at again.

You or a parent/caregiver have been overstimulated due to the noise level of service or something else. You seek a quite space. Can’t use the nursery not a baby, and too much stimulation going by the Wonder Kids. Try any doors to find them all locked. Can’t calm yourself in the lobby. Time to go home, as usual even the tools you have you cannot use because locked doors are more important, but you are included as the building let you be “included”.

Communion Sunday, a holy time when all are to come forward and partake of the “Lord’s Supper”. But you cannot eat. You are not part of the Lord’s Supper or the family table, at least you are included.

People come to talk to you, nope, they are talking to those with you about you because… there is something different, or as disciples said, what is wrong with that person? What label can be put on them?

You decide to reach out and be included in small groups. Some do not understand that not everyone in your house drives so always doing things the way you have always done them means exclusion. You struggle one winter night to come out to learning circle, it is a rough night for your physical self. Church is low lit and you almost trip over the chair blocking the hallway with the “silence sign” on it. Or you can’t get around it with your wheel chair—so you go home.

Membership classes are offered…nothing on ages for membership. Nothing on child care. Your family can then not join together as one would have to come one year and the other next, for financially it is not there to afford child care for the weekend. But you have a seat in a sanctuary on Sunday morning.

A service on different prayer practices. Stations set up, cannot maneuvor a mobility device around to get to each, so sit silently and hope no one notices you.

Feedback on sound system that can trigger convulsive brain activity or flashbacks from trauma.

Exceptionally loud music compared to speaking that can overstimulate a mind that is not neuro-typical.

There’s a youth group. Nothing about ages or when it is or who to connect with. You may fit but are afraid of rejection because so many churches before have told you you do not belong.

But like the blind man of the story, or women of the time, you are allowed to come hear about the Holy, just not be in the whole presence of. But you are included.

Belonging: Read John 9: 3

There are those that have shared the journey, that share grieving, and celebrate life together. There is a rhythm on the “way things have always been done” so if you have always been here, much like the disciples, you got the norms of the place and time. Jesus looks at you and does not see the labels, the diagnosis, the worldly prognosis; or whatever other b.s. (belief system or the farm term if you prefer) the world puts on you.

Jesus flips it to the heart of the matter. You are here to shine through the glory of God.

Genesis 1:27-28 (read it) the Holy Breath is within you. You are created just the way you are meant to be, in a perfect reflection of God.

It was Jesus pointing to the world and going, YOU BELONG because YOU ARE. Any healing done after that was because of how dull the hearers were and the risk they were placing a child of God’s life at due to their ignorance.

But as you rhythmically breathe back into the now of your community. Breathe in the Command Jesus gave us. Love. Breathe it in deeply, breathe it out deeply.

Do this three times, and rest in the presence of Love. Or Agape as it was termed.

Rest in that Agape, and when you are ready come back.

(Once all are back).

It is fairly simple, we can discuss accessibility, we can discuss inclusion. Those things already happen, I took you through the eyes of the one experiencing what is. The physical building can be as pretty as one wants it to be. Universally designed as much as we want it to be and is able for a 30ish year old property. We can have someone open the door or prop it open so everyone can come claim their seat on a Sunday. We can attain everything up to code and function so the circle is drawn wide for inclusion.

BUT, and this is a big but. If we are still the disciples pointing and asking the question, or not making eye contact…we are having adventures in missing the point. The point is belonging. Authentic longing, based on the love Jesus showed in this story. The scary thing of belonging especially within the differently-abled/persons with disabilities/mental health/medically complex (let them pick their descriptor) is that there may be no warning and suddenly…

Their spot is empty. That is why we create barriers and labels. You have now experienced different perspective, the thoughts on building agape belonging is upon you or remain in the status quo.

 

Within your groups take a moment to pause and reflect:

 

  1. What did your heart hear in this experience?
  1. Where does that feeling reveal you to be within the pyramid?

 

Accountability: 

Consider, what you can do to create a spirituality of belonging this week. One little step within your own community. Share with your group, and come back and share next week with them how it went.

Children’s Time

You Are, You Belong

Image result for Brad Meltzer's I am Helen KellerOur stories start with a beautiful poem of Great Creator making all. It speaks to us that when each of us was created it was in their image, and breathed into with blessing. Today, I am going to let you meet one of Creator’s images and blessings.

Start with the last page: I am Helen Keller, I won’t let anything stop me.

Helen was born both deaf and blind, if you cover your ears and close your eyes, that was how she knew her world. Her own relatives believed her to be a monster. Yet she didn’t stop wanting to let the world know the love she had inside. Her family, her tutor helped her discover how to communicate in her own way. She would go on to shatter her world’s old way of seeing things.

What are ways your family or friends have helped you?

Helen learned to communicate through signs, by being shown through touch.

She realized people needed help. She fed the hungry, grew schools to help those who were told they couldn’t to learn.

What is one thing you can do to make your school or home or church more welcoming?

Read the last few pages…

Closing prayer: Thank you Creator for the wonderfulness of difference, that each of us is lovingly blessed to be who we are meant and created to be. Amen.

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