Posts Tagged ‘Inclusion’


It was a simple tweet last night, but one that really did sum up where our family is after almost four years of a rolled back existence (yes I know covid has only been 370 days– but there was health complexities that slowed our roll and disrupted our normal before that). Simply putting out there, that our home is quieter than it has ever been. We miss the open door, we miss the shared table, the discussions, the tears, the laughter shared by our family (yes biological and those that belong with us). Yet, even as we, as my wife phrases it, are getting tired of each others’ faces it speaks to something that Covid has laid bare in our world, society, communities and chueches. This goes beyond the polarized view in our Christianities or presented in the media. From beyond the local congregation struggles to understand and implement restrictions, or pretend faux surprise when they outright refuse to comply that there is consequences for their actions. Truly that has been the surprise twist in the story of covid, so many discovering that rights are shaped in communal responsibilitiy, and it is not a cancel culture but an accountability.

But I digress, for it is also seeing the challenge of our driven highly strutctured and booked world that came crashing down in covid. How do we actually connect with one another? The reality being that we had a busy world, where it was easy to trip into small talk with another, but were we connected? What does connection look like? What does it mean? As restrictions ease in Alberta, many churches are shifting to multiple services to cultivate connection again as we have missed gathering.

Is it connection? Or simply proximity?

My experience is porximity. We have cultivated a cultural dissonance, that being around people means we are connected. Taking the concept of not being physically alone, alleviates loneliness, which is not always true. It is the concept that to be together in community, means mass (or restricted gatherings), but if interaction is not there, is it truly connection? Some will remember my writings and teachings around the belonging pyramid, and the inverted structure supported by Agape. I think this is what is happening as we struggle with our disconnect from busyness, and our lived dissonance of what we believed belonging was. The light has shone into the darkness, and confused it. This is the soul fog we are existing in, and beginning to emerge from. The question though is our desire to return to normal, going to silence and sideline what can (re) emerge in our religious communities?

Will true belonging emerge?

What is being put out there is that simple accessibility is connection and belonging. No, being in the building together (and if a building is up to code being able to enter the building) is not connection. Having a space for the person is not connection (it is rudimentary inclusion). This is what passed for connection and belonging in our hyper-programmed/hyper-business cultivated Christendom in the before times. In the before times where we expected our spiritual leaders to be experts in all things strategic, knowing how to grow numerically, financially, online, and have the key plug and play programs to bring sucess. It cultivated an experience where we sainted the busy, where access and connection happened due to where you were plugged in and giving (experienced this many times in Urban churches, where what level of tithing equated to level of faux belonging, not always treasure/money but also time/talent). Yet, there was no belonging, because you are not valued for your intrinsic worht in the Imageo Dei only for what you can give. In other words, we mock politicians and business leaders that speak of human capital for driving worth, yet as Christians, we have exaclty cloned that belief system into action within our own communities (for some intriguing contemplative thoughts on the history of church, I have been enjoying Dr. Stan Helton’s Caravan series on the blog of my Alma Mater, Alberta Bible College. Read here.).

Belonging takes effort. Belonging takes risk. Belonging takes bringing our Boards/Elders/Pastors back to Christian Testament community. It is scary. It is challenging. It is affirming. It removes polarization/dualism.

It destroys the community sin of Us versus Them.

Which can be scary for it makes community fluid. Responsive to those who are there. It challenges both big and small T traditions. The key question is “why do we do this?” and if it comes down to “it is the way we always have done this” but removes belonging, should it remain? The greatest challenge in the shift, is that it blows wide open our concepts of the image of God, and what the table for Communion/Eucahrist means in bringing together the Family of God?

This mullings have come from rasing a diverse family in Churchdom. Knowing the blessings of being a part of many church families, my kids in pre-school choosing to be baptized a year a part on Palm Sunday because they knew the love of Jesus their Granny taught them to sing about in Jesus, Loves Me, and their Nana shared with them. That they felt in the church families, but also the pain and hate brought to bear upon them in various communities not accepting who they are in the Image of God, because it challenged the big and small T traditions. Also, as I reflect back in some communities, my worth only tied to that which I could give, and in instances where I had nothing more to give no longer being seen as worthwhile within the church (and yes this was experienced by all members of my family).

It is also a challenge, for with the program lens, it can be simply, if you do not fit somewhere, you will not have any social connection. Look at the church coffee or pot/grace lukck times. Is there interactions with many? Do you stay within the scope of the comfortable? It can be challenging when we look at belonging those steps beyond inclusion, those steps that blow accessibility out of the water. This is not a polarized idea stating one type of Christianities is better than another. I have journeyed through the spectrum. Over c-tine, I have witnessed the rise of upperclass privilige within progressive church circles that overlap into the Q-Anon cult, and lower socio-economic challenges in fundamentalism that have overlapped at the same point of the Q-cult that has shone a dark shadown out there that only certain folks matter in the family of God, and many are exependable.

And sadly, the refrain is not Jesus loves me, but boldy from the pulpit, if you die I’m okay for my rights mean more than your life.

It is a struggle within to understand if the still quiet voice being heard within and communally is the Holy Mystery, or our own ego run amuck. For even good can come out of darkness, and that is the hardest challenge.

Yet, I sit here and continue to mull, for I know my family’s journey of joy and sorrow, has shaped us. How we entered c-tine has shaped us. Sadly, entering into a new relationship with church having to be reaching out for benevolent aid so you do not lose everything shapes your reprehension in reaching out to connect. Coupled with it being the same week picking up food hampers for survival from a former parish you were a leader in, humbling, but shaping the wall of protection more. It is something many givers and program makers forget. Especially in church, the socio-economic lens, shapes how connection happens. We are thankful to have cultivated a healthy summer camp relationship with our daughter, but there was another that could have been cultivated by the institution was locked into their socio-economic lens and myth story that broke the relationship. Now, is needing aid breaking a relationship? No, I raise the example, for the shaping then is always the wondering if you are to reach out again will it shape the interaction? Good intents can also be, unfortunately, shaped in the receiving. When the only personalized connection from a church family is in regards to aid, and not simply being. Yes, it is good to reach out to help, but it does shape in the receiver an understanding of relationship dynamics (true or false). How to shift, I am simply raising the contemplation at this juncture.

For part of the risk of belonging, is that sharing the space together- cyber, phone, or physical. The scent in the film Lars and the Real Girl, when the ladies group from the church comes to be, nothing more. Always brings up the concept, that appears to be lost in our busyness cycle of urban church. The fear when we talk about going back to normal, was normal truly that functional for belonging? Or was it functional for celebrating behaviour addictions that did not risk connection, for with connection (belonging) comes the risk of emotion?

What I have learned from c-tine, is confirmation of where I have existed. What I mourn in c-tine, is facing into the cup, and seeing revealed the dissonance we accepted to simply have a butt in a pew. What I pray emerges truly out of c-tine, is not how church was in the before times. I truly pray, communities of belonging are cultivated, with all the beaufitul risks that come with it.

My scariest moment, is my family standing with me, to take the step forward to risk belonging, and answering the call fully.

Amen.

Some intriguing reads for Lenten contemplation as we head towards Palm Sunday, the day Kingdom of God (belonging) met Empire Parade of Power, Money and Careers: Your Addiction to Outrage is Ruining Your Life | by Pete Ross | The Bad Influence | Medium


It is interesting in the world of business and non-profits (religious included) we float the idea of “Core Values”, yet how often do they just end up as brochure buried on a shelf or bulletin board? How often have we heard, we value all being welcome with dignity– yet accessibility projects are deferred for things such as security systems (or whom holds the power decrees is more important)?

It can be challenging during this time of year not to fall victim to the chimera created by the religious right of the war on Christmas…I have yet to meet anyone who vehemently hates Santa, or the idea of generosity. What is challenging is the man-made hate monger created image of Jesus is challenged–for these are not the core values he professed. It was never about exclusion, in fact most of the challenging teachings were directed at the religious of Jesus’ day for missing the mark– the mark? We can quote Matthew 25 around care for the poor, sick, elderly, widows, the ones society felt were toss away, but we are in the Holy Season of Advent for Christians, and it distills the core values fairly clearly:

Hope*Faith*Joy*Peace*Love

These are the core that come from the common truth, that goes back to the Creation story, and that the Prophet Isaiah reminds us of:

Image result for house of prayer for all nationsA phrase many religious gathering in the faiths of Abraham use. This idea of inclusive, but flexed for exclusion for not fully unpacking the full story:

 “And as for the outsiders who now follow me,

working for me, loving my name,

and wanting to be my servants—

All who keep Sabbath and don’t defile it,

holding fast to my covenant—

I’ll bring them to my holy mountain

and give them joy in my house of prayer.

They’ll be welcome to worship the same as the ‘insiders,’

to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to my altar.

Oh yes, my house of worship

will be known as a house of prayer for all people. (The Message, Isaiah 56:6-7)

It is laying out clearly, that all are welcome, not only welcome, but are a divine image (Imageo Dei) and authentically belong as one of God’s children blessedly created.

One cannot claim a divine-holy presence, if their presence is not open to all of the divine image, and love of God-Self-Neighbour (the Covenant– the Law & The Prophets summarized and lived out).

What is lost in belonging? What is lost is the bondage of fear, prejudice, bigotry, conflict, hate, constant grieving and greed.

What is gained?

Hope, Peace, Faith, Joy and Love.

Further resources on Inclusion/Belonging:

There was a powerful video shared about this congregation at Shelly Christensen’s speaking at the International Day of Persons with Disabilities at the JCC Calgary today, unfortunately I was unable to track down the specific link, here are some others though to provoke conversation and thought.

Bet Shalom Congregation: https://disabilitiesinclusion.org/exemplar-congregations/bet-shalom-congregation/

Apirl 2, 2009 Inclusion Video: https://youtu.be/D72NKCZlNNA

Inclusion Innovations: http://inclusioninnovations.com

 


It is a question that gets asked of me quite a bit. Why Church? In this era when most of my generation has checked out, and as frequent readers know over the years the headaches we have had with church (for some of those fun anecdotes I direct you to my memoir Soul Ripples ), everything from a pastor trying to break up my family to another stalking me from church to church to being fired in an AGM as the church did not want a youth group made up of children with disabilities…sigh….

Anyone can write the litany of why the hell not to bother with church. I mean this past Sunday I sent in a prayer request to our Calgary congregation because due to some douches (it is a very holy word I promise) bullying in the pew my son does not feel safe in worship. We are working with my son to re-discover the love of the Holy Trinity that has it his life from when he was never to leave a hospital bed to being the awesome fun loving teen ager he is today. Church was also part of that love.

See that’s the crux of it. Where many point to abuses (and yes those who abuse should be tossed, no questions asked, and turned over to appropriate authorities); or to the worship of money (go to an AGM and you will discover what your local church holds to be true about money, for more structured church services where they place things speak of its value–that is the closer to the end the higher the value). In regards to money, we visited a mentor’s church of mine this past Sunday, and offering was after the few opening worship songs, my wife had heard me pontificate about the idea of Liturgical structure, but the freedom this created in the person not to worry about money during service struck home, simple placement.

But I digress.

Do I attend with my wife and kids, as others we know speak of going- tradition, habit, and-or fear of going to the warm place with the pokey things? NO

So why the hell do I bother with church?

Simple, we attend because we believe. We believe in Love as lived by Jesus, we believe in the community birthed by the Holy Spirit, and the creation we have been given care of by the Creator.

I have seen the good of church. In my own life, it was a place to heal after a storm. I saw my kids eyes light up with wonder when they chose to be baptized.

I have seen the church as a whole activated to care for those in need, the literal homeless, ill, caring for elders, and those with dementia. Creating space for celebration of birthdays and weddings and life victories. Journeying with those in love, who are in transition or mourning.

Standing in loving justice that all are blessedly the same but gloriously different.

My Nan told stories of the church in England during the war, the place of comfort and meeting. How the Salvation Army ensured all were fed.

The children of her neighbourhood told stories no matter who they were, the Mays was always a safe place and Granddad and Nan were their second parents.

My Grandma wrote in her journals of the blessed belonging different churches created for her and my Dad and Uncle during their years.

Small groups caring for neighbours…generational homes being spaces always open for those that needed a port in a storm.

Note what is missing? Politics. Love of Money. Deciding who is Holy.

What is present, is a simple response to the Image of God before you with love and belonging.

Why do I bother, because it is in my soul– the HOPE that should and will be there with church when the Spirit moves…

The Pilgrimage continues…

Early September 2019 through the Presbyterian Church in Canada is an awesome resource coming that I was blessed to be a part of on being a church that visitors will want to call home. Watch for it!

 


It is time for Albertans to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask if we like the soul that is being reflected back at us during this campaign of hate and power grabs. The stories of vandalized candidate signs covered in misogyny, death threats, white supremacist b.s. and swastikas is but an outward sign of what we have allowed to be moved into the light as acceptable. At the least this is vandalism of property, at the most it is hate crimes and the miscreants need to be found and tried as such.

Then there is Kenney-gate’s Kamikazee candidate taking in such things as fraud, identity theft and the possibility of money laundering. Add to that the candidates going down to being revealed as anti-semites, or alt-righters. A pastor running in Calgary Mountain View, and no it is not his horrible exegesis of the passages on wives that is the issue but his support of the barbarity of conversion therapy, and another stating that wives need to give their husbands sex full stop (wtf which year are we in?)…and don’t get me started on the minimum wage arguments put forward by the party citing those with lower social capital should be paid a lower minimum wage (youth, persons with disabilities) or their virulent hate towards outing students. Or wait…veiled stand your ground laws being brought into Alberta. There are a few folks running for the United Conservative Party I know, but cannot endorse them due to the banner they are running under to them contravening the highway act and changing a safety road sign for truck clearance so it did not read 6.9. For the UCP Platform read here.

Yet there is hope Alberta. There is debate of actual things that help us coming forward. There is the Day Care funding debate, NDP stating $25/day and the Alberta Party with a well costed and thought out (oh and what I have always advocated, tax incentives for families with stay at home caregivers/parents) Read here.

For the rest of the Alberta Party platform read here.  They also have 87/87 candidates nominated and out working for support of constituents. They have strong candidates, Lana Bentley in Calgary Acadia who has been working to make the world better, and Gar Gar in Calgary East who is working to give a future to our youth, and engages them to discover how best to build community and grow hope (just ask my daughter, Justina).

If Rachel Notley has been dubbed the Lougheed Legacy, I would put the Alberta Liberals as the inheritors of the Woodsworth-Douglas legacy for amazing progressive support for citizens back stopped by sound fiscal details: Electoral Reform, Proper support for Universal Health Care; Proper support for Public Education, Gender pay equity; Read Platform here.  Oh and they have strong representation from across Alberta’s communities, including this amazing living the experience advocate Leah McRorie (read here). As well, their Leader David Khan is a man with a servant heart, wisdom and compassion. As I had tweeted earlier, I still remember him at a candidates forum showing up early, answering questions, spending time, helping with the lunch and clean up (yes, Calgary Mountain View, keep your riding Liberal!)

The Green Party of Alberta is a Red Tory-Red Grit party to use old time vernacular for you policy wonks. Following suit from encouragement from the PEI Greens they are expanding the discussion beyond just Environmental platform planks, and are well worth a look for other ideas. They are also the first party out of the gates to raise the idea of Universal Basic Income in Alberta. Read their platform here.

To the far left there is five Community Party of Alberta candidates. Here is there platform (or as they call it Program).

For those who say they staunchly are Conservative (big or small C) and will not support anything from the centre governing party New Democrats (their platform here), here are the other parties in the Provincial election and their platforms (just click on platform for the link if there is one).

Progressive Conservative Party- Still registered, but ran by UCP. No platform.

Wildrose Party-Still registered, but ran by UCP. No platform.

Alberta Advantage Party (Members of Wildrose who did not join UCP) platform

Alberta Independence Party Platform.

Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta (they were renamed from the pre-existing Western Freedom Party on April 23, 2018) Platform.

Pro-Life Political Association (Renamed from the Social Credit Party May 3, 2017). . . No platform.

Reform Party of Alberta Platform.

For all candidates running for all parties, and as independents, as well as for everything you need to know for April 16, 2019 vote day check out Alberta Elections.

It is 2019. Nazism and hate has seen a strong resurgence in our Province. Divisiveness, and mudslinging is what some are attempting to make the new norm. But there is hope. It is not a two horse race, a choice between NDP and UCP as both our governing and opposition party want you to believe. As you can see there is many choices. Many folks running to represent their neighbours in the Legislature in our capital city, Edmonton.

Take time to get to know the parties, figure out which parties resonate or independents. Then get to know the candidates. Go to the forums/debates. For me, if someone doesn’t turn up that says they want to represent me, it sends the strong message of how they will be in government– more of a lackey for the fearless leader, not a voice for the citizens. Even if they were on my list, they are not there, they are struck off.

Get a real feel if they are a person that has convictions in their beliefs, will they take a stand. I may not truck with Derek Fildebrandt’s political beliefs, but during the bubble zone debates while our official opposition was en-masse running out of the Legislature, he stuck around and spoke out for what his thoughts and amendments were. He earned some respect from me that day, for he did the job he was elected to do. Same as when Robyn Luff left the governing party and cited bullying concerns, and the 2 MLAs in her party found guilty of sexual inappropriateness but were never named. It took guts.

It takes guts to run for office, your life becomes an open book.

This election has become too ugly. We need to move out of the gutter, and back to the soap box.

What are the ideas? Why do you think you should represent us? How will you bring Peace, Order and Good Governance for ALL CITIZENS. It is time to pull the power plug on the resurgent hate. It is time to not hold our noses and vote for “the lesser of evils”. No, end that nonsense. It is time to stop accepting management in place of leadership.

It is time to vote HOPE. VOTE vision. Vote Leadership.

Vote for who you believe the best person is for your representative.

Oh and did I mention…Vote on April 16, 2019.

The only split vote, or vote not counted is…

the one not cast.


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Azeem and child discussing diversity.  Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

It was my summer of Writerific, I was 12 years old and with other young writers discovering our voices, strengthening our ability to tell stories…and yes part of that was moving into areas that some would deem controversial. It was also the summer I first picked up A Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It was the summer as well, with Robin Hood, and this great exchange between Azeem, a Moor from the Holy Land who stood with Robin Hood, and a child, who simply asks about that which she had never seen. It is a simple scene, some may never remember it, yet it is one that teaches so much about dignity and respect in a world of belonging. It teaches, curiosity is never wrong. Conversation is never wrong. Oh, and when one has a question, ask as politely as you can to the one you have the question of.

This is our mission this year (and every year) to raise the level of discourse and dignity within the community of super heroes my son is apart of. The most offensive thing (well maybe not the most, but on the royally ticking off scale) is being out and about, and a parent shuffling their child by saying don’t stare. Let your kid come up and chat with my son, he will be his loving self… Oh and adults…you have questions…don’t bypass my son and speak to us, start talking to him first.

Other pro-tips for the professional and non-professional out there to bring better dignity to our world:

  1. It is “What’s wrong with him?” rather it is, what does he use a wheel chair? What does that gesture mean? or like the child, why did God sculpt him this way?
  2. Anyone with a pulse knows (or should by now) that the R-word is as atrocious as any racial slur…regardless of how you try to use it and needs to cease. The challenge is many do not understand the root of “handicap”. Much legislation and language needs to be updated to speak of accessibility or universal design/barrier free instead of this word. Historically it was the term for those with disabilities, as they were on the lower socio-economic spectrum (poverty class) and would come cap in hand for alms. So much like in the Franciscan tradition when the term Mendicant was tossed at those monastics as a slur, so handicaps root is such…it means beggar, less than, outcast. Words matter in reclaiming dignity and belonging.
  3. Ableism is what happens without dignity (at its worst is Eugenics). The plastic straw ban is ableist, and how the religious and spiritual jumped on board to support shows their lack of understanding around the issue (please see other posts on this topic)… not only the life giving of the plastic straw for some with disabilities, but when the United Church Observer online finally after months of debating their editors changes from “plastic straws evil” to “plastic straws should be available for anyone via a fee” finally a strong stance, but one that does not understand the socio-economic history of persons with disabilities, and goes back to a misreading of the gospel from a spectrum of theology that sees less than, not full belonging (we shall see if they print my challenge to them this coming September).
  4. Diapers!!! ARGH!!! The most indignity we present to persons who are differently abled. Unless you are a newborn or a toddler, it s not a diaper or a nappy. They are undergarments that happen to have incontinence protection. Underwear. (YES CBE AND MEDICAL COMMUNITY AND ALBERTA GOVERNMENT LOOKING AT YOU!!!), the simple things make life livable, do you go around telling people oh I am going to wipe my butt now? Or hey I just left skid marks in my boxers? NO. Why assume we can treat someone else that way.
  5. Grief. Yes it is a scary world for those our society deems “typical”. We like to code to prove cognition and whether or not someone comprehends “death and grieving” for if they qualify for “counselling”. Let’s keep it real (again Alberta Education and Alberta Health looking at you, but also the Church)… at any level any child or person knows when someone was in their life and gone. They cycle through missing them, whether or not they have the ability to vocalize or communicate it in such a way that we understand. It is not on them to enter our world to heal, it is on us as their neighbour to enter their world  This is where the church women’s group from the movie Lars and the Real Girl got it right, it is about just simply being, and yes sometimes it is in the silence.
  6. Do not live in the grief/shame or inflict it upon us. That is to the world in general, and to the family unit. We are given a narrative of what a child’s life is to be. Then when something changes that narrative we are put in this place where if we choose to move out of grief/shame or the “you’re a hero for doing this” or the “it takes a special kind of person” narrative then we are ungrateful. NO! We choose to stand in the beauty of the life before us. Yes, we truly believe this is part of the rainbow of life, the beautiful image of the Holy Mystery. Everyone is who they are meant to be, and they will achieve vocational life and wholeness because we come around as community in love and belonging. The grief/shame is perpetuated when our world stops at only accessibility or inclusion.
  7. yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

    1. -James 4:14 (English Standard Version)
    2. As the words of the brother of Jesus- James, Bishop of Jerusalem, the man who was because of the love of his Mother, Mary of Nazareth, says it directly. In our world we too often let the labels, the coding, the diagnosis become the prognosis or script for life. It is time to shatter the glass ceiling for everyone in our world, and to simply know that each and everyone of us belongs. That, and the life that appears and is lived is shaped within the community from those who are blood and chosen family to broader neighbours. Are we willing to live life with out barriers?
  8. Oh, and if we are not a service being paid for out of pocket by the government or ourselves, it is not something “FOR”… if you are an elective community group (community association, church, sports leagues, etc), you are doing things “with” the person. For they are a part of the community, and as such are a full member, who like any member just needs different things to belong. Hell, even if there is a pay… the activities better be WITH, as everyone’s communication (voice however it is found) and life has value and worth…as such, deserves dignity. (Special shout out to the Presbyterian Church in Canada for using “with” language in your justice documents for persons with disabilities, and acknowledging the poverty and socio-economic disparity that exists in the community)

These are but a few ways to show love to your neighbour, and yourself. These are but a few ways to understand the answer to the child’s question to Azeem.

Better yet, look at yourself in the mirror. And simply let the inner-child ask you the question:

Did God paint you?

How does your inner Azeem answer?

Now be with your world, as the child, and as the answer.


In 1998 Mark Wills’ released a song, “Don’t Laugh at Me” (listen here) following on the idea of anti-bullying, and building on the momentum of inclusion. It was a time of hope for some, as the world had been slowly moving away from locking away that which made us uncomfortable, or victim blaming (yes I know it still existed, but there was a glimmer). In Canada through things like the Waterloo model de-institutionalization of persons who were differently abled was happening and appropriate community supports for accessibility, and inclusion were being brought online in Ontario.

As you look at the inverted belonging pyramid it was a time, and moving forward until the last few years where some strides were made. New builds were taking into account some aspects of universal design (until a boom, then it halted), and some retrofits were happening. Yet it was localized. Much like today. We look at the current existence within our community, the current demographic and that is what we retrofit to. We cannot, or more truthfully, will not think into the future. I remember being part of a church renovation that built up by multiple floors, when I spoke about building outwards for accessibility (most of the congregation at time of reno was in their 60’s) I was mocked that there would not be a reason, for the stairs over four floors were not that bad.

And then there’s the voice of the reader going– damn it can’t you just be greatful. Surely it is not as horrible as you make it out to be. There is truth to that, and there are moments of gratefulness, unfortunately I find when you lay those out the community stalls out patting themselves on the back and not moving forward anymore. It has happened when I have praised churches for what has been experienced as positive then get smacked with passive ableism (moving statements that spoke of all abilities to change it to health, back to a medical need to be healed lens).

We as a family have hovered mostly on the line in the pyramid between accessibility and inclusion. I understand the financial challenges for physical retrofits on aging buildings, so there is quite a bit of forgiveness we hold in our hearts on that. The side effect, being like the building that built up instead of out– there is much offered by communities we associate with that we cannot participate in, especially now that our kids are getting bigger.

Accessibility is the easy one to speak of that being buildings that are flat so all can be easily accessed. Or those that are older having a lift system put in and keeping it up, when it goes down prioritizing that it is fixed. As well, I do hold the Catholics and Anglicans to a high grace for inclusion in the sacraments, for even if you cannot partake of something such as Communion (Eucharist) all are welcomed forward and all can participate somehow, even if it is a blessing.

Which brings us into inclusion. The small Moravian church, that did not want to default to our daughter being the support for our son, asked us for information on both kids, their personalities and abilities so they could support them as individuals within the children’s ministry. Moments in other churches when elders would love on them. The children’s ministry leader that came and spoke directly to my son about his day, and if he wanted to come be her buddy in Sunday School, not asking us first. The lady who plans the Sonrise Easter egg hunt for the kids and searches out ways for the “super heroes” to find eggs as well as the other kids (the balloons attached to their eggs, brilliant). The folks that will say “at first we were annoyed, but once you weren’t around for a few Sundays due to your fundraising on the parades we realized the joy that him being as Spirit created him…well that was missing and so was a piece of us”. Visiting in hospital, sharing meals and households, kids playing and cutting up together.

Some of those sound like belonging to some readers I know. And if that was all the dynamics of community I would agree. Yet they are spread throughout a history within structured spirituality that has run from conservative/orthodox to progressive to metaphysical.

Why have we not left simply inclusion (a space created for you, if you earn the spot)?

Simple. Those that speak as allies, become silent when the “powers to be” in the community have their own beliefs challenged. This can be around a medical lens/deficit or realizing that to truly make the building accessible for inclusion to belonging challenged the financial drives of other projects they saw as more important and besides, the building is within “city code”.

The push becomes the shove. Where you thought belonging could be experienced, it becomes the shove out. But its okay because you have friends.

No, it is not only the Jehovah Witness’ that “shun”. They are just transparent about it.

You become shunned because, well, you challenged the paradigm and if it looks like they continue the friendship…sorry, we just aren’t strong like you to lose this community.

When you begin as a community to look at accessibility, it may be the most expensive end on a new build, or a retrofit, but it allows the circle to be drawn wider. Remember though, those two need to feed into belonging.

And that is the scariest word in any language for someone that is not seen as fitting in– belonging.

So are you one that laughs? Or one that welcomes?

Are you one that will risk being shunned…that all can belong?

 


I wish I could say that the 2018 slate of candidates for Moderator of the United Church of Canada has put a moratorium on my beliefs around the Christianities perpetuating ableism. One would think it would, especially with 34 year old Lay Candidate, Collin Phillips:

“I’ve come to see disability as just another part of the diversity of God’s Creation,” says Phillips, who uses a wheelchair and communicates via a word board. “While my disability is integral to who I am, it does not define me or my call. I know this will challenge, maybe even anger, some in the church, but I’m hoping it will deepen our understanding of inclusion.”

Meet your 2018 Moderator Candidates by Mike Milne, July-August Observer 2018 (https://www.ucobserver.org/faith/2018/07/meet_2018_moderator_nominees/)

I do hope he becomes moderator, for it would force a dialogue beyond accessibility (physically belonging in space). Hopefully challenge the outdated “must be healed to belong” b.s. of the churches and grow the circle wider (inclusion). Yet, it would take a gospel level miracle for this to happen for I do not feel the desire within the church for such a movement of the Holy Spirit in mystical discernment and understanding.

Honestly, outside of personal experience, and yes there are many progressive to conservative Christians who believe it is their right to lay hands and pray over you if you have a physically visible disability (without consent). To the idea that it is about making things accessible, but not fully comprehending the need at the most basic level that not everyone does things the same. Whether it is how they experience life (physically, mentally or spiritually) to socio-economically.  But the cynic in me grows for there have been many in leadership throughout the years who are a part of the disabilities community, and yet we are still having the same debates around RIGHT TO EXIST.

Most notably is the amount of times the UC Observer has hyped the plastic straw ban and has not been able to see beyond their own enviro-lens to a fuller belonging lens. Finally, when you can crack through you are not sure if they get it or not, and their declarative includes a surcharge (not comprehending the socio-economics of persons with disabilities).

Yes. I hope this is a breakthrough. Yes, I hope it draws the circle wider. Yet for that too. happen the church itself must wrestle with its own history and identity. It must admit that there are many great things that were birthed out of the social gospel, yet the darkest shadow of that was the plague of eugenics? Truth and reconciliation must happen on doctrine lead (Christian) pushed for locking away in institutions, less than ideology, forced sterilizations and the litany goes on.

Sadly, until that happens, it is just more lip service and tokenism, hiding in the visage of inclusion…

But refusing the most important piece of Agape—BELONGING.

Is the church ready? 

End thoughts:

  1. Considering outgoing Moderator Jordan Cantwell called for listening in this time of change…I do not see much of that in regards to the intersection of abilities.
  2. I have stood my ground as an ally for those in the mental health-disabilities community and paid the price as staff (laid off, fired, reorganized); laity/volunteer (kicked out) and friend/parent (devastated) as congregants harrassed and belittled, dehumanized those they did not see as “whole” in the Body of Christ…what would this chap as moderator mean for those within the church?
  3. Finally, Moderators travel and visit congregations– how many of the churches meet the first level of the inverted Belonging Pyramid – accessibility, and simply increase the cries of “we are so broke, we have no money.” Instead of the inward looking to community focused solutions?

Addition post General Council 43 (August 7, 2018) in Philips own words:

A moderator nominee says the majority of commissioners at General Council weren’t comfortable enough to truly engage him. Read his full thoughts here.


Daddy, we are not disabled, my buds and me are superheroes.

-My Son, Canada Day 2018

The world continually tells parents of super-heroes as my son phrases it, to mourn how they are not “typical” or “normal”. It forces us to buy into an ableist, almost eugenics think pattern. IT IS WRONG!!! Our kids live in the “we are a burden” and “we are sorry we can’t…” mindsets, because their parents and caregivers get brainwashed out of weariness into perpetuating it upon them.

And, in my humble pastoral-monastic-psychologist-Dad perspective, it is:

HORSE SHIT!

(Yes the stuff we stepped in while feeding horses and celebrating belonging and busing earlier this month as a family, with as my son phrases them, his sidekicks).

It is time to throw off the shackles of exclusion. Burst the chains that only speak of tolerance and inclusion.

Screw that.

It is time for full on belonging. We exist in the world. The world supports all, and needs to continue to provide for dignity, inclusion, and accessibility so BELONGING is the reality…and what is the benchmark to begin with for every child and human being on this planet, in our great country of Canada, province of Alberta and City of Calgary. if belonging is not the starting point– then yes we are simply lying to ourselves, and those lies are foisted upon our children so they never feel that they are good enough, healthy enough or typical enough to belong.

As the ancient mystics warned, the sins of the parents are visited upon the children. It was not some rule following. It is the world that is created when we create camps of others, or burden, and as parents do not celebrate the beauty in life.

Whether your child or self, identifies within the community as special needs, complex learning needs, disabled, differently abled, or as my son, super hero. Know that belonging is a human right. It is where our country states we begin the conversation. The essentials needed for that to happen should never be up for debate, and that is where the fight should be. That everyone needs different things to belong, and if it is medical, holistic or social supports or equipment that are necessary for that to happen that is okay.

Each person’s path in life is different. There is no such thing as typical or normal.

It is time to celebrate our beautiful diversity that exists under the Maple Leaf, and know that he Just Society is not a myth.

On this Canada Day… Celebrate the beautiful life that exists.

spong4Parents of children with disabilities are conditioned to live in perpetual grieving and mourning. They are conditioned by a world that always views their child as deficient, less than. It creates a trauma and grief that is then foisted upon the child. It is encouraged in the religious sphere through the lens that “healing” is needed before belonging, not realizing belonging is what simply is.

For my son, he sees his super powers (blessings) as his bi-focal good eye, his rolly eye, his elasticity of speech, his Cerebral Palsy, his incredible strength of his non-paralyzed side, his ADD that aids in exploration and multi-tasking, his deep empathy and love, his simple acts of kindness.

Some say we shield because we do not have time for communities of all shapes that embrace him as the boy he is. But I ask you, why should we bother supporting communities that say he does not belong?

My son, like his sister who does life her own way, is a child of the world…and we celebrate the amazing, inquisitive, superhero he is in transforming this world for the better each and every day.

The question is to the adults of this world:

Are you ready to remove your conditioning?

Are you ready to celebrate?

 


There is still one group that folks can dump on, and take out hate on without being called to account each time. I know it may sound shocking, but it is true. How do I know? There has been very few to no apologies for historic atrocities birthed out of religious beliefs that grew into eugenic government policies. Rarely are they mentioned when speaking of the Stalin era and Nazi Holocausts, even though millions were experimented on before the final solution was given to them—backed by both atheists and theists.

History also speaks of forced sterilizations, pushes for aborting (and infanticide). Shame that it is because of sin (personal or family). Abusive institutionalization that if it was war hospitals would have violated the Geneva Convention. Before that, cast outside the city, into the garbage dumps.

Vastly overlooked, very few knew this past week was Accessibility Week, which culminates on Sunday June 3 with Disability Pride.

So misunderstood that the monotheistic faiths spoke of “healing” as a means so they could belong and be welcomed again. Yet, it was Jesus who showed that it was us who had created the false separation:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

-Gospel of John (New International Version) 9:1-7

Many will see this lived teaching of Brother Jesus (amongst his other healing) as a call that there is something deficient within the person, yet that is not what is happening. The people asking the question (as those today) are the blind ones, it was only by the act of removing their neighbours blindness could they see the belonging.

Yet we fixate on the “otherness” and the “not like usness”. We may clean up language, but there is still a world filled with saying you do not belong:

  • R-Word use excuse “yeah but I mean it in the medical way.” FTS—only the most backward practitioner still uses it is a diagnostic with terms such as global delay, developmental delay available. You are the Neanderthal that still assumes other racists-prejudice language is okay and excusable.
  • Environmental push to end the plastic straw and literally attacking the community when they point out the need. You are exclusionary, and laying the plank work for eugenic beliefs of less than to exist—you are the one asking who sinned…
  • The “I am just running in” and taking up the accessible (permit only) parking stall—while ignoring the idling vehicle with the permit…for those who know the show New Girl, this is the type of thing that would get Schmidt to put money in the jar.
  • The School Board Superintendent that states the only reason a parent is stressed over busing is because they chose not to end a pregnancy.
  • The tsking church member at children for making noise, but then excuses the child with Autism (yes treating different is the same thing).
  • Or be the tsking church member stating “they do not belong here.” (or the one in the pulpit kicking them out for making a joyful noise).
  • Or the person that believes they need healing and so will invade personal space without consent to lay hands on for prayer
  • Or refuse to pray when they have an operation, because if they pass it is God’s will.
  • Shaming community/family into always grieving the “should’ve/would’ve/could’ve of a life.
  • Complaining that budgets can’t be made because of “those people with disabilities”
  • Being the City of Calgary and ranking sidewalks, bike paths, public paths, and public cut outs and public transit stops as low priority so mobility device users are left as shut ins during winter.
  • Event planners that have no way for full inclusion.
  • Are the agency that toss a new staff into changing an incontinent client, without taking into account that is a very intimate work and perhaps even if you do not believe the person is cognitively aware, still deserves respect.
  • Argue over what a living wage pension is for someone that cannot work, but finds meaning in volunteering.
  • Strips universal pharma care when they become a senior
  • Share the “short bus” or “window licking” meme jokes on social media and wonder why there is outrage.
  • Speak of vaccines being the cause—when if there is not proper vaccinations lives are at risk.
  • Showing up for support work sick because well, a little cold or flu won’t be harmful to the compromised immune system.
  • Grief and mental health support are not necessary because they don’t understand…
  • Shaming individuals for weakness because of equipment or pharmaceutical needs.

And yes the list can go on for ever… and I am sure many readers can add their own stories. It is when you remain in the unenlightened, not letting the Mystery churn, that these points are where you live. You completely miss what Jesus meant by the glory revealed. That is, that the they could see what was told about the beauty of God in creation:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind (humanity) in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

-Genesis (NIV) 1:26

The introductory poem to the texts of the Hebrew Bible does not rhyme words as in English. It rhymes ideas, concepts to show the true interconnectedness of the created cosmos. Not to answer the how it happened question, but the WHY? Why did this come together like this? For us to live, and grow and as Day 6 reflects, humanity in all its forms are reflections of the Holy Mystery. We must release the fear/hatred/prejudice that sees difference as less than. Jesus was asked who sinned…No one was his response. The person reflects the beauty of the cosmic spark of life. To truly show that everyone belongs, and that with allowing for authentic belonging, life needs to be done differently. We need to be like the child.

That is open to all as neighbour-friend. No labels. Just knowing what needs to be done to the building, civic design, laws, legislation, policies, governmental money entitlements, universalizing health care and pharmacare. The example laid out in the gospel, that was the 6th day of ancient Hebrew poetry. We are all here for a reason. We take all forms. We are here to support one another, where one has an ability, another has a weakness. We are all different. Really it is the underlying ethos of many belief systems (religious or not) that are put aside. We are neighbours, individuals (and possibly ourselves) who experience life as a person with a disability-differently abled- complex needs- special needs—choose the term the person uses to identify themselves with (as with gender, it is not hard folks).

As the circle is danced wider, we as humans cannot rationalize not having a scapegoat. Sadly, that scapegoat can still be seen as the differently abled (as my son chooses to identify) or myself with a rather unique brain mapping that confounds most outside of my own brain. Yet we can still be looked down upon, still pushed and pointed at.

What is wrong with you?

Is the new sneered question. One asked many times of my son in religious settings. Though he was fully embraced by those I had served who themselves were marginalized, his passion for loving others was encouraged and so was his curiosity.

What is wrong with you? Has the world’s most simple answer:

NOTHING.

If you cannot experience that, then perhaps the question needs to be, what is blocking you from fully being present in community with your neighbour? What is stopping you from being apart, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu phrased it, the rainbow family of God?

We are apart of the beautiful rainbow family that is humanity, with celebrating and living into our diversity we are stronger.


I had the privilege several weeks ago to be a guest on Light News Radio where we discussed a multitude of topics, as I phrased it after, the old data banks haven’t had such a work out for awhile. Yet the heart of the show was the discussion of moving beyond inclusion to belonging. For regular readers, you know I have been in the midst of re-discovering how my brain works, and the journey continues. The show had two times when there was dead time:

  • The shameless self-promotion. For those who know me, have taken courses from me, or been apart of groups/programs I have run know that this is just simple uncomfortable for myself. Some may call it humility, I simply put it out as the things that I have been blessed to be apart of, congealed together in the right moments with those the Holy Mystery intended to be apart of it. I have several books and articles across the last 33 years that share the experience, pieces I have aided have become political party policy, and sometimes pieces of legislation and laws. But the best is when someone who thought they had no place to belong finally find that safe zone to grow into the authentic them from. One friend keeps reminding me when we meet for spiritual coaching/direction “If you could get self-promotion you would be bigger that Wayne Dyer.” I simply laugh it off, just cause we’re bald doesn’t mean anything. But I do thank Deirdre on the radio for the highest compliment I can be paid, “you walk your talk.”
  • Your journey: this is the question when you can literally if you are listening close enough you can hear me having one of my neuro-glitches, thank you Dr. J and Deirdre for carrying the conversation until I came around. What was missed though is what I would like to share now. I have been blessed to find belonging in the midst of change. I live in the same house I was brought home from the hospital from, my family bought it from my folks, and yes it was the first house built on the block. I love where I live. NE Calgary is the world outside your door step. We are a midst of the socio-economic classes, spiritualities, we have shared accommodations, renters (market, affordable and Calgary Housing Company) and homeowners (and guess what, how one pays for their home does not entail if they are a good neighbour) and cultures that make the mosaic of the human race beautiful (98.5% non-western European descent, did a study on it in seminary circa 2006 when I was a Franciscan serving an Anglican parish). Our communities were built before Calgary forgot what planning entailed so we are well resourced with a hospital, malls, grocery stores, schools (public and separate, and all grades); the highest numbers of churches per capita with the lowest percentage of residents that are Christian (circa 2006-7 data). Like any community there has been places that have accepted us, and scorned us. My daughter got the fun in her pre-school years to explain Good Friday as “we are going to the church that baptized Daddy and killed Jesus” (as I was the first baby on a baptismal roll) to her being able to be the second generation to attend a Presbyterian Vacation Bible School in our community (it is one of the little churches that could). It is a place where I was able to be at the cornerstone laying ceremony for Canada’s largest Mosque. Where we learned as students to be a good citizen means to constructively query those in power, and hold to account for what needs to happen. Through actions of my family and neighbours learn how to support one another. It is where as we raise my son, we know that there are enough oldsters around to watch out for him (and my daughter) and enough newbies his smile and laughter had ingratiated him to them they will watch out for him.

This community had multiple religions in my Alliance Church pre-school as a child, and allowed for curiosity, open exploration of other understandings of religion and the world. We accepted openly refugees (the Vietnamese boat people) and lived out the mosaic ideal of Multi-Culturalism. I remember my elementary school spear heading the first special needs class room for the CBE, and y’know what those 3 kids were just part of our community.

It is a place from my vantage point where I mourn the entrenchment and extremist hate I see once again resurfacing in my country, for there will be those that will miss the beauty of a world where there is no other, only a family member we have not met. It is where my family openly discussed differing political viewpoints; shared the importance of acceptance, of women’s rights, where my Nan shared the story of her gay cousin who took his life and how that was wrong over someone for how God made them. Hearing my Grandma Ragan having tossed American troops from her Montreal diner for their racism. My Grandpa Joe winning a humanitarian of the year award. My Granddad and Nan, hearing how their home was the safe home in their community, a sanctuary for the loving parents no matter who you were.

The type of home my parents made for my brother and I and our friends. My brother was more social than I, but our home was open. It was the safe place, and yes our friends no matter our age referred them as “my brother’s name or Ty’s” Mum & Dad. That is the lesson of belonging. As my family grew into the space there are many things and those stories by those we have called friend are there’s to share. My family simply saw our neighbour, and opened ourselves up to friendship, and sometimes became the family that is not made with blood and DNA.

The lived journey is what brought me to understand belonging. The messy process that is missed in data sets, codifications, and labels. It is what lead me down many educational paths to get the skills necessary when presented with new situations and challenges. When I speak of the question “who is my neighbour?” it is about creating a space beyond accessibility, inclusion and affirmation.

It is creating a home of belonging where you feel open to drop by, pop in, share a meal or a cuppa. Whether it is just needing a place to be, or explore a book or a movie, chat, games, let the kids be kids…or simply abide until the pain passes or to share the joy. That is the journey of belonging and the heart understanding I bring to the pathway.

The Radio Show