Yesterday I stared reading Summer Kindard’s new book, Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability. I’m a little over 100 pages in (out of a total of around 260) and so far it’s perhaps the best single book I know of on disability in the local church.
Kinard is autistic, as well as the mother of numerous autistic children. She’s also Eastern Orthodox, a tradition within Christianity that tends to have a better grasp of the embodied nature of the Christian faith. Both of these facts are related to why it’s so good.
I’m sure I’ll post more about the book later. But for now, let me just say this: if you want to read a book that will give you a better sense of the importance of making your church welcoming (theologically) and concrete steps for doing this (the specifically practical part of the theology), then I’d encourage you to order a copy. Read it. And then loan it to others in your congregation.
On just the fourth page of the book, Kinard talks about how the range of ‘families with disabilities’ includes non-disabled parents of disabled children, disabled adults (with or without children), and disabled parents of disabled children. I wrote in the margin “she gets it,” since she’s not just limiting her thoughts to the first of these groups. And she does get it. Really well.
Since Kinard is Orthodox, she engages with a lot of Orthodox theologians. Here’s a lovely bit of text from Fr. John Chryssavgis she quotes:
Our ministry to children and adults with disability presents us with more than a chance to serve our neighbor. It presents us with a challenge to our culture where worldly imaged (rather than God’s image) is a priority, where ideal perfection is valued and weakness disdained, and where virtues alone are emphasized and failures concealed. it is a witness to the centrality and visibility of the Cross in our lives and in our intentions. (27)
Here are just a few small snippets of text to give you a foretaste.
The “disabled body is already the seed of her eternal, resurrected body, a body that God deems worthy of saving and bringing into the fullness of joy” (32).
“I’m looking for a church that won’t ask me to leave” (50).
“All of us are healed and all of us become [fully] human by dying in Christ” (67).
“Salvation is not a solitary endeavor” (76).
“Be attentive to the person, not curious about his or her disability” (86).
“The first thing to do is believe them when they tell you about their disabilities” (97).
Notice the emphasis on listening to and learning from the disabled individual, and making the community good for them rather than trying to force them to fit into the community as it currently is.
As the saying goes, “nothing about us without us.”