Everyone Complete in Christ
by Ros Dakin, Training Resources Developer. This post was originally featured on her own blog - take a look by following this link
I recently applied (successfully, praise God!) for the job of Training Resources Developer with Through the Roof, a charity whose mission is to change lives through disabled people; a mission it accomplishes by providing life-changing opportunities for disabled people, and equipping churches to do the same. As part of the interview process I had to prepare a presentation which included a Biblical theology of disability.
I have been teaching disability awareness in schools and colleges for many years, but I had never before sat down and thought through the Biblical basis for what I was so passionate about. Here are some of my thoughts – not all of which could be included in my presentation because of time, but all of which I wrote down and thought through as part of my preparation.
When we look at the Biblical basis for anything, our first starting point has to be Jesus. He was the most inclusive person ever to walk this earth. He embraced the other gender (women, obviously!), people of other ethnicities (such as the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter he healed), other faiths (such as the centurion who undoubtedly worshipped Roman gods) and those of other social classes (such as tax collectors and prostitutes). Some have even argued that, in Roman culture, it’s highly likely that the servant healed by Jesus was also the centurion’s gay partner. Certainly Jesus had no hesitation in welcoming unreservedly people whose behaviour he could not and did not sanction, such as the woman taken in adultery, or the young ruler whose greed held him captive to his money.
In particular, Jesus always saw beyond the disability to the whole person. That’s why he did not allow the woman who touched the hem of his garment to slink away anonymously but called her forward publicly, honoured her faith, and ensured that she was not simply physically healed, but made whole. Whereas the church has at times seen disabled people as a collection of body parts – blind eyes in need of sight, perhaps, or cerebral palsied legs in need of healing and strength. I am personally convinced that healing is a part of what Jesus’ atonement won for us, and I am committed to praying for people to be healed, and expecting to see God’s power at work in them. I am also convinced of God’s sovereignty and that He doesn’t have to deal with everyone I encounter in the way that I tell Him to!
The trouble is that often, in our eagerness to see disabled people healed we, the non-disabled members of Christ’s church, have overlooked their current worth and potential, and have given them the message “you’re not acceptable the way you are” – and I’m certain that Jesus never made anybody feel that way. On the contrary, in one of His parables, Jesus mentioned disabled people as those who should be given pride of place at the feast table in His kingdom. As we read the Gospel accounts of his encounters with disabled people, it’s easy to picture the delight on His face as He set them free not just from their physical limitations, but from the limiting self-image their disability had imposed on them, and showed them the glory of their true self as God had first created them to be.
There are some Old Testament stories, too, that should inform our attitudes towards disabled members of our communities. When David became king of Israel, he looked for someone of the house of Saul to whom he could show kindness for his friend Jonathan’s sake. The only surviving member of Saul’s family was Mephibosheth. At the time of the overthrow of Saul’s house, his nurse had picked him up to run to safety but had fallen with him in her arms, leaving him with a permanent disability. David welcomed him as part of his household, and for the rest of his life he ate at the king’s own table. It struck me as I read this passage in 2 Samuel 9 firstly, that David did not pity Mephibosheth because of his disability. It was who he was – Jonathan’s son – that dictated David’s response to him. His disability was irrelevant. Secondly, when David discovered that Saul’s only living relative was a disabled man, that didn’t alter his intent towards him. He honoured him exactly as he would have done if he had been a strong warrior. And finally, the whole story provides a wonderful metaphor for the church, with disabled and non-disabled people seated side by side, with equal honour, at the table in God’s kingdom.
I also looked at the story in 2 Kings 7 of four men with a contagious skin disease who were living as outcasts from the community of Israel. At a time when their own people were reduced to such a level of starvation that they had actually resorted, in their desperation, to cannibalism, these four men discovered the enemy camp deserted and full of food and other spoils and provisions. Rather than keep this good fortune to themselves, they said, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.” So they went and shared their good news with the rest of their community. This strikes me as a very powerful metaphor for the church, with disabled people not seen as outcasts or victims to be pitied, but as active contributors to the life and health of God’s people.
I also thought about St Paul’s vision for the church. In Colossians 1.28 he sets out his mission statement, “To present everyone complete in Christ.” Every time someone new comes through the doors of our church or expresses a desire to add themselves to us, we should be asking, “What does this person need, to become complete in Christ?” It would be silly to ask what do disabled people need to become complete in Christ – a bit like asking what do the blue-eyed, or the left-handed, need to become complete in Christ? The answer is that we are all individuals, each with our own relationship with God. As with anyone else in the church, a disabled church member needs people to get to know them, to learn what their gifting is, where they can serve and build up the church, and what their weaker areas are, where they could use support and encouragement from the rest of the body of Christ.
Legend has it that in Mediaeval France the Catholic Church taught that people with learning disabilities were placed by God in communities in order that people should be able to reverence and honour them as they would reverence and honour Christ Himself. These people became known as “Chréstiens”, Little Christs. This word – at first with no derogatory connotation – came into the English language as the word cretin, which sadly, like so many other terms surrounding disability, became devalued, and degenerated into an offensive insult.
It is very important that as we seek to allow disabled people to play their full part in the life of the church, we make sure to use inclusive language. When I was the Disability Advisor at a College of Further Education, I attempted to ban the use of the term “special needs” because it seemed to me to be just another way of isolating disabled students and making them feel different from everybody else, and because I had heard children in the playground at my daughter’s school hurling it as a term of abuse at one another. The origin of the term “handicapped” is in dispute, but one possibility is that it dates back to the days when it was thought that disabled people were fit only to beg for a living, and would sit patiently hoping that you would place your hand in their cap with a donation for them. For this reason, handicapped is felt quite keenly by many disabled people as a demeaning term, and I would like to see it eliminated from our vocabulary as Christians. If this seems like “political correctness gone mad” it’s worth considering the words of Jesus, that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks”. It’s the language we use casually and unthinkingly that reveals the attitudes we really harbour in our hearts towards one another.
In preparing my presentation, I reflected on a book I read many years ago, the autobiography of Rev Alyn Haskey who I was privileged to meet a few times before his sad death last year. In his book he described an incident when he was training for ordination. All the students were in the dining hall when the fire alarm sounded. They all jumped up and evacuated the building leaving Alyn, who could not propel his own wheelchair, sitting at the table. A few minutes later one of his fellow students came running back in very upset and said, “I’m so sorry Alyn, I forgot you were in a wheelchair!” Alyn observed that it was one of the best moments of his life, because people had stopped seeing his wheelchair and were seeing him for the person that he really was.
So for me it’s going to be a real privilege to serve the body of Christ in my new role by helping churches to see the wealth of gift and beauty that God has placed among them in the form of many disabled people.
'The Father Listens' - The January 2014 Come Fishing
Here's the January 2014 'Come Fishing' recording from Jenny Edwards and DCF - an hour packed full with music, prayer, inspiration, stories and news, to bring in the new year.
- Follow this link to listen to the January 2014 Come Fishing, or Right-Click on the link to download and listen later
(The photo on the page shows a group of DCF holidaygoers chatting on the Babbacombe holiday)
International Missions Day - 1st March 2014
All Welcome! Anyone interested in International Mission at Through the Roof is invited to attend this day - from supporters to current team members, past team members to people just wondering what we're all about!
This will be an opportunity to :
- Meet together with old and new friends
- Share ideas and opportunities for International Mission
- Pray and discuss ideas for the year ahead
Date: Saturday 1st March
Venue: Through the Roof Office - Unit B1, Aviary Court, 138 Miles Road, Epsom KT19 9AB
Time: 10am- 2.30pm
(Tea, coffee and a light lunch will be provided)
The day will begin with a chance to pray for the current partners, countries, teams and work of Through the Roof, followed by a presentation. We'll then divide into groups to share ideas and draft an action plan for the future. By the end of the day we should all have a shared vision for international mission in 2014.
Please bring your ideas, prayers and suggestions for us to share together. We'd be grateful for numbers in advance so we can plan refreshments etc. Contact Reninca either by email at Reninca@throughtheroof.org
or direct line 01372 737 044
When I was born just after Christmas 25 years ago, my parents were in deep shock to find that I had no eyes.
As a result of my lack of sight, my mum said it felt like I was her first baby, not her 7th. She said that not being able to make eye contact with me, was so hard. For one thing, each time she went to pick me up I would jump and cry because I had been startled by 2 hands coming from nowhere!
Mum and dad learned to adapt, and to do things slightly different, for example, talking to me as they walked towards me so that I would know they were there before they picked me up. Mum told me recently that when she thought about Christmas for the first few years after I was born, she really struggled to know what to get me. She said she didn’t know how I would ever like christmas, since she new I couldn’t see the pretty lights and decorations, or look at the christmas tree, or peak at the brightly wrapped presents underneath it. She couldn’t buy me picture books, or toys or games that required reading or visual cues. I have no idea why she was worried though, since from as far back as I can remember, I have always loved Christmas!
I still look forward to it each year with the same excitement I had as a child! When people tell me that “christmas is really for the kids” I strongly disagree! Maybe that means I’m more in touch with my inner child than with my outer adult, but it doesn’t bother me! I love the smells at christmas: oranges are normally eaten in abundance at this time, and although I don’t like them myself, the smell of them reminds me of christmas.
My mum has always made her own christmas cake, and the smells of the mixed fruit ad sherry it contains as it cooks spreads right through the house. We also make stuffing, and I remember being allowed to feed the blender with bits of bread, slices of onion, and bunches of parsley under the close supervision of my parents or sisters when I was younger. Chopped parsley and onion have their own, very strong smell which is great for the sinuses if you happen to have a cold. The scent of the tree (we always had a real one for this reason) combined with the distinctive smell and crackle of the open fire and all the other delicious odors combined to make a special christmas perfume which I wish I could bottle. I would probably call it “Christmas Cocktail”.
The sounds at Christmas are also important to me. As I have said, mum likes to cook her own christmas cakes, and she also cooks her own christmas puddings. She starts the cake in early October to give it time to mature. The christmas pudding normally gets cooked at the beginning of November, and the sound of hissing pressure cookers has always been to me one of the first audible signs that Christmas is on its way again at long last! They hiss so loud that it makes everything sound slightly muffled, a bit like an old film or radio program when the quality wasn’t quite as good as today's. I love the carols at christmas, and of course, the atmosphere when shopping is amazing! I used to be really good and do all my Christmas shopping in October. I loved the hustle and bustle of the streets which were not too crowded then. This year however, what with the wedding, Christmas sort of crept up on me! So I was shopping right up to christmas eve! But its still fun!
I love the thrill of buying someone something you know they will like, and wrapping it up wondering what they will say when they open it! I put a lot of thought into presents, and love giving them as much as receiving them!
One of the things I’ve always longed to do, and God willing its an ambition I’ll realize this year, is to sing Christmas carols in somewhere like the Grand Arcade Cambridge where the acoustics are amazing, and raise money for TTR while singing my favorite carols! I have always thought the sound of live music is one of the best things ever! Especially at christmas time. It seems to make everybody happier somehow. One of the advantages of living on a village market square is that we hear anyone who comes to carol sing on the square from our sitting room, and can stand outside our front door and enjoy it! That’s what I did this year when the local middle school came to sing! It was lovely!
Our church also takes a stand on the square at the christmas market and sing carols, and give out leaflets on our christmas services!. For a couple of years, we did door to door carol singing. Another christmas highlight for me is carols round my parents house. We wheel the piano into the kitchen, get some chairs from church and fetch down the carol books and invite people to come and sing with us!
This year as well as the gathering with the church people, we did a lot of singing as a family. We haven’t had the opportunity before since none of us play the piano, but since I have married an organist who doesn’t mind playing the piano, problem solved! Another thing I love is the family togetherness! We have a big family, and its normally at christmas that everyone gets together. It means my mum cooks for upwards of 30 people, and you basically have to fight for a spare chair and guard it with your life, but its a lot of fun! Of course then, there’s the food!!! I absolutely love turkey! And although I don’t like christmas pudding or christmas cake, I am very partial to some ice cream and condensed milk, which I only let myself indulge in over Christmas! All the sausage rolls for tea, chocolate log, and caramel squares too! Plus the sound of the children laughing and playing with their new presents and pulling crackers is magical! I’ve always loved the sound of unwrapping presents, and especially as we all open ours at once. Its all chatter and laughter and paper ripping everywhere and it is such a special atmosphere to me!
I never put my presents away until the new year, I keep the stocking my mum gives me in its bag and add in all the presents I get from other people too, just to make it last that bit longer. I suppose I’m afraid that if I put them away, it will feel less like Christmas!
I have left the most important bit till last though! I love Christmas most because it's when God sent his only son into the world as a tiny baby, to live on earth as a child like every other child, then to grow into the man who died on the cross to save us from our sins. It always amazes me, that, as Stuart Townsend puts it in “Joy has Dawned”, “Hands that set each star in place, Shaped the earth in darkness, Cling now to a mother's breast, Vulnerable and helpless.”. I only heard that carol at christmas last year, but it sums it up so well. So my mum shouldn’t have worried. I love christmas! I love it for the food, the presents, the family, the atmosphere, the cold weather which means I get to ware my favourite fluffy jumpers, the sounds and the smells. All her efforts were not wasted.
But most of all, I love Christmas because it was here that God’s plan for us to be made right with him began to unfurl. Jesus is the best present of all. I have had some wonderful gifts this christmas, but the best and most precious is Jesus.
Where is the Wheels Warehouse?
Here's an address and map for our Wheels for the World warehouse in Aldershot...
Fairfax Industrial Estate,
Please call the office on 01372 749955 to arrange a time to drop off wheelchairs or meet with staff.
Oh Happy Day! Songs to lift the soul
We're delighted that the Brandenburg Choral Festival this month includes a Gospel concert helping to raise funds for TTR!
Taking place on Sat 25th January, 8.00pm at St Clement Danes (The Strand, London, WC2R 1DH) the concert will feature the DTWG, Gospel Touch and Reverence Choirs and promises an evening of music to lift the soul.
Tickets are £18 per adult and £5 per child and should be purchased in advance - please email Alison in the Through the Roof office for further details.