Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reflections: Day 3 #SITD Dallas

The great thing about this conference is every session is engaging, stimulating, and simultaneously disturbing.  One's mind is troubled and is forced to re-hash systems of thought while rejoicing in what God is doing.  This is an exhausting process.

Which makes Day 3 challenging  -- great speakers and sleepy eyes.  Yet they kept me in rapt attention. On the third day, our focus was on the intersection of disability theology and missiology.  As a pastor in a denomination with roots in the 20th century missions movement (Assembly of God), I love this topic.  It was also the topic of one of my early lectures in 2005 on the intersection of missiology and Christian special education at a NACSPED conference.

Judith Snow appeared via a pre-recorded video and then a live Skype interview from Canada. (Thankfully for me, her talk was captioned -- I've struggled this week listening to lecturers without closed captions -- I usually do OK conversationally if I'm directly in front of someone and can read their lips -- which is hard to do in conferences).

Early on, Judith presented her image of God and the church aided by an imaginative disability friendly lens -- God is a paraplegic -- who requires a host of personal care attendants to do (his) work.  This metaphor quickly brings to mind that of some of my other friend's (with disability) discourses on God and the church -- God must have cerebral palsy -- because (his) body doesn't follow (his) commands.  Both these images are helpful to me in the light of I Corinthians 12.  Yet, I am aware that these comments would be considered by others to be too daring in reshaping a picture of Christ.  These illustrations, however, point to the mission of God (missio Dei), the Johannine's "works of God glorified", the Great Commission (variants in Mark, Matthew, and Acts), and my own pentecostal understanding of Acts 2.  Judith reminds us that the gifts of God are distributed throughout the soma (body) of Christ and that even those things which may be annoying, even disturbing, are often God's gifts for which all of us must be receptive.  For the church, as the body of Christ, to effectively spread the eschatological evangel, persons with and with out disabilities must have a space to mutually share, touch, and affirm one another with their charisms (gifts).

Ben Connor @ SITD 2014 Dallas
Dr. Ben Connor (whose book I reviewed last year) continued the missiological theme in the afternoon by illustrating the proccess of creating Orthodox icons as a metaphor for the body of Christ. Delving into the start of the modern mission movement (Edinburgh 1910) he drew upon the insights of Bishop Leslie Newbegin in the 1970's.  While the archaic language of his call to action alongside those with disabilities is problematic, the spirit in which it was written is not.  Those of us who have studied Newbegin and missiology realize his role in shaping the Christian movement in India against culture and privileging the marginalized.  A fellow pastor attendee from India -- Raj -- and I chatted after the session, rejoicing in the legacy that the Indian church has made.  Perhaps as a surprise to us in the western context, the Indian church has many more people with multiple disabilities in clergy and pastoral positions.

As always, I enjoy Ben's work -- it comes from a position of passionately working alongside youth with special needs for twenty years. If you want to read more about the formation of missio dei, I would suggest reading his book -- Amplifying Our Witness alongside John Flett's the Witness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen!  (Eph. 3.20-21 ESV)