On February 25/12, UCiM will be sharing space with Barrier-Free MB, in order to offer faith communities in Winnipeg some time to reflect on pending/developing legislation in Manitoba. This legislation mirrors a process similar to what has unfolded in Ontario around endeavouring to make public spaces accessible to all citizens, which is known as the Accessibility Standards. Now you may be reading this blog and wondering what this has to do with UCiM … and that is the place from which I have begun to reflect.
One of the literary genres that was contemporary during Jesus’ ministry was called Miracle Stories. Anyone worth telling a story about had to be a healer. And, even a quick scan of our Sacred Stories, clearly illustrates that Jesus was at the top of the class … he even tops the Miracle Stories with an actual resurrection!
Too often, however, I would suggest we, as those who endeavour to be Disciples in this ministry we have come to call Christianity, get stuck at the Miracle itself. That has, in turn, been most harmful to many people. Those who are ill – suffer chronic pain, experience that their own bodies have become their enemy, whose physical body may seem sound but their neuro-chemical balance is askew and thus suffer the silent challenges of mental illness – have suffered from a Christianity that holds up Jesus’ healing miracles as a cure from ailment, if only we pray hard enough or believe strongly enough.
Furthermore, certain Christian theologies have espoused that wholeness, therefore, must mean that bodies are fully functional. And, most harmfully, the men and women in our midst are dismissed, even though they long to be part of an egalitarian Christian community. Yet, contrary to the potential modelled by Jesus’ own ministry, they are shunned by our cultural indoctrination into this circular formula:
It is my belief, however that the Miracles Stories point beyond themselves not to curing but to healing from the various kinds of discrimination that have always existed in our human condition. Those who are different – pick your ‘ism or ‘phobia – must be kept away from those of us who imagine we are normal. In Christian tradition, this normalcy has – unfortunately – been equated with purity. Without acknowledging this history, therefore, we simply perpetuate keeping people apart and isolated from one another.
The Accessibility Standards, which are now before the Manitoba Legislature, highlight a long tradition of Christianity that too often is silenced when human systems maintain who is in and who is out. For members of the Early Church all people were welcomed into the communities in which they endeavoured to live. Regardless of all the ‘isms that surrounded them in the culture of the day – a Roman context – men and women chose to live with one another, shared their resources corporately and recognised that all present were God’s Beloved Children. And these Christian groups were composed of lepers, the poor, criminals, wealthy, and children. The gauge of living into this ideal was not who was excluded, but the degree to which all were accepted. As UCiM itself and our larger denominational context – The United Church of Canada – wrestles with the developments within the secular world, I believe we have to look into the mirror and ask how and where are we being called to act as a Christian expression in the 21st Century.
Any legislation is often written in legalese and this can feel intimidating. But I believe that the intent behind the legislation complements our historical endeavour to welcome all within our midst; to accept people for who they are; and to recognise the gifts that are inherently theirs. Just one example of a Christian experience that endeavours to see the Holy within all are L’Arche Communities, in which they attempt to live into mutuality with men and women who live with developmental disabilities. But even this expression, for some, may still feel exclusive. This opportunity that Barrier-Free MB advocates within our Manitoba context feels like a logical continuation of the work of mutual respect and mutuality. In Christian language, this might mean we live into the Kingdom to Come now – it is the reality of a New Creation. This Kingdom to Come is not some metaphysical otherworldliness. It lies in conscious choices to challenge ourselves and to push both our own faith communities and support direct action. Such action must advocate that until the barriers that separate us from one another are deconstructed and dismantled we simply preserve the systems we know do not heal, but cause harm. This harm occurs to both bodies & souls that are often housed in the same person whom we should not see as the Other, but as our Sister & Brother!