Monday, September 19, 2016

Let's Talk About Faith Part 16: Conclusion

Previously on Let's Talk About Faith:  Introduction / Pre-Church / Confirmation / Saved / Jump / Healing / Mission / Prayer / TheOnly / Work / Leadership / Bible Study / Mental Health I / Mental Health II / Mental Health III /

Talking about faith for the past few months has been difficult, cathartic and necessary.  In order to change how people with disabilities are received in a church or other faith-based environment, I felt I had to open up and share the reality of what my experience in church has been like.  And while there have been glimpses of acceptance and opportunities to be a part of things, it has mostly been painful.

Nearly a decade after setting foot in a church, speaking about Christianity feels a bit like ripping a band-aid off a gaping wound.  I feel vulnerable and judged.  I feel unsafe and out of place.  While I understand that not all churches are places where we, with disabilities are singled out, that has been my experience.

So, what do I believe in now?

[Image is: a black and white closeup shot of me smiling.]


FAITH IN THE UNIVERSE:

My beliefs have expanded since attending The Edge.  I no longer feel constrained by the narrow world-view that church preached.  While I feel oppressed by what the Bible says about my community, and I feel objectified by God, I believe in the universe.  I believe in putting out positive energy.  I don’t know if I believe in God the way a typical Christian might because my experience of God has been very different, and He does not conjure a sense of security in me.

I don’t believe the universe is an accident.  I don’t believe people are an accident.  I believe disabled people are meant to be here.  We have a right to live our lives, to draw breath, to exist in this space and to human rights and dignities that everyone in the majority possesses.

I believe that even when we die, we are not gone.  I believe that we leave traces of ourselves behind.  Echoes of our presence.  I believe that spirits can linger here long after death and I take comfort in that.

Today, if you ask me to pray for you, I will not deny you that.  I will appeal to Him for you because it is what you need.  I know what it is like to have something you are not comfortable with pushed on you, and I won’t do that.  I promise.  I still have friends who are Christians, who I love and respect, and we understand that faith is a tricky subject, so we take care when discussing it together.

FAITH IN LOVE:

One of the greatest things that has come from writing this faith series is the opportunity it provided for me to reconnect with Pastor Sarah.

We had not been in touch in twenty years, but while I was writing about my confirmation experience, I tried again to look her up.  This time, I found her.

She said, “I was just thinking about you!” as if no time at all had passed.  She has read this series and left vital comments which let me know that she, as a pastor, does not condone the negative things I experienced.  She has reminded me to trust my own heart and wisdom, even above those who respect me completely.

She has reminded me there are people in churches who hold places in authority who do love us as we are and don’t want to change us.

FAITH IN MYSELF:

While faith is defined by believing in something you cannot see, I truly believe one of the greatest things I have developed in these ensuing years is a faith in myself.  For many years I refused to see myself as disabled.  I refused to say the word disabled, or even speak about the way my body was different.

Away from the constant message in the church that I must change this fundamental part of me, I have been able to accept my CP as an inextricable part of me.  I have friends with it as well as other disabilities.  I have community.  We affirm all of each other.  We are there for each other.

I don’t need to be healed to be whole.  In fact, if I ever were healed, I wouldn’t be whole.  I would always feel like something were missing.  Apart from the church, I am able to breathe in the truth, and know that I am enough.

Rachel Scott once wrote, “Create in me, the church, so that wherever I go, I will find sanctuary.”  Instead of seeking out acceptance from people in a building, I am creating sanctuary within myself, so I will always have access to a space that is both sacred and safe.

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4 comments:

  1. TONIA <3 I've got something in my eye...this was beautifully written. This entire series was a gift -- thank you for putting yourself out there, for allowing yourself to be in an incredibly vulnerable place as you've shared these difficult experiences with us week after week. I know it wasn't easy, but I truly believe that it was NEEDED. So often it seems that we are afraid to talk about faith, and I think those feelings are magnified tenfold when disability is involved. I know that we don't share all of the same beliefs, but this series has challenged me to consider how my own faith fits into my life as a person with CP, and I am sure that I'm not the only reader who feels this way!

    I'm so glad for your connection with Pastor Sarah. Also, I love that you said, "I don't need to be healed to be whole. In fact, if I ever were healed, I wouldn't be whole." Can we get that printed on some t-shirts, please??!!

    Faith in yourself is so important, and I love that you've come to cultivate that, disability included. I've been developing more faith in myself as well, and I think a lot of that is due to my friendship with you and Tara -- so...thank you. I wouldn't say I'm "there" yet, but cerebral palsy feels more comfortable and more a part of who I am than it ever has before.

    Lastly - I love that you chose to end with a quote by Rachel Scott, and I love the idea of creating sanctuary within the self. As you work towards that, know that I will be here for you, every step of the way.

    I'm already feeling nostalgic for this series, but I am looking forward to more of your words in the weeks to come! Thank you for sharing with us. <3

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    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and most importantly for BEING HERE for me throughout this process. It really did help tremendously to be able to talk things through, after I'd written them.

      I am so glad you are developing more faith in yourself too. Know that I will be there anytime, just let me know. I'm so glad CP is feeling like a more comfortable part of you.

      That quote by Rachel is a favorite and I think it is so powerful and true for me.

      Thanks so much for reading! You're awesome!

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  2. I've just finished reading your whole series. I am not a christian, and it was interesting to see how things are different between Judaism and Christianity, and how other things are similar. It was really nice to read about how disability and religion and community intersect.

    I am autistic, and I really felt like looking in a mirror when you talked about how others just expected you to just get better.

    Thanks.

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    1. Yana,

      Wow, thank you so much for this comment. And thank you for taking the time to read the entire series. It means a lot to me. I'm so sorry to hear that people have also expected you to just get better, when that is not healthy, and you are enough as you are.

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