Saturday, 27 June 2015

Invisible Disabilities

One day earlier this week, I was on the way into church on the bus. On the journey I found myself standing, as the seats downstairs were mostly taken. Standing can sometimes be a problem for me because of my MS. It is difficult to explain (or even understand… for me too!) but the experience of standing can be debilitating and result in energy depletion, heavy limbs and muscle aches.

Although most of the seats were occupied, there was one seat… one of the ones for those who are elderly or disabled… I kept standing.

Was it pride? Well, perhaps…

But I think it was also because I do not APPEAR ‘disabled’. I did not have a walking stick that day (although I do occasionally use one) nor any other outward indication that I am ’disabled’.

And yet I AM ‘disabled’. In fact, one recent (and rather surprising) discovery has been that the very fact that I have MS categorises me as ‘disabled’ in the provisions of the 2010 Equality Act.  But even forgetting all that, I know that standing for long periods is a problem, energy depletion is a BIG problem, cognitive function can sometimes be a problem and so on and on.

(I will spare you some of the further symptomatic details which restrict but which are not visible)

And, as if that were not enough, I also have a second chronic condition more recently diagnosed and rather more difficult to talk about. Three months ago I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis.

Once again, I will not go into all the gruesome details except to say that there are very real restrictions caused by both my conditions, that they both are causes of fatigue and energy depletion and that neither of them  looks as though they are doing anything other than getting worse!

But, to the outward observer, I seem to be the picture of health!

Which is, of course, why I find it is difficult to choose to sit on these disabled seats on the bus!!

And so back to that morning a few days ago… After the bus journey for which I stood all the way, when I reached St Cuthbert’s we were about to begin our monthly lunchtime Bible Study based on the passages for the next Sunday’ services… and if you have looked ahead, then you will know that the Gospel passage on Sunday is about the daughter of Jairus and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. 

We cannot be sure, but I think we may assume, that the woman who touched Jesus’ robes would not have been obviously ‘disabled’. Her condition and its symptoms would likely have been ‘invisible’ to others.

I saw the connection.

But I was not just thinking of myself, but of the many (very many!) friends, family members, congregational members (past and present) and pastoral contacts who have conditions (physical, mental or emotional) that are not outwardly ‘visible’.

Let me be quick to say that those of us who have less visible disabilities often do not face the challenges of those who are more ‘obviously’ disabled. The very invisibility tends to mean (in most cases at least) that we do not face the same physical challenges. And we are not generally subject to such discrimination and prejudices as still exist in our society with regard to the ‘disabled’.

While for many people with MS, the effects of the condition are very evident and visible, for me and others they are not. And there are many others who have disabilities that may not be visible, but are nonetheless debilitating, challenging and awkward to cope with, and which put real (and often permanent) restrictions on life. I am thinking of the likes of dyslexia, inflammatory bowel disease, autism/Aspergers, depression, anxiety, and so very many more…

Both the Church and society have moved far in terms of support, inclusion and attitudes to those who have disabilities. But there is still a distance to travel.

Perhaps one thing we could still try to do is find an alternative description to ‘disability’ (and please not ‘differently abled’!) And another is to work harder at ensuring that being ‘disabled’ does not automatically imply that we are also considered as ‘disqualified’ from certain jobs, positions or roles.

After all, in the ‘West Wing’, President Bartlett seemed to do a pretty decent job in spite of his MS! Just a pity he had to start off hiding it!

Jesus' response to and compassion towards the woman with the bleeding tells us something about how God looks upon those of us who have any condition or disability, visible or invisible, and surely also tells us something about how we should regard them.

But none of all these musings resolve my problem with taking a disabled seat on the bus! Perhaps I should just carry a walking stick as a matter of course…

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Who stole my descriptors?

OK everyone.... there are loads of you who will profoundly disagree with me.

That's ok.

But I would ask you to show respect and be considered in you responses... please!

I respect you as brothers and sisters in Christ. I hope you can do the same with me...

At the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland held last month, and following the deliberations and decisions of the Presbyteries of the church, the Kirk took the significant but limited step of affirming the traditional teaching of the church on matters of sexual relationship and marriage, while simultaneously allowing congregations who so decided, to depart from this ‘traditional’ position and (should they so wish) appoint or call Ministers or Deacons in Civil Partnerships (and possibly also in time, Same Sex Marriage).

Leaving aside the substantive issue, and also setting aside any concerns about the consistency or long-term sustainability of this ‘permissive’ or ‘contradictory’ position (depending on your view) I have a deeper concern.

I may be wrong (I may even be slightly paranoid!) but I think over these last few years as both this issue has come to the fore in the church and also my own (accepting and affirming) views have become more widely known, I have been quietly excluded from certain mailing lists, gatherings and meetings.

For example, there is a Church of Scotland Evangelical Network with whose aims I broadly agree and – had it been set up 10 or 15 years ago – I imagine I would have been invited to be involved at an early stage. Membership of the network is open to minsters, elders, members and adherents of the Church of Scotland, so should I join?

Well, I doubt I would be welcome as, according to its website, it was set up due to concern about the issue of Ministers etc in same-sex relationships.

And so, it seems, the mark of being an evangelical is our view on this single issue.

I wish this Network well; it includes many friends and I am hugely encouraged by the commitment of those involved to stay in the Church of Scotland even if they disagree with decisions that have been taken.

But I would still like to know why I am no longer to be described as an evangelical? It seems that it would come down only to my views on this single issue (and if I there are other reasons, I would really like to know!)

It would seem that I am in good company, with the likes of Roy Clements, Rob Bell, Tony Campolo, Brian MacLaren and Steve Chalke.

But who decided that this was the mark of being ‘evangelical’? And why?

I am genuinely puzzled, and (as you will guess) feel a little bereaved.

Recently, one clergy colleague who is gay spoke of the process of ‘coming out’. He went on to say that now he was challenged about another ‘coming out’… as an evangelical!

It may (or may not) surprise some of my evangelical sisters and brothers to know that (in the wake of some of my previous posts and blogs) I have been approached by a number of others who – for the moment- are keeping their heads below the parapets, but who personally take the more inclusive and affirming view that I do, while being afraid of losing their sense of ‘tribal’ identity and (more importantly) their many friends within the evangelical fellowship of the church.

And I reckon that if I were to name them (which of course I never will!) then the shock would be great indeed.

But why is this so?

I wish people would discuss these things before they excluded some of us who share their views on most of the fundamental matters of faith.

And I would quite like to feel free to choose my own descriptors rather than have arbitrary criteria imposed by others as to what constituted fair and proper use of such descriptors.