Thursday, March 28, 2019

What The Church Of England
Is Failing To Grasp

The first effective disability law began in the UK as early as 95 with the early stages of what was then DDA.

What began with DDA and now continues under the Equality Act of 2010 is that both acts saw the lumping together by government of several issues under one act, issues of LGBTQ, BAME and disability were all placed under one act. 

This has created an unintended consequence whereby groups that represent all those differing interests have banded together to be more effective and to make better use of very limited resources. 

After more than thirty years the relationships between these different interest groups has grown, relationships have formed, bonds have grown and many of us across theses groups have grown to see it as one united causes and no longer see it as separate interest groups but as the once cause of equality and inclusion.

Those who are unhappy about this should not blame us in these various interest groups for banding together but should look to the government, they lumped us all together and then proceeded to try to restrict our rights and then suddenly become indignant when they see these groups begin to work together. What would you expect to happen when people are forced in to a corner. 

The Church of England have failed to cotton on to what has happened over the last thirty or so years in the secular world where these interest groups have bandied together and fall in to the trap of regarding LGBTQ, BAME and disability as totally separate issues, totally failing to understand that this is no longer how these groups see themselves. 

We in these groups have grown together over the thirty years  and although it is true that some of the issues are very different, we share the common ground of knowing what it is to be the outsider and now look at the issues as "if you leave one behind, you leave all behind" and because of the bond that has grown between us their is a solidarity between us that simply says "leave no one behind".

My plea to the Church of England is that we MUST understand this relationship and to try and deal with these issues in isolation will be seen by those covered by the Equalities Act as an attempt to divide and conquer. 

We can no longer attempt to deal with these issues in isolation, for many disabled, LBTQ and BAME people we are one oppressed group both in the wider community but also inside the church and we MUST be dealt with on that basis. We may not like the tide of culture but we can not turn it, we have to deal with where it is now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Contract

It had not been my attention to write a blog for Ash Wednesday and to be honest with you I can not think of an obvious link with what I have to say and the solemnity of today but non the less I have been haunted by these thoughts all day so decided I'd best listen and write them down. 

Contrary to popular belief there is no longer a register of disabled people here in the UK but there is however, a register of visual impairment. To me that has always seemed unfair and in it's self discriminatory. 

I remember the day I was registered blind, I stood in the hospital car park, cursing God, cursing the consultant who had just put me on the register and cursing life it's self. 

But amidst all the anger I remember striking a deal, contract if you like. I did not want the labels of blind or disabled but in that moment I promised myself that this was to be a contract between me and society. If indeed I had to be a blindy, then by Got I sure as hell was going to be the best damn blindy I could be. In return for putting me on the register against my will society was also entering in to a contract with me. If I must wear the label of blindy that society was forcing me to wear then I'd make sure society fulfilled it's obligations to me as a blind person, it would give me the support that I needed to live the best life that was open to me, support in the forms of disability benefits, training, a guide dog, some dignity and respect.

I have to tell you that in my opinion society has broken that contract time and time again and I have spent the intervening years determined to hold society to account for breaking that contract. 

For me, I built this model on the story of the cross. Jesus entered in to a contact with the father, one of those contracts that he would not have chosen, a contract which would by our freedom in return for his suffering, a contract which in my life I see being fulfilled over and over each day. 

I've talked elsewhere on this blog about the Disneyfication of Jesus. For me there can be no redemption without the shitty bits. 

Being blind on your own can be exceedingly shitty, being blind walking with Jesus does not diminish the shit, it simply meansthe shit no longer matters.

Monday, February 25, 2019

An Inspiring Synod
(Keeping Up The Momentum)

Way back in 2001 I worked on a project about accessible literature and came across a statistic from the Disability Rights Commission which claimed that around 32% of the UK working age population had a significant disability or long term illness. 

The very next Sunday after finding these statistics, I stood at the back of my church and watched as people made their way to the altar rail to receive communion and asked myself “where are these 32% in our congregation”.

In the intervening years I’ve been on quite a journey, a journey that culminated in 2015 with teeming up with the revs ( Bill and Katie) to form Disability and Jesus. Since 2015 we have been on a roller coaster journey which has introduced us to the whole world of who is missing from our churches. A journey which has left me shocked, embarrassed, shaken and even guilty as I have been opened up to just how many groups we have marginalised 

All this is going on in front of a background where churches are in rapid decline, numbers have fallen drastically, with many of our churches wondering how they can continue to keep the lights on. Huge initiatives have been undertaken and vast sums of money spent on trying to attract new people. 

What I am about to say next may well be a sweeping generalisation and I’m sorry for that but non the less if we are able to be honest and let’s face it, we need to be, we have gone on a recruitment drive of the shiny happy people. The blonde haired blue eyed thirty something couple with two kids. If that seems like a huge exaggeration to you I ask you to look at the advertising of those very campaigns I’ve been talking about, you’ll find loads of glossy pictures of exactly those people. 

I want us to think differently, walk through our cities, see the huge range of ethnicity, culture and abilities and ask your self where are these people in our churches.

Synod this weekend has inspired me that finally pennies are dropping, some of our leaders are waking up to these things, and believe me when I say as I have watched the live stream of synod I have been dancing round my office, overjoyed as I have heard so many talking about things that I have waited more than 30yrs to hear coming from our church leaders. I feel it therefor incumbent on me to play my part in keeping up the momentum. 

As we worked on our book “Pilgrims In The Dark” it became obvious to me that while we were trying to see what a theology of disability might look like, there were other groups such as BAME, LGBTQ, people on estates, young people, the traveling community and others all trying to work out what a theology for them might look like and so much of what they were saying had huge crossover with the work we were doing and the word at the very heart of that crossover was “exclusion”.

It strikes me now that each of these small minority voices might do well to work together to find what we hold in common and to share it with the wider church. 

I was most  heavily involved in church during the late 70s and early 80s. They were heady days of charismatic renewal, the Toronto blessing and above all the buzz phrase of the time "church planting". 

You could hardly read an article in the trendier Christian press that was not talking about the number of people that had “come to Christ” in a particular place, church leaders were falling over themselves to tell you how many new members they had. 

I was worried because as someone counted the newbies in through the front door no one was counting the casualties who sneaked away in bits from the back door. 

The popular thing then and in many places still remains today was to be able to be called upon to stand up and give your testimony. 

Again forgive me for using a stereotype but again let us be honest and admit the truth within it. It goes like this, a person will stand up and tell a tale of some awful life experience, usually around drugs, alcohol or abuse and we know how that story goes, that person has an encounter with Jesus and now life is wonderful and what is more everyone in the room should do the same. 

I have always wanted to stand up and shout “STOP”! What about those of us who have known Jesus all our lives, have felt his love and yet still life is shitty? Are we not saved? Are we doing it wrong.

It has to be possible to know the love of Christ and still be in the shit at the same time. We have painted a picture that denies this, a picture that so many in our society know they will never achieve, a picture that leaves the very people who should be at the heart of our church feeling they simply don't belong.

So while we are all still full of enthusiasm and feeling charged from the events of synod I want to put together a rag tag and bobtail group that represents those groups that are on the margins to try and write something around a theology of the margins. 

I’m looking for like minded people who have experience of these communities to join me. So far this is as far as my thinking has gone but I feel we must start somewhere, so if this blog speaks to you please get in touch. 

As you think about this here are a few government figures I picked up just this morning, read them and ask where are these percentages in our churches. 

In 2016, just over 1 million (2.0%) of the UK population aged 16 and over identified themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB).
The population aged 16 to 24 were the age group most likely to identify as LGB in 2016 (4.1%).

More males (2.3%) than females (1.6%) identified themselves as LGB in 2016.
The population who identified as LGB in 2016 were most likely to be single, never married or civil partnered, at 70.7%.

An estimated 19% of working age adults have a disability, using the Equality Act definition. “Around 16%of the working age adult population has a disability.” An estimated 19% of working-age adults in the UK have a disability, according to the latest data published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

In the 2011 Census, 58,000 people identified themselves as Gypsy or Irish Traveller, accounting for just 0.1% of the resident population of England and Wales.

People from Asian ethnic groups made up the second largest percentage of the population (at 7.5%), followed by Black ethnic groups (at 3.3%), Mixed/Multiple ethnic groups (at 2.2%) and Other ethnic groups (at 1.0%)

We DO NOT see these percentages represented in the average Church Of England congregation. 

You can contact me
Tel: 07703 347107

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Behind The Mix

People often point me in the direction of books, articles and Youtube videos by disabled Christians, thinking that I will be in some way uplifted, inspired or encouraged by them. I have to tell you that for me to feel like that is a rare thing indeed. 

The vast majority of this material fails to address what happens when we are newly faced with a disability, the one that comes out of nowhere and at first seems to destroy all our hopes and dreams. 

I am not saying there is no truth in this material but I am saying it often misses there beginning of the story for fear of the writer being seen in a bad light. 

If such material is to be of real use to anyone I feel it must be brutally honest. Look at the healings of Jesus, he almost always asks the person what they want, he forces them, to name it. 

When disability first breaks in to our lives who is it that immediately says "Jesus please heal me"? 

What most people say is something like "fuck"! If we don't name that hurt in all it's raw honesty how can Jesus heal it. When we first get that bad news it is the first thing that flashes through our minds that Jesus wants to hear, not the tidied up version we concoct when we have had time to adjust, Jesus wants to heat what is behind the mix, not the polished, mixed and edited version but the outages, the bits that don't make the final recording, that is what he wants to heal, that which can not be named. 

This is my prayer for my work that it deals with that raw emotion, that is honest and open so that Jesus can move in to that space.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

I've been working on some book ideas, I had a book out previously simply about my sight loss but it made no reference to my faith, I am rewriting from a faith perspective and bringing things up to date, here is the first draft of the first two chapters, I'd really appreciate you getting back to me via Twitter to let me know if this is something I should carry on with before I commit too much more time to it. 

Out Go The Lights.

You know that recurring dream, the one that comes back to you night after night, that plays on your worst fears, the one that you just know will ultimately come true? Well it’s that one, so I tug at the hair on the back of my hand and it hurts like hell which tells me I can’t possibly be asleep and this must be really happening. Bugger!

I’m in this old Victorian building, you know the ones,  the ones designed to intimidate the little people, the ones designed to keep the plebs in their place.

Everything about this building makes me feel small and insignificant, I’ve been coming here regularly since childhood, the corridors are filled with memories, non of them good. They echo to the footsteps of the lost and bewildered, scaring me to the very core, filling me with panic, giving me the urge to run.

This is the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. This is the place I spent the first two years of my life in.

There is a tangible atmosphere of fear and dread which hangs in the air like the smell of damp leaves on an autumn day. The pain of all who have suffered here permeates the very walls, oozing from the wood and the stone, drifting through it’s halls like mist on a November morning.

This is  a cold place, a sad place, a place where too many dreams have been broken, too many hopes dashed. Like walking in to a moorland fog, before you know it you are completely lost, cut off, you can’t find the way back, you look to the ground for your footprints but they have vanished, you’re left with no idea how you got here and even worse no idea how to escape.

I realise there is no way back, I’m filled with feelings of panic and dread. 

I approach the huge oak doors which lead to the ophthalmology department. I can see my own reflection in the brass doorplate, the face that stares back at me carries a look so familiar, it’s a look I know only too well, the look off a person that is desperate, frightened and and above all, angry, I know this look so well I have seen it every morning over the last twelve years as I’ve gazed in to the shaving mirror. 

I enter a packed waiting room, a room full of people, people just like me, people who have spent years in denial, afraid that their sight loss would be used as a weapon against them, a thing to hold them back, a thing that would destroy all their hopes and dreams. Their faces all share that same haunted expression , the expression of those who have spent too long on the run.

After reporting to the receptionist, I sit down, comforting myself that I’d managed to put this moment off for years . I’d had a good run but now there was music to be faced. Sight loss has now become such a huge issue for me I can no longer hide it from other people or pretend to myself that it’s not really happening. Shit, I think to myself, I’m not properly dressed for this, I’ve got the wrong shoes on. I’m wearing my winter boots, I need my trainers on a day such as this, the impulse to run straight out of here is huge, I’m gripping the edge of my chair till my knuckles go white, forcing myself back in to the seat, forcing myself to stay put when every fibre of my being is screaming “ run Dave, just bloody run”!. I’ve been running away from this very moment for more than twelve years now and I know it must be faced but please don’t expect me to be happy about it because I’m not, I’m just bloody not and you can’t make me!

Running has been my coping mechanism for sight loss thus far. For years when ever blindness was broached I simply laced up my trainers and ran. I would jump on a train and head for some place where no one knew me, always without a by-your-leave to family, friends, employers or colleagues and I’d simply drink myself in to oblivion in the vain hope that this would dull the pain. It never did and anyway there’s always the morning after the night. I could go missing for days, sometimes not coming back until someone managed to track me down and drag me back.

Of course I knew this was wrong, I knew how much it was hurting others especially my wife Denise. I simply could not face that dreadful sightless alternative. 

Brendan Foster and Steve Cram were not the only great runners from Jarrow I could give those buggers a run for their money any day of the week. 

Meanwhile back in that waiting room I’m watching the seconds turn over on the digital clock on the wall. I’m here today not because I’ve finally seen sense, no I’m not that good, I’ve simply run out of options, my sight loss is now so bad it simply can no longer be hidden. I want to lash out at someone or something but there is no one to blame, not even the God I have followed since childhood, the God I knew was grieving with me, hurting for me, the God that was even with me in all the running, all the denial, all the hurt and shame. Deep inside somewhere I know this is simply a random event, a bit like a car crash, it could happen to anyone. It is nobodies fault. Even knowing all this I’m dammed if I’m going to give in graciously.

Here I am about to hand over control of my life do the doctors, social workers and various other do gooders, they will lead me in directions I don’t want to go, they will make decisions on my behalf, decisions which are quite simply not theirs to make. Fuck! How did I get myself in to this situation? 

It feels totally hopeless, I watch the other poor lost souls in this waiting room. A room full of people just like me, people who know only too well they are about to lose their identity, we are no longer in control of our own destinies. 

Suddenly a disembodied voice says You can go through now Mr Lucas”. 

Obediently, I walk in to this tiny little consulting room and am instantly transported back to my childhood. In my mind’s eye I can picture my mother spitting on her handkerchief and rubbing the chocolate stains from my chin. (She would go on rubbing until the skin was red raw.) As I remember this I feel her hand on my back pushing me forward over the threshold and I can feel my feet slipping and sliding as I try in vain to resist. 

I do a reality check in an attempt to pull myself together. My wife, Denise, used to be a sister at this hospital. For her it was simply a place of work, a building that held no terror. For me, though, it’s always been a place of fear. Just stepping across the threshold instantly transports me back to the most painful parts of my childhood. Here I am, a 40- year-old man with the mindset of a six-year-old. Damn this place! And damn the circumstances that have brought me here. 

Really, this building should feel like a second home. As well as my sight impairment, I was also born with a heart defect. So between the Eye Department and the Children’s Cardiac Unit, I often spent long periods of my childhood in various parts of this hospital. 

How is it that one building can rob me of all my adult faculties and return me instantly to my childhood? How come I suddenly feel I’m no longer in control? How come other people get to make all the decisions here? Why is it that my opinions are of no importance to anyone here? 

Why is it that every time I walk through that huge oak door I feel like a midget in a world of giants? It’s like Lilliput in reverse. I’m dammed if they’re going to tie me down. 

A phrase from my childhood echoes in my mind: ‘Shut up and do as you’re told.’ My neck begins to stiffen and I feel my shoulders hunch. Again I return to being a child with short trousers and little National Health glasses that leave deep grooves behind my ears. Here I am, a 15-stone six- year-old, about to face up to something I’ve spent more than 40 years trying to avoid. 

I had been a premature baby, my gran always was quick to tell people “he weighed less than a bag of sugar you know”and as well as my sight issues I had heart problems and several other issues, I was twenty eight months old when I finally left this hospital for the first time and ever since had been back for frequent eye and cardiac checks, I hate the bloody place! It’s full of ghosts, a place that fills my nightmares.

 A Bloody Guide Dog!

I’m still in childhood mode when I sit down in this woman’s office. I look at her and know at once she’s more than just a megalomaniac, she’s a witch. She reminds me of Morticia from The Addams Family, I can picture this woman sitting in that big wicker chair. I know I’m being unreasonable but at this point in time, no one could change my mind. 

The woman smiles sweetly. The six-year-old me clenches his teeth and waits for her to ruffle my hair. I promise myself that when her hand comes towards me, I’ll bite her fingers. Nevertheless, I try really hard to force the six-year-old me back into the deep recesses of my mind. Making another big effort, I smile right back. Anything she can do, I can do better. 

Morticia rolls her eyes at me. I roll them right back. I concentrate really hard and force my features into what I hope is my most withering look. I don’t know why really, because I’ve often used that look and to date no one has taken any notice of it. Why it should be any different today, I don’t know. Time seems to stand still, the silence is numbing. It seems to last an eternity. I’m waiting for her to speak but when she finally does, I’m totally unprepared for what she has to say. 

“I think it’s time you thought about a guide dog.” 
My world explodes. The ceiling seems to be falling in. She’s still speaking but nothing is getting through. All I can hear are the words ‘guide dog’ echoing in my head. Guide dog? A fucking guide dog?! They’re for blind people. What the hell is she trying to say? Is she crazy? Do I look like a blind man? A High Court judge inside my head suddenly booms out: 

‘DAVID LUCAS! You shall be taken from here to a place not of your choosing and be given a guide dog. Henceforth you shall be known as ‘Blindy Lucas’. Children will laugh at you in the street. Middle-aged women in twin sets and pearls will coo over you. They will take you to the seaside and buy you candyfloss. You will be given a short-back-and-sides and a set of hand-me-down clothes.’ 

No bloody way is this going to happen. Every fibre of my being is screaming at me to run. Run, Dave! Just bloody run! But something is making me stay, although I have no idea what, maybe it was fear, maybe it was despair, more than likely it was Jesus, the number of people who had been praying for this moment unbeknown to me at the time was huge.  Somewhere deep in my subconscious I know that this is right. Why, then in the days leading up to this meeting when I was imagining every possible scenario did I not hear the words ‘I think it’s time you thought about a guide dog’? 

Someone’s made a mistake, that’s why. This bit is totally unscripted... and now is not a good time for ad-libbing. I feel so angry! I’ve never known anger like this. How dare she? This woman who’s never met me before, who knows nothing about me or my life. She’s trying to pin a label on me, a label that says ‘BLINDY’. Well, I know exactly where she can stick it and she’s damn lucky I don’t tell her. This will mark me out as disabled, the very term that started me running all those years ago. 

I’m on the verge of telling her all this, when I realise how futile it is. Tonight, as usual, this woman will mount her broomstick and fly off over the rooftops of Newcastle, back to her home and family. She’s just doing her job. This is simply routine to her. But that one simple statement has blown my whole world apart. How can anything ever be the same again? Witch, I thought. You bloody witch. 

I really need to get out of this office. I’ve successfully avoided this moment for over 40 years and now everything has turned to dust in a split second. 

I stuff my hands in my pockets so that I can be sure not to punch anyone or anything and I stomp off down the corridor, right out of the hospital, half out of my mind. My philosophy has worked for me so far and it’ll just have to work for me again: when things get too uncomfortable, just run! But running is a young man’s game and I’m starting to feel my age. Even as I jog along in my “Kicker” boots, I have to admit there is one very big fly in the ointment: I’ve promised my wife, Denise, that I’m going to face up to whatever’s going on with my sight, stop running and stand and face it and what is worse I can already sense Jesus hand in this and I know ultimately he will have his way but I’m never one to give in easily.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

What Is "Reasonable Adjustment" To Jesus

The Equalities Act time and again talks about "reasonable adjustment" so it got me thinking what that might mean to Jesus. 

In order to make these reasonable adjustments Jesus threw away the rule book, where there were obstacles to people experiencing the love of God he simply ignored or removed them. 

My favourite novelist, Morris West says "the church lays burdens on men that are simply too difficult for them to carry". Jesus says "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former".

Then there is this

"A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy". 

According to Jewish law, if a person touched someone who was leprous, they would become unclean. Why did Jesus touch this leper?  Jesus realised that this man’s needs were emotional as well as physical.   This man mattered far more than rules and he needed touching! Jesus didn’t disobey rules to be rebellious but to demonstrate that love makes the rule redundant.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jesus, The Oil On The Puddle

Have we created a church of escapism, a place where we sing songs that declare Jesus is my boyfriend, where the narrative is that everything was crap till we met Jesus and now life is wonderful? Do we long for the Disney does Jesus experience?

For many disabled people we simply reach a point where nothing is working as we thought it should, where (now stop reading now if easily offended but carry on if you want to be grown up about this) everything is quite simply fucked!

For lots of us this system of Disney does Jesus is either now failing or never even worked in the first place. 

We grew up with a system that tried to make sense of the crucifixion, a system that tried to use the same theology to make sense of disability when the truth is neither the crucifixion or disability can make sense. The crucifixion as described by Pete Rollins is "that which defies meaning". The crucifixion ruptures everything we think, for many people disability does the same thing.

Think of the Occupy movement, it came to say to the world, the system is broken, ruptured, the way we distribute wealth simply doesn't work. 

Disability theology is the Occupy movement of the church, it is saying to the church the system is broken, ruptured, grace is not being fairly distributed and like the crucifixion it's self we can not dream up a theology to pretty it up and wish it away, we have to face the pain of it head on and find a way to live with it's reality before there can ever be an Easter. 

When we stare at the Christ being crucified the temptation is to see all that horror and ask "where is God"? For many of us living in the shit of disability we are learning that rather than shouting "where is God"! We are slowly beginning to realise that he is here beside us in the shit. He's not a God that says there, there, I'll make it all better but a God that says, "I know". He sits with his people until the ambulance comes.

As Paul said "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord". 

Jesus sits with us in the mess in the middle of the road to show us just that. He does not come to fix it all but to help us carry the weight of our suffering, to rob it of it's sting and turn it in to something we can use for others.

When Jesus shouted from the cross "my God, my God why have you forsaken me" we are told the temple curtain ripped in half, the temple curtain kept the holy of holies hidden. when Jesus cried out that divide was broken and God and man were brought together, God spills out and mixes with us.

Have you ever watched oil float on the top of a puddle and seen how beautiful that is, that is where God is in our pain. 

What The Church Of England Is Failing To Grasp The first effective disability law began in the UK as early as 95 with the early s...