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A benecription for the church

Review of "My Body is Not a Prayer Request" by Amy Kenny.

“‘God told me to pray for you,’ she says. Her words linger like cloying perfume in a claustrophobic space. ‘God wants to heal you!’ She is undoubtedly thrilled with this opportunity.

I’ve been here before. It never ends well.”

So begins Amy Kenny’s must-read My Body is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church, ten chapters that illustrate how the gospel has been misconstrued for disabled persons and how a community of belonging can be reimagined. Kenny opens her first chapter with a conversation that has happened multiple times in the church setting. A well-intended person sees Kenny’s physical limitations and wants to pray the disability away. Instead of experiencing peace or a fix, Kenny is left with hurt, shame and anger. Hence, she wrote this book, called “her scream” to the church. As readers, we get to wonder with Kenny: Is disability part of God’s good design? And yes, among nine other listed remedies, Kenny has been told that putting garlic in her socks might fix her disability.

In addition to being written for church communities, Kenny’s material is suitable for multiple contexts and is designed to fit both individual reading and group studies. She concludes each chapter with a reflection and response section, nudging the reader to intentionally pause and consider the chapter’s content. Furthermore, Kenny adds a top ten list with each chapter, created from words said over the years, specific to how she should live with her disability. These lists are familiar to me as a parent of two children with disabilities, and it may be an eye-opener for others who have not been on the receiving end of such “wisdom.”

Kenny skillfully pulls the reader into her understanding as a disabled person, sharing through her lens of past experience as a disabled teen and and current experience as an adult. I appreciate how she describes both her personal experience and the historical context for the reader, so readers can draw connections between what happens on the larger societal level and how those happenings impact an individual person. Kenny does not shy away from asking the difficult but necessary questions around disability. Is disability a social construct? Are the issues around mobility, accessibility and awareness because of the disability or because our society and culture was created for only able-bodied persons? Does the way we do church inadvertently convey that our relationship with God depends on our ability to think, run, walk or speak?

GARBAGE THEOLOGY

When I read Kenny’s words about how Christians have wrongly assumed that somehow success and ability are dependent on our measure of faith, I am reminded of Dad Pot. My father-in-law lived with a physical disability for 30 years, beginning at the age of 55. As he tried to live with his limitations, moving about with a cane or a motorized scooter, he was told that if he just had more faith, he could be cured. Let it be known, this suggestion of needing more faith is damaging and instills a humanly-constructed belief about God and disability that is, quite frankly, garbage.

Kenny does well to unpack the ways the church has tried to explain disability and redirects readers to see matters within the context of God’s design for creation. She focuses on Genesis 32, the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel of the Lord. Jacob’s experience in becoming disabled cannot be missed in understanding the greater story of how our covenantal God is at work, transforming His people. “Instead of curing Jacob or killing him off, Scripture introduces a disability that tethers him to the graciousness of the living God.”

‘I AM NOT YOUR METAPHOR’

Kenny’s Chapter 6 is entitled “Disability Mosquitos,” referencing how words or symbols people use can sting, in the form of microaggressions. Over time, those single stings create bigger frustrations. In short, how we talk about and with each other matters. Language is the most affordable and most accessible place to create and hold community, but we need to continually check in with others to refine our terms of reference.

Kenny is clear: The words we choose show how we view humankind. Further to this, Kenny also stresses the danger in seeing disability as a descriptor for human experiences. “I am not your metaphor. My body is not your symbol to use. My crippled body and lame leg do not give you permission to dismiss me as symbolic for whatever you find difficult.”

HOW TO CRIP SOMETHING

The book finishes with two benedictions, called Benecriptions, one for non-disabled people and one for disabled people. Kenny explains the use of the word crip: “To crip something is to invite the way disability disrupts our ideas of what is normal and allow disability to lead how we gather and participate in a communal space without hierarchy.” Kenny does a beautiful job honouring the diversity in her audience, recognizing that her story cannot necessarily speak for the whole disability community. Yet, in her humble offering, she speaks a truth so many share.

Her book concludes with a beautiful illustration, inspired by Luke 14’s description of a banquet that specifically includes disabled guests. Rather than have room created in the wheelchair-seating margins, the table is set for what Kenny calls “an accessible eschatological banquet.” May we all see this banquet as an illustration of not just what is to come but what is also possible now for church and for community.

“You will get it wrong sometimes. We all do… When someone courageously invites you into a more inclusive way, respond with grace. Listen, learn, and grow together… It might be awkward, and it will be messy, but it will be worth it.”

Author

  • Sara Pot

    The Pot family story includes a life of caregiving for daughters Rachel and Janneke.

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