risen in these bodies. exploring disability theology with disability theory. begins april 14. fccb.org/risen

Risen in These Bodies: Exploring Disability Theology with Disability Theory

Begins Wednesday, April 14
Wednesdays, 12-1 pm
ID: 831 6651 5680 Passcode: 104727

This Easter season, take the opportunity to wrestle with our theology of disability with guest leader Rev. Miriam Spies, a minister in the United Church of Canada who is working on doctoral research in disability theology. Rev. Miriam brings the field of disability studies (and “crip theory”) into conversation with our theology and practices to help build a theology of disability that is liberating and empowering for all. These are the bodies we live in–not perfect bodies, not uniform, but particular, unique, and holy in their diversity. And when Christ was resurrected, he returned in his particular body still wounded, disabled by his experience of crucifixion. The resurrection isn’t into perfect bodies–it’s into these bodies, recognizing that we are holy as we are.

Each week, we’ll read from the Bible, learn a couple of terms from the emerging field of “crip theory,” and interrogate our traditional readings, seeking embedded ableism and seeking possibilities for liberation. You’re welcome to join individual sessions or come for all six. Suggested readings are listed for each week–you are welcome to read them prior to the session but it’s okay if you don’t. We will record the introductory part of each session but then stop the recording for our discussion so we can all feel comfortable sharing our experience, questions, challenge, and hope. Sessions will take place on Wednesdays from 12-1 pm over Zoom. Accessibility information: live auto-transcription will be available but we can’t vouch for the quality. Chat will be enabled and participants are welcome to interact that way instead of verbally. 

About Rev. Miriam Spies

Miriam Spies is a crip theologian whose research aims to challenge the church in how it views leadership and who it desires to fill those roles. Her life with a physical disability has led her to challenge models of inclusion and theological unity that do not leave room for people’s voices or needs. Miriam is a PhD student at Emmanuel College in Toronto, Canada and an ordained minister in The United Church of Canada. She is the Co-Editor of The Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability

A young white woman with cerebral palsy smiles at the camera.  She is seated in a power wheelchair on a boardwalk with grass and trees behind her.  She has a black dog with a harness with her.

Schedule and Materials

April 14: The Disabled God / Post Resurrection Jesus
Crip theory: “deviance and perfection”
Scripture: John 20:24-29
Primary Concepts: Jesus is still wounded after he rises. Risen in his wounded body.
Readings: Nancy Eiesland’s article introducing The Disabled God, plus Introduction: Disability, Normality, and Power, by Lennard J. Davis out of The Disability Studies Reader.

Here you can access Rev. Miriam’s powerpoint presentation and transcript.

April 21: Healing / Sin
Crip theory: “cure” – Eli Clare
Scripture: John 9
Primary Concepts: Sin doesn’t cause disability. Healing doesn’t imply that a person is more worthy or less sinful. The man born blind is capable of recognizing Jesus as Son of God.
Readings: Spies, Miriam. “Making Space, Offering Voice: Leadership of People with Disabilities in God’s Mission,” International Journal of Mission 108:1, published June 2019; Chapter 1 of Eli Clare’s book

Here you can access Rev. Miriam’s powerpoint presentation and transcript.

April 28: Body of Christ
Crip theory: “misfit” (RGT), “supercrip” (Kafer, etc) 
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12
Primary Concepts: The Body of Christ imagines a reversal of power–we’ve imagined a reversal of names only but not power. The Body of Christ is incomplete without disabled people.
Readings: email [email protected] for the reading, it’s an unpublished paper!

Here you can access Rev. Miriam’s powerpoint presentation and transcript for session 3.

May 5: Mental illness/Madness
Crip theory: “mad,” “medical model”
Scripture: 1 Kings 19:3-9, Job 16
Primary Concepts: You don’t have to be “fixed” / well to belong, or to talk to God.
Readings: Chapter 6 from Christ on the Psych Ward, “The Myth of Happiness” article by Hyejung Jessie Yum, Chapter 7: “A Mad Fight: Psychiatry and Disability Activism” by Bradley Lewis in the Disability Studies Reader

Here you can access Rev. Miriam’s powerpoint presentation and transcript for this session, as well as the recording of her presentation.

May 12: Leadership by Disabled Folks? Infantilization/Sainthood 
Crip theory: “supercrip,” “innocence,” “prophetic”
Scripture: Exodus 6:28-7:7, Lev. 20:16-20
Primary Concepts: Diverse disabled leadership representation matters–including having the power to change the Church
Readings: “Liturgical Imagination at Full Stretch: Possibilities for Leadership of Disabled People” by Miriam Spies

Here you can access Rev. Miriam’s powerpoint presentation and transcript for this session, as well as the recording of her presentation.

May 19: What to Say/What Not to Say (aka Shitty Disability Theology)—how to offer care, welcome, inclusion, leadership, transformation 
Crip theory: review week!
Scripture: James 3
Primary Concepts: What we say and do matters for all of us. Small practices and patterns have a huge impact on how we think of our bodies and disabled people.
Readings: Erik Carter, nine stages of belonging

Additional Recommended Resources

  • The Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability is committed to breaking new ground at the intersection of theology and mental health, exploring disability using an interfaith theological lens. Our priorities include publishing work by people with lived experience of mental illness and other disabilities, especially student work.  We want to create a space where we can ask questions that are important for people of faith who are living with mental illness and disabilities, while honouring those who have come before us as we are listening to new voices in the field. Publishing peer-reviewed papers as well as creative work such as poetry, life-writing, visual art etc, the journal aims to expand and add to the current theological conversation on mental health and disability. We welcome submissions from all faith traditions.  We acknowledge that more people are living with mental health diagnoses than ever before. Up to present day, the Church has often caused more harm than good in the lives of people experiencing mental distress.  People with lived experience of mental illness and other disabilities are made to feel that they are “broken” and need to be “cured” according to the existing treatments, many harmful, that are prioritized by the medical model. Theologies of sin and shame have been extremely damaging to people with lived experience of mental distress and other disabilities. As well, we acknowledge that language of healing has been theologically abusive to those living with disabilities and their/our families. How can theology and faith communities take seriously the realities of our bodies and minds and become a part of the healing journey of people living with mental illness and other disabilities? We have chosen to use the word healing intentionally. We are not broken. We don’t want prayers, shame, pity, to be inspirational or prophetic voices. Instead we want to be exactly who we are, our minds and bodies created in the image of God. 
  • David Finnegan-Hosey, Christ on the Psych Ward, New York: Church Publishing, 2018. This personal account of wrestling with faith and meaning during a psychiatric hospitalization weaves together testimony, theological reflection, and practical ministry experience to offer a hopeful message to those living with mental illness and for friends and faith communities committed to caring for and learning about them. https://bookshop.org/books/christ-on-the-psych-ward/9780898690514
  • Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (ed), Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018. In this collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and longtime activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centers the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people with knowledge and gifts for all. Care Work is a mapping of access as radical love, a celebration of the work that sick and disabled queer/people of color are doing to find each other and to build power and community, and a tool kit for everyone who wants to build radically resilient, sustainable communities of liberation where no one is left behind. Powerful and passionate, Care Work is a crucial and necessary call to arms. https://bookshop.org/books/care-work-dreaming-disability-justice/9781551527383
  • Sarah Griffith Lund, Blessed are the Crazy, St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2014. This book takes the lid off mental illness in a raw, honest look at the author’s father’s battle with bipolar disorder, the helpless sense of deja vu as her brother struggles with his own mental illness, and serving as spiritual advisor for her cousin, a mentally ill man executed for murder. Through challenges and despair, she shows how churches can be safe havens for people who have brain diseases and for their loved ones. https://bookshop.org/books/blessed-are-the-crazy-breaking-the-silence-about-mental-illness-family-and-church/9780827202993
  • Rebecca Spurrier, The Disabled Church: Human Difference and the Art of Communal Worship, New York: Fordham University Press, 2019. In this accessible academic book, Spurrier describes ethnographic research she did in a congregation in Atlanta with a lot of members with psychiatric disability, using that church as a way to explore what a fully integrated and transformed church could look like and why we should strive for other churches to follow suit. https://bookshop.org/books/the-disabled-church-human-difference-and-the-art-of-communal-worship/9780823285525
  • Eli Clare, Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure, Duke University Press, 2017. Eli Clare uses memoir, history, and critical analysis to explore cure—the deeply held belief that body-minds considered broken need to be fixed. Cure serves many purposes. It saves lives, manipulates lives, and prioritizes some lives over others. It provides comfort, makes profits, justifies violence, and promises resolution to body-mind loss. Clare grapples with this knot of contradictions, maintaining that neither an anti-cure politics nor a pro-cure worldview can account for the messy, complex relationships we have with our body-minds. The stories he tells range widely, stretching from disability stereotypes to weight loss surgery, gender transition to skin lightening creams. At each turn, Clare weaves race, disability, sexuality, class, and gender together, insisting on the nonnegotiable value of body-mind difference. Into this mix, he adds environmental politics, thinking about ecosystem loss and restoration as a way of delving more deeply into cure. Ultimately Brilliant Imperfection reveals cure to be an ideology grounded in the twin notions of normal and natural, slippery and powerful, necessary and damaging all at the same time. https://bookshop.org/books/brilliant-imperfection-grappling-with-cure/9780822362876
  • Amanda Leduc, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, Coach House Books, 2020. If every disabled character is mocked and mistreated, how does the Beast ever imagine a happily-ever-after? Amanda Leduc looks at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference. https://bookshop.org/books/disfigured-on-fairy-tales-disability-and-making-space/9781552453957