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More than a hollow embrace

Child looking through toy brick
Posted June 14, 2020

When I was in Sunday School, I remember trying to sing a song by Arabella Hankey—‘Tell me the Old, Old, Story’—fortunately, more than singing Arabella’s song happened in that season of Sunday School. Later in life, what I appreciate about the song is the diversity encapsulated in her advice on how to tell the story. There is scope and movement within the methodology—tell me slowly, tell me simply, tell me often, tell me always, tell me the same story. If I had a specific critique, I’d want to say that ‘telling’ isn’t the only way to go with sharing the story of Jesus.

I mention the word ‘critique’ while acknowledging a degree of angst. I find the whole notion of critique difficult. I haven’t done a personality quiz—but I know instinctively that this is a weakness of mine. Critique makes me nervous and hyper-sensitive. I use the word ‘weakness’ deliberately because I also know that listening to, and acting on critique of my work, actions, or opinions, takes me to the growth edges of my life. While there’s something universally disconcerting about listening to a word of ‘critique’, there’s also something universally transformative about trying to deeply hear the heart behind that critique.

We do not always get things right. However, acknowledgement of our mistakes is hollow if we don’t seek to embrace and engage with those who have a message that needs to be heard for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Simply stated, we are not the ‘Body of Christ’ if difference, diversity and the neural-atypical do not dwell alongside us. Further, we have not told the story of Jesus, if we do not tell it in a way that connects with the one longing to know the story.

When Disability Theologian Thomas Reynolds took his son (who lives with disabilities) to church—he was met with a wall of misunderstanding. In essence, to be included meant that his son had to act like everybody else. His son was granted access to the church, but it was on their terms. In contrast, Reynolds writes about the notion of ‘deep access’. It takes intentional, up-skilled and often tiring effort to enable ‘deep access’, for people who are not neuro-typical. He writes:

Deep access means recognizing difference and diversity, bodily and neurologically, and welcoming it as part of us—not something other and abnormal to be remade in the image of the same as normal. It is not so much a matter of welcoming you so you can be part of us on our terms, but rather so you can be with and augment us differently, on your terms as well.

Reynolds goes on to counsel that a ‘spirituality of attentiveness’ leads to the embodiment of deep access in the church. The Apostle Paul’s vision for telling the story was so expansive and so attentive to difference that he noted he had, ‘…become all things to all people, that I might by all means, save some’ (1 Cor 9:19–23). Perhaps also, by attending to timely words of critique (rather than resisting them), we can witness and participate in transformative change for the whole Body of Christ.

By Coralie Bridle