My Body is Not a Prayer Request, Amy Kenny. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2022.
Summary: A description of the physical, emotional, spiritual, and verbal barriers disabled people face generally, and especially in their encounter with churches and what can be done to make them welcoming and inclusive places to the disabled.
The title and opening chapter sets out one of the ways “ableism” expresses itself among Christians. We seem desperately fixated on cures and treatments to “fix” the disabled rather than beginning with accepting disabled persons as they are. Instead of taking time to learn how God has encountered the disabled person and how they may be a gift to God’s people, they are treated as a problem to be solved, a condition to be healed. And try to imagine for a moment that this is you (if it is not already you). Wouldn’t that make you more than a bit uncomfortable.
Amy Kenny, who is disabled, begins with this as one expression of a form of discrimination many of us may not be aware of, ableism. Even though upwards of one quarter of our population is disabled in some form, our society is constructed around the able. We question the accommodations the disabled ask for to accomplish the same tasks as others in educational and other settings. We wonder if the person is disabled or “faking it” for some perceived benefit. Our architecture assumes the abled, even though accommodations for the disabled often benefit others (ramps benefit parents with strollers as well as those using wheel chairs or other wheeled devices). Churches are the most egregious offenders, being exempted from ADA requirements. We post signs saying “everyone welcome” while erecting these barriers that exclude or make to feel unwelcome a significant population.
Kenny addresses the dubious theological assumptions that are unhelpful from discussions of the fall to discussions of the bodies we will have in heaven. All convey that God doesn’t love these bodies and neither should we. She also speaks of how ableism creeps into our vocabulary. When we use words like “blind,” “deaf,” and “lame” as metaphors (which I know I have done countless times!), we never mean something good in their use. Imagine what it must feel like to hear a steady stream of such words if one is disabled in one of these ways. Kenny calls these “disability mosquitoes.” One mosquito bite isn’t so bad. A host of bites is uncomfortable or could even be deadly.
Jacob as an example of the disabled is one we do not often think of, but his wrestling overnight, having his hip put out of joint, made him a different, humbler and more generous person in his encounter the next day with Esau. Disability can be spiritually transformative, teaching dependence upon God and bringing new perspectives on both ourselves and God. Kenny observes how Christ crucified is himself disabled. We worship a disabled God.
She invites us to listen to the disabled and to incorporate “Crip space” (her term) into the design of our spaces. When we do so “It makes the muffins with the blueberries in the batter instead of tossing them on top after the muffins are baked.” And, like properly baked blueberry muffins, such spaces communicate love, that the disabled are not an afterthought. She also reminds us that everything from bicycles to touch screens on our phones began as assistive technology. When we receive the gifts the disabled offer us, life can be better for all of us.
Kenny is both unsparing in helping us grasp how our unintentional “ableisms” hurt and yet the exuberance of her life, including her rhapsodies about her scooter, Diana and her cane, Eileen. These reveal a person with a strong sense of self, a disabled self who knows she is accepted by God as she is in all her messiness, and who would just like the rest of us to do likewise. All this shines through in the “Top tens” that conclude each chapter.
Like other forms of discrimination, we often may be unaware of our discrimination against the disabled. You won’t be able to say that after reading this book. The question is whether you will resist or open up your heart to what is written here. Will you and I love these who God loves? Will we take risks that will mean we get it wrong at times, continuing to allow our disabled friends to teach us? That is the invitation you will find in this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.