Church and worship - questions we need to contemplate
This is a short one for me to throw some questions around. I have started reading (Dietrich) Bonhoeffer's biography as of yesterday, mainly to see the impact that Luther had in the theology in Germany at the time Bonhoeffer was growing up and knowing Luther's attitude and beliefs towards disability (very negative is an understatement): I wanted to know more and was intrigued. As I started to read, some of the very same questions Bonhoeffer asked in regards to church and the church in Germany struck me - have we asked ourselves them, and have we ever considered them from the perspective of disability? I know the majority of people have not, so wanted to ponder them here and now. Here are the two big ones I noticed:
What is church?
We all know church is not a building nor an institution, rather a body of people. Rather, what do we do to make this body of people accessible? Tough question, I'll let you ponder it for a while. Please do, it is a question we don't think about enough.
I would go as far as saying that the church reflects society in many ways too, which is sad as we are not supposed to do that. Reflecting it in our treatment of people who look or act different or odd, people we do not understand, outsiders. Seeking to do what the body of the church feel are needs rather than the real needs of the community and the body of the church. It all goes around perceptions and assumptions. What we see, as we cannot fully separate ourselves from our experiences and view points, therefore these will impact our views. We cannot help it. But what we can do is listen, and I think that was something that Jesus was very good at that we're not at all. Jesus didn't just heal people because he wanted them healed, but he asked people when they came to him for healing what they wanted. Hear that - what they wanted. The issue of consent and truly listening, rather than just assuming what people want or need. There aren't enough people in the church listening and speaking up for the needs of those who's voice is hard to hear or might not want to be heard. We need to be like Jesus and not be Pharisees, who judge from the outside with no desire to learn.
What is worship?
What do you call worship? How does it look? Where does it take place? Why do you do it? I'd be very interested to know how exactly you define worship. Surely the most important question is why we do it. I think we are too busy trying to fit people into moulds, and I think this goes for worship too. Either loud and jazzy or formal and rigid and very verbal for both cases. We rely on words too much, yet verbally is not how everyone communicates at their best. We focus on saying prayers, singing songs (not done in church until Luther translated the Bible - congregational singing did not exist before then). We focus on waving our hands around too. But do we look at other means? Like art, painting, drawing, even blogging? Not everyone can process verbal information at the same speed - I find it really hard to focus on what's being said and integrate it into my worship and prayer, especially when they are long, superfluated and too general.The image of prayer through drawing images in the sand came to me a while ago and I have to admit that since then, prayer and worship through other means has been on my mind. God is beyond words, so why we have this heavy focus on words is beyond me. Before anyone says anything (and yes, there are a few party poopers out there), I am not suggesting you cover your churches in paint and sand. What I am saying is we need to evaluate what we mean by communication and look at how accessible it is. Yes, the A word again: accessible. Through having a monogamy of communication we risk shutting people out, which is not what God wants. I'm saying we need to value all types of communication and we need to broaden our sense of what worship means, I think we have too much focus on one sort of worship and shoehorn this ideal to define what we describe as worship. We need to embrace worship as a way of living so as not to exclude. Worship can be very internal too, and there is so much focus on the external show of worship through places like Hillsong and having worship bands, that I think sometimes we get caught up in one experience at the detriment of another. This trickles into issues of capacity, where one might not be sure if someone can worship. Feeling like I am excluded from church because I cannot sit inside because of the sensory overload and anxiety, means that worship means more to me than just singing praises. It is deeper and more profound and for different people it may mean a different show. But what worship is, is the part of the way we live in my view: delighting in what we have and showing Jesus' love. We can all do this, autistic people and non autistic, albeit in differing ways.
This is not to say we should not make our worship services accessible. This is of prime importance, as a worship service might be someone's first contact with church and faith. It's not good enough that people feel excluded from church and become excluded, or feel like little tokens of tick boxes for an equality and diversity form. I know we are all humans, but I feel people use that as an excuse sometimes to excuse their behaviour, rather than analysing and observing the situation at hand and being open to listen to experiences other than their own. This comes from my own experience too, so if someone says we are all human I would like to know how they make sense of their answer and present it. I'm curious.