One of my readers left a comment on the last post about his negative experiences with organized religion as a person with a disability and asked if I would write about my experiences. I, too, have had negative experiences, but have had some positive ones as well. Nevertheless, we have a long way to go regarding the negative attitudes toward disability found in our churches that mirror those in our society. Friends laugh nervously when I say I've been treated just as badly trying to leave church after Mass is over as getting out of Wal-Mart -- Christian love not abiding!
One reason I started this blog was to address issues that continue to exclude people with disabilities. We also have a long way to go regarding interfaith efforts and practicing tolerance toward each other, as other commenters noted. Any kind of exclusion is wrong.
My Christian Catholic faith has brought me through some very rough times. My faith is a deep and abiding part of who I am and will always be a part of me. It is a faith of the heart that often can't be explained to others and often very different than what shows up as organized religion. Organized religion can be -- and has been -- used to label people, to separate them, to exclude them. It contains hierarchies and abuses of power, such as sexual abuse in the Catholic, as well as other church denominations. Such things run so contrary to my beliefs that at times I, too, have questioned how to write this blog ; how to reconcile being a disability advocate with being a member of an organized religion.
It can be quite frustrating for me to find myself, on any given day, with an email box full of comments from Catholics complaining that I'm too liberal as well as comments from people with disabilities claiming I'm too conservative. Yet anyone who thinks nondisabled Catholics are always comfortable with the Roman Catholic church, should try talking to a few of them. I can think of some Catholic politicians who are feeling pretty uncomfortable too.
As a disability advocate , I can't ignore disconnects between the Catholic church as an institution and some disability issues. I've written about this at times. The divergence of catholic with a small c (i.e., “universal”) and Catholic with a capital C (i.e., “Catholic church”) looms large at times. I have been told on numerous occasions -- sometimes by Catholic bloggers -- that I'm going straight to hell because of stands I've taken. It is a sad state of affairs in a nation with religious and political freedom to have so many people telling each other what to think, what to believe, how to vote and raising the flag of heresy at the first sign of disagreement. They're worse than the safety hall monitors at my Catholic elementary school!
My faith is an integral part of who I am and always will be, but I firmly believe in the separation of church and state. I'm not here to convince anyone to become a Catholic or to defend the Catholic church as an institution for any of its failings. My faith is catholic, with a small c. At the heart of my faith is concern for all humankind.
I have readers of many faiths and all are welcome. What matters to me, bottom line, is that all people -- including those with disabilities -- be able to exercise freedom of religion and have access to practice the faith they choose, how and where they choose.
To reflect this, I'm changing my blog‘s name to WHEELIE cATHOLIC. I hope the small c will stand as a welcome sign to all and create an atmosphere of openness and tolerance.
I truly welcome readers of all faiths expressing either positive or negative experiences with organized religion. After all, where would they go with such comments other than a blog like this? There are many nondisabled people of faith who read this blog. Some lurk and say nothing, but they are here because they are working toward creating better faith communities of all kinds. Every time a person with a disability shares his or her experiences, it matters.
So, I thank my readers for respectful comments and questions. As a Quaker friend of mine says, we are all seekers.
May we each find the spirit that will lead us in our lives to peace, justice and harmony. More importantly, may we never block the opportunity for someone else to find that spirit.