Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Creating inclusive faith communities: a journey

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.


Meredith Gould said...

Thanks for posting this, Ruth. I am a non-disabled person who chose, as an adult, to be confirmed in the Roman Catholic church and who regularly squirms with discomfort with much of the nonsense spouted by its episcopal leadership.

My heart is broken on a regular basis by the institutional church. But this is probably a good thing because it brings me back to the basics: my faith in God and belief in Jesus as Christ.

sanabituranima said...

I'm very sad that you felt the need to do this.

THere is too much fighting. It's wearing. It's not Catholic or catholic or Christian or Theistic. It's dangerous. And I've played my part in it too often.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created and You shall renew the face of the earth.

Wheelie Catholic said...

Let me make one thing clear right now: I haven't the inclination to walk on eggshells with Catholics right now, not after the way I've bee treated online.

What strikes me as interesting about this whole thing is that you just did what you say *I* am doing.

Unbelievable. But not really

FridaWrites said...

You have always made me feel welcome and I've never felt judged by you. That means a lot and is in contrast to what I experience outside my home. Though I don't write about my spiritual beliefs on my blog, I have elsewhere and am glad that you do.

sanabituranima said...

OK, I cam accross as totally wrong there.I didn't meant to criticise YOU at all. I meant to criticise the people who think you are not Catholic for watever stupid reasons.

I am not accusing you of anything. I am not saying you have done anything to be ashamed of or that you have no right to be angry. I agree with your decision.

I just think that it's sad that you needed to make the decision. I think it is terrible you were treated that way. I thik it is awful that people were more intereted in scoring points than listening.

That is what putting the prayer ther is for. So that people will listen. So that people will love. So that people will stop in-fighting and start behaving with some manners.

I think this blogis a good place for "simply Catholicism" without being unwelcoming to non-Catholics.

There is othing "simply Catholic" about sending someone an email with threats of Hell. I do not understand why anyone would think it's ok.

I am really sorry that it sounded like I was blaming you and not the trolls.

I will be more careful with my words.

I hope all the bad stuff that has happened online will not scare you away. I like your blog, even though I don;t coment much.

Wheelie Catholic said...

Yeah I understand now what you were saying. Thanks very much for your kind words.

No way I'm going to stop blogging.

william Peace said...

I guess I can take the credit or blame for inspiring you to write this post. I am relieved you did not find my comments insulting. I respect your faith and beliefs even though I do not share them. But like you I can separate my beliefs from the structure called the Catholic Church. I have a far better understanding of your perspective on faith and religion and I thank you for this. I can readily imagine you get critical comments from conservative Catholics and disability activists. You are writing from a viewpoint, disability and Catholicism that are in many ways considered mutually exclusive. Hence I think your change on the blog from a capital C to small c is astute. It reminds me of the difference between deaf culture and Deaf Culture. I hope you are successful in creating harmony and justice. I for one truly feel barred from the Catholic Church as I cannot tolerate social abuses I experience whenever I enter a church. Too bad more Catholics are not as open minded as you obviously are. With great respect and thanks for your words. Bill

Wheelie Catholic said...


I'm glad that you left the comment you did. It was long overdue that I began to write about some of these issues. I also welcome and respect your point of view.