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Will healing erase our differences?

I encourage you to keep reading because this may not be the blog you think it is.

Let’s begin with the premise that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.  Made in the image and likeness of Divine Beingness, without exception, each of us can access a perspective that sees a like being in each other.  By looking beyond our human vehicle to the essence of each of us, there we are, whole and one in spirit. The second part of our premise brings us back to our humanity and that human experience.  If our sacred beingness arises from a Divine Source, our human expression seems to arise, to some extent, from our genes.  Those DNA sequences determine eye color and hair, gender expression and a host of other characteristics.

In 1990 the human science community undertook an international project to map the entire sequence of human genes.  What showed up where?  I recall there was a fair amount of discussion of the ethics of what would happen to the information if we knew the genetics of each person. The project was completed in 2006. This year the Nobel prize in Chemistry goes to two women (a first), Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Douda for their CRISPR technology.  Simply put, CRISPR is a way to edit and alter genes.  The technology is being used in several trials to “fix” broken genes that cause lethal conditions in humans, such as sickle cell disease and SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy). I’ll put a link to an article at the end if you’d like more scientific information. 

If healing is a return to wholeness and we’ve discovered a way to fix broken genes and make them whole, what could be the problem?  How could anyone be against healing?  Let me be clear, Radical Wholeness is not against healing.  From Buddhists to Christians to Pagans, most of us would like to eliminate pain and suffering.  Even if you consider it a part of our human experience, it is the part we would most like to skip. One of the most frequent healing desires is to reduce or eliminate pain and suffering. Healing keeps bringing us back to what does wholeness look like?

No one tends to think wholeness looks like genetic disability unless you are a person who has lived into a disability identity.  And not everyone with a genetic disability adopts a positive disability identity.  Many people spend their whole lives wishing to be something different; something without the inconvenience and limitation of their disability; something without the physical, psychological and emotional pain; something with more ability and more social acceptance.  So, what do we do with the emerging technology to allow these people to heal and return to their vision of wholeness?  Who decides what is whole and when is the decision made and who decides how to use the technology?  These ethical issues not being talked about put us on the slippery slope of a concept that is not new but takes on new life in this brave new world: Eugenics. 

Eugenics was popular in the United States in the 1900’s.  If you aren’t familiar with the word, here is an online definition: “the study of how to arrange reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics regarded as desirable. Developed largely by Sir Francis Galton as a method of improving the human race, eugenics was increasingly discredited as unscientific and racially biased during the 20th century, especially after the adoption of its doctrines by the Nazis in order to justify their treatment of Jews, disabled people, and other minority groups.” Now the Nazis got in trouble because their manipulation of reproduction was to simply eliminate people.  In the United States, the more benign version of eugenics was to involuntarily sterilize individuals with undesirable characteristics. In 1927, the Supreme Court sanctioned involuntary sterilization with a majority decision (written by Oliver Wendell Holmes) in Buck vs Bell that reads in part, “It is better for the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.” Lest you think this is ancient history, we might note that the last legally forced sterilization occurred in 1981 in Oregon.  Enforcement became state by state with a cascade of repeals in more recent years but the Supreme Court decision has never been overtly overturned. Let that sink in.

Who makes the decisions in Eugenics?  It is NOT the individual!  It is parents, medical people and social bias who establish who is fit to reproduce.  So let’s apply this movement to the CRISPR technology.  Many genetic conditions have established patterns of inheritance going forward but first appear in families through an unpredictable occurrence of “spontaneous mutation” of the gene.  Parents want the best for their children so most of the decisions will fall to individuals who have no experience of the difference being eliminated or genetically engineered out.  In communities with a disability identity, like the deaf or dwarf community, we could also feasibly see disabled parents denied the ability to refuse genetic engineering to heal their child into the wholeness viewed by others.  The views of disabled parents are often discounted or ignored. Since disability is so obviously not wholeness in society’s general view, let’s consider LGBTQ. Let’s assume science discovers genetic components to gender identity and sexual orientation, which can then be genetically engineered away. Would a parent choose to have their child LGBTQ or would they choose to heal the child?  Of course, we still have the issue of race.  Nazis gave Eugenics a bad name with their extreme behavior yet one of the issues facing our nation today remains the belief (by maybe more than we estimate) in a master race.  What if a single master race was a physical possibility?  Would we eliminate the differences in our human expression if we could?  Would that really be healing? 

This seems like science fiction.  I am guessing most of you think I have just gone too far. I really intend this to be a cautionary note to generate conversation.  My concern is being too far down the slippery slope before we discern the need to make a course correction that is then out of reach.

What are the consequences if we shift our focus in the disability community from accommodation and acceptance to elimination of genetic conditions? With increasing economic disparity, who has access to the technology and what happens to those who do not have access?   What happens to those with acquired or non-genetic disabilities? Can we trust our social and governmental structures to be able to engage in ethical discussions and decision making?  Our history is not great on that.  Look at discussions and criteria right now being used in algorithms for distribution of limited ventilators if the need arises.  Look at the somewhat cavalier attitude from our nation’s leader about the ravages of COVID, based on the highest incidence being elderly, minorities and those with disabilities. Many continue to consider these acceptable losses in the interest of the economy. 

I know this is long and I appreciate those who read to the end.  For me, spirituality is not useful if it is not applied to daily living.  With power comes responsibility.  I am challenged to contemplate both my access to a spiritual wholeness and how to use that access for the highest and best.  If I see myself as part of a greater whole, what is the highest for our wholeness?  If humanity was designed for diversity, as indicated by our genetics, is it our destiny to eliminate that diversity, substituting human will for divine design? Or was diversity manifesting a human flaw and not divine design? Is Oneness sameness?  What exactly is healing and what does spiritual wholeness look like in human expression? I invite you to examine your own beliefs and stay aware of where humanity is heading.

Resources: Nobel Prize     https://www.quantamagazine.org/2020-nobel-prize-in-chemistry-awarded-for-crispr-to-charpentier-and-doudna-20201007/

Image description: image of blue microscopic dna strands on black background

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How Life Runs Through Me

Whether we are talking about psychology or spirituality or healing or some combination, the word “broken” or “brokenness” seems to come up.  The online dictionary uses descriptions like “damaged”, “no longer in one piece”, and “no longer in working order”.  “Broken” is a word people with disabilities hear in phrases applied to them like “damaged goods” and “non-functional” and “unable to work”.  I think everyone probably considers themselves broken somewhere along the path of life.  Whether it happens with a loss of a relationship and we have a broken heart; the loss of a job and we have a broken spirit; or an injury and we have a broken leg, everyone understands the idea of being broken. And who among us has not heard and sometimes believed our brokenness arose from some bad action by ourselves in a current or previous incarnation or by our parents or ancestors.  Some call the bad actions sin, some call it erroneous thoughts and some call it karma. It is an uncomfortable interpretation found in many religious traditions. In the ninth chapter of John, the disciples question Jesus about a man’s blindness: “ ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’ ”

I have been reflecting on the idea of brokenness, staring at a web of fault lines tea stain reveals in a cup from my grandmother. Decades of tea held to the lips of women in my family are the history of this cup.  I looked at my hand holding the cup and noticed the web of lines created by my veins.  Veins and arteries (usually not visible), large and small, carry blood throughout our bodies.  Veins are the tracks of how life runs through my body.  And it occurred to me that much of what others, or even I, consider brokenness is simply how life runs through me. 

I can break a bone and it does not mean my soul, the essence of who I am is broken.  I believe every part of my humanity can be broken, not working, or flawed and there is a divine part of me that is as whole as the moment it was created in the mind of the Creator. I can be missing limbs and have my brain re-wired and need assistance with basic functions and still, within my being-ness, I am whole.  What we call broken is simply how life runs through me and according to my beliefs (which you may or may not share) how life runs through me is how God’s work is revealed in this lifetime. 

It’s easy to gather a list of things in my life I have thought of as part of my brokenness: my dwarfism, a dysfunctional family and early abuse, the death of my father as a child and the death of my child as a young parent, health challenges and depression.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the condition or event or thing was a part of how I was born or came along as I made my way through life.  As I breathe into reflecting on how each of these changes me and shapes who I am in the world and as I remember I am made with the same divine imprint as everyone else, I see the tracks of how life runs uniquely through me.  I am still whole with a Radical Wholeness that is untouched by any condition of my humanity or my human experience.  I may not work the way others believe I should or could and yet, life continues to breathe me into existence. I continue the work I perceive is mine to do in the world, including this exploration of the intersection of spirituality and disability and the radical idea of wholeness within each of us. I continue to tap into that wholeness to heal through the physical and emotional conditions which make me feel less than who I came here to be. Sometimes that healing turns out the way I imagined it would and sometimes healing leads me to an entirely new place in life.

Temple Grandin spoke in Philadelphia this year at a conference on Autism.  She was quoted as saying we need all the creativity people bring, including the different way the brain works in people labelled with autism. There are different ways of hearing and seeing and thinking and expressing and communicating and when you put them all together it creates a magnificent wholeness each one of us is a part of.  Life runs through us fitting together a million pieces that might appear broken until you have a stained glass window or a Tiffany lamp. It is a very limited view of one tiny piece that sees different as nonfunctional. Perhaps if we all gave less attention to judging brokenness in ourselves and others, we would have more time to focus on the wholeness of life working through us.  Without trying to measure success or productivity, we could appreciate the love and peace and creativity each one brings to the world as life runs through them. Perhaps we would have a new appreciation of the powerful healings unfolding around us every day. We might even glimpse healing pieces being fit together within us.

The dictionary has one more definition of broken that is a separate line: having given up all hope.  Perhaps this kind of broken is the most challenging and yet, these situations give me the most evidence for an innate Radical Wholeness waiting to be drawn upon.  Albert Einstein is attributed the quote: “Adversity introduces a man to himself”.   When the outer world seems to fail us we are forced to turn within.  There we discover resources we might have been unaware of.  We discover that essence of wholeness that can sustain us through the time of darkness, into a new version of ourselves, into a healing transformation of how we see ourselves or others.  It’s not a magic potion or spell or anything someone can give us—it is our own Radical Wholeness to discover and utilize as life runs through us. 

Do you see yourself as broken or do you see the tracks of life running through you? Perhaps more importantly, can you touch the Radical Wholeness that is within you? Do you believe the Radical Wholeness within you is doing Its spiritual work through you? Tap into your Radical Wholeness and allow divine life to run through you.

How life runs through me does not alter the Radical Wholeness within.
Photo caption: image of hand with vein lines holding a tea cup with roses