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Birdability

Birdability

Recently I discovered a new organization; a new website—Birdability.  The organization is focused on disability inclusion in birding.  It may seem like a quirky corner of concern, but it was a reminder of our inability to segregate the impact of disability, or any characteristic of diversity, to only one or two specific areas of life. Most of my characteristics are visible: I’m white, female and dwarf.  I’m a birder. You can’t always tell that by looking. I learned the voices of birds as a child. My Pa Tom pointed out the distinct calls of our birds and I studied the variety available in the dusty fields around our little farm.  Accessibility wasn’t a problem because I just walked around and listened.

I don’t suppose I thought of myself as a birder until I was forty-ish.  I have noticed birds all my life.  Hawks sat on the overhead lines along my routes to and from Joplin beginning in college.  Driving cross-country in the summer, the red-winged black birds perched on fences just beyond the reach of the highway.  Touring a civil war battlefield, I found blue birds. I was struck by the curious cheerfulness pausing on a branch, more than a century after bloodshed continued to shape our national landscape.  Being a homeowner, however, brought bird feeders into my life.  I lured a variety of nuthatches, chickadees and juncos into community with the sparrows and blue jays and cardinals.  I bought finch seed and found gold finches in my yard. By May, the humming bird feeders were up. I found the Cornell bird site with audio and struck up a conversation with cat birds hidden in the twilight shadows along the back fence. Birding is a simple enough way to connect with nature, and it expands my awareness of the beauty lurking in bushes and branches all around us. I’ve found birding spots in parks, shoreline marshland and wherever I go, outside my door. 

I don’t need to focus much on my disability when birding is a solitary activity of my own design. But if I venture out, I have to plan.  Is the trail area accessible? Is there a driving route that could make exploring more manageable? Is there parking or are there places to rest along the trail. I am reminded of the ugly racial encounter in New York City’s Central Park when a white woman called the police on a Black man birding. Race and ethnicity don’t matter to the birds. I used to think there was a bias against younger women birding but it appears I’ve outgrown the “younger” tag.

Radical Wholeness stands for our wholeness wherever we are and whatever we are doing.  Whenever we find activities people are excluded from, we must become aware of the barriers we create or allow to remain which distance segments of the community from participating. We are called to be inclusive in even the most quirky or mundane of the activities of life.  Kudos to Birdability for filling a need and making one more corner of life more accessible.

https://www.birdability.org/

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The Freedom of Radical Wholeness

This year Independence Day finds me, like many others, with a lot of mixed feelings about freedom and the actions of our country.  The focus on our founding and the inception of our nation, brings up white supremacy, patriarchy and a multitude of inhumane policies and actions.  There are not enough fireworks and potato salad to blur the vivid portrait of all the aspects of our founding that were the complete antithesis of the democracy and freedom portrayed in the documents of our beginning. “All people” did not include all people and the path to inclusion is bitter and long and painful and not complete.

So, I choose to look at the freedom of Radical Wholeness.  Made in the image and likeness of that universal energy we refer to as God, each of us bears the divine imprint of our creator.  That which is within is our essence and is equally whole within each one.  The radical element of Radical Wholeness is that every single incarnational vehicle, every body, is equally valuable and an expression of the divine within.  Every shape, size, skin color, gender identity, sexuality, and ability is just as perfectly human as every other one.  Equally divine and uniquely human, no one comes into the world to be fixed or healed. No one’s body is a manifestation of a spiritual failure. God is not a person but if it was, there would be no picture on God’s wall of what the favorite, whole and complete, offspring looks like. Instead, we would all be on God’s wall; each one of us the beloved, favorite child.

If there is no singular image nor standard, we are all intent on shaping ourselves into, then each of us is free to be “the best me!”  We are free from comparison. I don’t need to aspire to the looks or success measures or values or performance of anyone else because I am not that person.  I am free from the anger or shame which arises when I perceive I am lacking because there is no lack in my unique wholeness.  I can release any perception of lack as false and let the anger or shame go with it. This can actually be a challenge, because we often internalize some of the judgmental standards of the systems that oppress us.  For me, it is letting go of the Ableist ideals that I have to be productive, exhibit physical stamina and constantly on the go to have worth. I take the challenge to claim my freedom to be who I am in this moment.

There is always this tension between accepting myself as I am and challenging myself to be the best me I can be.  I have to examine if the best me I am aiming for is being shaped by ableist ideals (or it may be other standards for you) or simply my guidance on ways to be more authentically the expression of Spirit I came here to be.  No one can take away my freedom to be me but I can imprison myself in false beliefs and comparisons. This Independence Day I claim the freedom of Radical Wholeness and celebrate me. I invite you to celebrate the freedom to be you as we work together, until everyone feels celebrated and free. 

Image description: The sparkle of a single sparkler against a black background

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You Are Whole

“You are whole!” This is the core of Radical Wholeness. I was blessed to receive this message at a very, very early age.  It didn’t come from the church, and I’m not sure how it was worded, but it was an insight from my father, against all appearances. Appearances described me as deformed, dwarf, defective.  That is not what he saw nor what he believed about the essence of me.    

My wholeness is not a gift, unique to me, but rather an expression of the universal wholeness present in each of us. My father’s ability to see my wholeness, and treat me as whole, nurtured my ability to live from my wholeness in a world that would often see me as broken. 

The medical community and most religious communities see me in need of healing, my appearance a signal of a fracture in the intended perfection of humanity. Radical Wholeness does not stand for a singular image of humanity perfected but a diverse kaleidoscope of images, each containing the divine wholeness which is our birthright.  If we, humans, are created in the image and likeness of the creator, how is it possible that some or any of us are created broken or less than whole?

I am aware of theories in my own faith tradition that hedge around Radical Wholeness and begrudgingly acknowledge each of us is whole—somewhere within—but these theories maintain that appearances indicate we have been unable to connect with that wholeness.  Your difference is an indicator of your broken connection. This theory depends on a singular image of humanity perfected and any deviation is the basis for the diagnosis of your brokenness. If there is no secret singular image—if no one person holds the picture of how spiritual wholeness manifests—then we are all whole and able to connect to our innate wholeness, even if we are not consciously aware of our connection.

It is the universal nature of our wholeness which allows me to declare with you, “You Are Whole!” without ever meeting you.  Without knowing what you look like or what you’ve done or the direction your life’s path has taken, I know you are whole.  Our wholeness is not something that can be taken, diminished or separated from us.  It can only be ignored.  Ironically, our free will allows us to believe the false messages of brokenness.  It is our belief in separation, not any actual separation from our wholeness, that gets in the way of exercising our spiritual power. Radical Wholeness stands for healing as an exercise of our power, not as a requisite for powerful demonstrations.  It stands for restoring vitality, opening to abundance, stepping into new opportunities and initiating change in our world no matter how our appearances may be judged by others.  All of this is possible because we each have the power to tap into the WHOLENESS we already are. There is nothing to fix before we can begin. Live from your wholeness now, right where you are, just as you are. 

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What is wrong with you?

What is wrong with you?

Early on, everyone with a disability must resolve how to answer this perennial question.  Whether your disability is easily visible and the question is almost a greeting or whether the question doesn’t arise until your disability is revealed, the question comes.  Sometimes there is a follow-up: Why can’t you….  If you’ve grown up with a disability, you’ve mastered some sort of answer by the time you are an adult.  If you’ve acquired a disability, the sad news is that in the midst of grieving whatever function you have lost, you also have to come to terms with answering this question.

As a child, I learned quickly that I was expected to answer this question by explaining my dwarfism was a lack of bone growth. As I got older, I added that God makes everyone different; different sizes, shapes and colors. Coaching children to answer puts two burdens on a child. First, by answering with information you do not challenge the “wrong” part of the question. You answer what is wrong with you. Repeatedly the child hears and absorbs “there is something wrong with me”.  Second, the expectation the child will answer with information imprints on the child that they are expected to share personal information with total strangers.  By virtue of their difference, they are not entitled to the same sense of privacy and personal space everyone else gets.  Honestly, I coached my children in the same kind of answers I always gave.  Today, I would teach them differently.

Nothing is wrong with me. Different is not wrong nor is it bad nor less than. If responding to a child, I would add “And your parents should explain that to you.” The task of teaching children about differences is not the duty of all the people around the child who are different than the child.  Especially if it is a child-to-child interaction, no child should have to defend their right to exist to a peer.  The idea that this applies equally to adult-to-adult interactions should not have to be explained but here it is. I don’t owe you an explanation or information. I will not leave the idea something is wrong with me unchallenged!

I often go to the story in John 9 as a metaphorical guide to Jesus’ response to disability. The story begins with the disciples questioning: Who sinned, the parents or the man, that caused him to be blind?  Definitely a judgement that something is wrong.  Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  So nothing is wrong. Let’s think about the last portion of the response—so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So why are any of us here?  So that God’s works might be revealed in us.  Same deal for all of us. People with disabilities do not have some special directive nor are they excluded from purpose and value. Then the story is odd.  Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash it off.  For me, the mud represents all the judgments, limiting opinions, and disrespect heaped upon all of those judged different but especially those with disabilities.  Then Jesus tells the man to wash it off.  It is an action the man himself takes, inspired and guided by Spirit.  “Then he went and washed and came back able to see.”  Here is where I feel strongly about metaphorical meaning, not literal meaning.  What did he see?  The literal and even common metaphorical meaning is that his sensory eyesight was activated.  It was a physical healing.  Yet the passage says he was a beggar and no one could recognize him now.  He was a changed man.  Here is what I think he saw—he saw himself as a divine being, worthy and capable. He stood straighter, walked with confidence the familiar paths, he changed his appearance with a sense of self-esteem. The transformation of consciousness is a powerful healing that is possible for all of us. How many of us need restoration of our ability to see ourselves as worthy; as divine heirs of the kingdom?  How many of us never notice the mud placed upon our vision, layer after layer, day after day?  How many of us are willing to take action when divinely inspired?  Or do we wait for someone/something else to act upon us for healing?

During Lent we are encouraged to give up something.  Our Unity Lenten booklet lays out a plan to let go of the negative and take up the positive.  Let’s give up the mud! Let go of mud we heap upon one another and the mud that we accept when heaped upon us. There is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong with others. If anyone asks what is wrong with you, do not affirm the idea by explaining what is wrong. Challenge the idea!  Deny it has power over you! There is nothing wrong with me.  We may be different but that does not make one of us wrong! You do not owe anyone a further explanation.  Let us take action to wash the mud away, thought by thought, and see ourselves for the brilliant expressions of Spirit each of us is.  We are here so that the works of God may be revealed in us. The Divine shines in every single, radically whole, one of us.  Shine on!  

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7 Dwarfs, Munchkins and Fairy Tale Fallout

          With roles in Station Agent and Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage has worked hard to establish himself as a serious actor.  Recently, he has used his voice and public platform to call out Disney productions for half-stepping diversity progress.  Apparently, the new Disney production of the age old “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs” will take the white out of Snow White but leaves the 7 Dwarfs, and its accompanying damage, intact.  Maybe because Dinklage uses the F-bomb liberally in his comments, maybe because no one wants to hear or understand what he’s talking about, Dinklage is being dismissed as simply, “an angry little man”.  What is all this about?

          Fairy tales, for the most part, involve mythical things or powers that don’t really exist.  While extinct dinosaurs might resemble the imaginary dragons, you cannot find the elusive flitting fairies, gargoyles that leave their stony perch, vampires or giants bigger than trees.  The challenge with short-statured people in fairy tales (dwarfs, leprechauns, trolls and gnomes), is that short people do exist.  They are real human beings just like everyone else.  They are never portrayed in tales as heroic beings like everyone else.

          Many Unity ministers love to use The Wizard of Oz to examine metaphors and lift it up as a spiritual tale.  I do not.  What do you do about the Munchkins?  One of the primary tools of discrimination of people with disabilities is “infantasizing” them, or making them childlike. If you go to Munchkin.com you find a company making baby products.  This village in Oz is filled with one dimensional (height) people with cute little costumes and no real identity or characteristics.  One day I found myself in the grocery store, going up and down the aisles to gather my groceries.  A man sidled up to me and with a sneer said, “Look what we have here!  A Munchkin!”  I was very uncomfortable and moved away from him.  He located me in another aisle, “Are you gonna tell me where the wizard is?” The evil in his tone and demeanor was starting to freak me out.  I abstained from saying, “May a thousand flying monkeys come out your ass,” because I was a pastor and that was not a very pastoral thing to say.  Instead, I found my daughter and hurried out of the store.  I should have told the store manager.  The problem with portraying people with dwarfism in fairy tales is that a fair number of people cannot distinguish fairy tales from reality.  Dinklage, like most of us, did not grow up with people looking at us as potential romantic partners, as leaders of industry, as inventors, as creatives or people to respect. We were “the dwarf” in class, in town, in our work environments, often in our own families.  It is a minimization that few are interested in undoing.  Dinklage hoped he had the recognition to make a change. Sadly, I think he was wrong.

          Disney is in the business of fairy tales.  In recent years, they have begun to identify some of the damage done in the typical fairy tale.  For generations we have taught young women that they need a man (ideally a prince) to rescue them from danger (not that the men cause the danger, that is left to evil older women) and finding the right prince is the only real path to happily ever after.  Young men are taught fighting is the answer to any conflict, physical strength is the primary characteristic of success, and you also need to find a princess for happiness.  Newer stories are being told about women who fight (Mulaun, Maya and the Dragon), women who don’t get rescued (Tangled and Frozen), men can lack physical strength, be sensitive and prevail in peace (How to Train Your Dragon-not a Disney film, DreamWorks) and the absence of beauty as necessary (Shrek, also DreamWorks).  Still, we leave the dwarfs intact as not real people, even though we have real people in the roles.  Snow White in the forest with 7 little men is not in any danger because they aren’t real men, they are dwarfs. They have no capacity for violence, sexuality nor heroism.  Only one out of 7 seems to be very smart (Doc vs Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Dopey).  Maintaining this one-dimensional portrayal of people with dwarfism is what Dinklage is calling out as the perpetuation of the damage done in fairy tales, while appearing to correct the bigotry of Snow White-ness.  

          Dinklage’s comments are being countered with wails of “So should we do away with all fairy tales?”  “Why does everything have to be politically correct?”  “Why can’t kids have stories anymore?”  So here is a thought.  Before we cast out damaging fairy tales, we need to first, acknowledge the nature and existence of the damage fairy tales have done; and second, we need to write new stories that counter the damage. What if it was The Princess and 7 Men in the Woods?  What if the men, maybe a mix of short and tall, had real strengths and weaknesses, and a devotion to protecting and caring for the princess?  What if they performed heroic acts to keep her safe?  What if it was a dwarf man who summoned the courage to kiss the poisoned girl they all had cared for and the princess awakens to a love born out of caring and courage—which might actually be the foundation for a happy marriage? I would suggest that we cast the princess as a woman of color and short stature but then observers could dismiss it as just a “dwarf tale” not really relevant to “real people” or in our value system, tall people. Just as even winning an Emmy has not been enough to eliminate references to Dinklage as a “dwarf actor” not merely a talented actor.  Putting that “dwarf” label in front of anything is like adding a demerit, or a negative sign.

           People with dwarfism are real people.  They are in pulpits and classrooms and boardrooms and hospitals.  They have hopes and dreams; they have marriage and divorce and children.  Like all real people, they have diseases and pain and yet, like all people, the measure of their worth is not their height nor their productivity.  We all have sacred value. Minimizing the value of anyone, based on any characteristic in this material and temporary manifestation in the world, is injustice.  We need to stop telling stories that perpetuate injustice.  We need to create new stories to lift up the characteristics that lead to true success—kindness, compassion, courage, wisdom.  We need to start NOW.

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Peace 2021

          “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…”  This message from the angels in the gospel of Luke focuses us on perhaps the most elusive of all the elements celebrated in Advent. We have glimpses of hope, faith, love and joy but how much do we experience peace?  Hanukkah is a celebration of light over darkness, and yet another battle for the Hebrew people who continue to feel the stress of conflict in the world even today.  The famous tale of Silent Night and the pause in World War I portrays how fleeting peace can be on earth. Yet here it is, the Advent Sunday and week of peace.  What are we to make of it?  How can it inform our preparation for the holy birth?

            If peace is, at its simplest, the absence of conflict, what if we turned our attention inward?  There is no conflict in the spiritual realm (or heaven), so this is an issue for our human experience here on earth.  What if our first order of business is not so much the conflict we create among ourselves but the conflict we create within ourselves?

            Created in the image and likeness of our creator, then our essential nature is love.  How much time do we spend centered in, and thinking, feeling and acting from our love nature? The most basic conflict consuming much of our time here on earth is functioning out of alignment with our true self.  I want to be love in expression and I cannot feel peace when I am thinking, feeling and acting out of anger, fear, guilt, worthlessness and pain.  Peace calls me back to my essential self of love.  When I accept my own struggle to be love in expression and am able to see the struggle of others, I let go of anger and know that I have nothing to fear from others.  When I forgive myself for times I have been less than my best, I let go of guilt, even as I seek to make things right with others.  When I know myself as the creation of the Divine, I realize I am precious to the creator and my worth has nothing to do with the measures of earth.  There is no greater nor lesser in the Creator’s expression. I let go of condemnation of myself. When I am in pain, physical or emotional, I know it is a temporary experience that is not my essential nature. I let go of any sense that I deserve or need to hold onto the pain. 

            The more I can experience peace within, the less I perceive myself in conflict with others. The more I can acknowledge the unifying nature of love, the more I seek to find a path to understanding the struggles of others and solutions that create a world that works for everyone. As there is more peace within my earthly experience, I begin to see more peace out in my worldly experience.  Peace is always one of the infinite possibilities available in each moment. Today I choose peace. I claim peace on earth.  

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Fixing vs Healing

Fixing vs Healing

I’ve been wrestling with my feelings for days and I’m not sure I’m any closer to sorting the feelings out or finding words to express myself.

We are spiritual beings having a human experience.  The oneness of our spirituality is often poorly expressed through our humanity and so issues like justice, oppression and inequities often occupy our thoughts. I, like others, have spent a fair amount of time discovering and living into my inner, spiritual wholeness.  Embracing the idea that no matter how my humanity appears; no matter how the material world reacts to, judges or discounts my humanity; there is within me an eternal wholeness that cannot be diminished or destroyed. 

Do you love yourself?  This soulful question is hard enough for people who generally fit the ideal mold held out as leading to success in our world.  Most people question their body shape, hair texture, speech, and a hundred other factors and fear they still don’t measure up. For people with disabilities (and other oppressed groups), this is an even more difficult question to answer in the face of ample evidence the world does not love me, value me nor support me being the way I am.

While I have been focused on my wholeness, it seems the material world has been focused on fixing a brokenness. Last week, the FDA, not wholly consumed with COVID, approved a BioMarin drug to treat achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism.  Intended to enhance growth in a condition noted for short stature, it may not be the panacea you hope it is at first glance.  While it may increase height, individuals will not be tall, nor will it erase features seen in the hands, face, body proportions and feet of individuals with achondroplasia.  It may allow them to reach things but it may not put the treated individuals out of the reach of ridicule for how they look.  There does not seem to be sufficient longitudinal evidence (either here or in Europe) to see if it will really improve long term joint pain and co-morbidities (including apnea).  BioMarin’s Chief Commercial Officer projects sales of this drug will eclipse its former best seller, at $544 Million.  Given an annual cost of $320,000 and the inequities inherent in our healthcare system, we know there will be disparities in how the drug is dispensed based on race and economics. BioMarin sought input on the drug, primarily from unaffected parents of children with achondroplasia. This sets up a potential dynamic similar to what happened years ago with cochlear implants in the deaf community.  Deaf parents were suddenly “neglectful” or “selfish” if they saw deafness as an identity, a life worth living and declined to subject their children to the implant.  Dwarf parents may now face a similar discussion if they see themselves as whole even with achondroplasia and decline the drug for their eligible children. 

Of course, there are people who don’t want to be the way they are.  People who don’t want to be dwarf, or deaf, or gay, or transgender or neurodivergent or different.  “It would be nice to be like others,” they fantasize. “It would be nice to be out of pain and suffering.  To live without fear in a world that supports who I am.” I am concerned that if we keep working to “fix” people based on the standards of oppression, we skip the work we could be doing to improve quality of life, eliminate barriers and oppressive social structures, and move to a place in consciousness of embracing all differences.

This drug is given around the age of 5-12 to children with active growth plates so decisions are driven by parents. The challenge is always unaffected parents choosing an identity or understanding an identity not their own. These children have a spiritual wholeness within them, no matter what their parents decide. Should drugs be used to eliminate elements of difference, elements of human identity that others devalue?  Is the primary goal health or fitting in? What happens to the way society views those with dwarfism who aren’t helped by this drug or who can’t access the drug?  Can we believe in wholeness and still seek to alter who we are?  I affirmed my wholeness daily during chemotherapy. Healing, for me is what happens when I am grounded in wholeness.  I guess I didn’t view my treatment with drugs as fixing something broken as much as I saw it as releasing something foreign.  And maybe that is just semantics I want to promote my view. I do believe in our wholeness, we are continually seeking to be better and better human expressions of the Light we are. I will work to release judgement of those who choose the drug for their children. I will work to release judgement of those who long to be different than they are. I can’t claim any superiority around the wholeness I see within each of us. Nor do I deny that it is possible for those choosing the drug to also see wholeness and not brokenness.

Still, I wonder about what happens when we set about eliminating differences in each other—in our humanity.  BioMarin has decided tall(er) is a better quality than short. We know that eugenics, as a movement even in this country, sought to eliminate any “imperfection” early on by allowing infants to die without life sustaining treatment. I was put in the back of the nursery to die in 1955 by concerned medical professionals, and Baby Doe cases in the early 80’s allowed parents and medical teams to withhold treatment until legislation protecting the rights of newborns was enacted. We also allowed involuntarily sterilizing primarily developmentally delayed adults (some states allowed this up until 1977). The medical community was a part of how this all unfolded. I was in my early twenties the first time a high school biology teacher confronted me in a workshop I was doing with a genetic counselor. The workshop was about teaching the science of genetic inheritance in humans with compassion and not viewing “conditions” as oddities. We hoped to avoid people teaching in a way that made affected individuals in the text book somehow less than human. This gentleman said, “It makes little sense to discuss how the condition might be inherited going forward when people like you shouldn’t be allowed to reproduce.” Well, there it was, out in the open.  Our target audience was resistant to the message.  I think I simply said no one needed a permit to have children. I’m sure I had a sarcastic ending in my head about maybe not allowing narrow-minded people to reproduce.  I wonder if we have changed?

I am certainly not “anti-medicine”. I am vaccinated and booster-ed. I go to the doctor for support in the ways I can maintain this little body temple. I listen to my body. I am still thriving after years of activity and a dance with cancer. I pray everyone has access to the tools of technology and medicine which allow them to live their best lives. I do not believe my activity, my productivity, the taxes I pay, the children I had the honor to raise, nor the education I got, makes me any more valuable or better than anyone else. As this Thanksgiving approaches, I am grateful for the ability to love myself; to see the wholeness I am; to see wholeness in others; and to continue to work for an equitable and just world for all. If enough people see wholeness and equality in everyone, maybe we can redirect our creative energies in a direction to provide healthcare, education, housing, transportation, meaningful work and basic needs for all of us just as we are.

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Reflections on Diversity: Awareness

October is a month of so many “Awareness” campaigns it can be overwhelming.  So many of them are directly relevant to my life and touch those I love.  It may be just an alignment of synchronicity: Dwarfism, Disability Employment, Infant Loss, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), Cerebral Palsy, Domestic Violence and more.   

In pondering this “awareness” work, I began to wonder what was the point?  What is it we hope to accomplish by providing all this information?  In all the years of posting, has it made a difference?  Is there ever enough information to shift the consciousness that is the source of painful experiences? 

We hope that by answering questions and providing information others will finally understand a perspective they may not have experienced.  In that understanding, we hope to find acceptance and support for the ongoing challenges of the particular awareness issue we address.  In acceptance we hope to gain equity and not only a place but a voice at a table of privilege we may not sit at now.  Perhaps we could all begin with knowing we cannot ever understand at a deep level the experiences that are not ours.  Not having the same experience as others does not stop us from treating others with empathy and compassion. Make the choice to be kind, it won’t matter how many questions go unanswered.  Maybe in deeper connections we actually will learn about one another in a more meaningful way.

In awareness work, I think we hope to make our difference a little less foreign.  We try to point towards common ground in our humanity and try to reduce the distancing that happens among us all.  We hope that answering questions will somehow quell the fear of difference.  Perhaps we could begin celebrating our uniqueness.  Difference does not mean “not the same as ____” where we value a characteristic and those without the characteristic are “different”.  We are designed to be unique, no two exactly the same.  We are all different.  Breathe.  Be unique and let others be uniquely who they are.

Peace within produces peace without.  We are really all afraid of being judged. Awareness campaigns arise out of awareness of the ways people judge us. As much as others judge us, we internalize all that propaganda and we judge ourselves with the same criteria we fear having applied to us.  It is the social order, economic hierarchy, biased “isms” we have all been taught.  We internalize it and judge ourselves. Love yourself. The funny part of much of the education in awareness campaigns is we attempt to teach that which we have had to learn ourselves about ourselves and those we love.  Everyone has something that is their “different”. We all know the rules about success and worth.  Toss them out.  Find success and worth within yourself and begin to be able to acknowledge it in others. 

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Reflections on Diversity: A different kind of perfect

Today, we had planned a perfect day. Weather predictions were low humidity, a nice breeze and mild temperatures.  We would start the day with a lazy breakfast in a local café.  Then we would wander the sunflower fields outside Lawrence, take some pictures, and wander back home.  Maybe a stop at Sonic for a cherry limeade on the way home. Books to read on the patio at home.

Then came the note last night.  Bug sprayers and smoke detector checks today. Random folks invading our apartment.  We stayed home to protect the fur babies. There is no schedule and we waited.  The morning evaporated without a lazy café breakfast or start for the sunflower fields.  When the buggers finally came and went, we opted for a drive through lunch carried to the park with Raymond in tow as a precaution for the still unexpected smoke detector checker.  We had to thread our way out of the complex through the asphalt trucks that have abandoned the carefully mapped project as the paved lots slowly transition to some new black top bliss. The breeze at Shawnee Mission Park lake was delightful.  Geese honked and swam at a safe distance although Raymond noted their presence with barking. He sniffed and rambled and got bites of hamburger.  I came home to work on various diversity projects.  It was a different kind of perfect than we had planned.  Still perfect.

We have to stop expecting there is only one kind of perfect.  Charlie, my luecent feathered cardinal, is a different kind of perfect.  My father held me and declared me perfect and not in need of healing. I am a different kind of perfect than I’m sure he and my mom planned on but still, just perfect.  In our diversity work, we must come to see all the different kinds of perfect there are without wanting to change or heal any of them.   Perfect isn’t a peg shaped to fit in a hole, but a sea of infinite possibilities manifesting one by one, each uniquely shaped to fill its space in the world we are creating together. 

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Is Radical Wholeness Relevant?

When you begin a new thing, you really have no idea the direction it will take.  Whether it is a new relationship or job or writing adventure, life happens. It’s been over a year since Unity Magazine published my article titled “Radical Wholeness”.  The intention, at the time, was to challenge my own faith tradition’s theological approach to healing, specifically as it relates to those with disabilities and the language used by some of our most revered writers.  My aim was to nudge ministers and spiritual leaders into examining their own theology and language around healing and disability and also, to provide a safe space for those with disabilities to access Unity’s empowering messages.  I was excited about the possibilities.  I got a couple encouraging responses from individuals with disabilities about a need for this.  I got very little response from ministers. Undaunted, I began a blog.  I was doing full time ministry so I didn’t have as much time as I wanted to write but I pushed on.  The blog was linked to a Facebook page, where I also featured articles about individuals with disabilities and their accomplishments and perspectives.  The Facebook page is a place to gain access to the perspectives of people who identify as disabled and just don’t give that word the negative connotation we have become indoctrinated with. Just as I was getting ready to retire and find more time, the pandemic hit.  Ministry was overwhelming.  Then came the deaths of Ahmaud Arbrey and George Floyd and the focus in the arenas of oppression were focused on Black Lives Matter.  Not arguing the appropriateness of that focus and our need for changes to eliminate systemic racism.  Just more life happening. And certainly there is inter-sectionality between Black lives, People Of Color (POC) and Disability.

It’s the end of September and Radical Wholeness is more than a year old.  I’m not sure ministers and spiritual leaders feel compelled to examine their beliefs around disability because honestly, who wants to think they have limiting beliefs around groups of people when they claim to be spiritual leaders?  Right now, many who are not Black are overwhelmed by confronting their complicity in systemic racism.  The reach of Racial Wholeness to people with disabilities does not seem to be very broad yet.  Honestly, I am finding our teachings haven’t always felt welcoming to people with disabilities so we don’t have as many individuals identifying with disabilities in those who follow Unity messages.  I have also found, in other disability forums, people with disabilities have become so accustomed to “making do” with a world not designed for them, they often don’t confront or examine the ways their faith traditions discount them or exclude them.  Although I have come to rely on spiritual practice to sustain me in social justice work, I understand those who feel differently. And we all use those parts of a spiritual practice that work for us and discard the rest, without a lot of reflection or searching for a different path.  I am not saying that is invalid as a spiritual practice.  It is just a new nuance in finding Radical Wholeness’ audience.

While I have been disappointed in the response of what I thought were my target audiences, a surprise audience has surfaced.  The core of Radical Wholeness is the idea that each one of us is whole and complete in our spiritual nature, our spiritual or higher self, AND the idea that there is not a singular and superior way our spiritual nature out-pictures in our humanity. 

Initially, this was presented as humans who were blind or deaf or dwarf were just as valid a picture of spiritual wholeness as humans who were tall and able-bodied. The surprise was that many people who do not identify with disabilities do see their humanity as broken and less than whole.  They resonated with the idea that what they viewed as their brokenness did not disqualify them from being an expression of spiritual wholeness. Or maybe it was a rebellion against being judged as broken and having internalized that message.  Still, people who did not identify with disabilities liked the Radical Wholeness message.  They liked exploring there is not a singular destination for healing and others should not presume to know the healing needed or taking place in any of us. I have some indication they hear the message of Radical Wholeness as relevant to their lives.

So I will keep writing for Radical Wholeness.  I truly hope you will share the posts and maybe what you like about Radical Wholeness.  Whether it challenges you to examine beliefs; whether it reveals your own wholeness and inspires you to live into your potential, no matter what limitations appear in the physical world; whether it connects you to others you did not see a commonality with—whatever draws you into this world of Radical Wholeness, WELCOME!  We are all so magnificent and we all have ways we under-value ourselves. Perhaps the only healing we all seek is to know our divinity and claim that divine expression as who we are right this moment.  Whatever we have come to believe or are still being told about our “differences” and the ways we do not fit the “average” mold, that misinformation has nothing to do with the possibilities available for us to live into.  May we all find the truth of Radical Wholeness is relevant to our lives. 

Photo caption: A silver pig with wings reflected in a silver edged mirror

Radical Wholeness is the divine inheritance of us all!
I am a whole and complete expression of Divine Life