Sunday, 2 July 2017

I'm running a one man campaign to stop what I see as a misappropriation of words associated with blindness being used in negative, phrases such as "he's blind to", "turn a blind eye" etc. Such phrases have far more to do with a conscious refusal to see something rather than actual blindness. 

Please don't misunderstand me here, I have a very thick skin and in no way do such phrases hurt me, I'm a rough tough Geordie lad and it would take far more than that I just feel that to use such phrases perpetuates a perception in people's minds that to be blind must be far more terrible than it really is. 

This theory of mine also has a lot to do with our collective misunderstanding of the difference between healing and cure, two words that many have come to regard as somehow interchangeable where as I see them as radically different. To understand what the gospel has to teach us about healing and cure we must first realise that we are talking about two completely separate things.

When I was first given the news of my sight loss back in 1987 I was angry, confused, hurt and as a result spent years in what I can only now describe as a rage, lashing out, hurting others, blaming others, wanting others to experience some of the pain I was feeling. 

It took me until the year 2000 to calm down sufficiently to even contemplate that I was going blind and that I should begin to explore what help might be out there, until that point my response had simply been to tell the whole world to F off!

Eventually in 2001 I was matched with my first guide dog Abbot.                       

Abbot was a very special being, in a very short space of time he took away all the anger, the bitterness, the sense of unfairness, to this day I still don't really know how he did it but I remain totally convinced that he did. This for me was a healing. It made what had been previously unbearable, bearable. More than that my blindness became part of my identity that I embraced, my blindness informs who I am, it causes me to place my faith and trust in a God that leads me who knows where in complete safety and love, it took Abbot to teach me that.

So now some 30yrs on I can say to people my blindness has been healed, not cured but healed. It is no longer the monster that rules my life, fills me with rage and sets me running. My blindness is now something that informs my faith, it helps me relate to others, it causes me to trust. It is by far more than just a negative. So much so that I don't believe in a Disney heaven where my sight will be fully restored, I'll be a guide dog owner in heaven too, it is part of who I am.

So back to this idea of banning the use of blindness related terms in every day conversation. I believe that such use contributed to the view I used to have of blindness before it actually happened to me. Everyday expressions had taught me to believe that to be blind was failure, was ignorance, was a refusal to see. I now know this to be far from the truth, so if you can see this too please join me in my campaign.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

The Rules Of The Game

So for those wishing to be part of our plan for a project on a theology of the marginalised let me try and set out some guidelines. 

  1. If Disability and Jesus are the ones to sponsor, host and co-ordinate then it must be done according to the standards we set for equality and inclusion.
  2. The marginalised groups we will be seeking input from are as follows, the disabled community, the BAME community, the LGBT community and the refugee community. People who have issues with any of these groups have no place here.
  3. Whilst we welcome input from the purely academic it must be understood from the outset that it is the voice of marginalised people themselves in their own words that will hold sway.
  4. Anything we produce will have to be done in ways that are accessible to all groups so we will have to be able to produce things in a range of languages, to produce a signed copy for deaf and hard of hearing people and braille and large print for visually impaired people.
  5. Nothing will be released for publication until we are able to produce all of those in point 4 simultaneously, anything else is simply not equality.
  6. We feel that there is a cry from UK society for such a project that has a sense of immediacy and urgency. So because we will be working hopefully with many of you we will work out a schedule. If that schedule does not work for some we sadly will carry on without them. If we wait to try and fit in with everyone's diaries it simply won't happen.
  7. Whilst we do not seek to be party political please be in no doubt that this is a work that carries serious political implications. We believe that this is a gospel imperative and will not shy away from it. If this is daunting to anyone then this will not be the project for you.
  8. We welcome and indeed encourage from national church leaders as we feel whatever is produced will only be affective if it reaches maximum exposure on a national level. 
We shall promote the idea for the next 10 days. In that time please send expressions of interest if you wish to be involved giving a little of your background, your area of interest and wether or not you consider yourself to be part of one of the marginalised groups mentioned, by sending an email to

At the end of that 10 day period Dave will collate all that information, then seek to find an accessible venue close to a mainline rail station in a city or town that is as near equidistant to all interested parties as possible. 

We want to act on this quickly as a response to a mood that we sense in the nation right now. 

We look forward to hearing from you.

Every blessing
Dave & guide dog Jarvis, on behalf of Disability and Jesus.
Sun 18th June, 2017

A Theology Of The Margins

Last night there was a conversation going on on our Twitter feed about various marginalised groups such as the disabled, LGBT, BAME and others working together to produce a book on the theology of marginalisation. 

Radical Hospitality demands that the implications of our theology be played out in wider society as well as within the church. It implies that God the Householder, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit call us to distributive justice not only of resources, but also of respect, leadership, healing and dignity. The need then is to create a diverse movement in the church who demand justice, reject privilege, and seek what is fair for all people regardless of ability, wealth, status, IQ or social standing. 

Implied in this call for Theological Consequentiality is the presumption that the way in which we usually respond to the message of Jesus Christ is somehow lacking or disingenuous. This presumption is made not as a judgment on the church but as recognition of how easy it is to be apathetic. 

So far much of what has been written on the marginal theologies has been written from an observational view point, not from someone living within life on the margins, struggling with the day to day of all that that can bring. We need to give people living on the margins licence to tell their stories, no matter how shitty, no matter how difficult we may find them to listen to and we need to be prepared to actually listen, no matter how uncomfortable or challenged we may feel, to withhold judgement until we are fully conversant with these stories. Let me also say here and now if you are so offended by the word “shitty”, simply step away now.  We will never get to grips with the heart of the matter if we are not prepared to get real.

In this time when “mutual flourishing” is the phrase of the moment within the church, we must begin to realise that for any group to be left feeling they don’t belong can not indeed be called “mutual flourishing”. 

These communities are not just of disabled people but are made up of many who feel themselves to be on the margins of the church, the poor, the homeless, the LGBT community, refugees, the traveling community and others. In days when there is so much talk in the west of declining church numbers we are beginning to see that it is within such communities that the Holy Spirit is working and it is these communities that are on the rise, breaking new ground, exploring new theologies. We see these groups as having the power, drive, openness and creativity to revive the broader church if only the church will let them in. 

What is evident is that God is working within these communities and if the church does not let them in we should not be surprised when it seems as if God has moved out of our churches to be with them.

We find it sad that the church spends so much time trying to restock the pews when there is such an obvious movement of the Holy Spirit on the margins. Just as Jesus did, if we gravitate to the margins then church growth will begin from the outside in. 

Our re-evaluation to embrace life on the margins should begin with our theology, as theology provides the framework by which the church bases her engagement. Therefore, we must ask, is it possible to revive theologia gloria for a postmodern society or must the Church be seeking an alternative theology.

Two crucial questions are answered in Matthew 16: 13-28. First, who is Jesus? And second, who are we before God? To be a follower of Jesus we must daily encounter God through the cross, that means both his and our own, a journey which will inevitably take us down that road to the margins yet still many churches are preaching a prosperity gospel, offering the Disney Jesus.

My most fundamental thoughts are that we have many in our society who feel themselves to be on the outside, shut outs, noses pressed to the glass, looking in on a society that does not seem to let them in. 

Disability and Jesus have a book almost ready for publication on the theology of disability and it is during the writing of that that I have begun to realise that disabled people share this feeling of being on the outside with so many other groups in our society. 

Then in the last few weeks of terror attacks and the London fire I have begun to see that the pain of many marginal groups is very similar and shares much in common with my own. 

I feel a need to try and respond to this, at this stage I am thinking of a book, a book collaboratively written by people living within the margins, maybe we need academics to help in the process but the actual voices of marginalised people need to be heard.

So where do we go from here?

Well I'm thinking that first of all I need to organise a meeting of like minded parties. So what I'm looking for at this stage are expressions of interest from like minded parties with a view to setting up an initial meeting sometime in the very near future, I do not think this is something to be kicked in to the long grass, I feel it is an issue that would very much resound with many in our society in the here and now.

So if these vague thoughts are something you'd like to explore further, could you please declare your interest by email to me at

Dave( and Jarvis the guide dog of course)

Monday, 12 June 2017

It's not just all about the kids!

I keep a close eye on what is going on in the world of faith and disability and it worries me that the majority of what we see seems to be about families with disabled kids, books are written training days are hosted etc by either parents of disabled children or on behalf of the parents of disabled children , all of which focus on disability from a parental view point.

Let me tell you a little of my own journey from my own perspective, a perspective that focuses on coming to terms with my disability. My version of events is very different from the version my parents would tell you. Does that mean my parents version is not true? No, of course not it simply means they were walking that journey in their own shoes. There was a constant tension throughout my childhood as my parents, out of the best possible motivation, wanted to wrap me in cotton wool and keep me safe and as I grew I was left simply feeling stifled by that cosseting and wanting to break out, to push the boundaries of what the medical profession were saying I would be capable of.

I remember as a child of around 8, I had just come home from hospital from one of many operations, my mates were outside playing football and I was not being allowed to join them. I remember standing in the kitchen overhearing a conversation between my mum and gran in the sitting room, my gran was telling my mum that if she clung on too tightly she would lose me. As I reached my late teens my gran was to be proved right, my parents worried about me and that the life choices I was making might be beyond my abilities, the more they forbid me, the more I rebelled against them.

My late teens and early twenties saw a period of estrangement between myself and my parents, happily that is long since resolved but I can't help but wonder if it could have been avoided.

Back in my childhood my grandad perfectly understood and tried to intervene. Grandad was a very practical, stoic Geordie, a train driver in the age of steam.

One winters day, again having just come out of hospital, I was not being allowed out to play in the snow with my friends. Grandad waited till gran had gone out, he put a stool next to the kitchen bench, stood me on it and told me too watch out the kitchen window. I watched as he brought 4 sheets of plywood from his shed and laid them on the kitchen floor, he went back outside and wheeled in to the kitchen four barrow loads of snow, placing them on the plywood, he then came back in and made me a snowman right there on my grans kitchen floor. He passed away very shortly after that some 50yrs ago but that memory has sustained me through so much.

So please can we have a more balanced approach to disability in the church we need to hear far more from disabled adults who have lived with their disabilities from childhood, people who have had to fight to achieve their full potential when very well meaning adults have tried to wrap them up in cotton wool.

Remember that wrapping disabled children too tightly might simply be storing up trouble for the future, please can we have a more balanced approach, yes let's ;listen to the concerns of the parents of disabled children but when looking for advice it is important that we hear from disabled adults themselves.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

What Can We Learn From The Election
Time and again since the election I have read comments about how invested the younger generation were in the vote, how social media has been so important and most importantly of all what a principled generation this young generation are.

I find myself agreeing whole heartedly with all of the above and I fear all those comments are things the church has failed to grasp.

This generation is the most highly principled generation for a long, long time. 

When we ask why this generation is not so engaged with church we need to keep these things in mind. This generation has no issue with God, their issues are with the church, a church that is failing the LGBT community, the disabled community, the poor etc. 

Yes there will be those who can tell us all about food banks, credit unions etc and they are of course good things, however, this generation want to see a church that uses the gospel to ask the questions why we still have so many people who feel excluded because of disability, sexuality, poverty etc. It's fine to pull these people out of the river but this generation wants to know who is pushing them in in the first place? Not only do they want to know who is doing the pushing but they also want to see those people challenged by a church that truly lives to it's gospel imperatives.

Many times I hear the same people who ask "how do we reach such groups"? We see clearly from the election that such groups are vigorous users of social media and yet time and again we hear church leaders proudly boast "oh I don't do that Facebook and Twitter stuff". 

It is time for us to live up to our principals, speak truth to power unafraid and to stop waiting for those on the margins to come to us, we need to go and live among them, before evangelism needs to come real relationships of friendship and trust, it is precisely those spaces that Jesus will occupy.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Evening all. 

I Tweeted yesterday asking if people unable to read or understand the Bible could still have a relationship with Jesus. 

This happens to be a view that I have long held. I have long held the view that even if it were completely possible to disprove much of the New Testament this is no threat to my faith as my faith is based elsewhere. 

Rightly or wrongly (and I'm sure there are many who would believe me to be wrong) my faith stands on the relationship I have with Jesus, I communicate with him and he with me, not through weird voices in my head but through the very journey he takes me on. 

So when it comes to people who can neither read nor understand the Bible, I believe it is perfectly possible that they can have that very same relationship with Jesus. 

But for me that is simply not enough. If these people are in relationship with Jesus, as I believe they are, then surely it follows that through that relationship they are discovering things about Jesus that as yet we may not have experienced, things that indeed they could teach us.

Therefore is it not beholden on us to help such people find ways that they could share what they know with the rest of us.

Surely it is our job to open ourselves up and allowing these people to minister to us far more than kit is our job to minister to them. 

It seems to me that they have a far more direct and uncluttered relationship with Jesus and surely that is something we all need to learn about, to lay aside our IQ and expand our hearts. 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Evening all, Dave here. I am speaking here entirely for my self. Certain events today based on my thoughts on a podcast from New Wine have made me very cross. It seems that some people feel I have been wrong and perhaps I should apologise. I feel in no mood to do so, I shall simply lay out my thoughts and feelings here and let you decide, but first a link to said podcast.

I am now 57 years old, I was diagnosed with sight loss as far back as 1987. I was registered blind in 2000, became a guide dog owner in 2001.

I trained for priesthood from 1980 - 1983 with the RC Church, was ordained a deacon and was only weeks away from full ordination when I blew the whistle on a priest abusing children and was ordered to leave. 

I have a BA in Theology and Philosophy, I have a BEd In Education and an MA in Access Audit. 

I have had two books published on visual impairment and have been commissioned by Guide Dogs, The RNIB and Action For Blind People in the past to do work on their behalf. I have made a movie on visual impairment and written countless articles and help guides. 

If all of this does not give me the right to speak with some authority on issues of faith and visual impairment, then quite frankly I'm buggered if I know what does.  

In the early days of Disability and Jesus I was dropped and blocked as a friend by the north east regional director of New Wine because I dared to ask disabled people for their thoughts on how accessible their summer camp was, a simple question I have asked many organisations, in no way was New Wine being singled out for unfair treatment. 

I have requested information about the qualifications and experience of their speakers on disability and been studiously ignored. We have often explained the principal of "nothing about us without us" and again have been studiously ignored. 

Please listen to the above podcast, I believe the tone implies that "what else could a blind person do but beg". As you can see from my qualifications and experience, quite a bit actually. 

The subsequent hoo ha on Twitter has been very hurtful to me and I consider it arrogant and unacceptable from such an organisation as New Wine.

I shall not be apologising for my response and would respectfully request that in future they use actual disabled people to speak on such matters.

I am aware that even Bill & Katie may not agree, I don't know as I have not asked them, I'm speaking for myself alone but seldom have I felt like this in response to anything written by a fellow Christian. 

Maybe I am being overly sensitive, only you can decide but my blindness is far too emotive a subject for me to simply back down.


Friday, 12 May 2017

I'm becoming increasingly aware of a problem arising on social media, thee are some disabled Christians, many of whom are in ministry, in churches where they have never encountered discrimination or abuse and where their needs are well catered for. 

Please don't misunderstand me here, I wish them well, my problem is they then go on to say that because life is good for them within the church that their simply isn't a problem and furthermore those of us who raise issues are exaggerating or that we have some sort of axe to grind rooted in some kind of bitterness.

Why do such situations occur? Well it seems to me the reasons are complex and need exploring. There is the church that has one prominent disabled member who has been there many years and he or she is held up as the example that that particular church must be doing it right. However figures show that 38% of the UK population has either a disability or significant long term illness. Does it not follow that similar numbers should therefore be represented within our congregations and simply being able to identify one disabled person in our congregation does not mean our church is issue free. 

Disabled people who are accepted in to a church yet still feel vulnerable and still have issues are unlikely to complain too vigorously because of a fear of somehow seemingly disloyal. For example if your church is somehow failing it's duty under the Equality Act it is unlikely that your regular disabled members will make too much fuss for the reasons I have just explained. We must remember however, that our churches are public spaces used for weddings and funerals etc. Many of the people attending such events are not Christians and no particular loyalty to our churches, none the less by allowing these people in to our buildings we assume a duty of care towards them, such people are living in a society that has become more and more litigious in recent times, these are the very people who will, quite rightly make a fuss which could very well end up in legal action, just because there has not as yet been a high profile case does not mean there won't be one before long. Which church could stand that type of negative publicity, indeed as there is as yet no case law, said church would go down in legal text books as the "case of the Queen against St What's His Name's".

For me these issues are far bigger than most churches are aware and it is a ticking bomb that most churches are ignoring at their peril.

The only ethical option is to invest in this issue in the same way that Church has invested so many resources in other safeguarding issues.

If you are one of those disabled people in ministry that is telling people they don't see the problem, let me say that you are behaving in a way that is disloyal to other disabled people who are not sharing your good experience and you are putting the church at risk of potential action under the Equalities Act.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

“Everything starts somewhere, though many physicists disagree. But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder how the snowplough driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of words.”
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

This book will not always show the three of us in a good light. Indeed, it will sometimes show us as a bad-tempered old fools, full of self pity and more than a little bitterness. Although we have in many ways come to terms with our disabilities and indeed we would argue that in many ways we have experienced God’s healing in our lives, our disabilities have left us with scars and a certain amount of baggage which is often hard for us to simply put down.

You might ask why we would risk being seen in this way... Well, above all we wanted to give you an honest account of our experience of disability, warts and all. The world of disability is strewn with obstacles, often placed there by those who are simply unaware of the effect their actions can have on the life of a disabled person.

You will sometimes hear us rant and rave and generally stamp our feet about these things and we know this may be difficult and often not at all pretty to watch. At one point, we thought about removing all such material from the book and had gone as far as highlighting huge tracts of text, ready to delete them. Then we realised there would be very little left as we rather like ranting, we’re good at it, it’s a gift and in any case it would in no way represent our true feelings as they arose along this journey.

So we eventually decided to give you the unedited version – including the tears and the tantrums, the anger and joys – and let you form your own opinion. Sometimes what we say may surprise you. 

Sometimes it may make you sad. Sometimes it may shock you. We suspect it will from time to time even cause offence. Occasionally, our thoughts may give you a laugh. And we earnestly hope and pray that just once or twice they might inspire you.

What we have done, however, is reach an accommodation with our disabilities so that we are no longer at war with them. We are now able to wear the label of disability and not feel embarrassed or hurt by it. It is a kind of coming out of the closet experience. It has taken us a long time to get to this point... Even if we had known years ago what we know now, we cannot honestly say that we would have done things any differently.

Through this book we want you to gain a sense of what life is like for disabled people in and around church in the UK in the early 21st century. People with disabilities face prejudice, abuse and ridicule on a daily basis, not just in the world outside but very
often in the midst of our church spaces, spaces that should be free from fear for disabled people. This level of abuse can cause them to lead lives of segregation, isolation, fear and – all too often – loneliness. We long to see many things but more than anything we want to see a church where opportunity is open to disabled people on an equal basis. We are very sad to say, we still have a way to go.

If more disabled people are to achieve their full potential, to enter in to ministry, to share their gifts with the church, if we are all to truly “mutually flourish” then church needs to change. This will only come about when we’re able to face the issues honestly, all of us together, disabled/able. This book is simply our attempt to create a debate about how that will be possible.

As a trio of disabled people we can say that yes, life isn’t perfect. But it can be such fun. And it really can be fulfilling and worthwhile. Disability is bearable and it is possible to lead a full life despite it. Believe us, we do.

Our intention here has not been to write a text book or an academic thesis on the church and disability, there are several of them out there and they seem not to be reaching people more than at a cerebral level. We make no apology for the fact that we want to hit you right in the gut. If you do not finish this book feeling in some way challenged, changed or moved then we will have failed.

Words like theology, Christology, ecclesiology and other such grand terms are not the currency we deal in here. On the contrary we are far more interested in words like love, belonging, mutuality, flourishing, welcome and interdependence. These are words that can be felt by everyone no matter what their intellectual ability, words that have nothing to do with the size of a person’s IQ and everything to do with the size of a person’s heart.

There are plenty of studies out there that look at such things, however for those of us living with disabilities within and for that matter outside faith communities it is impossible for us to be that detached from the political, emotional, psychological, economic and prejudicial effects of disability and we are not going to attempt to try it here, this as we will often tell you, is not Disney does Jesus, on the contrary, this is Jesus for grown ups and carries an eighteen certificate.

Much of what is written on disability theology fails to tell first hand what life is like for disabled people from the inside, the poverty, the prejudice, the abuse and the lack of opportunity which slowly, day by day grinds away at the very soul of a disabled person, often leaving bitterness and hurt in it’s wake. We simply can not do that because as disabled people ourselves it would be impossible for us to be that dispassionate, indeed it would be wrong, this is a warts and all exploration of disability theology complete with all the pain and emotion and yes the joy and insight that living with a disability can bring. 

We wanted to write a kind of disability theology for dummies, stripped of academic language, a book that was accessible to theologians, disabled people and the simply curious, if this book is not of its self inclusive then we will have failed.

We wanted to write a book that left our disabled brothers and sisters in no doubt where we stand. We wanted to express our solidarity with those that cry out for recognition, acceptance, love and understanding.

We’d love to tell you about the journey that led to the formation of Disability and Jesus, how it began with a kind of road to Damascus experience that came to us in a flash of inspiration, a fantastic spirit filled moment as a worship band played triumphant chords and hundreds of people were worshiping the Lord with arms raised to heaven.

We’d like to be able to describe how it was such a beautiful journey, to make the movie of that journey in the style of Michael Landon of “Little House On The Prairie” fame but in truth it was nothing like that.
The truth is that for the three of us at the heart of Disability and Jesus this has been a life long journey both as individuals and now collectively. It has often been painful, has sometimes led to despair and has often caused us to question our own validity as being fully human and fully part of his Kingdom. It has even caused us to shout to the heavens and curse God for allowing our disabilities on our bad days and then again to raise our voices in praise for the opportunities and experiences we would not have had if it were not for our disabilities on our good days.

Within most churches but especially those of an evangelical or charismatic tradition it has become the norm, the accepted form, that someone will stand up and give their testimony, a heart rending story that normally runs along the lines of, life was shitty, usually there is some dreadful tale of addiction, poverty or abuse and then then the person has an encounter with Jesus and now life is totally transformed and from then on everything is simply fantastic, what is that dreadful word used in such places? Oh yes “awesome”!

Yes we know this is an over simplification and perhaps a little unfair but if we are to be honest it’s a scenario we have all witnessed many times over, a scenario which for many disabled people is an obstacle within it’s self.

Many disabled people feel they fall short because they can not give such a testimony. How can they ever be acceptable to a church that seems to require you to have such a testimony as a kind of key to the kingdom, a right of passage, a testimony they know that no matter how hard they try, they will never be able to achieve.

For the three of us our individual testimonies simply don’t read like that, yes we’ve all had transformational encounters with Jesus, mountain top experiences, those moments we have experienced the real power of his presence, moments that have sustained us through the desert experiences, the dark night of the soul, otherwise we would not be here writing this book, telling our story. However, many of the shitty bits of life remain, we carry them with us in the form of our disability. For us life is about holding in tension the shittyness of living with a disability with the new creations we have become in Christ. There are still many days where Jesus seems far away, where the pain of our disabilities feels unjust and too much bear, days where Dave will tell you honestly, sometimes he just runs away.
Days when just as Jesus did we cry ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. It is on those days that we cling even more tightly to the memories of the days where we have experienced the real presence of Jesus, it’s on those days we doubt our right to belong as we are unable to give that testimony that says now that I know Jesus life is fantastic, life is “awesome’!

Dave would tell you he has gone through long periods, sometimes years, where he does not feel he has heard from God, years where all he could do was cling to the memories of those experiences of Jesus that had moved him to the core, trusting that God was still out there somewhere and that one day he would hear from him again.

This book is simply an attempt to share honestly with you where our journey of prayer, study and lived experience has led us to thus far along the road and to indicate to you the direction where our thinking may take us in the future. It is also an opportunity for you to join us and help us shape that journey, we want you to regard this as a corporate exercise, you are not just hear to read, we are inviting you to fully take part, after all we are involved in the pursuit of inclusion.

It is not a book full of answers because we haven’t found them all yet, it is a book full of questions and more importantly consolation, hope and encouragement as we seek Jesus company with us along this pilgrim road.

All we are offering you is the chance to journey with us, to ask those questions and to hold all those things in your heart as we seek to work out what it is that God is teaching us as we struggle to form a model of disability that is radically different from the existing models of both medical and social to create a model of disability that is quite simply, “The Jesus Model”.

It is whilst on this journey we have learned the true meaning of Emanuel (God with us). Not in some distant way but along side us, sharing the road. We are not in some Sunshine coach, simply lumped together with all the other poor disabled people but we are at the very heart of this pilgrim band, walking arm in arm, able and disabled, often holding each other up.

As we walk we share our dreams, our fears and our questions. It is not all pretty, sometimes it gets more real than any of us would like or care to admit but there is a strength which comes from being together, Emanuel and his band of brothers, his pilgrims. God with us and us with him.

We have learned that on this journey there is no such thing as “people with special needs”. We have learned that each of us is in need but that he has planted the desire to succeed within our very DNA. There is no helper or helped, just a band of needy pilgrims sharing a journey depending on each other, we rise or fall together.

Sometimes you may want to cover your ears as the questions may seem simply too painful as they uncover areas that are simply too raw. Sometimes the things we have to say may challenge deeply held beliefs that may be at odds with your own or those of your churches thinking, we know there are some churches where even to explore such trains of thought would simply not be allowed. The truth is, we make no claim to being right, we simply put them out there because as we said nothing should be off the table, we feel a very clear calling to ask those questions, a calling we have come to know as the heretical imperative, a call to sometimes think that which until now has been unthinkable. Believe us when we say that to be scared stiff by this has been our experience too, we have worried that daring to raise such questions might put us at odds with those we consider ourselves in fellowship with but not to do so would be dishonest.

Some of the questions are even too painful for us, our prayer would be that with God’s help we would be able to face them in time.

Within the chapters of this book we seek to create a space where we can all think new thoughts on the theology of disability without the scariness of the theology police declaring us “unsound”, we’ve all met them, those stern faced characters that sit arms folded, on the edges of our congregations, tutting, raising eyebrows, huffing and puffing, never venturing an idea or opinion that is not part of the accepted canon but rather sit there waiting to pounce on anyone that dares to have an original thought that has first not been run by the church elders. We know that nothing of the Spirit will find it’s way through that approach. We are fed up with it, it only serves to disable us even more, to those people we simply say “we are not playing”, we have played that game for far too long and we know that it is the road to nowhere. Disabled people have been very patient with the church but now we have a clear sense that God is saying something about this being our time.

So far much of what has been written on disability theology has been written from an observational view point, not from someone living within a disabled body, struggling with the day to day of all that that can bring. We need to give disabled people licence to tell their stories, no matter how shitty, no matter how difficult we may find them to listen to and we need to be prepared to actually listen, no matter how uncomfortable or challenged we may feel, to withhold judgement until we are fully conversant with these stories. Let us also say here and now if you are so offended by the word “shitty” that you are considering putting the book down, then do so now, simply step away. We will never get to grips with the heart of the matter if we are not prepared to get real, a subject we will cover in more detail later.

We believe it is in the midst of this pain that we are most likely to hear the voice of God, at the very point where it’s all getting too much and you want to put the book down, we are finding that is so often the point where Jesus speaks.

If we have never gone to the edge of the cliff and looked over, then how do we know it is dangerous. We trust in a God who will not let us fall off but we have learned that sometimes he gives us a glimpse of what is over the edge and asks that we face it, trusting in him to not let us fall.

Join us as we throw the box of disability theology up in the air and try to see what falls out and as we sift through the debris to see what is of God and what he would have us discover and that which he would have us consign to the theological scrap heap.

Imagine yourself as having just witnessed a car crash from the point of view of a passer by, as you stand there on the kerb, shocked and scared wondering what to do, do you call for the emergency services, do you go over and offer what meagre first aid skills you might have, are you simply so shocked that you are frozen in to inaction or do you feel this is all much too complicated and messy and decide to walk away rather than get involved in something you know is going to be difficult and upsetting?

For the three of us this analogy serves very well to describe what has been the church’s reaction to disability for many yeas, not unconcerned or necessarily uncaring but certainly confused, frightened and simply wishing it wasn’t there whilst those of us in that crash simply want you to be with us, to sit with us in the road till the ambulance comes and for us to be with you. Just as in that scene just described the Church’s panic, and fear of getting it wrong is often the very thing that freezes it in to inaction.

The truth about Disability and Jesus is that it was born out of this pain, that feeling that we were the ones in that car crash, left sitting in the wreckage, in the middle of the road as no one came near and those on the sidelines juts look at us in a state of utter confusion, that place that leaves us feeling alone, excluded, on the outside of something, like we have something contagious that everyone is frightened of catching.

The truth about the formation of Disability and Jesus is that it was born out of pain, out of grief, out of frustration and even some bitterness. In reality it came from a place of more than a little anger, it was in fact a real cry of the heart.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

More Dreams Of A Building.

Over the last couple of posts I've been trying to put some flesh on the bones of the idea that we have a building, here are a few more thoughts to be going on with.

In the first of these posts I told you about the old Guide Dog centre in Midlesborough and what an influence that was on me because it was a "thin"place built by the love of so many that it exuded from the very wood and stone of the place. 

The building was built in a square round a central courtyard, it reminded me of a monastic cloister. Cloisters always feel special to me so this week I have spent a little time wondering why that might be and here's what I've come up with. 

Buildings with cloisters are safe spaces and what disabled people who are struggling need is that safe space. However cloistered buildings despite being safe do not cut themselves off from the outside, on the contrary, they bring the outside right in to the centre, the space in the middle of the cloister allows God in whilst still allowing those in the building to feel safe and looked after. 

So I'm dreaming of a modern accessible building on one level, built around a cloister, a safe space where his spirit can blow through the corridors. 

I'm praying for the opportunity to sit with an architect and to draw out the plan I am forming in my mind of how it would be and them to throw those plans out there and see if they attract enough interest to actually make it happen.

More later.

Dave & Jarvis

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Dreaming the dream. 

Let me try and expand a little on my last post.

When Disability and Jesus began three years ago, it grew out of a feeling that there was no one out there doing what we do. Of course in the course of the last three years we have since met several individuals and small organisations doing if not the same thing then certainly work that compliments ours.

None of these organisations or individuals are well known throughout the church, nor are any of them well funded and resourced. All are run by dedicated volunteers who not only give their time but are also largely self funding.

It seems wrong to me that such an important ministry is so under resourced, that such dedicated, professional people should have their gifts taken for granted in such a way. The church spends fortunes on debating LGBT issues, it has spent a fortune in recent years on safeguarding of children but when it comes to the disabled it always feels the church wants something for nothing. 

So my dream is to have a building where these people can work from, to see them well funded and resourced and to get the church to take this work seriously. 

It would be a house of prayer, a place of learning and retreat, place for others to pilgrimage to and a place from where we can send out those who work in the mission field of disability.

Please join me in praying about this and if you feel God is giving you more insight in to what this might look like and how it could come about please, please get in touch.

Expect to hear more on this later.

Dave & Jarvis.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

I promised you all that after Lent I'd make the occasional post and true to my word here is the first of what I hope will be a fairly regular stream. 

What I'm going to attempt to share with you today are a bunch of ideas that have been haunting me, many of them for many years, which although they are beginning to take shape are far from being fully formed so please stay with me as I share them with you all and maybe you can help me make sense of them. 

For a large part of my adult life it has been my prayer that one day the church would value the ministry that disabled people can bring, not just the priestly role but right across the broader field of ministry. I myself have over 40yrs experience in music ministry, yet when Jarvis and I turn up to play at an event younger band members give us the head tilt of compassion and you can tell they are thinking this poor blind guy will be no good but we have to humour him for fear of causing offence. After the event they often seem genuinely in shock that a blind guy can also be a gifted musician.

Hold on to that for now and let's move on to the next group of random thoughts. 

I have always been someone who has put a lot of sore by what are known as "thin places". For me these had always been places with obvious spiritual connections such as Lindisfarne, Durham Cathedral, Minsteracers Monastery, Old Bewick church etc, these are all places where the only way I can describe it is that the prayers of generations have seeped in to the very stones of the place and reflect those prayers back out at the modern visitor. 

As you all know by now I spent years avoiding facing up to my blindness and avoiding becoming a guide dog owner. Imagine how shocked and surprised I was then back in 2001 when I walked in to Midlesborough Guide Dog Centre, a building I was expecting to be the most basic and functional of secular buildings only to be struck immediately by that hair on the back of the neck feeling. However until this point I had only ever associated such feelings with places of spiritual significance so to experience this feeling in a place with no obvious spiritual connections made no sense to me. 

Over time I learned that the building had been built, funded, maintained and staffed by volunteers. Then it began to make sense to me that what I was feeling was the love and commitment, the hopes, dreams and even prayers of all those involved had seeped in to the very fabric of the building and radiated back out on all those that entered. 

So how do these strands come together?

Well what I've been dreaming of is a building where we can demonstrate to the wider church what disabled people can bring to ministry, a building where those people struggling with feelings of anger and rage at their disability can come to a safe space where it will be seen as OK to work that anger out. Above all a building that feels thin, where the presence of God feels near. 

I feel strongly that this can not be done by simply asking for cash and throwing that cash at it. All the thin places I have listed were built out of love and labour that was given as gift, they were buildings built out of love and if my dream is ever to happen it must happen in the same way.

So you may think I'm a fool but there it is, my dream. I have many more detailed thoughts and ideas but for now let me simply pit that out there and see if it strikes a chord, ion it does please pray about it, talk to me about it, circulate the idea and let's see where God might take us, or not as the case may be, I simply put it out there as a way of trying to discern what He might be saying. 

Saturday, 15 April 2017

So we've made it, this is the final blog of Lent although as I have promised I will carry on with the occasional post just not on a daily basis. 

Time to reflect and recap. In 1987 when I first got news of my sight loss my life fell apart, I lost my career, my home and came close to losing my marriage. Much of the next ten or so years are simply wiped from my memory as I lost myself to a world of anger, rage, drink, blame and simply running away, not just metaphorically but physically.

Why did I choose to link this blog which is largely about sight loss and guide dogs to the season of Lent? Well quite simply because the most unexpected part of guide dog ownership for me is what I have learned from Abbot & Jarvis about faith. 

I now believe that faith is about hurling yourself in to the unknown trusting in a God that loves you to keep you safe, Abbot and Jarvis taught me that. Faith is about journeying, pilgrimage, sharing the journey, another lesson learned from my boys. There is no plan, there is simply trust. God simply says to us "come" and when you ask him why he simply asks us to wait and see, to join the adventure, the not knowing where we are going should be part of the fun.

This journeying together has become central to the life of Disability and Jesus. We are learning that it is all about interdependence, again a lesson I first learned from my boys, the relationship I have had with both of them is based on that. I look after their welfare, their needs and they look after mine. I've said it before, my boys have been free thinking sentient beings who have worked for me out of love, a love that is deep, mutual and very much heartfelt. The kind of love that Jesus demands we have for one another.

Let me leave the final word to the Abbot of our little community as he offers you his blessing. 

May your bowl always be full

May your walks be long and happy
May there always be space in front of the fire May there always be someone to hold your paw In return you must lead gently, guide true. And remember... forward, always forward. 

Friday, 14 April 2017

As I sit here this Maundy Thursday evening keeping my own vigil I can't but help reflect the many nights back in the dark days where I had mot come to terms with my sight loss where Jesus was the only one between me and oblivion. 

It was at those times that he kept watch over me, he did not fall asleep.

He stood in that gap between me and my monsters, he did not let them overcome me,

Life now with Jarvis is very different, by rights I should not be here, how I got to such a safe place, a place of healing is a mystery to me, it's certainly not down to me. 

I'm here because of love, the love of a saviour that was there even when I was unaware of his presence.

A love from my wife which kept faith in me even when I lost faith in my self.

The love of Abbot and Jarvis who's care and attention have been constant and abiding. 

I'd like to thank all of you have followed this blog, the  fact that so many of you have followed it amazes me. Your comments have encouraged and supported me. 

Tomorrow will be the last daily post, I hope to make it a good one but after Lent I shall carry on, not on a daily basis but with the odd random post as inspiration strikes. 

In the meantime be assured that as you wait for his coming Jarvis and I are there with you, full of hope and anticipation for what he has in store for us as we journey this pilgrim road together. 

Peace to you all.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

So through this blog I have tried hard to give you some insights in to the story of a stubborn old blind man. However there is absolutely nothing wrong with his hearing, but he will often simply refuse to listen. He doesn’t want to and you can’t make him. That man is me, David Lucas, a man who has gradually lost more and more of his sight. I’m the hero of my own story and instead of being tall, dark and mysterious, as I’d always intended, it turns out I’m rather short, fat and grumpy. Ah well!

This blog has not always shown me in a good light. Indeed, it will sometimes have shown me as a bad-tempered old fool, full of self pity and more than a little bitterness. You might ask why I would risk being seen in this way... Well, above all I wanted to give you an honest account of my experience of sight loss, warts and all. The world of the severely sight impaired (who used to be called ‘blind’) is strewn with obstacles, often placed there by sighted people who are simply unaware of the effect their actions can have on the life of a sight impaired person. You have heard me rant and rave and generally stamp my feet about these things and I know this may be difficult. At one point, I thought about removing all such material from the blog and had often gone as far as highlighting huge tracts of text, ready to delete them. Then I realised there would be very little left as I rather like ranting and in any case it would in no way represent my true feelings as they arose along this journey.

I eventually decided to give you the unedited version – including the tears and tantrums, the anger and joys – and let you form your own opinion. Sometimes what I have said may have surprised you. Sometimes it may have made you sad. Sometimes it may have shocked you. I suspect it will even caused offence to some. (I don’t really write off whole groups of people, as you might sometimes suspect... but I have made this mistake at various times in my journey.) Occasionally, my thoughts may have given you a laugh. And I earnestly hope and pray that just once or twice they might have just inspired you.

This blog won’t provide you with all the answers about sight loss because as yet I haven’t found them. What I have done, however, is reach an accommodation with my sight loss so that I’m no longer at war with it. I’m now able to wear the label of a blind man and not feel embarrassed or hurt by it. It has taken well over 40 years to get to this point... Even if I had known years ago what I know now, I cannot honestly say that I would have done things any differently.

Through this blog I want you to gain a sense of what life is like for sight impaired people in the UK in the early 21st century. People with sight impairments still face prejudice, abuse and ridicule on a daily basis, causing them to lead lives of segregation, isolation, fear and – all too often – loneliness. I long to see many things but more than anything I want to see a world where opportunity is open to sight impaired people on an equal basis. I’m sad to say, we still have a way to go.

If more sight impaired (and severely sight impaired) people are to achieve their full potential, then society needs to change. This will only come about when we’re able to face the issues honestly, all of us together, sighted and sight impaired. This little blog is simply one man’s attempt to create a debate about how that will be possible.

As a sight impaired person, life isn’t perfect. But it can be such fun. And it really can be fulfilling and worthwhile. Sight impairment is bearable and it is possible to lead a full life despite it. Believe me, I do and I thank God every day for brining Abbot and Jarvis in to my life. The journey so far has been a thrill and here we are close to starting a new adventure when Jarvis retires and a new guide dog comes along.

I've no way of knowing what lies ahead on the journey but I look forward to meeting some of you on the way. 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Like many disabled Christians I have often felt the very subtle, unspoken pressure to be cured of my disability.

In my time I have been accused of a lack of faith, of simply not praying hard enough, I have been told that there must be some unacknowledged area of sin in my life and that if only I would repent and confess then I would be cured.

I have to tell you I think this all comes from a lack of understanding of the difference between healing and cure. 

For the ten years or so after being diagnosed I simply ran away, the prospect of my onsetting disability was simply too much for me to contemplate so for years, I ran, I lied, I hid, I refused help, I refused to talk about it. All of this behaviour did untold damage to all my relationships, with my wife, my parents and family members and most of my friends. After tea years of this the truth is that I found myself late at night, standing in the middle of the Tyne Bridge, very seriously contemplating suicide. 

After standing there for well over an hour, I lost my nerve and walked home. 

The next day I began a long process of exploring what help and advice might be out there for someone losing their sight. I told not a soul about this process for fear I might not be able to go through with it, I wanted to know I could deal with it before telling anyone. 

After searching through local blind societies, charities like RNIB and Guide Dogs I was eventually offered an assessment to see if I would get a guide dog. It was at this point that I told my wife Denise what I'd been up to, she could not believe it. 

While all this was going on I was an active member of the Northumbria Community, a Celtic Christian, a new monastic. Imagine then my joy when eventually I was matched with my first dog, a dog called Abbot, me a new monastic being guided by an abbot, here was God telling me very loudly that this was the right thing, I've never looked back.

Getting Abbot and now having Jarvis has been the single most transformative experience of my life. Have I been healed of my disability? No, indeed it is in real terms far worse now. Have I been cured? Absolutely without doubt YES! My blindness holds very little fear for me now, in the 16yrs since Abbot arrived I have rebuilt my life, I've done an MA, changed career, moved house and my marriage has been totally transformed. To all those people back then who were demanding a miracle, all I can say is I have had not just one but many. 

This video was made for another organisation that Bill and I used to run, not all of it is relevant here but so much is.  

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Jarvis and I have been working together for around 7yrs now and we have noticed a lot of changes to the way society treats disabled people. 

Post Brexit Britain is a meaner, more cruel, less caring place and disabled people are feeling that more than most. 

There is now hardly a day goes by when Jarvis and I don't face some abuse when out and about, from the total stranger who doesn't believe my blindness so holds his hand up and asks how many fingers, to the taxi driver who refuses to take Jarvis and the member of the public who does not think Jarvis should be allowed on a cafe and right through the to the total stranger who spits at me and calls me a fucking benefit crook. We have suffered all of this and way more since June last year. Yes it occasionally happened before but now it feels like a continuous onslaught of abuse. 

There are 2.1 million people on the UK visual impairment register and yet there are still only less than 4800 guide dog owners in the UK.

What this says to me is that too many visually impaired people no longer feel safe being out and about and therefore don't need a dog as they have simply given up on society. We should feel scandalised by this. 

If you've been following this blog you must realise by now that I am a very confident person but if it can get me to the point of wanting to shut my self off and believe me when I say that recently I have felt that way far more often, then what must it be like for the blind people who never had that natural confidence in the first place. 

As Christians we need to pray for these people, we need to do much more than that, we need to speak up for them, we need to challenge a society that can treat people in this way, we need to practise radical hospitality, to be a prophetic people.

Monday, 10 April 2017

It's way time that you saw just what an incredible job Jarvis does. Bill and I made this video a few years back for another project and I only just remembered it yesterday. It features the song "Hard Times" by our friend Jon Strong. 

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Today is Jarvis's 9th birthday so instead of my usual ramblings here are some pictures that span his illustrious career.   The final picture is the only one I have of Abbot & Jarvis together.