Brazos Press, 208 pages
Published May 17, 2022
I opened this book thinking, “I’m going to read about things I already know.” I turned the last page and said, “I have work to do.” Like many folks in my Christian circles (progressive mainline denominations), I assumed that ministry with people who have disabilities is something we do well, but Amy Kenny reveals we have a long way to go.
Kenny’s research, humor, approachable writing style and honesty make My Body is Not a Prayer Request a must-read for churches and faith communities who aspire to include the disabled community in their spaces, theology, language and day-to-day practices. She shares her personal experience of Christian communities: the belittling of her pain and struggle, the assumptions and proclamations that sin plays into her physical condition, the dismissal of her voice when she has raised concerns and the physical exclusion from church spaces.
One particular story hit home with me about a pastor in a congregational setting who does a lot of preaching. Kenny writes of confronting her pastor about language use, sharing that every time a disability is used as a negative metaphor, it brings shame. For example, “He was so blind he didn’t even notice!” How do people who are actually blind feel being used as a metaphor for someone who is insensitive and self-absorbed? Not good. (Nor the deaf, lame, crippled … the list goes on.) I did a word search for “blind” in my past sermons — remember when I said I have work to do?
More than just personal experience, Kenny also shares theology and scriptural interpretation that is wonderfully meaningful for everyone from tenured pastors to the newly baptized. These are arguably my favorite parts of the book (along with the top ten lists that are painful, truthful and hilarious all at the same time and conclude each chapter).
Churches could use this book in small groups (there are discussion prompts and activities), pastors could do a series on disability justice from the pulpit using the Scriptures Kenny explores and individuals can benefit from their own reading and reflection. Each chapter can stand on its own, but when read it all at once, it does get a tad repetitive. However, perhaps Kenny is following the classic preaching instructions: tell them what you’re gonna tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.
If I was lucky enough to enjoy Kenny’s company over a cup of coffee, I would love to ask about other major world religions and their theologies and intersections of disability (maybe we would need to invite extra folks to the table!), and dream about how congregations can move on from our history of diminishing disabilities into a new way of not only equality, but lifting up disability as a way to learn about and connect to God, our faith and each other.
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