Social Disability and the Trinity

Seeing disability through the lens of the social disability paradigm and the Trinitarian paradigm as opposed to the medical model of disability is critical in understanding what our role as Christians is within all of society, both personally and professionally. By understanding and applying what we learn, we are able to move towards a mature spirituality that reflects the Gospel more fully and enables a deeper relationship with God.

“The disability rights movement has identified the standard naturalized perception of disability in Western culture today as framed within a medical model of disability, which has pathologized unconventional bodies and has individualized disability as a personal tragedy.” (Tataryn, 19) This view of one’s embodiment as personal tragedy rather than the perspective of it being the natural outcome of living life causes society to view the person as incomplete or not fully human. This is exacerbated by an environment of hierarchies and competition; a race up the corporate ladder or an accumulation of prestige and respect in your personal life. In a society that values particular types of beauty, wealth and abundance, it necessarily creates a lower caste of people who disgust or struggle in poverty and with scarcity. This effectively disables groups of people, as described by the social disability paradigm.

“The social model of disability locates disability within society rather than in an individual… what we presume to identify objectively as impairment in a person may depend more on social factors than anatomical facts; we may be judging rather than simply observing.” (Tataryn, 19) In effect, it recognizes that what disables people isn’t often their embodiment as it is their exclusion from society and participating fully within it. This comes at a cost to all of society because we do not reap the benefits of the gifts given to every individual. Jesus was one who wanted to dismantle this hierarchy and he calls those who follow them to do the same. This can be exceedingly difficult when society teaches the opposite. “When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.” (Vanier, 19)

A hierarchy within society that places those that do not conform at the bottom is best described as elitist; an accumulation of power and wealth in one group at a cost to another. They “win” at the cost of the rest of humanity suffering. “Elitism is the sickness of us all. We all want to be on the winning team. That is the heart of apartheid and every form of racism. The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts not outside.” (Vanier, 20) Embracing the trinity within the social disability paradigm encourages us all to relinquish our egos in order to engage within an inclusive community.

Jean Vanier, a man who did this in part by establishing communities where those disabled by society could have the freedom to live and grow together described the experience thusly: “And I come here to tell you how much life these people have given me, that they have an incredible gift to bring to our world, that they are a source of hope, peace and perhaps salvation for our wounded world, and that if we are open to them, if we welcome them, they give us life and lead us to Jesus and the good news.” (Vanier, 9) To experience this in our professional lives calls us to engage with all people, to consider the needs of all rather than most and to facilitate the growth and respect of every individual. Privately, this could look like being inclusive in those you invite to your home, who you develop friendships with, and how you raise your children to engage with others. Finally, from a spiritual perspective, this kind of engagement with others helps us to grow more mature and surrender our ego as we encounter the Trinity more fully.

In fact, by engaging with people different from ourselves, we encounter not only the person but the divine within them. “Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that person who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked.” (Vanier, 25) We do not need to be at the top of the ladder or compete against one another to “win” at being Christian but rather, learn to value the differences of others without coming against it. “Just as Christ, the God-Human (theanthropos), has united the divine and the human, so now humanity, through love, can reconfigure that which has been seen as opposite and recognize difference without opposition.” (Tataryn, 64)

To take it even further, we should look at the people God chose above all others as his people. They were not chosen because they were physically or mentally superior, more faithful or purer. “Israel is the people of God not because of their own actions or merits, but by the graciousness of the Lord. In other words, it is a community called into being by the One who has loved Israel since before its birth. The Christian community is likewise a community that is called into being, not constituted by its own actions or decisions.” (Tataryn, 52) We exist, and our community exists, not by our own merits but due to a gracious God who calls us into deeper relationship with him through deeper relationship with each other.

Thus, the Trinity and the social disability paradigm reveal the call away from disabling, competing and subjugating one another and into a relationship with all creation at all times. By doing so, we understand the expansiveness of our family and the value of inclusiveness even at a cost of not putting ourselves first. “More and more people are becoming conscious that our God is not just a powerful Lord telling us to obey or be punished but our God is family. Our God is three persons in love with each other; our God is communion. And this beautiful and loving God is calling us as humans into this life of love.” (Vanier, 35)

Works Cited

Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.

Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community. United States of America: Paulist Press, 1992. Print.

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