Copious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities. Jennie Weiss Block. Bloomsbury (2002).
Book review by Christine Guth
In Copious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities, Jennie Weiss Block initiates a conversation between Christian theology and those who advocate for full inclusion of people with disabilities. As a professional in the disabilities field, a family member who helped raise a younger brother with multiple disabilities, and a Roman Catholic with a master's degree in theology, Block herself is comfortable with both sides of this conversation. The book's subtitle hints at her conviction that the church's theology has at times barred people with disabilities from access to full participation in the life of the church. Block suggests that the disability movement of recent decades offers Christians new paradigms for understanding disability. Such paradigms support more inclusive practices that will enable the church to follow the example of Jesus, "the one who always stands with the outsider.''
Block leads us to learn about the everyday experiences and thinking of people who live with disability, in order to unseat our subtle but oppressive stereotypes of disability. She explains, "People with disabilities are saying that there is nothing wrong with being disabled.'' Pity and tragedy are not intrinsic to disability, she argues; rather, it is the myths, fears, and stereotypes of society that cause the greatest hardship for people with disability. Block maintains that these new ways of thinking about disability are fully supported by the gospel of Jesus Christ, who calls us to "a new world order where outsiders become insiders,'' and who calls us "to make God's love and mercy a palpable, tangible reality in the Christian community and in the world.'' Changing our thinking about disability is not an end in itself, but a foundation for changing practices within the church, so that we may receive the valuable gifts and perspectives of people with disabilities.
Block's introduction to the history and philosophy of the disability movement is engaging, sympathetic, and informative. Her examination of gospel healing texts may make us squirm when she reveals difficult implications for people with disabilities, but she also suggests key insights for releasing these stories' potential for liberating interpretation. Her outline of a theology of access is brief enough to leave me hungering for more. Perhaps readers can accept this as a invitation to continue the theological reflection she has begun. Such reflection leads naturally to practical response, for which she offers a sampling of suggestions. I find her challenge to reshape language so that it does not deprecate people with disabilities catching me up short at points. However, I would take exception to her over-generalization, "No one thinks twice when they hear terms like 'retard,' 'spaz.'''
Anabaptist groups steeped in the importance of the community for the life of discipleship will find in Copious Hosting both confirmation of this central value and challenge to reconsider who we have neglected and placed outside the boundaries of our communities. If we take seriously the church's call to live now according to the future reign of God and to be the visible manifestation of Christ in our world, we will seek out understandings of God and of disability that allow people with disability full access to God's grace and full membership in the body of Christ.
Copious Hosting is recommended reading for pastors and laypersons interested in building communities of faith true to the gospel's inclusive call. If you worry that reading a book with "theology'' in the title is too intimidating to tackle, take heart! This book's modest size (183 pages) and down-to-earth biblical and practical reflection make it accessible reading for busy people who are not specialists in theology. Learning to act differently depends on first learning to think differently, says Block. Her book provides a resource for reshaping both thought and action so that we might more truly reveal the life of Christ in the world.
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