Tuesday, April 30, 2024

park life


I am sitting in the park. An older couple—he will tell me that he is 75—approach me. He asks what I am doing sitting in the park, instead of the church? I respond that there are upwards of 15,000 souls living in my parish (let alone those who come here to work or study) and that I like to place myself where I might meet them. He asks which is my parish, and I respond by pointing to the church tower just visible through the trees. He tells me that he used to go there as a boy, he had a little book and was given a picture of a Bible character each week he went. But it is many years since he stopped going.

He tells me that our society is in a worse state than it was forty or fifty years ago. He puts it down to people no longer going to church—here is an irony there he doesn’t seem to notice—to the widespread rejection of Christianity—he doesn’t think you have to believe in the resurrection, or even that what(ever) you believe matters, so long as you are law-abiding; and, again, does not register the dissonance in his opinions—and to the obsession of minority groups with talking about issues, rather than quietly getting on with hidden lives.

There is both wisdom and folly in his words. He is not an idiot, or a dinosaur, a bitter old man to be dismissed by those who are younger and know better. Silence, for example, can hide a multitude of injustices; silence can also spare us from self-inflicted wounds. But he is—as we all are—a bundle of inconsistencies.

He carries pain and confusion, and needs to express these, safely; even as his wife, who presents with dementia, is becoming agitated by his stream of words. Both need the presence of a priest in the park today, even if they do not recognise the institution or the community of the Church. This is why I am sitting here.


Thursday, April 04, 2024

World Autism Acceptance Week


2-8 April 2024 is World Autism Acceptance Week.

We hear more today than we used to about Autism Awareness. But the idea of Autism Awareness is somewhat problematic. The diagnostic conditions for Autism are based on how autistic people respond to stressful situations (and diagnostic interviews are incredibly stressful). These might include situational mutism, where someone finds themselves so overwhelmed that they are unable to speak, that their voice is stolen from them.

But if we take the time to reflect on it, we will recognise that for all of us, for anyone, how we operate when we are under stress is not the same as how we operate in environments where we are relaxed, where we feel well-supported. Imagine how you would feel if I were to define neurotypical people by how you operate under extreme stress! Neurotypicals dont sleep, lack focus, have short tempers, and may be prone to violence.

And so, the unwelcome result of growing Autism Awareness is more people saying, You dont come across as autistic. Or even, We know that you arent meant to say You dont look autistic”—see how autism-aware we are!but you just dont come across as autistic.

Perhaps my autistic engagement with rest and joy doesnt match your stress-based expectations. Perhaps I am not autistic enough for you when I am running alongside someone (who I can talk to without having to look at).

Acceptance goes beyond Awareness because acceptance opens us to the lived experience of the other. It is marked by taking a genuine interest in another person, rather than prejudice based on stereotype. It does not mean (in any context) that we must fully agree or fully affirm everything about one another; but it does require of us a commitment to everyone having what they need for their wellbeing, their wholeness, which the Bible calls shalom.

Awareness is unlikely to lead to acceptance. But Acceptance might just result in a more rounded awareness.

What will you do to take part in World Autism Acceptance Week?