We got home too late from our trip to Beacon to attend the Sunday morning service at Judson, but fortunately it was a People’s Judson Sunday, so we trekked back into Manhattan on Sunday evening to hear Kendrick A. Kemp testify on Black Liberation Theology of Disability. (The People’s Judson is a new worship experience at Judson centering the voices of the historically marginalized, including but not limited to people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.)
Kendrick’s personal story is compelling, having suffered two strokes in his early twenties and needing to relearn speech and basic movement, but to focus only on his personal story is to miss the powerful theology that grew out of it. Black Liberation Theology of Disability has its roots in the Black Liberation Theology of Dr. James Cone and others, seeking to center the experience of Black people in a society in which they have been exploited, abused, and dehumanized. Black Liberation Theology imagines a God that suffers alongside Black people, as Liberation Theology in general focuses on the experience of the poor and marginalized. Black Liberation Theology of Disability takes that a step further, and asks us to imagine a God on the side of those whose bodies, minds, or both do not equip them to fully participate in a world in which both Black and disabled bodies have been sidelined and threatened.
The third prong of Black Liberation Theology of Disability asks us to embrace, and be embraced by, “a disabled God; a God paralyzed by the cross; a God, not apathetic to suffering, but in solidarity with the marginalized.” Here I thought of Julian of Norwich, and her ecstatic visions of Jesus. In her Ninth Revelation, Jesus says to Julian, “If thou art pleased, I am pleased: it is a joy, a bliss, an endless satisfying to me that ever suffered I Passion for thee; and if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.” In this moment of paralysis even unto death, God in the body of Jesus has chosen this paralysis, in great love, and in the crucifixion we paradoxically see the moment of God’s greatest power. God chose the disabled body through which to show infinite power and infinite love. The disabled body, the body diminished in power as the world understands it, then, becomes the vehicle for reminding us that we can’t begin to understand power as God does, or love as God does.
We began and ended in song, led by Michelle. As we approached the close of Black History Month, we sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; as we were asked to reckon with our own powerlessness and also our own power, we sang “This Little Light of Mine.” No one was sure what the penultimate verse should be, so we went with, “What else can I say?/I’m gonna let it shine.” And we left to let our light shine in the literal darkness of the February night and the metaphorical darkness of the world for which the paralyzed God willingly and lovingly died.