Anyone who’s read my writing will not need an introduction to John Hull. I reference and quote him constantly. He was an inspired, innovative, critical and very thought-provoking theologian who approached disability and Christian theology in entirely new ways. He was blind, and spoke about disability and the Bible from a personal viewpoint as well as a theological one – reminding me that theology is always personal. He helped me to believe that I could research disability and Christianity in ways that could actually have impacts on the churches.
I was fortunate enough to hear John Hull speak twice, both times at the Inclusive Church/St Martin-in-the-Fields conference on disability and Christianity. I will always remember something John said at the first conference where I heard him. He was speaking critically, boldly, about the ways in which the gospels fail disabled people. Giving me permission to criticise too, through the power of his very honest speech. No cushioning here, no efforts to make other people more comfortable about their bigotry – instead, clear accusations of harm that the Bible has done through the ages.
And then a reference to the one incident from the gospels where he felt that Jesus finally understood him, as a blind man. When Jesus was blindfolded by the soldiers who taunted him and said “Prophesy!” As John said, while it wasn’t a full sharing of his experiences, “It showed willing.”
Sometimes it feels like Jesus and I constantly shuffle around each other awkwardly, never quite connecting with each other. The more I study the gospel healing narratives, and the modern experiences of disabled Christians, and the further I personally get from Christianity, the more alienated we often are from each other. Yet we’ll never be strangers. Because there’s always an echo in the gospels of the Jesus who shows willing. Who tells me I can criticise as well as celebrate. I’m very grateful for John Hull for showing me that.
Or, in his own words: “My relationship to God has become more intimate, but I had to overcome the sense that darkness is an alienating experience. I began to think of darkness as a time of intimacy, warmth, enclosure. It is in the darkness that we are with the ones we love and trust. Gradually, my image of Jesus Christ, my spiritual understanding of discipleship underwent a change as I fastened my imagination upon certain incidents in the life of Jesus, principally the blindfolded Christ.” – John Hull
There is another Inclusive Church/St Martin’s disability conference in October, and no doubt we’ll be sharing memories of John there. More info here later, or follow the website link below.