In 2021, theologians Rev. Miriam Spies and Amy Panton started The Mad and Crip Theology Podcast, available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. They spoke to Meagan Gillmore about the project and how they find motivation in their own experiences of faith and disability.
On the inspiration for the podcast:
Amy Panton: It comes out of the Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health and Disability. Once we launched the journal, we thought it would be a good opportunity to get our writers together. We wanted to create a space where it was more normal to talk about these things.
Miriam Spies: We wanted to bring theology to the conversation about disability and mental health. There is harmful theology out there. We want to encourage theology that helps to bring mad and crip people into the church.
On the terms “mad” and “crip”:
AP: Lots of people would consider “mad” to be used as an insult, like, “That person is completely mad.” We’re trying to subvert some of that ableism. Mental, emotional and spiritual distress is a thing that everybody experiences.
MS: As a noun, “crip” operates as a name, an identity, a taking back of something that has been shameful. It’s a way of taking it back and making it a positive identity for us. As a verb, it means to bend things to make them work for our minds and bodies.
On their personal journeys of disability and faith:
MS: I was born with cerebral palsy; I’ve been disabled my whole life. I was born into the church. Both of my parents are ordained ministers in the United Church, and I was ordained in 2015. When ministry opportunities didn’t happen for me because of my disability, I went into my doctoral work.
I’ve always believed that we are all God’s children. I’ve always believed that disability is part of God’s good design.
AP: I straddle both mad and crip sides. My migraines kick my ass more than I’d like to admit. I was on the evangelical church side. Mental health was not something that was talked about. I’m looking for where I want to land in the church. I’ve found that doing this work at the Toronto School of Theology has been really healing for me.
On their target audience for the podcast:
AP: We’re not quite sure sometimes. It’s a lot of people who find us through our friends and social media.
MS: We’re hoping that churches and leaders will listen. We hope that this podcast is a way for people to hear their voices echoed.
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On how church leaders can better serve disabled members of their congregations:
AP: Read our journal and listen to our podcast!
MS: Be intentional about having mad and crip people lead, if and when they want to. Engage in relationships.
On their message to disabled people who are struggling with their faith or faith communities:
AP: I just want them to know that God loves them and knows and understands their pain. Just know that God is there. God hasn’t forgotten you.
MS: There’s a community of disabled and mad and crip folks trying to be in the church. And they aren’t alone.
On what they’ve learned about God by working on this podcast:
AP: I’ve learned so much about God’s gentleness and pain-sharing.
MS: For me, it’s a reminder that God works creatively in relationship. It’s easier to discern God’s voice in community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Meagan Gillmore is a freelance journalist in Ottawa and a master of journalism student at Carleton University.
This interview first appeared in Broadview’s June 2022 issue with the title “Disability is a part of God’s good design.”
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