Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier
Connie has invited me to contribute to the diversity blog. I’ve never blogged so this is a new medium of communication. Since the blog is about diversity I will introduce myself and my background with diversity. I am a frustrated photographer and artist who used cooking as a form of artistic expression, and am now attempting to use it in gardening.
I am a woman, mother and grandmother, Episcopal priest, psychologist, Spiritual Director, educator, serious cook, art, music and book lover, environmentalist, gardener, and I happen to live with very mild cerebral palsy. CP is not my only or most important characteristic; nor does it define who I am.
Nevertheless, others have often used disability as their defining parameters of my abilities and limitations. After I was ordained priest in April 1984, I served as the founder and director of a Diocesan Ministry about disability. As the first women with a congenital disability to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, I was blazing a trail through a wilderness of inaccessibility, negative attitudes and expectations, and biblical and theological landmines. Within a year I had developed an educational program for local parishes, diocesan boards and committees and drafting national church resolutions toward creating a more welcoming and inclusive church. I lectured, preached, and led workshops all across America, leading to working with the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches in writing and developing theological position papers about people with disabilities in the life of the Church.
The goals of the ministry were to create a fully welcoming and inclusive church since “The Ramp Is Not Enough!” Ramps do not make churches accessible; ramps may get you into a building but there is no point in being there if you are not welcome and included. People with disabilities are not only physically excluded but we are psychologically and spiritually alienated from participation in the fullness of life in the community (Steele) because faith communities have adopted society’s prejudices toward people with disabilities. These prejudices include fear, ignorance, patronization, and negative attitudes which keep people from participating in the life of the community. Communities that are not inclusive are incomplete, unhealthy, and are not practicing the beliefs which it teaches. Barriers always convey the “message that some people are more valuable or worthy than others, that disability equals incompetence and inferiority (G. Christy).” In a just community there are no inferior people, no barriers, no insensitivity to, or perpetuation of, the numerous subtle forms of oppression.
The diocesan ministry was funded for 4 years, and plans were developed and implemented to establish a national program. However, programming and budget cuts intervened. My personal goals had always involved developing and using my many gifts, abilities and interests that had little or nothing to do with issues of disability.
My undergraduate studies in Jungian psychology and spirituality had fed my interest and curiosity in holistic models of medicine, psychology, spirituality and living. When I discovered a doctoral research program that would permit me to integrate these fields of study in an academic degree program, I began an amazing and rewarding journey of study, learning, and personal growth.
My doctoral program included a year of study as a Visiting Scholar at Oxford University, where I was introduced to the Holistic Healing Centre’s in England. A second scholarship made it possible for me and a research assistant to study at twelve of these centre’s the following year. This work led me to study MindBody Medicine when I returned to America. My continuing education has led to the study of environmental factors and food safety as they directly affect health, diseases, and the ability to heal. I integrate this information with my training as a Jungian psychotherapist and Spiritual Director for an integrated , holistic approach to treating the whole person in their quest for a healthy, healed life.
Currently I am integrating these approaches in a new garden, begun last summer. My artistic goals are to create a space of beauty, quiet, and peace in a non-toxic environment built of plants and elements that are acquired through sharing, reuse, repurpose, re-gift, or redesign of others! I hope to eventually open the garden for people needing a safe, quiet place of retreat and/or prayer 1-2 days a month.
I will respond to whatever is of further interest to readers. I believe diversity is a necessary condition or ingredient of healthy living and to creating a community where peace, love and beauty are the fruits of welcome and inclusion. All of us have experiences which can contribute to our living a fuller and more meaningful life. People who live with disability or other ‘difference’ have much to teach those who are fearful of difference or limitation. Together we create a more colorful and abundant garden.