Monday, 20 June 2011

Podcasts! And disability!

So, I'm sick. As a disabled person with a chronic health condition (I have a genetic condition), I'm a bit more likely than most non-disabled people to get unwell. In this case, I've been successfully losing weight for the past few months (good for my condition), but have managed to get anaemia as a result (very bad for my condition). I am thus stuck in bed, and have been for the past two weeks. For anyone who hasn't experienced it, being stuck in bed for this long is really, really boring. I've been out of the house briefly a few times, to go to church and the doctor's and once out for breakfast (a mistake that involved a lot of sleep to recover from!) but mainly I've just been here. To help deal with the dullness, I've been a) catching up with True Blood (dudes, that's a good series and I never knew), and b) listening to a lot of podcasts. This is because reading isn't always possible when you're too dizzy to lift your head up, but listening is generally OK.

There are some fantastic Pagan podcasts out there. I've also been listening to some other stuff, like the wonderful offerings from BBC radio (try or or, but the Pagan ones are just so varied with such interesting hosts and full of such great discussion, from theology and sociology to fun ideas. Some of my favourites include Saturn Darkhope's beautifully spiritual Pennies in the Well, Fire Lyte's hilarious yet intellectually/sociologically deep Inciting a Riot, and Katherine Borealis' wonderfully informative, geologically-focused Borealis Meditation. I've also just discovered the apparently under-rated The Crooked Path, which went away for a while but recently came back, and is hosted by Peter Paddon, who may have the best voice in all of podcasting. Like very British treacle sauce pouring over a warm pudding. Mmmm. Everyone with a religious/spiritual interest, whether on a Pagan path or not, should download these fab podcasts and follow their links to others. The Pagan podkin are a great bunch. As a label-eschewing but definitely spiritually confused type who has MUCH to learn, I'm so grateful to them for sharing their thoughts and knowledge. It's really helping.

On another topic, I'm thinking a lot about disability and Paganism/'new age' beliefs/etc at the moment (for obvious reasons). Do note that I refer above to my 'condition', and to 'disability', and to how I use some of these terms. I don't usually have an 'illness'. I'm currently (temporarily) ill, as in, my health is not good. Most of the time, despite being disabled and having a chronic condition, I am usually healthy - as far as I'm concerned. There are several other neutral terms that disabled people use about congenital or acquired conditions, including 'impairment'. The social model of disability* posits that we are disabled by society, not by our conditions, which are in themselves neutral. This doesn't mean that we don't want to be healthy. It does mean that we value the diversity of human life and experience. Yes, this leads to contradictions and issues. Each person works through those individually. The more important thing, to many disability rights campaigners, is that disability - as a social issue - is something we can actually work on. It's possible to change society, and social justice is something that most people can agree is important. It's hard work to achieve. But I'd much rather work towards that, than work on wiping out all human diversity in a quest for some kind of 'perfect' body that a) is a socially constructed concept and b) doesn't exist.

I've read a lot about health in Pagan books recently that worries me - reminiscent of the victim-blaming, illness-and-impairment-confusing, discriminatory discourses of Christianity that I've spent many years working on bringing out into the light. On the one hand, it shocks and upsets me that many of the same things are present in Paganism. despite its open-minded stance towards all kinds of justice issues, and despite its valuing of the body (that is so different from the Christian approach). On the other hand, I know that Pagans, like members of every other religion and none, are social and socialised creatures, who are just as capable of believing negative social messages about disability as anyone else. Additionally, we all want to be healthy. And if we're the average person, we never have to think much about disability, beyond the vague awareness that we'll probably get old one day, and we rarely think about the 20% of people** who live with disability right now, at whatever age they are. I think that's a normal response to disability, and it makes sense. It still makes me sad to hear such negative things about the diversity of human bodies from a body-honouring religion, though.

But it's not everyone. For example, I've been comforted by Saturn Darkhope's approaches to the body in her podcast, which have encouraged me to read more widely and to take the less helpful stuff with a pinch of salt. She's someone who has podcasted about her health difficulties, which I think is vitally important for any member of a religion to do, just as it's important for LGBT followers of all religions to speak out about our experiences. Overall, I'm trying to learn to take the good - like the wonderful ethic of taking responsibility for one's own health - with the less good. It's just going to take some practice.

And that starts getting me into ethics and the spiritual path. I hear it's Pagan Values Blogging/Podcasting Month, and that a lot of people are writing/podcasting about ethics in particular. Regardless of my current lack of clarity over labels, ethics are very important to my spiritual path, and I like the idea of considering them enough to blog about them. So I'll get to that next! But now I must go drag myself out of bed long enough to finish making iced tea for our visitors this evening. They may see more of the iced tea than they see of me, but at least it will be good iced tea.

*The social model of disability is one of the key tenets of the disability rights movement. I know a whole lot about it - I'm a Disability Studies expert, with an MA in the subject as well as a PhD in-the-doing (in disability studies and sociology of religion) that I expect to complete within the next three years. Assuming anyone is reading this blog (which I'm not at all sure of!), if you have any questions about the social model or social theories of disability, or the disability movement in general, then do feel free to ask. But please no attacking. I'm so tired of verbal/written attacks by strangers that I'm thinking of shutting down my disability-related twitter account. Society is in a fairly mean place at the moment, when it comes to disabled people and our issues. :(

**Statistic based on the number of people in the UK who are covered by the disability element of the Equality Act, i.e. are 'officially' disabled. A similar percentage of Americans are covered by the ADA.

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