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Posts Tagged ‘Paralympics’

By chance I was in my home town of Harpenden on Sunday, and after the 9.45 Mass many people from the Catholic church went down the road to the United Service of Remembrance round the War Memorial on Church Green.

It’s years since I have been present for this. I have memories of a few hundred people scattered around the green in the centre of town. But this Sunday there must have been a crowd of over two thousand people, spilling onto the surrounding roads. Perhaps it has been growing over the years; perhaps it was particularly large this year.

It was very moving, and very Christian! Prayers, hymns, readings. The names of the dead were read out. And it’s so easy to forget, but the whole town was gathered round a standing cross (see the old postcard above). I’ve wandered across the green a thousand times over the years (we moved to Harpenden when I was four), but I’ve hardly stopped to reflect that the focus of unity for the town was and still is the Cross of Jesus Christ. And when people want to reflect on death and life, remember their loved ones, or just come together as a community conscious of itself and its history – they gather round the Cross.

I’m not suggesting that everyone there had faith, or even that Christianity is on the increase in Hertfordshire (who knows?). But the huge crowds present this Sunday made me wonder if there is a deepening hunger for community and for a sense of connection with those in the past. Maybe we are more aware of our military than we used to be; maybe it’s the patriotism of the Jubilee or the communitarianism of the Olympics and the Paralympics; maybe we just long to feel more connected.

This was civic religion at its best: people still broadly connected with the nation’s Christian faith, even though there would be various shades of belief and unbelief; people finding that this faith gives them a unity with each other, and a way of making sense of their human struggles, that perhaps they wouldn’t find in any other place.

And a final note about purgatory: It was an ecumenical service, but I was fascinated how each prayer spoken was actually a prayer for the dead. We kept hearing phrases like: ‘May they find the fulfilment in God they were longing for'; ‘May they rest in peace'; ‘May they come face to face with the Lord’. All of these ‘may they…’ prayers suggest, theologically, that there is still something to be achieved or worked out for those who have died. In other words, this wasn’t just a service of remembrance – whatever the service sheet suggested – it was also a service of prayer for the dead. I don’t think this was very conscious or theologically explicit, but it shows how hard it is to just remember the dead without actually praying for them – at a psychological level. And a Catholic would add that this makes theological sense as well!

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British attitudes to disability are so contradictory (following on from the last post).

On the one hand, things are getting better for those with disabilities in Britain. There is better access to buildings and public spaces, stronger legislation against discrimination, and more integration in ordinary sociaty generally of those who are disabled. And, of course (this gives me another excuse to refer to my groundbreaking post about traffic management), there are fewer pavement curbs – at least in Kensington and Chelsea.

Two examples caught my attention recently. There was an article in the Times on Tuesday (I can’t link to it because of the paywall!) about media preparations for the Paralympics. It points out how much interest there has been in the Paralympics over the last few years, and how people with disabilities are much more present in the mainstream media than they used to be, e.g. as presenters and not just as guests.

And last week I had a tour of a newly constructed hall of residence at Leeds Trinity University College. The facilities were really impressive. Not only were there rooms for wheelchair users and the physically disabled, but these rooms were integrated into the sets for able-bodied students.

So your own room has all the facilities you would expect (accessible bathroom, accessible wardrobe, etc.), as well as some wonderful features that I never would have anticipated, like two spyholes in the door – one at about 5 feet for those who are standing, and one at about 3 feet for those using wheelchairs. And the shared kitchen that you use with other students has an extra cooking hob and an extra sink, both designed so that they are at the right height for someone using a wheelchair, and – equally important – enough space for you to get your knees underneath them.

These are all positive signs about how British society is becoming more inclusive and more open to those who live with disability.

On the other hand, if you are an unborn child and you have a disability, you can be aborted simply for the fact that you have this disability.

Even the Disability Rights Commission (which merged into the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007), which you wouldn’t expect to comment on abortion law, recognised this contradiction. It wrote that the section of the Abortion Act concerned with disability:

is offensive to many people; it reinforces negative stereotypes of disability; and there is substantial support for the view that to permit terminations at any point during a pregnancy on the ground of risk of disability, while time limits apply to other grounds set out in the Abortion Act, is incompatible with valuing disability and non-disability equally…the DRC believes the context in which parents choose whether to have a child should be one in which disability and non-disability are valued equally.

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