On the Lived Theology Reading List: My Body Is Not a Prayer Request

Disability Justice in the Church

Amy Kenny, a disabled Christian and Shakespeare Lecturer who “hates Hamlet,” wants to remind the church that it worships as Lord a man whose wounds—or at least their scars—survived his resurrection. While many Christians see disability as something to be fixed, Kenny sees it as a potential revelation of God.

Kenny starts the book by recounting a harrowing encounter she had with a woman who accosted her at a church service with the message that God wants to heal her. Kenny demurred. The woman accused her of a lack of hope and faith. Kenny wants to believe in the good intentions of Christians like this woman. Their understanding of the Bible, however, she flatly rejects. She finds that “churchgoers have been too hasty to dismiss passages of Scripture where disability is celebrated as a blessing or a prophetic witness,” such as when Jesus says it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven disabled than be thrown into hell fully-abled (see Mark 9:43-47).

Kenny’s good humor throughout the book is admirable. Each chapter ends with a top-10 list. Chapter 1, for example, “Disability Curatives,” ends with a list of “Top Ten Recommended Remedies.” Curious? Get the book and be entertained as well as enlightened.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

Amy Kenny’s My Body Is Not a Prayer Request is holy ground. Kenny writes with devastating humor and uncommon depth that will remind readers of Anne Lamott. You will laugh, weep, and fume with rage–all on the same page. The words she writes will matter to you. They will change the way you see–everything. Kenny’s courage to say the things that need to be said is only matched by the skill with which she wields her proverbial pen. All hail this new and necessary voice.

—Lisa Sharon Harper, author of The Very Good Gospel and Fortune: How Race Broke My Family and the World–and How to Repair It All

By times wise and tender, then grab-you-by-the-lapels prophetic truth-telling, Kenny’s passion, anger, and hope for disability justice is utterly embodied. I found this book to be not only a call to justice but an invitation to deep blessing. I will be pressing this book into the hands of every ministry leader I know.

—Sarah Bessey, editor of the New York Times bestseller A Rhythm of Prayer and author of Jesus Feminist

In My Body Is Not a Prayer Request, Amy Kenny describes with wit and candor her experiences as a disabled Christian in worship services and Bible studies, but also in places like the DMV, high school, the doctor’s office, and Disneyland–showing, lamentably, how ableism at church looks just like it does everywhere else. She raises up the way of Jesus to practice holistic healing in the face of ableism’s holistic harms. Drawing from diverse biblical narratives and insights from disability studies, Kenny issues a convicting invitation to the people of God to live up to our deepest values and to stop excluding the necessary gifts of our disabled kindred, for the good of all. I will be giving this book to my disabled and nondisabled friends alike.

—Bethany McKinney Fox, author of Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church

For more information on the publication, click here.

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Emily Miller to Study the Divergent Histories of Two Charlottesville Baptist Churches

The Project on Lived Theology (PLT) has selected Emily Miller to be a 2022 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology. Emily, who is a rising third-year undergraduate at UVA, is double-majoring in religious studies and statistics.

As part of her fellowship, Emily will receive a $3,000 stipend and work directly with a UVA faculty mentor, who will act as a theological-academic mentor and offer guidance on a research project. 

Emily’s project will explore the history of two Charlottesville churches: First Baptist Church on Park Street and First Baptist Church on Main Street. The two churches used to exist as a single church, Charlottesville Baptist Church, but split during the Civil War when Black members decided they wanted to form their own church. Currently, First Baptist on Main Street remains primarily Black, while First Baptist on Park Street remains primarily white. Since so little information is readily available about the split, Emily will visit the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society and UVA Special Collections, as well as each church’s archive, to find what historical documents exist. 

From there, Emily hopes to form a fuller, more detailed narrative from a variety of sources about the history of these two churches than what is currently accessible to the public. This project will also contribute to a more comprehensive theological history of Charlottesville in general. Emily is also interested in how the history of the separation has impacted each church today. She hopes to interview members and clergy of both congregations, as well as to attend services at both churches, in order to form a sociological narrative of the churches as well as a historical one.

“Emily’s got a terrific project, and she’s already hit the archives and turned up some fascinating documents,” said PLT research fellow Guy Aiken, who is serving as Emily’s faculty mentor. “It seems the full story of the big Baptist split in Charlottesville during the Civil War and Reconstruction and its reverberations down to today has never been told—until Emily. It’s exciting.”

“I am passionate about both theology and the rich civil rights history that exist in Charlottesville, and so as a part of this fellowship, I’m excited to bring these aspects together under the guidance of incredible professors, Guy Aiken and [PLT director] Charles Marsh,” said Emily. “The story of the First Baptist Church is deeply ingrained into Charlottesville and has a profound impact on the state of the Baptist church writ-large in Central Virginia, and I am so honored to have the opportunity to bring the many moving pieces to light.”

Currently a teaching fellow in UVA’s Department of Religious Studies, Emily also conducts research for The Global Inquirer (a podcast produced by UVA undergraduates) and tutors elementary school students in math. She is a lifeguard and championship dancer, with experience in fitness training. Emily hopes to eventually earn a PhD in religious studies and become an academic researcher.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Evangelical Disenchantment

Nine Portraits of Faith and Doubt

A renowned historian of the popular appeal of evangelicalism (especially Methodism) in the 18th and 19th centuries and the dean of Harvard Divinity School, David Hempton turns in this book from social history to biography. He profiles nine prominent creative artists, social reformers, and public intellectuals who left the evangelical fold in the 19th and 20th centuries. Noting that “nothing reveals as much about the inner workings of institutions as their complaint departments,” he calls his subjects’ narratives “referrals to the complaint department of the evangelical tradition.”

Hempton’s complainants are the novelists and essayists George Eliot and James Baldwin, the memoirist Edmund Gosse, the public intellectual Frances W. Newman (brother of John Henry), the painter Vincent Van Gogh, and the social reformers Sarah Grimke, Theodore Dwight Weld, Frances Willard, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Hempton tries as much as possible to let them convey their complaints in their own words and works. He wants not to moralize on their journeys of faith and doubt, but to understand “how their negotiations of faith informed their private and public lives.”

That he draws their disillusionment sympathetically is not to say that he endorses it. He is careful to note that his subjects are decidedly in the minority within evangelicalism, and he has no intention of promoting their critiques at the expense of the manifold reasons why the vast majority of evangelicals “have lived and died contentedly within their faith tradition.” He seeks to understand, not to judge or to prescribe—a rather welcome attitude in a political and religious climate that has grown only more acidic since the book first appeared, in 2008.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

A beautifully written and artfully constructed book that draws intriguing conclusions about the nature of evangelical Protestantism.

—Mark Noll

This book charts new territory by close examination of a series of case studies of people previously well-known but not previously compared. Hempton succeeds wonderfully well in producing compelling mini-biographies.

—Thomas Kidd, author of The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America

Hempton tells these stories with excellent skill, insight, and fair-mindedness. These accounts of loss of faith of prominent figures illuminate not only their personal struggles but also some fascinating relationships between evangelicalism and mainstream public culture, especially in Great Britain and the United States.

—George Marsden, author of Fundamentalism and American Culture

For more information on the publication, click here.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. To sign up for the Lived Theology newsletter, click here.