Deaf geographies, and other worlds.


Oh the shame… it’s been over a month and a half since I wrote anything on here… beware, the writing up can take over your life… and if the writing doesn’t, then the guilt at not writing can.
Actually, I’m trying to get a balance on it at the moment. Jo’s revising for her exams and I keep telling her that perhaps less is more; that she might accomplish more if she actually works less, but better… I should probably take my own advice. Although I think a lot of it’s about prioritising things. In the last 6 weeks I’ve done the last bit of teaching that I’m doing this year (lost nearly a week preparing and delivering that), then went to London for an AHRC consultation on research funding (lost nearly another week preparing that), then there was Easter (lost a long weekend on that)… I mean, you’ve got to have time off but when you need a rhythm to write, breaking it every few days for ‘another’ important activity is not the best strategy in the world.

Happily, I shouldn’t have too many more interruptions now and I should be able to get on with it. This week has been better already.

To answer Donna’s questions in the comments from last time… (Hello Donna… sorry I’ve not written but I’ve found your blog now and I’ll read it and get in touch personally) Are there Deaf churches? and what about worship? There has always been quite a strong influence of Christianity in the Deaf community in the UK because right back at the time Deaf people were designated as a group in need of ‘help’, the church shouldered most of the responsibility (as they did with orphanages and the workhouse etc.) The legacy of the church hasn’t all been roses though… Paddy Ladd in his Deafhood book (2003) presents a number of stories that show that actually, in the same way that church workers tried to eradicate poverty by morally correcting the poor (remember this is Victorian times and early 20th century) they did the same with the Deaf community… training them to be ‘normal’ by threats of eternal condemnation and controlling or withholding services like interpreting until the Deaf people became compliant.

Then, as the church’s control waned, Deaf people continued to go to (often) Deaf congregations with Deaf ministers and for a period there were quite a lot. But in the 90s, a hearing guy gave a prophecy in a Deaf fellowship that Deaf people should integrate into mainstream hearing churches… Again, I don’t know who he was, or what his background was… but there are a lot of questions here too… Anyway, a lot of the churches obeyed and a lot of the Deaf churches closed (there is still at least one going, in N. Ireland). The only thing was that this left Deaf people integrated physically into the hearing church, but separate from the hearing congregation; reliant on BSL interpreters in the services, and still seeking each other out for fellowship… Now there is a mixed situation… with few Deaf-specific churches, but a lot of para-church groups running… check out http://deafchurch.co.uk/ (which I’ve only just discovered) for examples.

I think that’s about where things are at at the moment… but it leaves so many questions open that it’s hardly a conclusion…

  • To what extent has the church, through things like signed songs etc. taken ownership of sign language away from Deaf people and turned it into an art form?
  • How have hearing Christians appropriated it as a tool for worship when it’s actually Deaf people’s language?
  • Is it better for Deaf Christians to meet with each other and have fellowship through sign or to be integrated into a hearing church?
  • What is the motivation behind next year’s Spring Harvest BSL-track event?
  • What impact will translations of the bible into BSL video have on a Deaf community that is used to having no written text in their first language and who will potentially be able to read it at home for the first time?
  • How do you balance ideas of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual well-being and wholeness… with Deaf and hearing languages… what does Kingdom living look like here… how does ‘every tribe and tongue’ work with BSL…
  • How do other countries do it? Have we exported the same attitudes as we have tended to export a church model?

At a time when the Christian church (in the UK at any rate) is recognising its largely Victorian heritage and questioning how many of its structures, traditions and attitudes are actually biblical, or merely handed down and human-authored these are important questions about the nature of Christianity and what our, and Deaf, relationships with God look like.

One particularly pertinent question is how Deaf-hearing relationships within the church (or perhaps here I should say between those who have a living relationship with Christ) differ from those outside… My guess is that a lot of the divisions that history has driven between Deaf and hearing people disappear through forgiveness and through a common relationship with Christ rather like the way that questions of politics between Québecois and English Canadians have to take second place when you know that you’re all living in the kingdom of God…

The question on worship is interesting… Deaf Christians worship the same as hearing Christians… but without singing… but this often involves signed songs… and how Deaf are they, really? When I started thinking about it, I flipped it around… I wondered how I might worship without singing? What might Spring harvest look like without music? What other forms of worship are we ignoring in favour of this one? and how much do we impose our assumptions about has to be on Deaf people making them feel like they’re missing something…

Anyway… enough hoovering the cat for this morning… I’d better get back to the Paris school in the early 19th century and see what the pupils are up to.



This entry was posted on April 19, 2007 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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