Monday, December 15, 2008

When No Means Yes

A few years ago, I lived accross the alley from a lesbian couple. I had been fired from a job (another story) and my roomate thought one way I could raise a bit of money during my unemployment was to shovel their house. Well, it snowed one time and I was out shoveling their sidwalks and driveways. It did snow a bit more, but I thought I had done what they wanted.

I should add, during this time, the mother of one of the lesbians died, so they were in a rough spot.

A few days later, I get a call express dissapointment at my performance. Since it had snowed a little bit more, it made it look like I never did much. I said I could go out and shovel, but they kept saying don't bother. The next day, I saw one of them out shoveling and the day after recieved an email telling me that my services were no longer required. I responded in what I thought was a civil tone, but I guess was somewhat snarky.

The next thing I know I got a terse email from one them that was flaming; telling me how the other person went out to shovel and could have had a heart attack and the like. That bit of frustration caused me to go into a meltdown situation, which is a story for another time. Long story short, because of that, our relationship which was once friendly, became strained.

What was interesting in all of this, was how I was told over and over to not bother going out and shovel. So, after a while I took them at their word. But in reality, their "no" was really "you better get out there and clean things up." But being an aspie, I saw "no" as "no."

For someone that is not on the spectrum, there would be no question: the word "no" was a way of nicely saying that something needed to be done. Neurotypicals know this. But someone who has Aspergers doesn't see things that way.

In some way, being an aspie in an NT world is like a French-speaking person living in an English speaking culture. Just as language comes with a certain world view, so does having Apsergers. We see and percieve the world rather differently and having to live in a world where everyone else speaks a different "language" can be quite confusing.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunday Sermon- December 7, 2008

“A New Hope”
Mark 1:1-8, Isaiah 40:1-11

December 7, 2008 (Second Sunday in Advent)

First Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

As I am heading down the road towards 40, I’ve discovered something that many of you who are farther down the road have already figured out: you start to get nostalgic for things past, and maybe a bit more hesitant about the future. I can tell that I am looking back a lot when a growing number of songs I’ve downloaded from iTunes are songs from the late 80s and early 90s, when I was in high school, college and just starting out on my own.

Then I start to think about the future. I’m becoming a middle-aged man,and my body is reminding me of that everyday. I’m dealing with aging parents and getting ready for the day when, sadly, they will be in my past. I then start to think about retirement, even though that’s about 30 years away.

I wonder at times why I have become so nostaglic for the past. Part of it could be that I’ve lived long enough to have memories of what things were like decades ago. But I also think I’m doing this because, the past is something that is known, it’s safe. Nevermind that the past wasn’t always that great and in fact was downright bad at times, it gives me comfort. The future? Well, that’s unknown and that is just scary to me.

As we start this new church year, we will focus on the book of Mark. Mark’s gospel is an odd book, when you compare it to Matthew and Luke. For one thing, Matthew and Luke try to set up the story of Christ’s birth and tell about the actual birth itself. Mark doesn’t do that. For me, it’s like seeing the first Star Wars, which is actually the middle chapter of the science fiction saga. You are just plopped in the middle of this story without much preparation. We are simply told this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And then, we are told of this guy, John the Baptist who needs a good talking to about his eating habits and his fashion sense. Somehow, he is the forerunner to Jesus, someone that John says he is not worthy to tie his shoes. There are no angels greeting Mary, the mother of Jesus, no talk of John as Jesus’ cousin, just this odd beginning, introducing Jesus and John.

While this passage doesn’t seem to make sense, at least to me, there is something going on here. This passage is about hope, it is about moving forward with faith in the future.

Mark’s decides to open his story by going back to Isaiah. Mark believes that prophet Isaiah foretold that a messenger would come and prepare the way of the Lord, calling people to get right with God. Mark believed that this person was John the Baptist. He came preaching a message of repentance. At first glance, that doesn’t seem like a hopeful message. John is asking, no, demanding that people turn away from (which is what repentance means) from their evil ways. That doesn’t seem like a message that would make one all warm and fuzzy is it? But John is also preaching a message of forgivness of sins, harkening back to Isaiah, which pictures a God that is willing to forgive those who had wronged God.

One would think that such a harsh message would not be popular. But the passage says that crowds came out from Jerusalem and into the desert to hear this message of repentance and forgiveness.

Now that in itself is interesting. Jerusalem is the place of the Temple, the holiest place for Jews. It was supposed to the place people would flock to, and yet, they are not. The crowds were ignoring the learned religious folk and instead listening to some odd duck out in the desert. John tells the people that One is coming that is even bigger than he. “Hope is on the way, “ he says.

So, what can we learn from this text? A few things. Advent is a reminder that Jesus is coming. Hope is on the way. We will be free from our bonds. As Isaiah said, mountains would be brought low, valleys would be raised. Everything changes when Jesus appears. In our busyness during this time of the year, we are reminded that we are loved by God and God will find a way to heal and restore us. Hope is on the way.

But Advent is not only a time of hopeful expectation. It is also a time when God is calling for us to repent, to examine our lives and heal our relationship with God and each other. We like to think that Advent and Christmas are simply happy times, not wanting to face the fact that we need to prepare ourselves for God’s coming. How have we hurt our sister or brother? How have we treated God’s creation? While it might be “the most wonderful time of the year” we also need to be willing to work towards healing and repenting from ways that are damaging our human and spiritual relationships.

But there is still one other thing to take note here. The people left Jerusalem because they were not finding God there. There is a question here for faith communities like First Christian. Churches can be good places to talk about getting right with God, but we sometimes fail on that forgiveness of sins part. Are we as individuals and as a congregation a place where people can receive grace? There are people who for various reasons have not felt grace in their lives. People without work, or dealing various addictions or mental illness, people of different ethnic groups, economic classes and sexual orientation have not always felt welcomed in God’s house. Are we going to that place where they can find relief and hope, or will they leave us to see where God is going?

I can’t answer that question for you. But it is something that we as a church must constantly ask ourselves.

But I also think that we are called to bring that hope to the world. This isn’t about us recieving this message for me, myself and I. It’s about sharing this hope with all of creation. As the hymn which is based on Isaiah 40 says:

Comfort, comfort ye my people,

Speak ye peace, thus saith our God;

Comfort those who sit in darkness,

Mourning 'neath their sorrows' load;

Speak ye to Jerusalem

Of the peace that waits for them,

Tell her that her sins I cover,

And her warfare now is over.

So, this is not only a message of hope for us, but a charge to go out into the world and preach the good news in word and deed. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bring good news to the captives, we are comforting God’s people.

Advent is a time of expectation, but it also a time of hope, a time when we move forward. The past is in the past, but we move forward knowing that we are forgiven by God.

About a year ago, I met the grandmother of one of my friends during his committment ceremony. This woman was in her 90s, but full of spirit and hope. This spunky woman died a few weeks ago at the age of 92. She continued forward into the future, facing her eventual mortality with hope.

I have no idea what the future will bring for me as I hit 40. I have no idea what the future brings for First Christian as it discerns its future. John’s preaching got him in trouble with the authorities and he ended up being executed. The One whom John was preaching about died on a cross. Hope doesn’t mean a happy ending, but it does mean that God is with us, all the time. We are not alone.

Remember that Star Wars reference? I should point out that the first movie had a subtitle. Does anyone know what it is? It’s A New Hope. The saga was saying that after years of oppression, hope was on the way. Maybe it be so with us. Hope is on the way. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Email or Phone?

When I started dating Daniel, one of the things he noticed was that I didn't like talking on the phone much. Which for him meant getting out of his warm apartment in Grand Forks and going to church late at night to Instant Message which I loved.

Ever since email came around, I've seen it as a godsend. I can communicate much better via computer than on the phone or in person. At work, it makes more sense to email me than to leave a message on my phone, which I fail to get around to answering. For some reason, I don't like the phone.

I wonder if this is something other Aspies face. I do know that for people with Aspergers the web was a miracle and it definitely is for me. What about all of you?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Churches Offering Space to People with Autism

I stumbled upon this post about how some churches in the Portland, OR area are welcoming those with autism, which is welcome news after a church in Minnesota banned a child with autism from attending the church.

As I make my way in the church, I still wonder how a pastor with an autistic spectrum disorder fits. But I also want to find ways that the church can be more welcoming to persons with all forms of autism period.

Let me put it to all three readers out there: do you know of churches that are trying to be welcoming to aspies and other autisitic people?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pastor Gideon

Recently, I shared with my sister-in-law about how I wondered if I could still fulfill my calling as a pastor even though I have Aspergers. She was very caring saying that God calls people even if they aren't "qualified."

For some reason, since my diagnosis, I've been thinking about the biblical story of Gideon. Gideon was called by God to lead an army against the mighty Midianites. The thing is, God could have not called a more unqualified person to be a soldier. He was the the youngest (read: insignificant) person in his family which was of the lowest tribe in the land. And yet, the angel that summoned Gideon called him a mighty warrior.

The thing is, God used him to defeat the Midianites. A guy who was a coward and a scaredy cat was the person God picked.

So then, there is me, this guy who has a neurological disorder. A guy that has problems communicating effectively with others and well, can't always be the empathetic person that people expect pastors to be.

And yet, God has called me to be a pastor. It's not easy to be a pastor with Asperger's, but I do feel I am doing this whole pastor thing.

But then in the end, it is God that gives us the power to do anything. It is God that makes us "qualified." The only reason Gideon was successful was because God worked through him. Old Gid relied on God's power, not his own.

So I think I can be a pastor with an autism spectrum disorder. It might be different, but it is still a ministry.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Playing Second Fiddle...and It Feels Good

So, finally I have a call, or something to a church.

Beginning November 10, I will be the Associate Pastor for Diversity and Mission at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis. This is sort of a coming home for me, First Christian is where I become accaquainted with this crazy family called the Disciples of Christ, it is also the church that sponsored me during my ordination process and where I got ordained in 2002.

The position is part time, so I will be keeping my full time job with the Presbyterians. It's not really a called position, it's a contract position because of the odd situation First is in. The church has lost members, part of a long decline. They have a great guy as a long term interim, as they decide their next steps in transformation. This position will help with that, but it will also allow me to do some of the stuff I love to do, such as mission.

The interesting part of this job will be that part of my position is to get the church ready for Web 2.0. I will be updating the website which needs it. How many pastors get to do that as part of their job?

I think being an Associate will be better suited to my Aspie tendencies. We shall see.

So, that's what's going on. I'm psyched.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Do I Look Like a CEO To You?

BusinessWeek magazine has an interesting profile of Bram Cohen, who developed BitTorrent technology. He has Aspergers and the article explores his difficulties in being an CEO as opposed to a tech.

It reminds me a bit of how I might not be able to be a Senior or Solo Pastor, but might do better as an Associate Pastor.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Empire, Shempire

Many of the progressive Christians I hang out with routinely refer to America as an "empire." I've always had trouble with this. Yes, America is a powerful nation and has not always done the right thing, but are we equal to Rome?

Tony Jones, believes that contrary to the standard belief among liberal Protestants, we are not an empire. He gives his reasons as such:

An empire has, by definition, an emperor. As frustrated as you may be
by the malicious buffoonery of the Bush-Cheney oligarchy, they do not represent
an emperor. Exhibit A: They won’t be in office as of January 20. In
fact, it looks as though they will have virtually no power in the governance of
the United States as of that date (unlike, for instance, Vladimir Putin, who set
himself up as prime minister of Russia after constitutional term limits ended
his presidency). I was a classics major in college (geez, I hate it when
people tell me that what they majored in during college makes them an expert in
that topic), and I lived in Rome. I know how and why the Roman Empire
fell, and it did, indeed, have a lot to do with office of emperor and the abuses
inherent thereto.

We, on the other hand, are about to elect a new president. And with an Obama presidency (barring some unforeseen tragedy), there will be thoroughgoing housecleaning in Washington. This is what never happened in Rome. Julius Caesar, who overcame the other two members of the Triumvirate, ruled Rome pretty well. His adopted heir, Augustus (nee Gaius Octavius) was arguably the greatest ruler of that empire. And from there it was pretty much downhill (with notable exceptions). Why? Graft. Immorality. And the “divine right of kings.”

Presbyterian Pastor Jim Bonewald argues that just because we don't have an emperor doesn't mean we don't share the characteristics of an empire. I disagree. Part of the whole concept of empire is that it has an leader that is almost considered a god. The other characteristic is that the State tends to have an overall power over everything. Maybe this is a simplistic analogy, but look at the whole Star Wars saga: the old Republic was a representative democracy with an Senate and checks on power. The Empire had a emperor that ruled by force.

It has become very fashionable to see the United States as an empire during the Bush years and especially after the invasion of Iraq. But even though the government did get into a stupid war which sought to extend its influence, and even if it did try to erode civil liberties, this is not the same as an empire. President Bush will step down in January. A new president will take over for 4 to 8 years and then he will step down and be succeeded by another president. President Bush is not seen as a god and the State is not seen as the overarching institution in society that controls every aspect of society.

I have always thought there was a certain ideological tint to this tossing of the word, empire. Many who throw the word in regards to the United States rarely talk about other nations or regimes that have acted imperially, such as the old Soviet Union.

My own thought is that it gives some progressive Christians a sense of cache. Here are the noble Christians, fighting against the horrible empire.

The United States have done many bad things in the recent past, including torture and the misguided war in Iraq. Christians are right to challenge those policies. But the United States isn't an empire. To do so, is to make light of the people who have been oppressed by real empires.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Aspergers and Clinical Pastoral Education

As I was talking with a fellow pastor this afternoon, I realized something:

We started sharing our experiences with Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE is "on the job" training for a pastors to be, to learn about themselves in difficult situations. I've heard others take it and say it was the hardest time for them emotionally. My first boyfriend did it and would cry like a baby about how hard it was.

For me, it didn't seem so emotional.

That's not to say it wasn't difficult. I worked in a nursing home during my stint in 2001-02. One of my first visits was with a family where the father had brain cancer and was in bad shape. The family thought that the would get better and asked me to pray for them. There was NO chance this guy was going to get better. So, I prayed the best I could, trying not to say he was going to get all better. It was hard; I had to give these people hope, but not false hope.

The fact is, my experience was more "Vulcan" if I can say. One of my classmates berated me at the final meeting saying that I was to aloof. (I never really like this woman, I thought she was too needy, wanting people's sympathy.) But the fact was, it was my aspieness showing.

Looking back, I can see that the reason I was somewhat more distant than others was because of my Aspergers.

There's not much reason for this post, except an understanding as to why I acted the way I did back then. I was afraid that I was some unfeeling monster. Nope, just an aspie chaplain.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Marrying the "Enemy"

A few weeks ago, my husband Daniel and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. I've known him for over three years and he has made my life much, much better.

And yet, he pisses me off. Worse, I piss him off.

Why? Because we are a mixed marriage. But the problem isn't that we are of two different races, though we are (he's Norwegian-Swedish).

The difference is one of ideology. He's a Democrat and I'm a Republican.

My love will at times talk about politics and express his opinion of course. I usually cringe a bit, feeling somewhat unconfortable, wanting to talk about something else, than this issue that tends to divide us. At some point I might bring up another viewpoint which is more conservative and then he becomes unconfortable. And so it is, during this election year.

But the thing is, even though he drives me crazy with his liberal views and visa versa, I love him. I love him for his boldness, his creativity, his capacity for deep emotion, his love of children.

In the end, I love him because he is Daniel, not because of his political affiliation.

I sometimes wonder if "mixed marriages" like ours are becoming less frequent. The book, the "Big Sort" posits that Americans are starting to sort themselves into communities where people think the same. We live in cities or suburbs that are political homogenous and the same goes for other groups including places of worship.

Look at the Internet. People can go to blogs and read magazines that only support their own views. Conservatives can go to Fox News, Liberals to MSNBC.

In some ways, sorting ourselves might be easy. Not having to deal with someone who disagrees with you. No having to see that person as a- well, person, with thoughts and feelings beyond what they think about tax policy or the war in Iraq.

I live in Minneapolis, probably one of the most liberal cities in the nation. That means, most of my friends are liberals. I roll my eyes when they say something that goes against my views, but you know what? They are still my friends. And the thing is, they keep my thinking sharp and allow me to rethink my own views, again and again. Isn't there something in the Bible about friends being like "iron sharpening iron?"

If there was a wish I had, it's that people would start having more friends with people who they disagree with. It might be a more richer relationship than anything they have imagined.

I should know. I'm married someone that drives me up the wall.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Blessed Are the Aspies...

For a while, I've been wondering what are the positives of having Aspergers. Via Gavin Bollard, there is an article explaining the good side of having "autism lite." Here's a brief and important quote:

When contemplating disorders such as Asperger’s syndrome, there is a tendency to focus on negative aspects, such as difficulty in reading social cues. But many of those with Asperger’s syndrome have positive traits as well, which has led some people to question whether it should be viewed as a difference rather than a disorder.

Read the entire article.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sending Grace to Wall Street

At the risk of saying something blasphemous...

During this whole financial crisis, which seems to be getting worse by the day, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

I've always been fascinated by the two sons; the younger one, who demands his inheritance and goes off and spends it wildly and the older son who stays and is the "good son." There is always a lot of sympathy for the younger son who realizes his wrong and comes back to his father asking to be made no more than a slave. The father instead gives him a party, joyous that his wayward son is finally back home.

The older son isn't so happy. Here he was, the good one, who stayed and was faithful to his father and his irresponsible brother is getting a party.

I've always identified with that older brother, because I understood his anger. He was the good guy, and he felt like he was not be rewarded for his faithfulness. I've been that situation as well.

But Jesus was trying to get at the whole concept of grace, of loving and caring for someone regardless of what they've done. The father loved both sons, but he was happy that his son that wandered off was now back home. This was no time for laying blame, but for granting forgiveness.

Read on...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Have This Great Idea...Just Give Me Ten Years to Explain It.

One of the things that I've learned about being an aspie is that we have a hard time explaining things. It's those darn communication skills. I remember a few years ago, trying to explain some idea I had to someone at church and failing to adequately explain that concept. I had an idea, but I could not share that with that person.

Australian blogger and fellow aspie, Gavin Bollard, shares that letter writing is one way for people to communicate with aspies. I would agree, but I think it also might be a way for those us with Aspergers to be able to communicate feelings and thoughts too hard to spell out in person.

More often than not, I can write a whole speech in my head, but for some reason, when I get in front of a person, that well written speech gets garbled. Maybe writing these thoughts would be more easier.

What about any other aspies out there? Is letter writing a way we can communicate with friends and neighbors?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Moving On

I found out today that I didn't get to the second around for the position of pastor at a church. For ethical reasons, I am not going to say where the church is located.

I would lying if I said that I was not bothered by it. I thought there might be some hope, but I wasn't what they were looking for. In the end, my view of church and their view of church didn't match.

I was looking for a place where I could do ministry. But in chatting with my husband, he reminded me that this probably wasn't the right place and that's okay.

Of course, this now makes me wonder what is next. I've been wondering if I am up for parish ministry. But then again, maybe I am. I guess I will have to see what God unfolds.

But it is frustrating. I mean, last Monday was six years since ordination and I feel I haven't done much. I have to believe God knows what she is doing.

I really hope so.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Holding Together

I've always been a political junkie. I interned for my congressman back in the summer of 1990. What a wonderous time. Here I was, a kid from Flint, Michigan interning with his congressman and seeing some of the political greats. I remember having the opportunity to see Nelson Mandela give a speech to a joint session of Congress. Here was a man that I heard about, who only a few months prior was released from prison. This man that the then-racist government in South Africa tried to break, was standing in front of Congress unbowed.

I've always been interested in politics and have blogged about politics for several years.

But I'm not liking it this year.

There is something in the air that has people just being plain mean to each other. And maybe what is more disturbing is to see Christians regardless of political persuasion saying things that they should be ashamed of.

You know, people have the right to express who they are voting for and why. But can't we do that with some respect? Do we have to be mean?

Too often, the church is nothing more than an extension of the political parties. Jesus becomes a cheerleader for whatever your ideology. There are liberal churches and conservative churches, ready pom squads for both parties and God help you if you are the minority in each others churches.

I'm a McCain supporter. But you will not see me making any snide comments about Obama or those that support him. I disagree with the views, but not the people.

Whatever happened to Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ? What happened to understanding that the church is made up of different people from different walks of life? What happened to trying to listen to each other and respect each other instead of tearing each other down.

I think I understand why some people choose not be involved in politics: it becomes too divisive. People get so wrapped up in trying to be right that they forget to be loving towards each other, even when they disagree.

So, go ahead and support whoever, but leave your partisan poison at the door. It's making me sick.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Looking for the "Door"

I'm trying really hard to not make this a "pity post."

Unbeknownst to my husband, I was thinking a lot today about my vocation and if this was where I belong. The last six years haven't been filled with successes: I was let go from two jobs as a youth pastor, started a church which flamed out, and have left a lot of people upset with me. Doors haven't been opening for me in the way of calls or other opportunities.

Some say that if I move to another part of the country, then things will be better. Maybe. But that's something I need to talk about with Daniel and he just started a new job. Also, will a change of location really make things better? Sometimes we just end up bringing our problems with us.

Some of the behavior that has caused so much mishaps has been because of my Aspergers, I know that now. I don't think that keeps one out of the ministry, but it can make difficult.

I guess, it's just after so many years of not seeing doors opening, of not feeling affirmed in ministry, I am wondering if this is a message that God doesn't want me here. I don't know.

All I do know is that tonight I felt sadness, a sadness of feeling like I've failed and that there is no chance for redemption.

Not all is bleak, though, I have enjoyed my time as the Communications Specialist for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area and I've received a lot of affirmation there. I've been doing other religious media work for my own denomination and also starting to branch out. It's all good, it's just that it's not what I had planned for.

Maybe this is the Door. If it is, it wasn't the one I expected or hoped for.

But then again, it may only be a resting place until the Door opens. Who knows?

Did I keep this from becoming a "pity post?"

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Back in the Day...

I've been a Janet Jackson fan for years (though her current stuff isn't as good). One of my favorite songs is "Alright," which is a bouncy and joyous song. I remember it on the airwaves during the spring of 1990, my junior year in college. The song was good, but the video was even better- a sheer delight, full of gorgeous coreography and stunning color.

For old time's sake, here's the video:

You Gotta Have Faith

I've been reading Becoming a Blessed Church, by N. Graham Standish again. I say "again," because I was reading it a few months back, and then stopped for some reason and for other unknown reason, I've started again.

It's been a good book to read, and I'm jazzed that it will be the focus of a class at this year's School for Congregational Learning in Des Moines.

What I have read so far, has reminded me a lot about the importance of prayer and of faith in the life of a congregation. Standish shares stories of two pastors who totally relied on faith and prayer in their endeavors and how things just seemed to work out. The first was about Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, the author of the book The Purpose-Driven Life and the second was Walt Kalestad, pastor of Community Church of Joy, a Lutheran congregation in Arizona. Both churches are what one would call a megachurch, but Standish isn't trying to tell people "do-this-and-you-too-will-become-a-megachurch." He focuses on how they relied on God and how they had faith in God. Standish would say they were open to God's power.

As I was putting this week's sermon, I was reminded of the faith of the Cannanite woman. She believed in Jesus, even when Jesus seemed to be dissing her.

It reminded me of my own recently life and how much I tend to be a functional atheist at times.

When Community of Grace was still going, I was placing my trust in things that ultimately let me down: local churches, the Region and techniques.

Now, I should say, I am not blaming these people or institutions. What I am saying is that I was placing trust in these things, and not on God.

I wonder what would have happened if all the time spent trying to get the attention of local churches and trying this and that to attract people to the church, would have been spent in prayer and asking for God's guidence? Something tells me that things might have turned out differently.

I'm not saying that prayer is some kind of good luck charm and that if I did enough of it, things would be different. But maybe praying would have reminded me who I was doing this for and whose power to rely on instead of my own power.

You really gotta have faith.

Sunday Sermon- August 17, 2008

“Fit for a Dog”
Matthew 15: 10-28
August 17, 2008
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

During my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I was on the cross country team. I enjoyed distance running, but I wasn’t the best at it. God might have graced me with perserverance, but God didn’t give me the gift of swiftness. In many of the smaller meets, I was usually bringing up the rear.

One day during my freshman year, we my high school had a meeting with another high school in the suburbs. We went out to a local golf course to run the race. As usual, I was in last place, steady running along the rolling hills of the golf course.

At some point, I started hearing voices. At first I think I thought it was someone cheering me on, despite being last. But the voices weren’t friendly, instead they were very menacing voices. At the edge of a cul de sac were several youths, maybe at the most a few years old than I was. They were hurling racial slurs at me, calling me names that I can’t say in a family setting.

I was shocked by the slurs, but kept on running. It made no sense to let them get to me, so I kept the legs pumping, while they kept heaping insult upon insult. At some point, another member of my high school’s cross country team, who also was African American, ran to my aid. He had already finished the race and swiftly ran to confront the teens. From what I was told, all he did was simply look at them, which must have been enough to call off their racial slurs.

After I finished the race, many of the parents who were there watching the race, were shocked at what had happened and asked if I was okay. I was, but I had been rudely reminded of my parent’s admonition that there would be people who might not like me simply because of my color. My father, having grown up in Jim Crow Louisiana was well aware of this. I learned that day, that even though we have come a long way as a nation in race relations, there were always going to be people who would treat others horribly simply because of how the appear.

Today’s gospel reading is difficult, if not confusing to hear. We are used to a Jesus that is welcoming of everyone and yet here we see a Jesus that is not very nice, not very nice at all. Jesus seems to look like a hypocrite and a bigot all in one.

The passage begins with Jesus talking about his nemesis, the Pharisees. He tells the crowds that it is not what someone puts in their mouths that defiles, but what is in that person’s heart that makes someone unclean. He takes direct aim at the religious leaders, telling them that it is not following rules that makes a person righteous, but their heart, their intentions, that matter. This is all classical Jesus, sticking it to the self-righteous among him that cared more for following the law, than they did in helping their brother or sister.

And yet, all this seems forgotten in the next part of the passage. He is in region of Tyre, when a woman, who was not Jewish, came up to him frantically. She is desparate to have Jesus heal her daughter who was tormented by a demon. What was Jesus’ reaction? Well, at first he ignored her. Then the disciples told him to send her away.

Jesus responds, but it seems that he is still not paying any mind to this woman. “I have come only for the lost sheep of Israel,” he responds. No Gentiles need apply.

The woman pushes further and gets in front of Jesus and drops to the ground. “Lord, help me,” she says. She seems to know that this Jesus could heal her daughter and knew this was her only hope.

Jesus finally speaks to her and says, “It isn’t right to take the food meant for the children and give it to dogs.”

Ouch. Now, some scholars think that the term “dogs” here meant a more playful term, like “Puppies.” But it would seem rather callous for Jesus to be playing with the woman, when her daughter was gravely ill. Other scholars say that calling someone a dog was a derogatory term, in the same way that another word referring to a female dog is used as a derogatory term today.

So here we have Jesus, the Son of God, the one who broke barriers to welcome everyone, showing a sense of prejudice to a fellow human being.

No one would blame the woman for walking away, but instead of doing that, she pushes back with a witty response worthy of Shakesphere. “Yes, but even the dogs get what is left by the children at the table.”

For some reason, this shocks Jesus and he realized the woman’s faith. She was no longer a foreigner, but a woman of great faith. The woman came home to find her daughter healed.

So what is this story ultimately about? Is it about race? Is it about inclusion? Well, on one level it is about that, but there is another undercurrent going on here. It’s all about faith and placing our faith in God even when it seems that God has no faith in us.

The Pharisees placed their faith in their correct following of religious practice. But Jesus exposes that as a sham, because someone can be good at practicing the faith and still be a rotten person. During the time of slavery and later Jim Crow, there were many white Christians who were stead churchgoers and took their faith seriously and still treated their black sisters and brothers like dirt.

The Gentile woman, on the other hand, placed her faith in God. For all we know, she may have not worshipped the God of Israel, but she knew that this God could heal her daughter and that this man, Jesus would heal her daughter. So, she was bold in asking and never took no for an answer.

What does this all have to do with this faith community here in the early 21st century?


Like the Pharisees, we can place our hope in things other than God. We can place our hope in our traditions, in our bank accounts and in our buildings. Or, we can be like the woman, who had faith even when the road seemed dark and with out hope. The woman’s faith was bold, daring, audacious, willing to break boundaries. She believed in a God that would heal her daughter and knew, knew, that Jesus would heal her loved one.

This sermon could have been one where I simply said that we should be more welcoming to people who are different. It would have been a perfect “After School Special” kind of sermon. But I don’t think we are simply asked to be nice to others, but to live in faith and open up the doors, welcoming others regardless of who they are, not because it’s the nice thing to do, but because it is we believe, with our whole hearts, that the Jesus who healed the Cannanite woman’s daughter, is one that welcomes someone regardless of the race or sexual orientation.

But there is even another message that we need to hear. The fact is, we are the dogs. We are not part of the children of Israel. We are outsiders. And yet, we can come boldly before God in faith because even the dogs receive God’s blessings.

I’m not much of a dog person. I’ve always loved cats and I’m the proud servant of two cats. (If you have cats, you understand why I said I’m a servant.) Some of my friends do have dogs. What I’ve noticed is how faithful dogs are to their companions and to others that they meet. I remember one day when I met up with two of my friends. Along with them, was one of their dogs, a large Rottweiler. Now these dogs have a reputation for being big, scary dogs, but this dog was incredibly friendly and decided to lick me.... a lot. This dog showed love and acceptance. Not unlike the woman who was once called a dog.

We will face a world where we will be shut out for whatever reason. But we have faith in a God that knows no boundaries and is with us, to the end of the age. Amen.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Can An Aspie Pastor Succeed? Yes.

So I've been thinking a lot about how a pastor with Aspergers can be successful in the pulpit. Someone helped me see that I've been seeing Aspergers as a burden rather than a positive. That's not surprising, since the diagnosis is rather new. But in thinking, I've come up with a few stregnths in being a pastor with Aspergers:

  • Strong preaching skills. While I might lack in the social skills, I do preach a good sermon. That's always been important to me. People need to hear God's Word and I take that charge seriously.
  • Good Administrative Skills. I realized this during my years as a new church pastor. I could do all the behind-the-scenes work, putting up the website, looking over the budget, and doing some of the other seemingly mundane stuff.
  • Good Planning Skills. I've been good with planning things, such as worship. I've never been good with people who just tend to let things happen. I remember being part of an Episcopal church for a while that was anything but organized. It drove me nuts, because the worship was never planned-it just sort of happened. I'm also the go-to person to get events set up and running and look at what's not being done.
There are probably more, but that's what I've thought of. Yes, I do have a drawback when it comes to things like people skills (which means stay away from youth ministry), but the fact that I am learning is that I can't be the whole package for people. I might need an associate or lay person to help me in that area.

The fact is, having Asperger's doesn't mean I can't be a pastor. It just means being a different kind of pastor.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Can An Aspie Pastor Succeed?

As I become more knowledgable about Aspergers, I am realizing how different I am from neurotypicals. A lot of things that come naturally for others, are thing I've had to learn.

I am noticing more about how this affects me as a pastor. Being a pastor is a social activity, or so I've observed. I've noticed how some my colleagues are great at all the social aspects of ministry and can do quite well. They know how to engage others socially, in ways that I can't fathom.

Me? Well, I am good at certain "technical" things, worship planning, preaching. I was able to give a funeral for someone I was familiar with who had committed suicide because I was able to "stand back" emotionally. But when it comes to being social with people, I tend to be found lacking or so it seems, compared to others.

In the world we live in, those social skills matter. I remember a pastor who preached horrible sermons. This wasn't simply my viewpoint, others at the church this person was at would say the same thing. But he was also loved by the people because of his social skills. In some way, this person was cut some slack because he was viewed as a friend to so many in the congregation.

I can preach fairly well, but I am deficient in those "people skills." It's not that I'm unfriendly, it's that I don't know how to "slap people on the back" like other pastors. Hell, being in a line to after worship to greet people is hard work for me.

I know there are positives: as one friend said, my analytical approach to life can be of value. Of course, that means I have to learn how to "sell" that, something that is also hard for an aspie to do. Hard, but not impossible. Like every other social skill, it's something I will have to pick up cognitively.

Can an Aspie Pastor succeed? I guess we are about to find out.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

From the "When I Was Your Age" Dept.

I know that I am no longer a spring chicken when the members of the R&B group New Edition are all in their 40s.

After that unsettling thought, I was reminded of some of their hits from the late 80s and early 90s, especially some of their solo work. I decided to download Ralph Tresvant's 1990 hit, "Sensitivity," for old time's sake.

Good times. Hard to believe that was almost 20 years ago.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

You Aren't Getting Sleepy

I have trouble sleeping.

I can remember as a child getting up very early for no reason other than it was time to get up. When other people are tired and can go to bed like that at 7pm and wake up 15 hours later, I have to stay up a certain amount of time before I can "wind down" and even then it's hard to sleep.

It's still hard for me to sleep. It's been better since I've been on anti-depressants, but still it's hard to fall asleep.

Now I find out it might have to do with Aspergers.

This all makes me wonder: what is it about the autistic brain that makes it hard for them to fall asleep? Does anyone else with Aspergers or any other autistic disorder have these issues?

Responses are greatly appreciated.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Maintainence vs. Mission

I stumbled upon this blog post and thought to share it. I see a lot of this happening in some churches I know. I will blog more about this later.

1. In measuring its effectiveness, the maintenance congregation asks, “How many visitors have we attracted?” The missional congregation asks, “How many members have we sent?”

2. When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, “If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won’t do it.” The missional congregation says, “If this will help us bless and touch someone outside of our faith community, we will take the risk and do it.”

3. When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, “How will this affect me?” The majority of members in the missional congregation ask, “Will this help align our activities around the missio dei — the mission of God?”

4. When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our past.” The missional congregation says, “We have to be faithful to our future.”

5. The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, “I’d like to introduce you to some of our members.” In the missional congregation the members say, “We’d like to introduce you to our pastor.”

6. When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congregation asks, “How can I meet this need?” The pastor in the missional congregation asks, “How can we meet this need?”

7. The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds). The missional congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what needs to be done.

8. The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly. The leadership style in a missional congregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.

9. The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees. The missional congregation is concerned with the culture, with understanding how secular people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determine their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.

10. When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregations asks, “How many Christians, who aren’t currently members, live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?” The missional congregation asks, “How many unreached people groups live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?”

11. The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, “How can we get these people to come to our church?” The missional congregation asks, “How can we go and be engaged with these people?”

12. The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation. The missional congregation thinks about how to plant new missional communities to extend the Kingdom of God.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Do Disciples Care About their Children?

Presbyterian blogger and pastor, Shawn Coons is on to something:

Like most other mainline denominations, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been losing members since the 1960s. We are down to about half the size that we once were. And this decline logically comes from many (most likely a majority) of churches losing members on a near-yearly basis.

But the average Presbyterian church seems indifferent to this reality. Sure, there is nervousness and some small lament of the declining number of “nickels and noses,” but how many churches actually acknowledge this reality and really wish to do the hard work of trying to reverse the decline? Acknowledging churches: few. Really working to reverse it: even fewer.

So here comes my question. Let’s put aside the notion that members and numbers may not be the best indicator of a faithful or successful church (duh). Doesn’t the average Presbyterian with kids/grandkids want the church to be around for their grown kids/grandkids? The writing is on the wall but most people seem interested in preserving the church they are used to, rather than helping to create one that will be there in the future.

You could switch "Presbyterian" for "Disciple" and I think the same thing would hold true for those of us in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I think more often than not, when churches are talking about growth, they want growth without really changing. I think there are a lot of churches out there that want to live as if its 1958.

But the thing is, there can be no growth without some change. When babies grow, they outgrow their clothes. Parents don't try to keep putting on clothes that no longer fit. But churches seem at times to want to use the same methods and ways of thinking that no longer make sense in 2008.

Many of the Disciple churches that I have visited are graying, with few people under 40. Do most Disciples care about this? Maybe, I don't know.

What do others think?

Sunday Sermon- July 26 and 27, 2008

“To Go Before”
Romans 8:26-39,Matthew 13

July 27, 2008
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
Minneapolis, MN

I’m a car nut.

That should not be so surprising, since I grew up in Flint, Michigan, the birthplace of General Motors and both my parents are retired autoworkers. I subscribe to most of the automobile magazines like Motor Trend and Car and Driver. If you want to show me a good time, take me to a car dealership. I can remember recently visiting friends in Texas, and one of them had a new Dodge Charger. I was quite stoked that I got to ride this “muscle car.” I was a very happy little boy.

But I am also someone that takes care for the environment very seriously. I’ve been interested in alternative fuels and fuel efficient cars. Five years ago, I bought a 2002 Volkwagen Jetta Diesel. It was a wonderful car that got great mileage- upper 30s in the city and the low 40s on the highway. Recently, I decided to start looking for a new car in light of my partner Daniel getting a new car. He purchased the Smart Four Two, the little sub-subcompact from Europe that was made available in the US this year. I wanted to get a station wagon or bigger hatchback should we need to carry something big.

Of course, I wanted to get another fuel efficient car and I started looking around. There was one car that I was very wary of considering: the Toyota Prius, the grandaddy of hybrid cars.

It’s not that I didn’t like the car. I just didn’t like some the people who were buying the car. A few years ago, the New York Times reported that many people who bought the Prius bought to make a statement- to show to others that they were “green.” In reading the story, I sensed a certain amount of smugness in some of these Prius owners and I’m not into buying something to be showy. This eco-freindly car does have a reputation in the wider culture as one driven by pious and arrogant people. Indeed, the animated series South Park, poked fun at Prius owners. In that episode, the car was called...the Pious and the drivers did exhibit a certain air of superiority.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is talking about what the God’s Kingdom is like and he does it by rattling off a bunch of parables to describe it. It’s like a mustard’s like yeast in’s like a pearl of great price. Jesus just keeps piling on the similies and just as you are trying to digest one idea, he throws up another one.

What is interesting about Jesus’ description of God’s kingdom, is that he is drawing up an interested picture of a kingdom. Now, the people of that day, living as they were in the Roman Empire, knew all about kingdoms. It was all about kings, and armies and power. Even today, while we don’t live in an Empire ruled by a king or emperor, still think of governments and nations as big and mighty things. In the mid 90s I lived in Washington, DC and can’t remember a time living around so much marble and Romanesque architecture. I have to say, I was awed by the beauty of buildings like the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Washington Monument.

But the kingdom Jesus is talking about is nothing like those places. In God’s Kingdom, there are no White Houses, or Buckingham Palaces. Instead, Jesus talks about weeds. Jesus talks about a mustard seed, being a small seed that grows into a big tree. He talks about a woman, I repeat, a woman making bread by adding yeast into it. That in itself was odd since was talking about women’s work and he was talking about adding yeast to bread, which would have deemed the bread unclean. Then there was the “treasure” that some person found in a field that he didn’t own. He then goes and buys the field, not telling the owner that there is a hidden treasure in the field.

These are all odd symbols of the God’s kingdom. What is Jesus trying to say here?

I think Jesus trying to say that the kingdom that God rules is one that is different than what we are used to. It is found in that that is considered small and insignificant.

When I was told that you are all focusing on creation care over the next few weeks, I was excited but worried. This an important issue for me, but I didn’t know how these lecitonary texts fit into the theme. What I can see in these texts is that as children of God, citizens of God’s kingdom, we are called to usher forth God’s kingdom in those small ways. When we look at issues like the environment, we tend to think we need to do BIG things. But what if all that it takes to deal with issues like global warming is doing small things? What if means biking to work or buying compact flourescent lightbulbs? Like the mustard seed, it seems like doing such things could hardly make a difference in how we care for God’s creation. But like the mustard seed, it is those little acts that make a difference and can change the world.

But there is that thing with attitude. Pride can really creep in there and make us feel superior. We tend to get “greener than thou” and lord it over others. But the parables remind us that we are to be humble in being harbingers of God’s kingdom. The seed, the yeast, the woman, were all humble things. We are called to follow the ways of the kingdom in humility, not arrogance which is the way of this world.

But living out your life according to God’s kingdom, doesn’t mean that living will be easy. Living a life of humilty will rattle those who live in the earthly kingdom.

One morning, as we were leaving a local breakfast joint another family was coming in. I had noticed the family was looking at the car and then walked towards the restaurant. I heard the mother mutter about how dangerous these small cars were and how “they” whoever “they” are, were more concerned about saving the earth than in saving the humans.

Did I tell you that their car was a Chevy Suburban?

Following Kingdom values means that others won’t get it and will make fun of you. But we know that our treasure is found in God.

Oh, about that new car. Want to know what I got? A Toyota Prius. After test driving it, I decided I liked the car after all. But I bought not to make a statement, but to live according to the ways that God has taught. To try to make a difference in the world, like a mustard seed, yeast or a pearl. May it be so with all of us. Amen.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Aspie Adults and Faith

A dear couple who know that I have Aspergers, gave me a wonderful resource called, Autism and Faith: A Journey Into Community. It looks at Autism from a faith perspective and how congregations can make these communities welcoming to those of us with some form of autism.

From a pastor's viewpoint, I think this is extremely helpful. I have to wonder how many families as well as adults with autism have not darkened the door of a church, synogogue or what have you because of the fear that they or their family will not be accepted. So, in that sense, it is important.

What was frustrating was that there were very few voices of those who have autism. They did include one young man and that was good. But I am left with this question: what happens when the person that is on the autistic spectrum isn't a child, but is the pastor? How in the hell do you deal with that?

I have to believe I am not the only pastor with Apsergers. But they are hard to find. If I do find a fellow Aspie clergy, my first question will be how they did it. And then I would want to find some way that we could connect and support each other.

I do wonder at times, how in the world I can be a pastor, such a social job, when you have autism. But then God seems to be in the habit of picking people to do stuff that they don't seem suited for. I'd love to see what God does with this.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

God and Country

Every so often, when I am around my friends and loved ones, I tend to quietly roll my eyes on a certain issue.

That issue is patriotism.

Being that I live in one of the more liberal areas of the country (Minneapolis) and I am part of mainline Protestantism and most of my friends are of the said liberal persuasion, it's not a big surprise that I tend to hear a lot of comments that see America in a different way than I might.

It's not that I am some right-wing nutcase that talks about the United States in the same league with Jesus, but the fact is, I do like the country that I happen to live in. Lord knows, it's not perfect, I am a black gay man after all, but it does have some good things that I think should be celebrated when Independence Day rolls around.

I am also not saying that the United States or its government should never been criticized. Of course, injustice needs to be brought to the attention of our nations leaders when it fails to do right.

What I am getting at is the almost constant negative comments I hear from fellow mainline pastors about the United States. The criticism is justified at times: I mean, we have to remember that this nation treated my ancestors as nothing more than property and was trying to get rid of another group of people. I don't have a problem with talking about some of the darker aspects of American history. What I have a problem with is when those on the Christian Left tend to speak in a way that all that gets talked about is the dark side. I think that was the problem I had personally with Jeremiah Wright; it wasn't that he criticized America, it was that he painted a nation that was basically evil with no capacity for redemption.

In doing some research on this topic of faith and patriotism, I stumbled accross this article from the evangelical magazine, Christianity Today. David Gushee sees love of country as a form of piety:

Philosopher Jeffrey Stout says that piety is the virtue associated with gratitude toward the sources of one's existence. Love of country can, in this sense, be seen as a form of piety. We wave the flag in gratitude for the nation in which we live and move and have our being, the geographic source and arena of our existence. Asking someone to avoid patriotism because it compromises Christian faith is like asking them to avoid demonstrating affection to their parents because that, too, can compromise their Christian faith.

Abandoning patriotism can be a rejection of our embodiment as particular human beings in a particular context. It can mark a dismissal of the kinds of natural ties that root us to family, place, and time. I am here, not there; from these parents, not those parents; living in this era, not another one. I am not a free-floating spirit but an embodied person, rooted somewhere rather than nowhere. Patriotism simply says "thank you" for, and to, the particular national community in which our bodies have been placed.

I think Gushee has a point here. Being patriotic can be a way of saying thanks. He does give a nod to those on the Left that see how patriotism can morph into something more dangerous- th e last century has had its share of brown shirts who wreaked havoc in our world. I would agree with the sentiment as well. In a sinful world, something like love a country can change into something pretty dreadful.

But I don't think that means we should not be patriotic, it means that we need to be on guard when an expression of thanks becomes something more sinister.

I have to say thanks that I do live in a country that inspite of what it did to my ancestors, what it did to my father who grew up in Jim Crow Louisiana, it was able to rise above its racist beginnings. I am thankful as a gay man that even though living in the United States isn't easy, I am able to live in relative safety, whereas in other countries people are still facing death for simply loving another person of the same sex.

I have to say thanks that in spite of that same racist past, we very well may see a black man assume the nation's highest office.

I am not trying to gloss over all the bad things that have happened in our nation or have been caused by our land. But I also know there is a lot of good as well, and for that, I am thankful and I want to work to better the lives of others in other parts of the world, so that they too can be thankful.

Gushee ends his essay by stating that for the Christian living in the United States in 2008, patriotism has to be expressed as a "yes, but:"

We need to be able to say "yes, but" to patriotism. Yes, we love our country, but we do not fully belong here or in any earthly land. Yes, we want our nation to flourish, but every human being and human community is equally precious in God's sight. Yes, we value our nation's ideals, but they are not the same thing as the message of the kingdom. Yes, God blesses America, but he blesses other nations, too.
Of course, we can't put God above nation or even equal to the nation, which I believe is the sin of the Christian Right. But we can still love our nation, as long as those of us who are followers of Christ know that we have a higher love than that of the the US of A.

So, I will be a patriot. I will love this country, imperfect as it is, because it has some good values. I will let it know when I think it has done wrong. But it's not my main love: that belongs to Jesus.

But I will still say the Pledge of Allegiance (even without the reference to God , which wasn't there in the first place), I will still take my hat off during the singing of the national anthem and all that stuff. I still like America, warts and all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday Sermon- July 13, 2008

“Better Churches and Gardens”

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
July 13, 2008

Lake Harriet Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

Last Thursday night, I decided to do something that I haven’t done in a long, long time.

Long before I could drive.

Long before I graduated from high school.

I played kickball.

Yes, I played that simple game where we tried to kick a plain, red ball and run around bases. It was fun, but I was reminded of something. I know that many of you are “more mature” than I am, but I can say that playing kickball at 38 is a lot different than playing it at 13. When I was 13, I could play kickball forever. These days, not so much. And my muscles feel it the next morning.

I was doing this all for a reason. I am part of a group young church folk, ordained and not ordained in the United Church of Christ and the Disciples that were looking for ways to get young adults in their 20s and 30s who were not really connected with a congregation involved in the life of the church. We’ve called the group Come Thirsty and to start things, we are meeting every Thursday in July at a local park in Minneapolis for a game of kickball and then going to the nearby Bryant Lake Bowl for fellowship and maybe a game of bowling.

There is very little that makes it seem like a church event, with the exception that we start things off with prayer. Other than that, it looks like a normal gathering of 20 and 30-somethings.

To some, it might not seem like much is going on to further God’s work in the world. What does kickball have to do with Jesus? Well, maybe everything.

In today’s gospel, Jesus decides to tell a story about the kingdom of God. Now, I love the parables and have since I was a child. But I have not really like the parable of the sower, the first parable. It reminds me of my time in college when the campus pastor would use this sermon to talk about our spiritual lives. The message is that we need to be really good and have open hearts to recieve God’s message. This story had been turned into a moralistic tale and it seemed to lose its mystery and power.

But these days, I have a different understanding of the parable. I’ve said this before, but parables are not really morality tales, but peeks into what the kingdom of God is like. That is what is going on here.

Jesus tells a tale of a sower who throws the seeds here, there and everywhere. Now, I don’t have a green thumb, but I know well enough that any farmer or backyard gardener, is very careful where the seeds go. They take care to plant then in the right place and in the right soil. Seeds are precious and have to used with great care.

But this sower is not that careful. In fact, he is not careful. This person just throws seeds anywhere, even though there is good reason that such a process isn’t going to be that fruitful. And it looks like such a prophecy is becoming true, because the seeds get eaten up birds, choked by thorns or simply die on the rocks. As if by luck, some of those seeds fall on good soil and they produce a bumper crop beyond anyone’s imaginations.

So, what is going on here? Well, let’s imagine that the sower is God or Christ. God decides to just spread God’s seed, or God’s word anywhere, not caring if it produces fruit or not. This is a wonderful example of grace. God’s love is extravagant, it is wasteful. God is hardly stingy when it comes to sharing love with creation. In some cases that love will be shared and not returned. In others, it will produce and abundant harvest that will seed another generation. God is willing to take the risk and flings seeds far and wide.

What you don’t see here is the message that we normally hear: that if we work hard and are dilligent, things will work out. I am not saying that we should ignore that message. What I am saying is that in God’s economy this rule doesn’t apply as much.

When Jesus was on the earth, he was always sharing his life with others. Some took that message and ran with it, becoming faithful disciples. Others refused to hear the message. Now matter what, Jesus still shared, like a sower sowing seeds every which way.

As Christ followers, we are called to do the same. Churches are called to share God’s love in word and deed. Now sometimes, that will be warmly recieved, and other times it will not. But like God, we just keep on doing what we are doing.

As this congregation readies itself for a new pastor, we are reminded in this parable that we are to go out and start planting seeds. We don’t have to wait for a pastor to do that. We are called to do that NOW. We are called to share God’s love in word and deed to the world outside the doors of this church. When we gather to pack food packets for the hungry, when we gather weekly for prayer, when we show concern with our sisters and brothers in our workplaces, we are planting seeds. The sower went out to plant seeds. So did Jesus. And so are we. The church is not a club, there to serve only the needs of each other, but a staging ground where we prepare to go out into the world.

We will encounter problems. Some of those seeds will fall on hard soil or deaf ears, some will fall on those who worry about everything, some will be taken by the birds or get concerned other things. But we still plant away because in the end, the harvest is going to be plentiful. Lives will be changed.

So back to that game of kickball. To some it might seem like a waste of time. But I have to believe we are planting seeds in the lives of young adults who might not have thought about church before. Our work is having an effect in that local congregations are starting their own groups, some after a long dormancy. I believe seeds are being sown, here and there, and some of it will not take root. But some of it will. But it really doesn’t matter; because we place our trust in God who will produce a bountiful harvest, far beyond our imaginations.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Wide Awake

Tonight, Daniel and I were invited over for dinner at my friends' Erik and Scott's for dinner. It was also the first time I got to meet an "imaginary friend," Ray. I've known him for a few years via LiveJournal, but this was the first time meeting him in person. As we chatted, Ray talked about his experience at Church of the Apostles in Seattle and then Erik and Scott started talking about their church, Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer. They truly love their church and having preached there a few times, I do enjoy it as well.

The night before, I took part in Come Thirsty, a group of mostly 20 and 30 somethings in the UCC and (hopefully in time) Disciples. We didn't do "churchy" stuff except prayer. What we did do is play kickball and had a damn fun time doing it. Afterwards, we went over to the famous Bryant Lake Bowl for bowling and drinks.

I have say that event left me feeling good. From the outside it might not look like ministry, but that was what was going on and it made me feel excited.

As I thought about tonight and last night, I've realized how spiritually listless I feel at times. When I look at my fellow Disciples here in the Cities, I don't see people fired up for mission, but people just existing, surviving. And it brings me down.

Don't get me wrong, I love these people. I care for them and want to be part of this crazy community called Disciples. But at times, I get tired of how defeatist and scared we are when it comes to living out our faith. I wish that our churches were more bold, more willing to take risks. I wish those that have left Disciple churches stop complaining and start doing something.

As I prepare for this Sunday's sermon, the word that keeps sticking in my mind is "listen." That's the word found in the parable of the Sower and I think God is trying to tell me something.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Positives of Being an Apsie Pastor

I've been wondering for a while what good is it to have Apergers when you are a pastor. I know I won't be the bubbly personality that churches long for, and I won't be able to handle situations where everything changes constantly.

But I do think there are some things a pastor who has Aspergers can do. I stumbled accross a list of positive traits of those with an autistic spectrum disorder. Here are some that I think are important in my situation:

2. People on the Autism Spectrum Live in the Moment

What I have found so interesting as a pastor, is how churches tend to be focused everywhere but right now. If someone has an idea, the first thing people want to do is study it. That isn't a bad thing, but sometimes it seems like a way to not do something. I think that Aspies tend to be focused on the now and aren't thinking far ahead about consequences.

One morning, I talked with Daniel about my lack of common sense. He noticed that I just tend to do something, not thinking about the consequences, while he is thinking about every possible reaction.

Churches seem to want to wait for something to happen. When the right pastor comes. When the new bishop arrives. When the new youth pastor is hired. Then something will happen. But the fact is NOW is the time. If churches and especially mainline churches are going to change and thrive, they have to stop waiting for When. They need to start living in the NOW.

4. Autistic People are Passionate

My biggest passions are trying to get the church out into cyberspace and good worship and preaching. My eagerness in those areas tend to bother others, probably because I'm so focused and passionate on those things. But really, don't you WANT to have a pastor that's excited rather than one that is friendly, but passionless? I've been around enough pastors that are basically coasting, and it ain't pretty. You might have an odd pastor if you call one that is an aspie, but they will be passionate about their call.

5. People with Autism Are Not Tied to Social Expectations

For some reason, pastors are some of the best people at trying to keep up appearances. They might be suffering from terrible depression, but will never reveal it to others or even get help because of pride.

An aspie pastor doesn't care about social expectations. They are who they are. I recently shared my diagnosis with a fellow pastor and he was glad I was being so honest about this since most pastors tend to not share their messy parts. I found that rather odd and still do. Why would one hide their problem? Why would one not seek help? Isn't that the logical and Christian thing to do? Aren't we supposed to live honest lives?

The fact is, my having Aspergers doesn't mean I need to give up my call. No, I won't be your typical pastor. But as the old saying goes, why be normal?

Monday, July 07, 2008

Movie Review: "WALL.E"

Daniel and I have been in Michigan over the last few days visiting my parents and celebrating their 40th anniversary. We decided to go the movies yesterday and decided to see "WALL.E" the lastest Pixar/Disney joint.

I liked the movie. A lot.

I've seen some of the other Pixar movies, and they are all good, but this one was better. It told a story without few words. It talked about an artificial being that had more humanity than what humanity had become. And it was a story of the redemption of said humanity by a being that wasn't even human.

I agree with fellow blogger Jim Bonewald said of this movie: "Incredible animation, an inventive, unique storyline, and compelling social commentary all work together to make WALL-E a great animated movie."

And let's face it: WALL.E is cute. Kind of a cross between ET and R2D2.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Look Closer.

On a few occiasions, I've taken to telling people in sermons about my Apserger's diagnosis. After church people have come up to me and basically said that I don't look like I'm affected by autism, since they have met people with Aspergers or Autism and well, I am not like them. They guess correctly that I am probably "higher functioning" whatever that means.

When I went to the Autism/Asperger's Support group last month, it was interesting to note that many of the people in the room were more affected than I was. But the fact is, if you spend time with me, I mean really spend time with me, things start to pop out that show me as a little odd in other's eyes.

I am reminded of the movie "American Beauty" with its tagline, "Look closer." The movie was about life in suburbia and how crazy life was beneath the surface. I want to tell others to look closer and you will see the Aspie inside. Or that they take a trip back in time when I used to rock myself or flap my hands, all classic autistic traits. My partner Daniel can tell people how I tend to lack a common sense that others have and that I tend to like predictability and hate surprises. My good friend Erik can tell you about how I can listen to the same songs over and over and over again, to the point of driving him nuts. Or when we were dating, I would spend hours in front of a computer and not always pay attention to him.

The thing I'm learning about Aspergers and Autism in general is that there is no sterotypical person with autism. Some people are severely affected and can't work or take care of themselves. Some are less so and some seem "normal." But we all have autism and it plays itself out in many ways. When people say that autism is a spectrum, it truly is.

Sunday Sermon- June 29, 2008

“Defying Gravity” Genesis 22:1-14, Matthew 10:40-42 June 29, 2008 Lake Harriet Christian Church Minneapolis, MN

The cell phone rang early on a Tuesday morning. My partner Daniel anxiously picked up the phone knowing the call was from his brother John who lives in North Dakota. The day was here. John’s wife, Julie, was pregnant with their first child and that very morning, her water had broke meaning it was time for the baby growing inside of her for nine months was ready to make their debut.

Daniel was excited. This meant we were heading to Fargo to meet John and Julie and await the arrival of a new niece or nephew. We had just got back from seeing John and his Daniel’s sister and her family the day before. But we were going to make the trip back to North Dakota.

Now, you would think that would make me happy. And at some level, I was. But I was also a bit upset because this was messing up with my normal schedule. Before you think this is because I was being selfish, you need to understand something about me that you might not know. Recently, I was diganosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which is a form of autism. One the characteristics of Aspergers is that we tend to like stability and order and predictability. I. Don’t. Like. Surprises. I was expecting a normal Tuesday where I would go to work as I always do. So, the news that we were going back to North Dakota was messing up my defined schedule.

Later when we chatted with the specialist I am seeing concerning my Aspergers, Daniel brought up my reaction to this. The specialist was understanding that of course, I would have this reaction since this is the way m brain is wired. But he also said that I would be missing out on a great experience if I just chose to stay with the routine. Yes, it was scary, but he noted that Daniel was my greatest resource, and would be with me as I dealt with this disruption to my settled routine.
In the way that I am wired to look at the world around me, I think at times we as the church like to think that God is predictable and tame. But the texts for today show us that God is hardly tame.

The Genesis text today is a hard one to read. After hearing about how God promised Issac to Abraham and Sarah, we now hear God telling Abraham to kill his promised son. Now, some will take this text to talk about religious extremism and get caught up about why a father would so willingly try to kill his son. While I think those are issues that are important, I also think such focus misses the point of the story. The story isn’t telling us to go and sacrifice our children. Nor is it the story of a crazy old man. It is the story of the God we serve, a wild and unpredicible God that promises strange things and sometimes tell us to do some even weirder things.

So the story begins with God telling Abraham to take his son Issacc, his only son Issac, and go up to some mountain and offer up his son as a sacrifice.

Now, most people would have wondered if they drank too much or ate a bad hamburger. God would not as this of Abraham, would he? But Abraham did as told and took Issac to the appointed place. Issac notices that Abraham is bringing things for a sacrifice and wonders, where is the lamb? Abraham tells his son that God will provide. What was Abraham feeling at this time? Was he scared? Did he wonder if God really would provide a lamb? Did he thinking of backing out?

We later see Abraham bounding up Issac and getting ready to offer him up to God. Just as the blade comes crashing down, God says stop. He sees Abraham’s faith is strong. Instead of offering Issacc as sacrifice, God gives Abraham a ram to offer as sacrifice.

Yeah, pretty scary stuff.

But again, I want you all to focus on God here. The God that we see here is pretty demanding. He wants Abraham to sacrifice his son. This is a God that seems a little crazy, a little mad and frankly horrible. But this is also the God that we serve, a God that is wild and can’t be tamed. A God asks all of us and has given all for us in the form of Christ.
One wonders if Abraham had become used to having Issac around. The promised son was now a reality. Nothing could happen to him. He expected everything from now would be smooth sailing.

Except it would not be.

God then calls Abraham to sacrifice his son, the promised one. Now he has to give up this son that he had given up everything for.

Why would God do this? Why would God give Abraham a son only to take it away? Didn’t God know how much Abraham loved his son? But the thing is, Abraham did what was asked of him. He trusted this God and knew God was with him.

In our day and time, we tend to want a very tame God. I am reminded of the science fiction book “ A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” where Earth is described as “mostly harmless.” That’s the way we want God to be, mostly harmless. We want a God that doesn’t ask much of us. We pray to God for things, and see God as a cuddly and loving person. God is a grandparent writ large.

But the thing is, God isn’t like that. Look at the Bible and we read of God telling people to do this and that, to leave their homes and follow him. This is a God that tells Paul to go to this place and that and preach about Jesus. This is the God that even allows his only son to die on a cross like a common criminal.

It’s hardly an accident that Aslan, the character in the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis is depicted as a Lion. For many Christians, Aslan is the God figure in Narnia. In the first book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver describes Aslan as good, but not safe. He is a lion, of course.

And God is a good God, but God is hardly safe. God calls his followers to do some risky things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, was correct in saying that when Christ bids us to come, he bids us to come and die. In the gospels, Jesus says that only those who love God more than father and mother and even life itself can be worthy of following him.

This past April, we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the passing of Dr. Martin Luther King. Dr. King, who was educated in some of the leading institutions, could have spent his time being the Senior Pastor of a large African American church in a big southern city like Atlanta or Birmingham. Instead, he chose to work for civil rights, placing his life at risk. When he was felled by an assasin’s bullet in 1968, he was working for the rights of poor sanitation workers in Memphis. He chose to listen to the wild God and was faithful.

Listening to God is scary business. No, I don’t think God is calling us to sacrifice family members, but God might be calling us to do other things that seem risky, which scare us silly.

I think today, God is calling us to leave our comfortable (or not so comfortable) pews to go out into the world and share God’s love in both word and deed. I believe God is calling us to stop worrying so much about our buildings and budgets which we’ve grown so accustomed to, to move beyond mere maintainence and to ministry with God in the world.

That’s what Jesus was getting at when he said that his disciples would have to love him more than they love their families. They needed to sacrifice that love because it could get in the way of serving God.

And so it is with us. As a society, we want it all, and we don’t want to give anything up. But with God, we are called to give up all to follow God. My friends, we have to be willing as faith communities to not be so concerned with the upkeep of buildings and budgets and get on with God’s work in the world.

So about that birth. Julie gave birth to a baby boy named John Luke. Daniel and I came to see the new family and I got to do something I’ve never done before: hold a newborn, a being that had only come into the world a few hours prior. It was an amazing experience and I’m glad that I was able to see it- even if it broke my schedule. May it be with us, as well. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday Sermon- June 21 and 22, 2008

I preached at Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer in Minneapolis this past weekend. LCCR is one of my favorite churches. In the sermon, I added that I love the bibilical stories about outsiders, like the Woman at the Well. I also shared my diagnosis of Aspergers with them.

“Felix the Outsider”
Genesis 21:8-21
June 21-22, 2008
Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer
Minneapolis, MN

This sermon begins with the story of a man and a cat.

About six years ago, one evening, I got a call from Erik, my best friend and of course, a member here at LCCR. He sounded a bit strained and then asked if I could take care of a cat that he had found. As if on cue, the cat meowed. I didn’t know if I wanted to take care of another cat since I just got a cat a few months prior. I told Erik I would meet him at home.

When I got home, I found this thin, black and white cat and he was unlike any cat I knew. My other cat, Morris, is a very gregarious cat that always wants to be petted. He craves attention. This cat, not so much. He didn’t seem to want my attention and he had this odd habit of whacking himself against a corner. When I tried to pick him up, he was very squirrley and wanted to get away from me as fast as possible.

Even with all his quirks, I kind of had a fondness for this cat and named him Felix. Felix has always been a bit of a loner and has never really got a long with Morris. When Erik and I, and our cats moved in together, Felix was even more withdrawn.

These days, Felix is still the same standoffish cat, but he has his own way of drawing close to me. Whenever I am at my desk, he comes and hovers by my computer. Whenever I took a nap on the couch, he would get on top me and lie on my stomach. He can come close, but it has to be on his terms.

Felix is an outsider. He always has been and always will be. However, this cat that doesn’t fit in, does have a way of drawing close and affecting my life. Felix reminds me that God loves outsiders, just as much as those who are on the inside.

The Genesis text today is one that has always fascinated me and gave me hope. Abraham and Sarah were told that they would be the father and the mother of a great nation. At their advanced age, they doubted this would really happen. So, Sarah asked Abraham to father a child with one of his servants, Hagar. He did so and Hagar gave birth to a son, Ishmel. After time, Sarah did become pregnant and she gave birth to a son named Issac. It was this child and not Ishamel that would be the promise God made to Abraham.

Flash forward a few years. Ishamel is now about 15, a teenager. The Bible isn’t clear about it, but for whatever reason, Sarah saw Ishamel as a threat and she wanted him and his mother gone. Sarah doesn’t even bother to name them, she simply called them the “slave woman” and “her son.” From the our modern view, it seems that Sarah is rather callous to cast Hagar and Ishamel out into the harsh desert alone.

It was distressing to Abraham. After all, Ishamel was his son. Promise or no promise, this was his oldest son and he loved him as much as he did baby Issac. But God comes to Abraham and told him it was okay to send the two away promising that Ishamel himself would be the father of a great nation. So, Abraham did as God said, relying on God’s promise. Hagar and Ishemel walk into the harsh desert. At some point, the hot weather got to Ishamel. Hagar places her son under bushes to protect him, but she expected the worse. In her eyes she had been cast out into nothingness of the desert with surely not enough resources to allow either of them to survive. She had been used and abused by Sarah and Abraham and now she and her son were going to die.

Then God steps in. God asks Hagar what troubled her and then tells her that her son would be the father of a great nation. Hagar looks up and sees a well of water. The story ends with these words, “God was with the boy.”

God was with the boy. Here is a young man, that was the result of impatience and a lack of faith was still a child of the promise.

It’s interesting, as humans we tend to decide who is in and who is out. Sarah probably thought since Issac was the promised child through which all nations are blessed, she thought that only those within the family would be in the “in crowd.” Since Ishamel wasn’t the promised offspring, he wasn’t blessed by God and was a threat to her dear Issac.

We might look down at Sarah for her fear, but the fact is, we all do this. We decide to keep certain people out of our churches, communities and neighborhoods. We tend to think that persons of color or gays and lesbians or someone who is of the wrong ethnic group or political party are not part of the Body of Christ. If someone doesn’t share our views on abortion, or the war in Iraq or gay marriage, then they are out.

In Genesis 12, we are introduced to Abraham, then Abram, and God tells him that through him all nations will be blessed. Now, when we read that and maybe when Abraham and Sarah heard it, they thought it meant “bloodlines.” But I wonder if that was what God meant. Maybe God meant something totally different. What if God meant that it was through Abraham himself that all nations would be blessed? After all, Abraham is considered a great person to three major relations and we aren’t all from the same bloodline of Abraham.

It seems that with God there isn’t so much as in and out. God welcomed Ishamel even though he didn’t fit into God’s plans.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus welcoming those who were considered outsiders. The unclean, the scoundrels, the traitors, the foreigners and so forth.

The question we have to ask ourselves today, is how welcoming we are to those who are deemed outsiders. There are those who are like Sarah, who misinterpret what God was all about tend to deem those who are in and those who are out and they get busy trying to cast those who don’t belong out.

But God shows that everyone belongs.

Recently, we have heard of the story of a young man and his family being barred from a central Minnesota church because of he is severe autistic. The part of the story that is most distressing is when the priest of the congregation placed a restraining order with the result of police standing at the drive way of the family to make sure they didn’t go to church.

God says everyone belongs, but something still gets lost in translation.

But the thing is, as God told Abraham long ago, all nations will be blessed through this old man. And the fact is, that is true, despite our human intentions. The God we serve is a God of promises, a God that will go to hell and back to make us feel welcome. God is the God who welcomes us as a good man welcomes stray cats and gives us a home, a place to belong, as part of God’s promise. Thanks be to God. Amen.