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.