Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Aspergers: My View

A few days ago, I asked some friends what they might see in me in regard to Aspergers. Now, it's my turn.

  • Not pick up on social cues and lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others' body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
Well, that true. I've never been good at things like small talk. I remember one time I tried to "break the ice" with a new roomate by asking about his position on abortion. Don't get me started with flirting. It didn't make sense. I still don't get it that much. Kinda surprised I even got dates.
  • Dislike any changes in routines.
Nope. Hate changes. Hate them. I have my routines and it just seems odd when they are skipped.
  • Appear to lack empathy.
True. On 9/11, I appeared somewhat unconcerned ( I was though).
  • Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others' speech. Thus, your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. Likewise, his or her speech may be flat and difficult to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
I was the kid that couldn't get a joke and yes, I did believe gullible wasn't in the dictionary.
  • Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the term "beckon" instead of "call," or "return" instead of "come back."
Yeah, I've always seemed to have an advanced vocabulary. I'm not trying to put on airs, it's just the word that comes to mind.
  • Avoid eye contact.
I don't know if this one was ever true. I will have to ask Mom and Dad.
  • Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
I don't know if this counts, but I have the habit of entering a room where someone is doing something and not say anything until they notice me. That bothered one the pastors I worked for. I didn't understand why and still don't.
  • Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger's syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as doing intricate jigsaw puzzles, designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or astronomy.2
When I was a kid, I "doodle" in church. Except it was drawing intricate intersections of streets, freeway systems and so forth. I also had this odd fascination with travel guides and would endlessly look them over and even create a few of my own of made-up cities with fake hotels and all that.
  • Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
Don't know if this has ever happened.
  • Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
I think I was a bit late in riding a bike without training wheels and I know I had a dickens of a time trying to tie my shoe.
  • Have heightened sensitivity and become overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see sensory integration dysfunction.
Sometimes, I can be overstimulated by the drone of noise in a room. Certain lights can drive me nuts.

So that's what I am seeing. I have more to say on why I think this might have affected my ministry.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Defacto Pastor

The last few months at church have been interesting. The congregation has finally put together a search and call committee. In the interim period, I and the associate pastor have been doing some of the pastoral duties. For the most part, she has done the lion's share since she is on staff, but I have also been called on as well. Sometimes, it's been pastoral visits, other times, it's been to help a needy person who stops by the church.

Last night, a new member of the congregation invited me and the associate (and our spouses) to dinner. At some point he said something that said he looked to the both of us as his pastors.

It's all interesting.

I reminds me of something I wrote a month ago (not here). I wanted to share it now.
Today, was an odd day in that I kept dealing with stuff concerning ministry and for once none of it sucked.

First, I met up with Amy, a young UCC pastor that is interested in Young Adult Ministry. She has this plan for some kind Young Adult thang, and it seems interesting. What's interesting is that she wants to have something that is basically a young adult thing that would provide some structure to those on the outside, but would allow them to keep going to existing churches. It's an interesting idea. But she isn't interested in doing something like a new church because it's too risky and she needs something that will pay the bills when her husband leaves his job for a PhD program. But the thing that I see is this: if most of the kids aren't going to church anyway, will they want to come to this group? I don't know, I am still listening to see what will come of it, but I am a bit skeptical of the whole thing. I just feel that part of this is trying to fit something that will allow her to have a call and this on the side....

Then finally, Community of Grace. A few days ago, I got an email from someone looking for info about the church, and I had to tell them it didn't exist anymore. I've never took down the website, which is something I should have done long ago. I don't know why I haven't. Maybe I don't want to admit that it's over and done. Or maybe the story isn't done. I don't know. I can say that at times it feels like Community of Grace was left undone. I've also started to think that part of its failure might not have been because of me, but because of some other issues.

I'm not saying I want to go back to doing what I did three years ago. That phase is over and done. But could something new come from the ashes? I don't know. I don't even know if I am making sense.

The journey still continues. At least now, I am starting to enjoy the journey and not looking so much at the destination.

I'm glad I was reminded of that. Most of what I said here a month ago is still true. There are times that the journey is incredibly frustrating, and at times I wonder if this pastor-thing was such a good idea. But there are some interesting things happening along the way. The journey is more important than the destination, but I would like to be able to stop in a nice town along the way.

Is Anybody Out There?

So, I still kind of praying about restarting Community of Grace.

Sort of.

I say sort of, because I have never been able to concentrate and pray. I start praying and then my mind races. Actually, my mind is always racing-hither and yon to distant thoughts and back again. But, I am trying to pray and seek guidance from God. I'm trying to find out if this is what I should do or seek some other way to do ministry.

So far, the signs aren't positive.

I've spread the word off and on about my plans and have heard nothing back from people who might be interested.

And then there is the nagging feeling that maybe leading something like this is not something I can do. I don't know if I have the skillset to be a solo pastor. I'm a better associate or team pastor than anything else. But those are few and far between.

I've been told that God is going to do something soon, that this moment is but a resting period. I guess I want to believe that, but part of me even wonders if I am called to ministry.

But enough self-pity. I just wish God said something once in a while. I am listening, you know.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Sermon-April 27, 2008

The Cross and the Lotus Flower”
Acts 17:22-31, John 14:15-21
April 27, 2008 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I'm not a man of many words. I think I've inherited that from my dad. Mix in the fact that I went to college to be become a journalist, that means that I'm really a man of few words.

If I could sum up what the sermon today is about in less than five words, it would be this: spend time at Starbucks.

That's what this sermon is all about: getting out of the walls the church and spending time at the ubiquitous coffee chain, or some other coffeehouse. Why? Because that's where God is.

Let me explain. To do that, I have to go back to my trip to Hong Kong and mainland China when I was in seminary. While in Hong Kong, we stayed at the local Lutheran seminary. Next to the seminary, was an institute that dealt with how Christians could best engage the wider culture. In the chapel of this institute, was a cross. The thing is, it wasn't like any cross I had ever seen before. At the base of the cross was what looked like flower petals branching out from several directions. I learned that these were in fact petals and they were the lotus flower, a symbol of Buddhism. It is the symbol of enlightenment. In the middle of this flower is the cross, the main symbol of Christianity. This Buddhist-Christian cross was fascinating to me in that it conveyed several different meanings. One the one hand, it was showing the engagement of Christians in a culture that was influenced primarily by Buddhism. On the other, it was showing how the two faiths were different; one showing the highest state as one of enlightenment, the other showing the supreme sacrifice and suffering.

As I've read the texts for this week, I was fascinated by the passage from Acts. The Apostle Paul's discourse with the intellectuals in Athens, has always appealed to me because here was Paul trying to explain his faith with knowledge and respect of the culture he was in, and also sharing God's message to these men on Mars Hill. I kept wondering what these passages were saying to this faith community now. I kept wondering and wondering and wondering.

And then I came upon Starbucks. I was reading a pastors blog that had something about the coffeehouse giant and it something made sense. Our Mars Hills of today are in the coffeehouses.

Maybe it's a thing for my generation, but I spend time in coffeehouses. I get my Venti coffee of the day (with room for cream) before work. When I write my sermon, I usually do it at the coffeehouse nearby the church. I've also been known to meet friends there and catch up on their lives.

In the book of Acts, Paul goes from city to city in the Roman Empire to share the message of Christ. When he comes to Athens, he is given the chance to speak about this strange religion. He does in the public meeting place of his day. He speaks about how God initmately involved in creation and about a God that came in the form of man, lived, died and rose again. We didn't read this part of the passage, but it says that a few people sneered at what Paul had to say, while some believed.

So what's the point of this passage? Well, it has a lot to say about the church. Many of you here this morning who are long time members are wondering and longing for the days when the pews were full. I can tell you that there are many churches in the same position- they are dealing with dwindling church attendance and longing for the days when the churches were full of people. We want to know what we can do to turn things around. And we all think this way.

The thing is, we haven't realized or we are only just now figuring it out, that the culture around us has changed. Fifty years ago, we were a culture where Christianity was synonymous with being an American. Sunday was truly a holy day in that nothing was open. People went to church because that was what you did.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. The culture is not as predominantly Christian as it once was. Not everyone knows the old Bible stories. People have other things to do on Sundays than going to church. And many churches are wondering what to do in this changing culture.

It might be that the key of what to do lies in this text. It's something that in some cases, we have forgotten to do: go out into the world and share the message of Christ. Paul isn't waiting for people to come to him, he is going out to meet people. He tells the people of Athens that God created the world and everything in it, a God that claims us as God's children.

Paul isn't doing this in a chauvanistic way preaching the gospel and not respecting the culture around him. Sadly Christianity has a history of doing that. But he is well versed in the culture and uses points along the way to link it to his faith and persuade those gathered to consider another way- the way of Christ.

So, what would happen if we decided to actually engage the culture around us? What if we were willing to share about the God in whom we live and have our being in our places of work and in our social places? What if we went to where people are hurting- places where people are dealing with lack of food or housing and help them pursue those things in Christ's name?

That is what Paul's discussion on Mars Hill is all about. It's about getting out of our pews and sharing Christ's message with others by living our lives, by being Christ followers.

But to do that, we have to be empowered by the Spirit. In today's gospel, Jesus tells his disciples (and he tells us today) that we will not be left along. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate will come and be with us forever. If you read the book of Acts, you notice that more often than not, the Holy Spirit is the prime mover. It is the Spirit that is directing people hither and yon, preaching the good news of Jesus.

It was the Spirit that empowered Paul to share his message in Athens. He was open to God's leading and went where the Spirit lead.

And we today are called to do the same. We are to live a life filled in the Spirit , open to seeing where God leads us. The thing is, we might be surprised where God is taking us.

My friends, the church isn't a place we come to- we are the church and we are called to be church to a hurting world. I know that we worry about the church building and how best to keep it going when our budget is tight. I'm not saying we shouldn't be concerned about those things. But we need to not get the church building confused with the church. In many ways, we have forgotten what it means to be church. Our energies have been focused on soley keeping a building going, and not on being a gathered community that worships, prays and goes out into the daily, work-a-day world and be Christ to our friends and neighbors.

That's why I talked about Starbucks. When I go to coffeehouses, I see this is a place where people are social and talk about life. Shouldn't we be where life is happening, and sharing Christ? I don't mean that we hit people over the heads with Bibles, or tell them they are going to hell if they don't accept Jesus, I am saying that we share who we are as followers of Christ and love them as Christ love them.

So dear church. Get out of here. Go into the coffeehouses, bowling alleys, diners, cubicles and engage the culture around you. Be the church to those around you, friends and strangers, black and white, straight and gay. Know that your friend, the Spirit is with you, always. Amen.

Note: I couldn't find a picture of that cross, but this bell outside the chapel is close enough.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

With A Little Help From My Friends

I've been asking two good friends of mine if they have observed any traits of Aspergers. I first asked my friend (and former boyfriend) Erik. Using the symptoms on WebMD he saw these things in me (in bold):

  • Not pick up on social cues and lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others' body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
  • Dislike any changes in routines.
  • Appear to lack empathy.
  • Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others' speech. Thus, your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. Likewise, his or her speech may be flat and difficult to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
  • Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the term "beckon" instead of "call," or "return" instead of "come back."
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
  • Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger's syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as doing intricate jigsaw puzzles, designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or astronomy.2
  • Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
  • Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
  • Have heightened sensitivity and become overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see sensory integration dysfunction.
I then asked his partner Scott. He noticed these (again, using WebMD):
  • Not pick up on social cues and lack inborn social skills, such as being able to read others' body language, start or maintain a conversation, and take turns talking.
  • Dislike any changes in routines.
  • Appear to lack empathy.
  • Be unable to recognize subtle differences in speech tone, pitch, and accent that alter the meaning of others’ speech. Thus, your child may not understand a joke or may take a sarcastic comment literally. Likewise, his or her speech may be flat and difficult to understand because it lacks tone, pitch, and accent.
  • Have a formal style of speaking that is advanced for his or her age. For example, the child may use the term "beckon" instead of "call," or "return" instead of "come back."
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Have unusual facial expressions or postures.
  • Be preoccupied with only one or few interests, which he or she may be very knowledgeable about. Many children with Asperger's syndrome are overly interested in parts of a whole or in unusual activities, such as doing intricate jigsaw puzzles, designing houses, drawing highly detailed scenes, or astronomy.2
  • Talk a lot, usually about a favorite subject. One-sided conversations are common. Internal thoughts are often verbalized.
  • Have delayed motor development. Your child may be late in learning to use a fork or spoon, ride a bike, or catch a ball. He or she may have an awkward walk. Handwriting is often poor.
  • Have heightened sensitivity and become overstimulated by loud noises, lights, or strong tastes or textures. For more information about these symptoms, see sensory integration dysfunction.
Then I showed Erik the DSM definition. This is what he picked up:
(I) Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
    (A) marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction
    (B) failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
    (C) a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievements with other people, (e.g.. by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
    (D) lack of social or emotional reciprocity
(II) Restricted repetitive & stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
    (A) encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
    (B) apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
    (C) stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g. hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
    (D) persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

(III) The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

So, at least from two people who know me well a picture emerges. There is nothing definitive here, but there is proof it isn't all in my head.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What's the Matter With Prayer?

Jim Bonewald points to another blogger called Internet Monk who is talking about the nature of prayer and the "fixer God." He critiques the nature of prayers from many in evangelical culture that tends to be nothing making God and Jesus a "protection racket." He writes:

It seems to me that a lot of evangelicals have a religious experience that basically amounts to a kind of protection racket; a Christianized version of paganism, where you beg the gods to keep bad things from happening to you and work out your problems.

Those prayer requests are full to overflowing with directions to God to stop the bad that hasn’t happened and solve the results of the bad that has.

He continues:

So I’m having trouble joining in with prayers for God to protect various people from various things, or prayers asking God to straighten out all kinds of problems which I suppose he could have stopped from happening anyway.

In my desire to have a Christ-shaped spirituality, I’m convinced that Jesus didn’t offer his services to “protect” his disciples from bad things. He seems pretty clear that all kinds of bad things are going to happen to them, and he’ll work with whatever comes along.

His response? It's this:

I believe we can pray for God’s revealed kingdom purposes. I believe we can pray boldly for all things related to the Gospel. But that Mrs. Smith’s niece will make a better choice in a boyfriend? I don’t thin he’s that kind of God.

I’ve sat in the chair where I am typing this and I have cried like a little child praying for God to intervene in situations and to stop bad things from happening.

The result? Lots of bad things have happened, but I am trusting Christ in the midst of them more. Some things have changed in a way I can praise God for, but mostly God seems to be going about his business and I’m not really getting to make suggestions.

Robert Capon says that God is sovereign, but most of the time he runs the world in a way that looks like he’s not. That’s precisely my experience. I can call upon God for people to be healed, Christians to have their “needs” met and unbelievers to hear/believe/trust the Gospel.

I can’t ask for God’s protection and expect that bad things that happen to other people won’t happen to me. I can’t ask for God to straighten out messes in a miraculous way and still honestly say I believe what scripture says about what it means to follow Christ in my life.

Jesus doesn’t run a protection racket, and he isn’t a rescue squad. He gives meaning to suffering and shows us the way of kingdom repentance and the cross. That’s where I am these days. I don’t want to tell unbelievers that God works things out for me because I’m on his team.

There is a lot of truth to what he says, but I also think there is some danger as well. In my own "all of evangelicalism is bad" phase about a decade and a half ago, I was wary of asking God for every little thing. The result was that I really didn't pray as much at all. At some point, if God isn't concerned with our piddly little issues, then it makes no sense to even talk to God.

I'm not saying that God will protect us from every bad thing in the world. We know that doesn't happen. Many people pray for healing from illnesses and they don't get healed and die. God isn't a magician, nor is God Superman.

That said, I would still advise people to pray for protection or healing or what have you. Not because God will heal people, or grant them safe travel, but because we believe in God that cares for us and is with us. I pray because I believe in a God that is able to work in our lives. None of this means, God is going to be at our beck and call. God is God and will do what God will do. But I think that we can ask that because we are in a relationship with God.

The thing is, even when God doesn't answer our prayers, it does as the Monk says, change us. Prayer is a two way street, you know. God is not simply there to take our orders but to speak with us as well.

I remember when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education. I did that at a nursing home. One of the first things I did was meet a family where the husband was dealing with brain cancer. He was in bad shape, but the mother and the children believed God would heal him. I prayed very carefully. I knew that God probably wouldn't heal him. So I kind of prayed around the issue. Looking back, I wonder if I should have prayed for healing, not that God would reverse his cancer, but believing in a God that could do that and if it doesn't happen, knowing that God can bring comfort to the person and the family.

Every Wednesday at Lake Harriet, the Associate Pastor gathers a small people for song and prayer. We have prayed for healing of people riddled with illness who ended up dying. We also pray for those who are in Iraq or getting ready to go. Will they be protected by God? I don't know. But I think we pray for this anyway and if God forbids, the worse happens, we know that God is there with us still.

In the end, the praying is not about getting things, but about a relationship. And that's what matters to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Old Man and the Blog

As most of you know, I am the IT/Communications person for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area. We've been working with Interim Executive Presbyters for a few years while the Presbytery decides what is happening next and find a new, permanent Executive Presbyter. In February, Bob Cuthill became the new Interim EP. Bob is a retired Presbyterian pastor who has been in the ministry in one for or another for 53 years.
One day during a meeting, our 78-year-old Executive asked me if he could have a blog set up for him.

I about fainted.

I mean, first, it's amazing that a man who is almost 80 has even heard of a blog and second that he wants to use one!

But Bob never ceases to amaze me. He wanted some way to communicate with people in the Presbytery and creating a blog was the best way in his view.

So, I went about getting him set up and it is now online. It's called "Bob's EPSpace." It's a good read. It's not the same blog that a teen would write or even someone my age; but instead it is the look inside a the mind (and soul)of man who has lived life and how he has been faithful to God all that time.

You really are never too old to learn.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Here I Am, Lord

Yesterday, I attended the ordination of a fellow pastor. I'm glad I did go, but I was tempted not to go. In the end, I did and I'm glad I did, but the whole experience left me with questions about finding my own call.

The person in question is currently the pastor of a church south of the Twin Cities. There was part of me that felt a bit down on myself- the fact that six years after ordination, all I have to show for it is a lot of failure.

Of course, that isn't all true. Even though Community of Grace closed, it still made a difference in people's lives. But there is still that persistent feeling of not living up to expectations, of feeling that I have been a grave dissapointment.

In many ways, I am still trying to figure out my calling. I feel like I'm flailing and trying to find out, but nothing has been made clear.

Despite all these feelings, I put on my robe and sat with all the other ministers and laid hands on the ordinand. It felt good to do that, even though the way for me has been murky and unclear.

We sang the usual song of call, "Here I Am." It's a moving song and I believe we sang it at my ordination. In the year since Community of Grace closed, I feel that I am still saying that to God and wondering if God has anything in store for me yet. I just hope there is room in God's kingdom for someone as messed up as myself to work in the fields.

Here I am, Lord.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl

Jim Bonewald, a Presbyterian pastor in Iowa has a review of the movie "Lars and the Real Girl," which came out last fall. It's a wonderful movie about community and welcome. Catch it on DVD if you can.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Two More Asperger's Tests

Your Aspie score: 148 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 59 of 200
AQ-score: 37 of 50

You are very likely an Aspie

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Church 2.0

I volunteered to write the lead article for the April issue of the Visitor, the newsletter for Lake Harriet Christian Church. I also used it as the basis of last week's sermon. Enjoy.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been an information geek.

It all started when I was about eleven and decided to start my own newspaper. So, I wrote some articles and presented it to my teacher which then published my newspaper. I was so proud of being able to get the word out.

That love of information and journalism stayed with me throughout grade school and high school and into college, where I graduated with a degree in journalism from Michigan State University.

When I entered seminary, I thought that maybe my dream of being a star journalist were over. Little did I know that I would find something that would meld my love of the church with my love for information.

When I am not preaching, I work full-time as the IT/Communications Specialist for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, where I keep their webpage up to date and put together to presbytery newsletter. This is the best job I have ever had. I get to write, design webpages, work on blogs and social networking sites like Facebook and the like.

During the year that I've been in this position, I've started to think a lot about the changes in technology and how we communicate and how this all relates to the church. (Note: I might start drifting into “techspeak” so just bear with me. I think you will understand where I am going.)

One of the things I am learning about is something called “Web 2.0.” You are probably wondering what was “Web 1.0,” huh? Well, when the internet first came online, you had websites, but those sites were kind of static. They presented the information they were designed to present, but they didn't do much more than that. The person looking at the page couldn't do anything to the website other than look at it.

Then, Web 2.0 came along. Web 2.0 is different in that the websites are more interactive. Now, someone who didn't create the site can change it by adding something to it. If you here someone talking about “blogs” or looking up something on Wikipedia, or if your grandson is talking about their Facebook page, well, you've encountered Web 2.0.

Web 2.0 has really changed the internet, in that now anyone can become an editor. If someone has a concern about an issue, they can write about it on their blog or create a podcast, or post a video on YouTube. For better or for worse, Web 2.0 has democratized the Internet allow the common person the power of a web developer.

Web 2.0 is affecting the church, but I don't want to get into how churches can adapt to Web 2.0 as much as I do about how churches must become Church 2.0.

The church of 2008 isn't the church of 1958. Culture has changed dramatically in those intervening 50 years. Back then, we lived in a culture that was at least nominally Christian and where going to church was the social thing to do.

That was Church 1.0. But times have changed. We are a more diverse society in many ways, including religion. The Church finds itself in a culture where the church is but one option among many for people. So, it's time for the church to allow the Holy Spirit to do an upgrade.

In Church 1.0, the church was the place to be. The church offered programs for children and a social outlet for adults. Church 2.0 is not a social outlet but more of a sanctuary, a place of mystery and community, a place that is somewhat different from the outside world.

In Church 1.0 the pastor was the “expert” that ran programs and was the person in charge. Leadership was top down. In Church 2.0, the pastor is a facilitator, one that empowers the church to do its mission.

In Church 1.0, the church was ruled by reason. Rituals such as communion are played down, while the sermon is lifted up.

In Church 2.0, mystery takes more a center state. Reason hasn't left the church, but now dances with mystery, church becomes a place where the mind and heart are fed.

In Church 1.0, mission was a program of the church. The church was focused more on itself than on the outside world.

In Church 2.0, mission is the church. The church is focused outward towards the needs of the neighbor.

I could go on, but I think you get the point.

In the past year, I've seen Lake Harriet make steps from becoming more a Church 2.0 kind of place. I've seen the people come together and shine. I've seen a deeper spirituality take hold. The Holy Spirit is truly working on this community on 50th and Beard, giving us an upgrade like we've never seen.

The process is still taking place and the Spirit is still moving. Lake Harriet is on it's way to becoming a Church 2.0 congregation and I am enjoying the journey. We are truly an Easter People...in 21st century kind of way.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

-Rev. Dennis Sanders

Postscript: In November of last year, the magazine Presbyterian Outlook did an issue on "Church 2.0." Here is a commentary by the editor, Jack Harberer.

Place in this World

Who would have ever thought I'd be relating to a Michael W. Smith song?

Today has been a rough day emotionally. I think it's because I don't know my place, my calling as a pastor. I know that I am not going to fit into the usual molds.

I've been doing a lot of discernment and also thinking back over the last six years and how what very well could be Aspergers has affected my ministry. I know that came out wrong. I'm not trying to blame my supposed condition, I just think that if it is true, then my navigating in a culture like church where there are so many emotional cues has been difficult and could be the reason I have had some issues.

The problem is that churches are places that thrive on what is unspoken. They also thrive on social interaction, something that I have had a hard time figuring out. And yet, I feel called to this.

The thing is, I think that I am good at being a pastor, but not the kind of pastor that people expect. I can preach well. I love planning worship services. I love coordinating things like mission events. I can see the church as a mechanism or organism that can be improved.

The downsides is that too often, I have said what I felt or just done something without realizing that there are proper channels (that are unspoken, of course).

Which is why I don't think I could ever be a Senior or solo pastor. I don't have the skills needed. The funny thing is that I love all the admin stuff. If a church needed a pastor that handled Administration stuff, I would love it. But you need to have a large church for that, probably.

At some point I will probably meeting with a pastoral career counselor to plot out my course. I will do this after I have the test to find out if I have Aspergers (which is in mid-May). Maybe then I can figure out what the hell I want to be when I grow up.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday Sermon- April 13, 2008

“The Interactive Church”
Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10
April 13, 2008 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I'll admit it; I'm a geek.

Some of you know I wrote the main article in this month's church newsletter. It's called “Church 2.0.” I talked about how my job as a communications specialist for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area has used my knowledge of blogs, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace has changed how we communicate with each other.

I've been working with blogs and social networking sites for several years and they have helped me create new relationships that would have been impossible in the past. I've made true friendships over the Internet with people from across the nation. Heck, I even met my partner Daniel through an online dating service.

What I find interesting is how this information revolution is changing society and what clues it has for the church, especially the mainline church and specifically, Lake Harriet. As I just said, this brave new world of blogs, podcasts and interactive web pages, is forming relationships where none might have ever existed. I am reminded that Tammy Rottschafer the Associate Pastor here at Lake Harriet has reminded me over and over that being church is about relationships. God may just well be calling us as a faith community to be more of an “interactive church,” a place that connects and relates with each other, with the outside world, and with God.

In the Second chapter of Acts, we are given a brief description of the nacsent church. It was just after the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples as flames of fire. Peter testified about Jesus and the scripture says 3,000 joined this new community that day. The passage that was read today, is about the day-to-day life of the church after that day. It's a short passage, but I think it packs a wallop. The devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, they held all things in common and helped those in need, the broke bread together, had glad and generous hearts and praised God. The result of all this is that their community grew daily.

While this all happened long ago, I see a lot of today in this passage. This is a church that is interactive. Like working on a weblog, there are people relating to each other. This passage isn't telling us that we need to be exactly like this church, but it does describe what the church should be about.

The church is called to be a place where we are devoted to learn to be a follower of Christ. The church is a place where we have fellowship with each other, where we care and love each other. The church is a place where we realize that our material possessions are not the goal in our lives, but to use what we have to help those in need, especially those in our community, but also those outside of it. The church is a place where we come together and break bread in table fellowship together, realizing that it is Christ that calls us to the table regardless of who we are. The church is a place where we are happy in Christ and are generous to friends and strangers.

Notice it doesn't say that a church needs to have a pastor that will bring in more people, or have an awesome sound system, or a brand spanking new building. What IS needed is a visible faith community living in the light of Christ.

You know, as compact as this passage is: being a journalist by training, I could sum this up in about five words: “the church is about hospitality.”

If you read this passage over and over, what becomes apparent is that this new church was a place where people where caring to each other and to strangers. They fellowshipped, they broke bread together, they helped each other. They were caring with each other and people noticed. That's why their community grew and grew.

As many of you know, I was the pastor of a new church for several years. It ended up closing or as I like to say, it was shelved for the time being. For a long time, I was lead to believe that to be a growing church, you needed to do things that would attract people. So, we had these innovative services that were supposed to pack them in and it didn't. I remember wondering what I had done wrong. We were an open and affirming community, meaning we were openly welcoming of gays and lesbians, and yet that didn't do a lot to bring people in.

What I learned from that experience is that I failed to really have relationships with people. For many people who had been burned by the church because of their sexual orientation, it didn't really matter if we were Open and Affirming if we didn't have relationships and chats over coffee with gay and lesbians and be Christ to them.

This church is going through change and getting ready to start a new journey as a church. I don't know if I am in a position to offer words of advice, but I will any way. Remember that being church is not about having some hotshot pastor or big programs. It's about relationships, it's about hospitality. It's about what we do during prayer time here and on Wednesday evenings, when we pray for our friends here in church and around the world. It's when we give flowers on the table to someone in the hospital or a stranger as a sign of friendship. It's when we pack food packets that go to feed the hungry. It's when we welcome people regardless of sexual orientation even if we don't understand it all. It's about developing relationships with those who cross our path and showing them Christ in our lives, not to convert them (the Holy Spirit does that), but to be a living witness of who Christ is.

Today is what has generally been called Good Shepherd Sunday. We read from John 10 where Jesus refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. We read from Psalm 23 which talks about God being our Shepherd that is always with us. In the past, I always looked at this passage as being about God being the shepherd and that we sheep are to be good followers. But I now see it as God in relation with God's church. God cares for us and looks after us in ways we can't imagine, because God is in love with us; God has a relationship with us. As a community that is loved by the God of the universe, we are called to care for one another- not because it's something we have to do, but because it's who we are. And when people see us living as a Christ-led, hospitable community, they will take notice.
The response we sang during the call to worship is by the hymnwriter, Marty Haugen. The song is called “Shepherd Me, O God.” The refrain says, “Shepherd me, O God; beyond my faults, beyond my needs, from death into life.”

Lake Harriet has some experience with death, with dying to old ways and to what we once were. In fact, many might even feel like we are dying now. But this song should be our prayer: that God will lead us, beyond our faults and needs from death into being the Easter people that we are.

Take heart, my friends. Know that God is with you, raising us up from death into life. And along the way, make friends, be hospitable and welcome everyone, everyone to this Table. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Quiz

I took a quiz concerning Asperger's. Out of a possible 50, I scored a 39. I guess anything above 32 is considered Aspergers.

Of course, it is just more for fun than anything and I will be seeing a professional in a month to be tested. But it does give some more clues...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Alien Pastor

While doing all this research on Asperger's, I stumbled across this quote by Temple Grandin that seems to describe and my realtion with the church to a T:

What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?

You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socializing and not getting anything done.

That SO sounds like me. I feel like many people in the church are interested in maintainence. They want their pastors to take care of them, provide programs and services and basically keep the church open. In some way, that makes sense, but I am constantly interested in improving the church, to see where the church isn't. For example, I've always been interested in planting churches, but I am in a culture where few have a similar passion and are more interested in maintaining their current churches. Again, not a bad thing, but I am more interested in trying to do new things. What's cool about my job with the Presbyterians is that I am always doing new things and "building a better mousetrap." But sometimes I don't think that sense of innovation is welcomed in the church. I think many in the church like conformity and stability and that makes it hard for innovators.

I think I would be open to planting a new church if I could find another innovator. Maybe I need to find another person that might have Asperger's, since we seem more interested in making something better than trying to be socialable.

Of course, you need people who are socialble. If it were up to "aspies" if that's what I am, then the church might be innovative, but not welcoming. What's frustrating is that the church is tipped for the most part to those that are more interested in maintaining the institution instead of having a missional mindset.

It really makes one feel that you are an alien pastor in the church.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Why Church Planting Sucks (Sometimes) for Me

Every so often, I get the itch to start planting a church again.

And every so often I slap myself for thinking about that.

Church planting is hard work, but what I liked is that I was able to find a place for me in the church, where I seem not able to fit in. But it was hard dealing with people. Maybe if I didn't have to deal with people I would be successful in church planting, but since the church is made up of people...

That's the frustrating thing about it. People are so illogical. You have people who say they want to support your new church plant and want to be a part of it, then you never hear from them again. Don't you think if you SAY you are intersted in something that you will do it?

I've always felt that part of church planting meant having to be a schmoozer. I tend to think the successful new churches are those who have very people-friendly pastors. I try. I mean, I meet new people for coffee and try to be sociable, but I think people can see that I am not comfortable meeting them. It's not that I dispise them or anything, in fact, I want to get to know them, it's just meeting people is hard for me. Always has.

So, I don't think church planting is for me in the near future, unless I'm part of a team with a very perky person leading. I'm just not made to be the outfront leader.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Brother from Another Planet, Continued

So, this morning at church someone comes up to with a flyer about an event. I said I would like to place this on the website to invite the wider community. The person hesitated because the intent was to be more internal than external. I hesitated not knowing how to respond.

I share this because it's another one of those events that makes me wonder if I have Asperger's. There was nothing that stated the event was not to be widely publicized. I just thought that churches tend to have public events that everyone is welcome to attend. I couldn't pick up the cue that just because it's a fun, fellowship event that it is supposed to be public and not geared towards fellowship building.

This is what I have to deal with all the time. Church can be a minefield, because there are SO many unwritten rules to contend with. It kind of like putting together a puzzle without the picture.

Just another question...

Sunday Sermon- March 23, 2008

The Associate Pastor at Lake Harriet Christian Church, where I am a member asked me to join her in "tag-team preaching" on Palm Sunday and Easter. We also worked together on Maunday Thursday when we shared that service with Linden Hills United Church of Christ, a local congregation. Here is my half of the Easter Sermon.

“Beyond Belief”
John 20:1-18
March 23, 2008 (Easter Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

For those of you who are regulars here, you will notice that both Tammy and I are preaching today, giving one of our “tag-team sermons.” However, this one is a bit different. Tammy had asked if we could do this sermon in a dialogue, trying to answer questions we both had about today and the text. After reading both the Matthew text and the text we heard today in John, my question was how we can not be afraid when we see so much chaos going on. Tammy's question is this: Beyond professing belief in a risen Jesus Christ, would I hear him if he called my name? Would I? Do I? Do we...as church?

This dialogue should not be viewed as just the two of us talking. See it instead as an opening to asking your own questions. Asking questions on Easter seems a little odd. We are supposed to be celebrating Christ being raised from the dead and asking questions seems to be like taking away the punch bowl at a party. But the fact is, this is the day to be asking questions because, well today is so unbelievable. Jesus came back to life? Isn't that impossible? And what does that mean? We can't not ask these questions. This day is just to miraculous to leave them unanswered. So let's start.

So, Tammy: My question is based on the Matthew text that was read in the early morning service. In two occasions, the women were told not to be afraid, first by the angels and then by Jesus himself. If I were in the women's place, I don't see how I could not be afraid. Earthquakes, angels and a friend who supposed to be dead now come back to life? I'd be plenty scared.

But then, I always seem to be plenty scared. I worry about financial issues, about discerning my call as a pastor, about my aging parents, I seem to be worrying about a lot of things. And I think about how so many are worrying if they will remain in their homes, or are dealing with lack of health insurance or being reminded of Minnesota Foodshare this month, how many are trying to make ends meet and put food on the table. So what does Jesus mean that we should not be afraid? We have every reason to be.

Tammy, you asked a question that got me thinking. Yes, as Christians, we profess a risen Christ. But would we recognized Jesus if he walked around today? Would the church?

I am reminded of a story I heard a while back. Jim Wallis, the well-know evangelical leader, once gave a speech to a gathering of urban pastors. He talked about the wonderful ministries he saw taking place around the country. For some reason, the pastors got angry. A friend wondered what was up. Wallis responded that the problem with liberal Christians is that they fear that all this talk of a risen Christ is actually true.

I don't say this to harp on liberal Christians, but I do wonder at times if we don't really want to believe Christ is risen. Because if we did, then we would have to make some drastic changes.

You know, every year during this time of year, we are subject to various stories in the media about Jesus and Christianity. During this time of year, we are asked, “Do you believe in the ressurection?”

The reason behind the question is if we actually believe that Jesus came back to life. I have no idea how this all happened. As Barbara Brown Taylor has said, we don't know, since no one was there except Jesus and God. What we do know is that the tomb was empty. Jesus wasn't there, he had outgrown the tomb. He had people to meet. He had a message to spread.

The question no one asks, except Tammy, is what difference does this all makes? Have we seen the risen Christ? Do we see Christ alive, or is he another revolutionary that died a heroic death?

I believe we see the ressurection when we see hope and life where there is supposed to be none. I want to share one example that I actually saw on Good Friday. Some of you know that my partner Daniel is the music director at St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Mendota Heights. It's where we had our commitment ceremony. One of the members there is a young mother by the name of Amy. Amy is in her thirites and has two young children and a loving husband, Warren. She also has a breast cancer that has metasticized. She recently had surgery on her back that was related to the cancer that is ravaging her young body. She was not expected back in church for several weeks because of the surgery, but on Good Friday, she showed up with her husband. What's been amazing through all of this is that she still has a face full of hope and love. You look at this beautiful woman and think that life really sucks. Here is a young woman, with life supposedly ahead of her, dealing with a devasting illness. She might not be able to see her children grow up to graduate from high school or get married. Her husband might have to face raising his two children alone, without the woman he loves. And yet, there seems to be a hope eminating from her that is imaginable.

When I see Amy and her husband, Warren, I see the risen Christ. In a place where there is no hope, hope breaks through.

This is where we will find the risen Christ; breaking free from the tombs of hoplessness and telling others that he is alive and well. Death will not keep the Risen Christ down.

Do you see Christ, alive and well? If so, where?

The question we need to ask today and everyday is not if the ressurection happened or how it happened, but what difference does it makes? In my mind, it makes all the difference in the world. Christ is Risen. He is risen, Indeed. Alleluia!

Sunday Sermon-March 30, 2008

I haven't posted one of my sermons in a while. As many of you know, I don't have a call right now, but I've been doing a ton of supply preaching at various places in and around the Twin Cities. Last Sunday, I preached at a United Church of Christ congregation in Maple Lake, a small town about 50 miles west of the Cities.

“Go Ahead, Touch the Wounds.”
John 20:19-31
March 30, 2008
Bethlehem UCC
Maple Lake, MN

A number of us have scars. Some are scars from an accident, some are surgical scars. I have a scar on one of my eyebrows from the time I banged my head against a marble coffee table when I was about a year old. I have another scar from the time the placed a catheter into my side to drain the fluid that had built up around my lungs when I was battling a major infection a decade ago. My mother and aunt have reminders of their battle with breast cancer in that there are scars from having a breast removed or a lump removed.

All scars involved pain at some point. Even long after we get better, those scars remind us that things were not always well, that there was sickness. Scars remind us that the world can be a very unfair and cruel place.

In today's passage, we see the disciples locked up in a room fearful of the religious and political authorties. Peter had just seen the tomb was empty and might have wondered who took the body and who was coming for them next. Would they suffer the same death Jesus did? Would their bodies be taken away by the authorities, not giving their loved ones a body to mourn.

Then, Jesus appears. Jesus, who they thought was dead, was alive. The disciples were joyous, except one: Thomas. He couldn't be joyous since he wasn't there. Why he wasn't there, we don't know. But when he does show up, he is not convinced by the disciple's joy. He wanted to see Jesus for himself, in fact he wanted to see the wounds himself.

Well, Jesus does appear and tells Thomas to touch his wounds and believe. And Thomas does.

Usually, people tend to focus on Thomas in this story. “Doubting Thomas,” who refuses to believe in the risen Christ. He should stop doubting and simply believe that Jesus is alive.

But this time around, what interests me is the fact that Thomas wanted to see the wounds of Jesus and that Jesus showed them to him. Why did that matter? Isn't it enough to see Jesus alive? It was enough for Mary, and the disciples, so why wasn't it enough for Thomas?

The Bible doesn't really answer that question. But we know that Jesus does what Thomas requests. He tells his disciple to place his finger in his wounds and believe.

Go ahead. Touch my wounds. That was what Jesus was saying to Thomas. And it is something that Jesus is saying to us as well.

The God we serve is not a God that is disconnected from life. This God came and walked among us and suffered like any human being. The wounds remind us that this was truly the Immanuel, God with us- one that shared our common lot.

I have to believe that Thomas didn't want to just meet a Jesus that all was all well and better, as if he never suffered. He wanted to meet a Jesus that had really gone through hell; anything else was just an apparition, a figment of the imagination.

Jesus wants us to touch the wounds of the world outside the walls of this church. We are called to touch the wounds of the hungry, the outcast, the lonely and see Jesus in them. As Jesus said in the parable of the Sheep and Goats in the book of Matthew, Jesus is found in the face of the poor.

I grew up in Flint, Michigan, a rust belt city. The first church I was a member of was New Jerusalem Baptist Church. We had baptism and communion on the first Sunday of the month in the evening. While we went up to receive communion, I remember hearing an old Spiritual that went like this:

I know it was the blood, I know it was the blood,
I know it was the blood for me.
One day when I was lost, he died upon a cross,
I know it was the blood for me.

I have no idea where the song comes from. But I do know that like many Negro Spirituals, it comes from people familiar with pain, in this case, racism and discrimination. The song talks about a God who suffered like my ancestors. This was a God that they could identitfy with, a God who could understand their pain. It was as if Jesus was showing his wounds to African Americans who were dealing with such unfairness.

The Season of Easter is a time of celebration. Jesus is alive, death has been defeated. But we miss the point the Easter if all we do is keep it to ourselves. Instead, we are called to go and “touch the wounds” of those who don't know the good news of Easter. We are called to suffer with them and bring them this wonderful hope that Jesus is alive and the powers of death will not have the last word.

So let us go and and tell others that Christ is Risen. Let us shout Alleluia! But let us also touch the wounds of the hungry, homeless and lost. Let us see God in them and let us share the good news of Easter. Amen.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Rev. Misfit

It's kinda odd to share this with people, but I guess I will throw it out there and see what happens.

For many years, work and finding work has just been a disaster. Jobs would end badly, I'd get in trouble for some reason. I thought once I got into seminary and then ordained, things would get better for me. But they didn't. My first job was as a youth pastor at a local congregation. Ended badly. Then another position...same result. Even before that, I was interning at a local church and there were some rough patches there too.

In 2004, I took a job as a law clerk in a big Minneapolis firm. Again, it was disasterous. The problem, as it was in past experiences was that I didn't pick up the unwritten expectations of people. For me, life was suspossed to be logical and make sense and in many of these situations, they were far from logical. I kept stepping on people's toes without really knowing I was doing it.

Take the first job at a church in 2002. I interviewed and took that job of youth pastor, but then asked things about pay that I should have asked before I took the job. I didn't understand why the people responded with anger when I was just presenting information.

All of these experiences led me to start thinking I was a bad pastor. I have lived with the feeling that something was wrong with me and it made me afraid to do ministry. I started to see church as this minefield where if I made the wrong step, someone would blow up in my face.

Another strange thing happened along the way. I found my current job as the IT/Communications person for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area. It's been fun, because I get to be behind a computer all day and design websites and layout the newsletter. Because this has been so good for me, it make me wonder: why is this job working when others haven't?

About a year ago, I started to think that something was different about me. But now I was seeking a medical solution. For a while I've read and heard stuff about adults with autism or Aspergers Syndrome. For some reason, every time I've heard that, I've felt in my gut that this is me. Maybe.

It's funny, because when I remember hearing about autism, I remember that kid from the 80s tv show "St. Elsewhere," who didn't do anything. I wasn't that.

But, I've started to hear of people who have autism or AS and aren't catatonic. It's interesting that all the stories I've heard about Asperger's relate to being an odd duck, like being an alien on a planet.

The thing is, I've always been a guy that's missed social cues. My first boyfriend and now best friend would note that when he was all lovey dovey, I wouldn't get it. It took me a while to get jokes and I take everything very literally. Flirting made no sense to me, and in some way it still doesn't. Neither does small talk. Dating has always been somewhat of a trial.

I've been reading the book "Look Me In the Eye" by John Elder Robison. (He's the brother of one of my favorite authors, Augusten Burroughs.) He has Aspergers and he tells his story. While I didn't have a life like his, there were some similarities.

So, I am going to see if I can find a professional to get tested and know for sure. I guess I need to know if this is why employment has been such a bitch for me.

Hell, it might explain why growing up was so damn difficult.

Of course, one question I always have is, how in the world can one be a pastor with Asperger's? I mean, most pastors have to read people like a book and learn to engage in small talk. I can do the big things, like preaching and leading worship, but can one be an "aspie" and a pastor? I've tried to see if there is anything on pastors with Asperger's, but I can't find anything. Hopefully someone out there has an answer.

So, I will keep all 5 of you who read my blog updated. I just want to know that I am not the bad person I have made myself out to be.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In The Middle

I've been a mainline Protestant for about 16 years. I grew up in the evangelical and black churches and found the mainline churches a breath of fresh air...for a time. In many ways it still is a better option than what I grew up with, but as I stayed, I started to notice that a more liberal Christianity had some of the same blind spots that their more conservative brethren had.

One thing I've noticed is how much many progressive Christians talk about the importance of community. I agree with that. But at some point, I've noticed that for some community is less a place where there are people with different thoughts and backgrounds, than a place where everyone thinks the same and where no one has to be challenged with a different viewpoint.

Carroll Howard Merritt shares in this post about how good it is to be in a place where she can preach what she wants to preach. She notes:

I’m in a progressive church now. There are very few things that I can’t say here, as a peace-loving feminist. I spend a lot less time worrying, and a lot more time ministering. With that freedom, my preaching’s gotten much more authentic and a whole lot better.

And I can’t help but notice that my writing’s gone from a crashing, swirling, damned-up pool to a steady, flowing stream, because I’m not calculating the consequences of every word. My mind has more space to think. I don’t have to worry about losing my job if someone takes the time to read what I have to say. I have more creativity here, I sense the Spirit moving more.

This leads me to thinking. Maybe the Spirit is moving, but maybe it's also that she is in a place where everyone agrees with what she is saying. It's easier to be "prophetic" when you are preaching to choir.

She also is frustrated by those who are looking for a middle way:

So, is there any way that we can move our discussions from looking for some sort of middle ground to allowing freedom for people? Instead of rushing to moderation, could we each forge a path where we are and have a vision for more than one way? Or is that an inherently liberal position?

You know, I’m just concerned about all those people who are trying to find their way. I know there are members in our church who couldn’t attend most congregations in the country. But they’ve found a path to God in our progressive Christian community. And, I admit, I’m concerned about me. And other leaders on this path. Because it’s just so much easier when we don’t have to pretend to be a moderate.

Her concern is that rushing to the middle leaves out those on the edges. I can understand to a point, but what about those who are truly in the middle? Not all of us are out protesting at abortion clinics or at a peace march. We have our issues, but we aren't as strident those on the edge. In many cases, we want the church to focus on worshipping God and feeding the hungry instead of fighting the latest battle in the culture wars. I think sometimes there is a rush to the middle because some of us don't want a repeat of what we see in the wider culture, where everything is seen in the terms of red/blue, liberal/conservative.

And maybe instead of seeing this as the middle, it's more about trying to live in true community. You see, when I think of community, I think more of something like living in a small town or your family. You have relatives you love and those you don't care for. But they are all part of the family and you try to live together. My problem at times when I hear churches talk about "community" it's really about creating spaces where everyone thinks just like you do. But in my view, that's not community.

Community is when you can worship with an old man who doesn't condone you being gay and yet cares for you and likewise.

Community is when you can still love your fellow pastor even when they rant about the President or the way and you happen to have opposite views.

I think the "middle ground" is a place where we can see all of our differences and yet see Christ in each other. That's community.