Thursday, May 29, 2008

Notes from An Aspie Pastor: The One Thing

It would be an understatement to say that I can be a driven person. If there is something that I am passionate about, watch out.

It's also not an understatement to say that I am pretty single-minded. If something is of interest to me, it becomes The One Thing.

When I was ordained, I got it in my head that I needed to do something. So, I looked for various openings in churches, nevermind if they fit or didn't fit. I was driven to have a call in ministry.

That was the same thinking I had with Community of Grace. I didn't really plan anything, I just did it. I had a passion for ministry and was single-minded in my purpose.

Probably because of the Aspergers, I tend to have this drive to do something, anything related to my vocation. It's The One Thing.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, I asked the Associate Pastor if I could be of help with what I thought was an issue. She responded saying this would only confuse issues. In my line of thinking, I tend to think, "I have the skills. I can help!" So, when someone explains that my help isn't needed (and sometimes not wanted) I feel bad and confused wondering why they didn't want my help.

Of course, I am learning that not all positions in churches are good for me. And that when I am chided in helping, it's not a slam against me. But the drive remains.

People with Aspergers tend to be hyper-focused. I can see how that has played in my life. But how can I use this skill to my advantage?

A post on Yahoo has some interesting insights on the highs and lows of having autism:

  • strong conceptualization skill (able to mentally model complex systems, may develop instinctive understanding of the system from this internalized model)

  • logical thinking (strong skills in technical research or computer programming)

  • exceptional memory

  • attention to detail (can identify inconsistencies in processes or communications)

  • honest, straightforward (can treat people fairly)

  • intense focus

  • willing and able to learn great depth of information in specific field
Gavin Bollard, an Australian with Aspergers ( I guess that makes him an Aussie Aspie) has this to say about jobs in general:

Probably the best thing that an aspie can do is to find work that is either related to their special interest or work which doesn't conflict with too many of the general aspie characteristics. While there is a tendency for aspies to seek jobs in computing and academic fields, there is no reason why aspies cannot be employed in lots of other areas.

Special interest jobs are very good for aspies as they can often be quite innovative and can easily take on leader, designer and developer roles. Unlike their co-workers, aspies often live and breathe their special interests and therefore have a genuine interest in pursing them - rather than simply focusing on the job at hand.
So, what does that mean for me and my call? Don't know yet. However, I am going to do a few things in the near future that will help. First, I am going to talk with the Regional Minister about this (that's the Disciples version of a bishop-type person). Second, I am going to set up an appointment with a local center that helps pastors discover their skills.

The One Thing isn't a bad thing. I just need a place to put it to good use.

Aspie Reflections: What Do You Do With An MDiv?

Last night, I watched the Associate Pastor at the church I am a part of. We had our weekly prayer service- now biweekly during the summer months- and she was talking with two members of our congregation whose daughter, son-in-law and children were brutally affected by a tornado that hit the northern Twin Cities suburbs. She was skilled in being truly a pastor to them during this horrible time. As watched this scene, it occurred to me: I couldn't do what she is doing- or at least it doesn't come to me as naturally.

Today, at another meeting, I saw a young guy who is a pastor at a local UCC church. Again, he has the social skills that make him an excellent pastor. And I thought again, I don't have those skills.

While I am relieved about my diagnosis of Aspergers, it leaves me with a big question regarding vocation: what in the world do you do with a pastor that has autism?

I've been around long enough to know that pastors tend to be social beings. They are supposed to be the kind of people who can connect with others. They "get" social cues. They know how to deal with sudden change. So what about someone like me who isn't any of that? How in the world can I be a pastor if I don't have those skills?

This doesn't mean I am planning on hanging up my stole (though that has crossed my mind). But I just don't know what to do here. I know that I can't be a solo pastor of a church. There is way too much instability for me to process it all and I know I would end up pissing people off with my aspie ways.

For a long time, I've wondered where I fit in the church. I knew I didn't fit, but didn't know why. But now I need to figure out how to use my gifts in ministry, how to use my Aspergers not as a deficit, but as an advantage.

I know that I need to be in environments that are structured and have some sense of stability. That has made me think of some kind of Associate Ministry. However, at least in the metro area, there are no possibilities for that kind of ministry among Disciple churches and very few in UCC circles. I guess I could start looking outstate and see what happens.

What I have wanted to do is to maybe create some kind of ministry in a congregation where I would be on staff probably bivocational. Maybe it would be to perform worship or lead Christian Education. But it would be something that is regimented.

One of the stories in the Bible that I love is the story of Gideon. Gideon was called by God to lead an army against the Midianites. The trouble is, Gideon is a coward. But God uses him and just to make sure Gideon knows that it is God doing this and not Gideon, he sends Gideon into battle with only 300 men using pots. It was that ragtag army, led by a scaredy cat, that defeated the mighty Midianites.

The story shows that God doesn't use the most qualified persons to do God's will. So if God can call someone like Gideon, God can call me.

I just need to find what in the world that is.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hope and Grief

The last few days have been rather interesting.

Daniel and I just got back from Fargo today. We went up last night to catch a glimpse of a new nephew. Daniel's brother, John and his wife Julie were expecting a baby and Julie's water broke early yesterday. Early this morning, we got to see John Luke, their son.

It was a fascinating experience. I had not been in a maternity ward before, so it was interesting to see these little beings, who were inside their mother's womb only a few hours ago. It was even more cool to hold little John Luke, himself only six hours old.

I drove home feeling rather good about the events earlier in the day, but I was also mindful of some sad events that had happened earlier. On Sunday, two members of my congregation received some news no parent should receive: their daughter's family had been affected by a tornado that ripped through their suburb. This elderly couple lost their two year old grandson and the four year old granddaughter is still in the hospital with injuries.

I went to prayer tonight and the grandparents were there. We sang hymns and prayed. I was reticient to share my good news: it was hard to share in the joy of the birth of a child when grandparents are dealing with a loss of a toddler.

Hope and grief came together in a strange way today. I don't have any wise words on this other than the fact that it happened and that it seemed like an odd juxtaposition.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Surprised by Hope

I've purchased N.T. Wright's latest book, Surprised by Hope, today. I was interested in the book since he was interviewed in Newsweek about what the afterlife means. This is a subject I've been wrestling with for a while. What happens when we die? Is it all over? Is there more than this?

I will try to share my thoughts as I slog through the book.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hello, I'm Dennis and I'm an Aspie.

On Thursday night, I met up with a friend and went to an Aspergers/Autism support group sponsored by the Autism Society of Minnesota. So, this would be the first time I would meet other people with Aspergers/Autism.

It was a good time. It was kind of like finding your people. While there were people who were more affected than I was, I saw a lot of myself in them. It was interesting to get into the small groups and have some people talking about the issue at hand, others talking about something else, others playing cards and others looking down and just being quiet. Being that I was in a library with interesting books, I did what I have done in the past, took a book and started looking at it. A few years ago, I did that at a church board meeting, and was chastised for seemingly not caring about the issue at hand.

I'm not advising that I should continue reading books during meetings. But it does put in some perspective.

The thing was, seeing other people act like I did, made me understand that I'm not alone. There are others like me.

I most definitely will be going back and will try to get Daniel to go to the group for spouses. Lord knows he is going to need someone to talk to about my odd ways and he needs to know he isn't alone either.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Frustrated. That is All.

A friend called today and we chatted about life. He told me about the good things going on in his ministry as a church musician. At some point we chatted about me and I shared my ongoing frustrations. I told him I wanted to be serving in a church in some form. He responded by saying that maybe if I worshipped with Daniel, my partner, I could do somethings at his church (as a lay member).

I know my friend meant well, but I was mad at those words. I responded by saying that I wanted to serve as a pastor, not as a member, which is what I have been doing for a while.

I was mad because I felt like whatever gifts I have for ministry were belittled and as usual, I felt that I was not taken seriously.

I know this sounds like I'm on some ego trip, but I'm not. It's not that I want a full time job with benefits, or that I need to have the title. It's just that I felt called to ministry, even though I didn't want it initially. I felt God had called me. So, I go to seminary and the result is, no one sees me. I feel at times, that there is no room for me in the church-at least not to be a pastor.

For me, this is about feeling set apart to serve God and I don't what that is.

In the Presbytery, there is a candidate for Minister of Word and Sacrament that has an interesting ministry and background. Dean has a background in theatre and has sought to blend his love of stage with his love of God. The end result is that the Presbytery is going to ordain him as a Minister of Drama and a local church is going to be there to support him spiritually.

I wish I had that in my life. I wish I could connect with some church and that they could support me in doing some endeavor. Maybe it's to start an alternative worship service or plant a church. I'm not asking necessarily for a paid position, just a place where I feel that the people have ordained me to do some specific task.

And that's really what it comes down to- I have never felt ordained by the people. I know God has ordained me, but God's community? Well, at times I don't think they know what to do with me, so they just don't deal with me.

I've enjoyed doing supply preaching. But I wish that I could do more.

I'm tired of having to fight for simple recognition. There are times that I wonder if I should just turn in my stole and give up.

I know this is a downer of a post and I'm whining a lot. But I don't care right now.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Remembering the Call

After announcing my diagnosis of Aspergers, I received a wonderful comment from fellow blogger, Danny Bradfield, to remember that I am called to ministry and that the Aspergers doesn't distract from that.

He is right about that. But I am left with the question: what am I called to do?

I know I was called to be in ordained ministry. But I also know that I don't have the skills to be a solo pastor. I probably do well as an associate pastor with specific duties, but those jobs are few and far between. Chaplaincy? I don't think it helps to have an autistic chaplain.

So, what do I do? Where do I fit?

Yeah, I have thought about church planting, but since I haven't heard anything from anyone expressing interest, I can conclude that is not in the cards.

This week was the Festival of Homiletics in Minneapolis. I should have gone for at least one day of this event, but I didn't. I guess I felt a bit down on myself and felt that I didn't deserve to be there.

It's hard to explain and I don't think I can even put it into words right now. It's just that I don't always feel like any of this is real.

I hope at some point God gives me a clue as to where I can use the skills God has given me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Like Sand Through the Hourglass...

As I was putting together the biweekly newsletter at work, I came accross this statement by Roger Shoemaker who is a candidate for Moderator in the Presbyterian Church (USA):

In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus' parable tells us about a man who built his house on a foundation of sand. I believe we have done just that without recognizing it as such.

As our membership ebbs and flows through our churches, we focus on bringing in new members, new sand to build up the membership base of our congregations, rather than building foundations of spirituality that strengthens the church. We need to strengthen our understanding of the Biblical, confessional and polity components that define us as Presbyterians.

Take out the last sentence and that could be many a church I know.

As the church I attend looks for a new pastor, one of the issues that I have heard time and time again is that we need more members. Now, the congregation is small and I can understand that. More members usually mean more money to pay for the physical plant. This is a complaint at a lot of churches. But like Shoemaker, I worry that getting on the new member train is built on sand. It's not that having new members is bad and that we should not do that, but what is behind getting new members? Is it to have more bodies to pay for the building, or is it to share the gospel of Christ? Do we even care about the spirituality of the members? Are we willing to welcome into our church those who don't have fat bank accounts?

I want to see more people in our churches. But I worry that sometimes people want this for the wrong reasons. What I see in a lot of churches is not a passion for mission but simply maintainence. A lot of people in the pews are more interested in the pastor taking care of them and bringing in more people to care for the building than they are in taking the Great Commission seriously. Caring for the people outside of the walls of the church seems to not be a major concern for some.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Just Call Me "Aspie"

So, I went  to see a psychologist to do some testing for Aspergers Syndrome.  I've met with him three times, twice with Daniel. After answering a lot of questions, I found out:



Yes, I do have Aspergers Sydrome, a form of autism.

I have lots of mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I have a sense of relief.  After years of wondering why in the world I just couldn't "get" what others were getting, why I had such a hard time keeping jobs, or why working in the church has been such a disaster at times, I finally know why: my brain is wired way differently than most people.  As my dear Daniel said, I now have a key that can help answer some questions.

The other part of me wonders what to do now.  Can I still be an effective pastor? 


I will be meeting with the psychologist for a few more times to now deal with the diagnosis and go from there.  The good thing is I now know my weirdness has a name. 

I'm not an idiot, just autistic. :)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sunday Sermon- May 18, 2008

E Pluribus Unum”

Matthew 28:19-20, II Corinthians 13:11-13

May 18, 2008 (Trinity Sunday)

Lake Harriet Christian Church

Minneapolis, MN

As some of you know and are probably well sick of me telling you, I love science-fiction. What I love about this genre is that it present modern problems in futuristic garb. And I know that are also know and are sick of me telling you that I love Star Trek for especially, that reason. The groundbreaking television series, with a multicultural cast, dealt with many modern issues, such as war, racism, drugs, sexism and other topics. In the late 80s Star Trek came back to television in the version of Star Trek: The Next Generation. With a new series came new enemies. In the original television series, we had the Romulans and the Klingons. In the new series, we had an even more menacing villain: the Borg.

The Borg are a race of beings half-humanoid, half-android. There is no such thing as individuality or uniqueness among the Borg. They are soulless beings that work as one. They fly around in a ship that looks like giant cube and their job is to assimilate other species into their own collective. Whenever the meet up with a ship, such as the Enterprise, they “greet” their soon to be prey with these words: “We are Borg. Lower your shields. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is commonly called Trinity Sunday, the day we remember the concept of God as Three in One; God the Father or Mother, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is always an odd day for Christians and for those of us who are part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in particular. For one thing, this is day devoted not to something in the Bible, but to doctrine, something that came along long after the Bible was written. For Disciples, this is also perplexing, because most of our founders were not considered what some would call Trinitarians. Because people like Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell placed an emphasis on restoring the church to what it was in the first century and because the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible, they did not place a whole lot of emphasis on it. That's not to say they didn't believe in God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, it's just that they wouldn't call that Trinity, nor would they make that a precursor for someone to become part of a faith community.

So, what do we do with this day? Do we ignore it? We could do that. But I think that there is still much to be mined from this day and from the Trinity. I think there is much to learn about who God is and how we can be church in this world. I think the Trinity is less of a doctrine that one must believe than a way to live life.

Now today's texts have nothing to do with the Trinity. I am not going to try to say they uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, because no one was thinking in those terms yet. But they do give some clues about God and about us.

In the closing chapters of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to go and teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will always be with them until time ends.

Paul ends his second letter to his problem church in Corinth by saying that they should put their affairs in order, be agreeable with each other and greet each other with a holy kiss. And then he ends by saying a phrase that I know that I have heard often: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

The scriptures today remind us that we have a job to do. Jesus calls us to go into all the world and make disciples. Not make church goers, but disciples: people who will be followers of Jesus, not simply pew sitters. This text is commonly called the Great Commission many a pastor has preached on this text, to tell people to go and tell others about the Good News of Jesus. Congregations are urged to tell people about Jesus and pastors and churches get busy in the work of evangelism. There is nothing wrong with this, provided we don't forget what else Jesus is saying here. We are to go and make disciples and also teach and baptize. We are called to help others understand the ways of Jesus and what it means that God loves us. And we are called to baptize, to formally welcome them into the larger faith community and into the life of being a follower of Jesus.

This seems like a tall order. How can we do this all? The sad fact is that many churches and pastors get involved in trying to be Christ in the world, and forget to take Christ with them. Jesus tells his disciples that he will be with them and God will be a work along with us as we preach, teach and baptize. It is not all on our shoulders. Christ is with us working in the lives of others and sustaining us when the road is long and hard.

If Jesus is giving us a charge of action, Paul is giving us a charge of character. Paul is telling the Corinthians to be in agreement with each other. Now, at first blush, this seems to mean that all the Corinthians must think the same way. The sad thing is that throughout church history, followers of Jesus have decided that everyone must have the same beliefs. People were forced out of churches for not sharing the same views on things as everyone else. That is not what Paul is saying here. Instead, Paul is saying we should not be divisive, or to put it in another way, to disagree without being disagreeable. He then ends it with the “trinitarian greeting.” What interesting here is that within God there is difference and yet unity. The love of God, the grace of Jesus, the communion of the Holy Spirit. Three different aspects of God and yet the same God, all in agreement.

As I said, the Trinity isn't a doctrine to be believed. But I do think it is a way of life to be lived. Within God is diversity. Father/Mother God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Some people refer to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. When Paul tells the Corinthians to be in agreement, he wasn't calling for them to think the same and be the same. He was calling for this community to be united and yet different.

That is what we are called to be today. We all come here with as unique individuals. We all come from different backgrounds, with different life experiences and different religious and political beliefs. What binds us together, is the love of God, the grace of Jesus and the communion of the Holy Spirit. The church is called to be a place where there is diversity in every way imaginable and yet there is unity as well.

The fact is, the world sorely needs to hear this message. We live in a world where there is a spirit of sameness that is afraid of difference. We sort ourselves out into Republicans and Democrats, straight and gay, black and white and so on. We like to be in communities where everyone things like we do. In a way we are like the Borg, wanting to have a community where difference is not tolerated.

But God is calling us to be a place where we are different. We are called to be a place where we have a common purpose and goal, but where we are different as God is different.

The thing is, this diverse and yet unifying God is with us everywhere. We are reminded of God the Creator in the beauty of creation, we see God the Redeemer, when we receive communion and know that we are loved, no matter what. We see God the Sustainer, when when this diverse bunch of people gather together every Sunday to worship and bear each others burdens. God is with is, God is around us, and God is in us. We are never truly alone and we are called to be welcoming to all we meet.

You don't have to believe in the Trinity. But I do think it is a lesson in how we are to be church: we are to be a community that knows God is with us and that is welcoming to all, even those people that are very different from us.

The fictional Borg, like to say “resistance is futile.” But I think in a world that demands conformity, we can respond with the old Latin phrase, “e pluribus unum,” out of many one. Out of many ways of being, we are united in Christ.

Maybe resistance isn't so futile after all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thinking Outside the Box

Last night at church, one of our oldest and wisest members came up to me after prayer service. "Have you ever thought of going to Iowa?" he said. I had thought he meant to work at a church in Iowa since there are more Disciples churches there than in Minnesota. He then told me he meant working on Regional staff and then talked about my working with the Presbytery and the about the whole new church movement in the Region.

Now, a year ago, I would have laughed at the notion of me on a Regional staff. I thought that was something you work towards, like a promotion from parish ministry or something, not something you have skills for. I still don't know if I have those skills, but I am beginning to wonder if I have the skills for parish ministry, at least as a solo or senior pastor. I think it's becoming apparent that these are not my strongest skills. Whether or not I have Aspergers, I do know that the "people skills" needed for a solo pastor are not there. I could probably do okay as an associate pastor doing a specific task, like mission or Christian Formation, but not as a solo pastor.

Even though I have a heart for new church plants, I know that I don't have the skills for that, either. I tried, but you really need to be a people person that can go out there and meet new people, and I'm not good at that. It's kinda terrifying to me, to be honest. I definitely could work as part of a team and could work behind the scenes, but not as the fearless leader.

So, then what can I do? Do I give up being an ordained pastor? Maybe, but maybe not. I mean, I do believe I was called to ministry. But maybe I'm not the typical pastor. Maybe I have to think outside of the box, and since I tend to be blessed (or cursed) with that gift. I do have skills in communications, so maybe work in the Region teaching churches to be better communicators has promise. Or coordinating missions between churches. Or working with a team of people to plant a new church.

A while back, a dear friend said my current job was a ministry. I was kinda peeved when he said that, because I really love to preach and do worship. But I think he does have a point. And working at a regional or presbytery level doesn't mean I won't ever preach or do other things ever again. It would just mean looking at ministry in a different way.

I still would love to plant a church or work in a existing church in someway. But I have to consider things in light of my limitations be they Asperger's or not. It doesn't mean I can't do these things, it just means that I can do them in the way other people can, because I'm not other people.

This whole call thing has been a very strange journey. It will be interesting to see where it leads.

Jobs, Vocation and the Like

In two days, I will be evaluated on having Aspergers or not. I'm kind of nervous about the whole thing. There is a part of me that has sensed in my gut that this is me and part of me that wonders if I am just making this all up. Some friends have seen aspects of Aspergers in me and others see nothing.

At times, I feel like a hypochondriac. But I guess part of me wants to have some way to understand my life . Why was it so hard for me to find meaningful work? Why am I not good at interviewing? Why has my job history been so crazy? Why has my calling as a pastor been so unfulfilling? Why has dating been so hard for me?

For a long time, I have blamed myself or have wondered if this was just racism. But I think there is more going on here. At least, I wonder.

I remember my first pastoral position as a youth minister. I remember how horrible that went. Whenever I went to talk to the Senoir Pastor, I would come into the room while she was working and remained silent until she looked up at me. For some reason, that bothered her and she noted it on several occasions. For me, it made no sense to just come into a room and start talking, so I would wait until she was ready.

It was also hard for me to really connect with the youth. Actually, it's hard to connect with people period. It's not for lack of trying or not caring, it's just difficult- it always has been. The gladhanding that is in some cases a part of being a minister, is just not there for me and I don't see the need for it.

And I think that has got me into trouble. I'm learning that being able to be sociable helps pastors and can cover a mulitiude of sins. Since I don't seem tohave that skill, it has only highlighted my sins.

So, it sounds bad, but I do hope I have Aspergers. It might help shed light on things and help me to determine where to go from here.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Freeway of Love

So, in my continuing saga of seeing if I have Aspergers, I wanted to share my fascination with the Interstate Highway System.

Don't ask me why, but I've had an odd fascination with freeways and especially the Interstates. The red, white and blue sign has been like a strange beacon, calling me to a world of networks of roads. The freeway systems of other countries also are an interest of mine.

I know that even-numbered freeways go east and west, odd numbered go north and south. The low numbered interstates are in the South and West respectively, getting larger as the move North and East, respectively.

I have spent time finding out about proposed interstates that are yet to be build and interstates that were cancelled.

My obbession is such, that I have created a parallel world in my mind with made-up interstates going through imaginary cities. When I was younger, I would take a play car or a pen and pretend I was driving on these imaginary roads. I seldom realized that others were watching me; I was in my own world. It would make quite a scene in school.

I still act out driving on imaginary roads sometimes, but now it's moreso in my mind than acting it out.

The thing is, I have had a big fascination with anything involving transportation. Airports fascinate me, as do buses.

I guess I have another thing to tell the good doctor on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Real Conversation on Race Would Look Like

My partner Daniel recently downloaded the movie, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and wanted to know if I wanted to watch it. I decided to on Sunday evening, somewhat grudingly, since it took me away from my normal Sunday night routine. But after having watched the film, I'm glad I did.

Basic gist of the movie for those not in the know, a black doctor played by Sidney Poitier, meets a young white woman in Hawaii. The two have a whirlwind romance and decide to get married. Most of the movie hovers around the parents of the couple dealing with an interracial relationship.

What was so wonderful about the movie was how honest it was. The young white woman's parents, played by Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are upstanding liberals who have to now face the weight of their convictions. For the mother, it was a shock to see that her daughter had chosen to marry a black man, but she accepted it knowing that she and her husband had raised child to not see race as a factor in anything. The Spencer Tracy character has a harder time coming to terms, partly out his own racial prejudices and partly fearful of how the outside world will treat this young couple and their biracial offsping. He finally comes around in a process that isn't faked but very real.

Even the parents of Sidney Poitier's parents are dealt with in honest terms. Like the Katherine Hepburn's character, the mother of Dr. Prentice is also shocked but accepting of the marriage. The father has a harder time dealing with this.

And then there is Tilly, the maid of the white family played by the great Isabel Sanford of the "Jeffersons" fame. She is suspicious of Poitier and sees him as moving up beyond his place.

All of these people were real people dealing with a changing world and having to live up to what it meant to live in a society where equality was the new rule. They had to deal with their own fears and shortcomings and how to rise above them. What was refreshing was that there was no white guilt or black grievances; what we got was people who were incredibly human and having an acutal conversation on race.

And that's the whole point of this post. This Sunday, many mainline churches will have "a sacred conversation on race." But as I said in my last post, this is less a conversation than a play with persons of color and whites given the roles of oppressed and oppressor respectively. There isn't really an human interaction, no real conservation about our own fears on both sides and how we can overcome them.

"Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was probably the best example of what a conversation on race should be: honest and free of preconceived agendas or navel gazing. The sad thing, is that I don't think a movie like this could be made today. It is so honest that it is not politically correct.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sunday Sermon- May 11, 2008

“It Only Takes a Spark...”
Acts 2:1-21
May 11, 2008 (Pentecost Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

A few weeks ago, my partner Daniel and I were coming back from breakfast, when we saw thick clouds of smoke in the area of our house. As we drove closer and closer we were both fearful of seeing our house going up in flames. We came to the house and found everything was okay. We decided to part the car and walk up to where the fire was taking place. It turns out a greenhouse was on fire and basically was destroyed by the fire. We felt relief that our house was okay, but a bit sad that the person who lived on this property would have to deal with the loss.

Fire can be something that brings fear to us. I remember learning about fire drills when I was a kid, and about the whole “stop, drop and roll” if God forbid you catch fire. In our modern culture, fire is something that has been seen as source of fear, something that consumes and destroys. Of course, fire also tends to help us, since it heats our homes and cooks our food. Fire can be beneficial, but I think at times we forget that, we are driven by the fear of getting burned.

Today is the day of Pentecost, what has been called at time, the birthday of the church. This is the day when the disciples of Jesus were holed up in a room waiting for what was coming next after Jesus ascended into heaven. And we read that a mighty wind comes into the room and what appears to be tongues of fire sit on the heads of those gathered. Those gathered start speaking in the tongues of neighboring languages. There are a large number of Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. The started seeing Jesus' disciples out and about speaking their native tongues and some were amazed. Others sneered that these guys were drunk.

If you were one of those visitors and you saw this spectacle, what would you think? Would you see it with wonder and awe or with skeptism?

The role of the Holy Spirit here is interesting. The Spirit is portrayed as wind, something Tammy just talked about, and fire. Fire is something that scares us and it should since it is deadly. But I think we are also afraid of the fire of the Spirit as well. We are afraid of the fire of the Spirit because it can not be contained and runs hither and yon and forces us out of our pews and into the world.

In today's passage, Peter begins to explain to the gathered crowd what has just happened. He spoke from the prophet Joel and he says that in the last days, God will pour the Spirit on all flesh and our sons and daughters will be prophets. Do you know what this means? It means that you and I are empowered by the Spirit to be prophets, to preach God's love to all. Note that it doesn't say I will pour out my spirit on all pastors, but all flesh. You and I are called to preach the Good News by the power of God's Holy fire. It doesn't matter how old or young we are. It doesn't matter how rich or poor we are. It doesn't matter how smart we are. God calls us to be prophets, to spread the fire of God.

But it gets better or worse, according your point of view. God will pour the spirit even on slaves. Now, thankfully, we don't have slaves in our society anymore, but we do have people who we tend to look down upon or who we tend not think have much value. This means that God will work in the lives of the poor, or the illegal immigrant, or the person in a wheelchair, or the person who is gay or lesbian. God's Spirit is not contained by the walls of the church. Like a spreading fire, God's Spirit will go where it goes.

The question though, is are we willing to let this Holy Fire into our lives like the disciples did? I think at times we would rather not have this Spirit in our lives, thank you very much. It's too chaotic, too scary. We don't want to share the good news with those around us, and sometimes churches don't want “those people” coming to our church. What could they possibly know about God that we don't already know.

But I think God is calling the church to be the church in the way the church was the church on that Day of Pentecost: a people gathered together and empowered by the Spirit to go into the world and preaching God's good word to everyone. Sometimes churches have been more inward focused, interested in bring people to the church instead of bring the the church into the world- this is what this passage is telling us.
This day of Pentecost is a great day, but it's also a scary day. We are reminded that we are called to follow God's way and to be led by the wild Spirit and that scares us-all of us, myself included, because it pushes us out of our comfort zones and into the big and scary world.

But the Spirit is also there to be our companion. We are not left alone when we join God in mission. The Holy Fire keeps us warm and sustains us when times grow hard.

I want to end with a song that has been buzzing around in my head this past week. It was a song I learned a long time ago in church and in the Christian school I went to growing up. The song is one that some of you may know: It's called, “Pass It On.” It goes like this:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going,And soon all those around can warm up
in its glowing;That's how it is with God's Love,Once you've experienced it,Your
spread the love to everyoneYou want to pass it on.

The last verse continues:

I wish for you my friendThis happiness that I've found;You can depend on GodIt
matters not where you're bound,I'll shout it from the mountain top - PRAISE
GOD!I want the world to knowThe Lord of love has come to meI want to pass it on.

It only takes a spark. It only took a Holy Wind and a Holy Fire to turn a bunch of scared and bumbling disciples into brave disciples that could not stop talking about the love of God through Jesus. That same spark, that same Holy Fire is available to all of us today. It is calling us to go and tell the message. The Lord of Love has come to us, to all of us and we are to go and shout it from the mountaintops and rooftops. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Come Mounring

A few weeks ago, I was at an ordination and greeted two friends of a church I used attend. We chatted and at some point they asked about Community of Grace. I told them it had shut down. What I never said was that I was a bit rankled at them because when the church was still in existence, I had asked them for to serve on a group that would help guide the new church and I never heard a response.

A few weeks later, I met two friends who also wondered about the church. Again I told them the church was no more.

I still mourn the closure of the church, it feels like a death in the family. But I also feel a sense of anger, because I felt that many of the people who ask about the church never helped us when we needed it. I get angry because it would have been nice had people visited the church or let me know they were praying for us. It would have been nice to receive some love from people when we felt at our lowest. But we never did receive that. And it irks me when they ask how the church is doing. Maybe it's my (supposed) Asperger's but when someone asks how is the church, I would expect them to actually give a damn and not just be doing small talk.

I would love to try again, because Community of Grace was left undone. But do I want to be placed in that position again? Then there is trying to get people to help plant the church and well, that's been a bust.

It's hard, I have this passion to try to do something new, to plant a church with others, but it seems everyone around me only wants to be taken care of. God forbid, we should take the gospel seriously.

Maybe it's time to just give up. I don't know.

For some reason, this reminds me of a certain song by Keith Green.

Friday, May 09, 2008

How I (Didn't) Get Over

Several years ago, I took part in a workshop after church. The members of the congregation were gathered and watch a video about race and American society. We were then asked to talk about our experience with race. Now, I was the only African American in the room and most of the people there were in the 60s and 70s. Most talked about how they had good relations with Blacks and had many friendships. However, one person who was middle aged, said that things for African Americans and other persons of color were worse now than in the 60s.

In chatting with the pastor later, he said that the point of the workshop was for the participants to understand their role in perpetuating racism and then doing something about it.

The whole thrust of the workshop was part of an initiative that has become a part of many churches called anti-racism. On one level, it seems like a good thing, to help us learn to be against racism. My problem is that it seems to do nothing to advance racial progress and might only exacerbate the issue.

I've been thinking about this in light of the whole Jeremiah Wright controversy. The United Church of Christ, the denomination that Wright is ordained in, has decided to make next Sunday, May 18, a day to have a "sacred conversation on race." On the surface it seems to make sense; let's talk about this issue that has had such a prominent role in American history. I've heard others talk about having a conversation about race and again, it sounds good. But in the end, this conversation ends up not really being a conversation at all. In some ways, it seems more like a play, where persons of color and whites have roles to play, where the script has already been written well in advance.

The pastoral letter on racism from the leaders of the United Church of Christ is interesting, in that it paints an extremely dark view of race relations in the United States circa 2008. This is a sample:

The Pastoral Letter on Racism documented what it called “a sobering truth” – namely, that despite the meaningful progress achieved during the civil
rights era, “quality of life for the majority of racial and ethnic people is worse today in many ways than it was during the 1960s.” The letter went
on to name a number of disturbing trends that signaled growing racial intolerance and hostility: increasing inequities between the rich and the
poor; charges of “reverse racism”and attacks on affirmative action; a resurgence of racially motivated hate crimes and; fear of “foreigners” surfacing in movements such as “English Only.” Seventeen years later, in 2008, we might wish to believe that we have made significant progress in addressing and reversing those alarming trends.
Lamentably, that claim cannot be substantiated.

We have witnessed a systematic assault on affirmative action policies at the state and national level. In the wake of the “war on terror,” our
Arab American and Muslim brothers and sisters contend daily with discrimination, racial profiling,and misunderstanding about the true nature of Islam. As unemployment rates soar and jobs are outsourced overseas, frustration and rage are
unleashed upon the most vulnerable within our borders – immigrants and those who some call “illegal aliens.” After more than two years, thousands
of dispossessed residents of New Orleans are still in diaspora, awaiting our government’s promise to help rebuild their homes and neighborhoods. The divide between rich and poor is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Despite the rise of a Black middle class over the past 40 years, the average net
worth of White families in 2008 remains 10 times greater than the average net
worth of Black families. Racial segregation in our public schools has intensified and has now been condoned by the United States Supreme Court.

There is a lot here to agree with in some case and a lot to disagree. On the belief that the quality of life for persons of color is worse than it was in the 60s, I have to respectfully disagree. I've said this before, but back in the 50s, my father could not get a hotel room or eat in a restaurant when he made trips to his native Louisiana from Michigan. Black people were getting killed by whites and all-white juries let them get away with it. Is life a racial utopia? No. We still have problems. We still have cops shooting unarmed blacks and too many who think hanging a noose is funny. But we are not the America of the 50s and 60s where whites were trying hard to keep blacks down.

The letter also seems to ignore the most important change of the last 40 years: a political party is on the verge of nominating a black man for President and all indications point to this same black man becoming the 44th President of the United States. A nation that once treated its African immigrants as property might very well elect someone of African heritage.

Barak Obama's historic run for the presidency can't by itself atone for America's racist past, but it is important and can show that we have come a long way. To not hold this up is puzzling.

But maybe what is most puzzling about this letter is that this isn't as much a conversation as a monologue. It lists a litany of problems and says white people don't care and that life is hard for persons of color. I'm not saying any of this is a falsehood, but there isn't much room in this letter for a conversation on race. It has one view and one view only.

The letter points out a problem that I have with both liberals and conservatives on their views on race. For liberals, the glass seems half empty all the time. They seem to ignore any racial progress and continually see America as a racist society.

For conservatives, there seems to be a belief that we can just jump from a racial to post-racial society in one leap. They look down on programs like affirmative action, not realizing that in the past, blacks were shut out of jobs and the walls of higher eduation and you just can't say, "sorry about the racism, dude" and make it all better.

If we are going to have a conversation on race, the lets have one, but let's have a real one, where we are sharing our true selves and not some script. Maybe the best example of true conversation came from Obama himself. In his speech on race entitled "A More Perfect Union," he talked about the frustration that both blacks and white have felt.

He says:

The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Obama's speech was truly a conversation starter if there ever was one. He expressed the anger blacks and whites feel and then sought to find common ground. Unlike the pastoral letter, it wasn't a one-sided affair but an attempt to listen to both sides.

That is what is needed today in America. We need to talk about race and racism and find ways to keep the dream of King's Beloved Community alive. But that chat has to be honest and it also means telling truths both sides don't always want to hear.

I need to say that I do respect the UCC. I have many friends in the denomination and I also have standing in the denomination. I just think this method is not the best approach.

We have come a long way as a nation in the area of racial justice and that should be celebrated. But we have a ways to go, so let's get to having a real conversation and throw away the script.

Note: Like Rev. Wright, Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Say What You Mean To Say

I was just futzing around iTunes tonight when I decided to click on a recent song by John Mayer called "Say." It's one of those songs you hear on the PA systems of stores and I found it a catchy tune, if a bit generic at first hearing. I didn't realize that it was a song for the movie, "The Bucket List," a film about two men who decide to live life when they find out they have limited time left on earth.

I was reminded of something my boss blogged about on this movie and attending the funeral of his sister-in-law after a long illness. He was reminded about what his own "bucket list" was.

Hopefully, I have a few decades before the end, but the lyrics have reminded me of myself. Maybe it's the (suspected) Asperger's but I have been known to be brutally honest to people and in some cases have paid the price. For me, it made sense to say what was on your mind. But, over time, I have learned to keep quiet, to act like "normal" people do.

But I think sometimes, we need to learn to just live life. I mean, sometimes, people need to hear the truth as hard as it is to hear.

I guess the song just reminds me that it's okay to be honest (at least sometimes).

Anyway, here is the video to the song:

Sunday, May 04, 2008

More (Supposed)Asperger's Stories

In the run-up to my appointment in a few weeks, I've been trying to think back during these past 38 and one-half years to draw out a story about me and if it might be true that I have Apergers.

Change:Today, while chatting with the Associate at Lake Harriet, she shared that one of her sons who has ADHD, had a hard time in school. I remembered that some my worst years in school were in 7th and 9th grades. Seventh grade meant changing from elementary school with one teacher to junior high which had more than one teacher. It was a lot of change and it was hard to handle. My grades reflected that change. Eighth grade was a breeze. I was getting A's with relative ease and when I was tested for high school, I was placed in an Advanced Program called Honors Humanities.

But ninth grade was a disaster, especially in Alegebra. For some reason, I just couldn't pick it up. Again, it was a change and for some reason, I could not handle the change to routine. After that, I did pretty well grade-wise.

The thing is, these days, I still hate change, but I am able to deal with it a tad better. I remember when Daniel and I were first dating. He came to pick me up at work, and we walked several blocks to get to his car. Unbeknownst to me, he had booked us overnight at a swanky hotel in Minneapolis and I was kinda pissed. The reason, was that he had taken me away from something ususal. I was expecting a normal weekend and he surprised me, something that I don't like. Being a bit older and wiser, I was able to understand that Daniel did this because he loves me, but it was still a bit of a shock.

Literal: When I started my current position, I was never told when I needed to start work. So, I took that to mean that as long as I did my eight hours, then I was okay. I usually would try to shoot for nine, but sometimes I would come in later. The office manager would say something in a joking way about me being late. I could tell that she was somewhat upset about me coming in "late," but I didn't make too big a thing of it since there was no set time.

One day, I came in late because I needed to drop my car off to be fixed and get a rental car which took longer than expected. I came in and the boss called me in. She said that I needed to be in no later than nine to help the office manager with the phones. After that, I got the message. The thing is, there was no written rule that said "come in no later than nine." I had observed that there was no set time and took it to mean that I had a flexible schedule. But there was an unwritten rule that I was breaking. I've been told in the past that in my current position, I've not noticed when someone needed help until it is pointed out to me. Again, if I am not told plainly, I don't see it. As I've thought back, this has happened many times in my life.

Another example: Back in 1992, I worked at a bookstore in my home town of Flint, Michigan. A woman had purchased a book that I thought we had in stock. It turns out that we didn't have it in stock, so I ordered the book instead, expecting it to come in time. The woman shows up days later and I look for the book, which hasn't yet arrived. I tell her what I did wrong and that she would have to wait, even though sitting in the pile is the same book that had been ordered for another person. She saw that book and asked why I couldn't give it to her. I said that was for another person and that she would have to wait. Well, she got angry, I got angry, and it just spiraled from there. Another worker was able to give her the book and defuse the situation, though as she checked out, she had this look as if I had killed her firstborn.

Looking back, I should have just given her the book that was available and given the book on order to the person who had ordered it. I should have allowed for some flexibility, but in my mind, that book was for the person it was intended, not for her. Again, looking back at my life, I think that I have had a penchant for pretty rigid thinking.

None of this means, I have Aspergers, but it does lead up to something. More later on me dealing with the love.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Meeting Brent

Today, Daniel and I were ushers at a friend's wedding. I met one of the attendants whose name is Brent. For some reason, his face is familiar, as if I've seen him at local gay events in town. I kept noticing that he was a bit different. At the recieving line, I said hello and he replied, but in an odd way. He seemed very withdrawn and inward focused.

It then dawned on me that this guy probably has Aspergers or Autism.

A little while later, I noticed while others were chatting, he was busy at work with a crossword puzzle the bride and groom had made for people. It was interesting, because I can remember doing that myself in the past.

I could be totally wrong, but I might have met a fellow alien. Don't know if I will meet him again, but I do wish him well.

What's Your Eucharistic Theology

I'm not that surprised:

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Calvin

You are John Calvin. You seek to be faithful to Scripture, and to harmonize difficult sayings. You believe that in the Lord's Supper those who have faith are united to Christ, who is present spiritually, yet in a real way.













Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ascension Day Sermon

Note: I'm at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina for the Presbyterian Communicators Network Regional Conference. I was tapped to be the worship leader for the event. Wow, they trusted a Disciple to do their worship...

Anyway, it's been a good time. Here was the sermon I gave for the afternoon worship.

Watch Me Pull A Rabbit Out of My Hat!”
Acts 1:1-11
May 1, 2008 (Ascension Day)
Montreat Conference Center
Presbyterian Communicators Network
Montreat, NC

For some reason, it took me a while to get to learn how to ride a bike without the training wheels. The first bike that I can remember was a green JC Penny bike with training wheels. My friend Quentin, who was younger than I was, had started riding without his training wheels and my mother thought it was about time for me to do the same.

So, she took off the wheels. I think she might have given me a push or something and I can remember pedaling and then falling down. Now, most mothers might have considered picking me up and starting over again. Not my mother. She went and sat down on the front porch and told me to try again. So I did, wondering what kind of mother would do this. I started pedaling and fell again. She didn't move. I tried again. Fell again. And again. And again. Mom just sat there and said try again.

After a while I started to pedal and pedal and pedal and I didn't fall down. I was estatic. I had finally learned to ride a bike without those training wheels.

At the time, I thought Mom was just being mean, but she was trying to help me to do this on my own and not expect that she was going to do it for me.

My experience learning to ride a bike is related to what we read in today's text from Acts. Today in the church calendar, is the Day of Ascension, the day Jesus concludes his earthly ministry and returns to heaven. He tells his disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait for God's promise, to wait for the Holy Spirit.

The disciples, in a classic example of not listening, ask him if he is going to restore the kingdom of Israel. Jesus tells them not to worry about such things, but to know that they will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and will be his witnesses in Jerusalem until the ends of the earth.

For some reason, this scene is somewhat comical. Jesus is getting them ready for their own ministry, and they are wondering what he is going to do with the current political situation. It reminds me of a scene from the “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” where Bullwinkle tells Rocky that he's going to pull a rabbit out of hat. If you remember, he doesn't pull out a rabbit, but a lion. In some way, the disciples wanted Jesus to do things for them. They didn't get what was going on. Jesus' ministry was done, but the ministry wasn't done. It would carry on with the disciples, but they didn't see that. They were more interested in Jesus pulling a rabbit out of his hat, help them with their issues.

The thing is, the disciples aren't the only ones missing the boat. Sometimes God is speaking to us, right here and now and we fail to listen to what God has to say. We look at our shrinking churches, along with their shrinking budgets and wonder, what is God going to do about this.

I wonder at times, if God is looking at us and saying, “Don't worry about that. You will receive power from the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses, from Louisville, to Montreat to the ends of the earth.”

And you will be my witnesses.” That's the theme of this conference. Jesus is telling his disciples and he is telling us today, that we are to tell the story, the story of salvation to the ends of the earth. Tell the story of a God of love, who came to earth to be one with us. Share that message, and share it again and again.

I sometimes think God gets the this whole new communications revolution better than we do. God wants to reach out into the world, making connections and telling encountering people along the way. I think sometimes the church wants to have a pair of soupcans connecting ourselves to God.

But the fact is, God wants us to connect with the world and tell the story. To do that, we have to be willing to let the Spirit lead us, to have an inquistive mind to see what God is up to in the wider world.

Whether we are communicators at the church, presbytery, synod or General Assembly level, this is our charge: to find out what God is up to in the world, to be empowered by the Spirit to tell the story of healing and love to a world that desparately needs to hear it.

Let me share an example. A middle aged man recently joined the congregation I attend in Minneapolis. Before he joined our church, he visited another congregation. It was not welcoming to him and the congregation's website had outdated information. He once invited his relatives to the church and found out that the worship time had moved but wasn't reflected on the church website. He came to an emptying church where no one welcomed him. He never returned.

That congregation was not empowered by the Spirit. They were offline, not connected to the wider world and seemingly not interested in seeing what God might be doing in this man's life.

It's hard to take those first steps out of our comfort zones. But we can take heart that the Spirit is with us, that God has not left us alone in the world. God is with us every step of the way in the same way God was with the disciples as they spread the Good News throughout the known world.

Looking back, I have to thank Mom for her “tough love” approach in regards to riding a bike. In the end, she was there and I wasn't alone as I struggled to ride without the aide of training wheels.

And so it is with God. When we communicate our story, THE story, God is with us, giving us power and taking us on an unimaginable journey.

I want to end with a hymn by the hymnwriter Brian Wren. I saw this hymn as we were preparing for worship this morning. It's called “Here Am I,” and it goes like this:

Here am I,
where underneath the bridges
in our winter cities
homeless people sleep.
Here am I,
where in decaying houses
little children shiver,
crying at the cold.
Where are you?

Here am I,
with people in the line-up,
anxious for a handout,
aching for a job.
Here am I,
where pensioners and strikers
sing and march together,
wanting something new.
Where are you?

Here am I,
where two or three are gathered,
ready to be altered,
sharing wine and bread,
Here am I,
where those who hear the preaching
change their way of living,
find the way to life.
Where are you?

Where are we? Are we still looking up wondering where Jesus is going or are we seeing where God is at work in the world?

So, don't look up like the disciples, as Jesus dissappears. Look around you and see where God is acting in the world. Amen.

Note: The photo above is of Lake Susan at Montreat. Taken by my cell phone camera.