Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Autism Reality

Alex Plank is the founder of a website called Wrong Planet, a gathering place for persons on the autistic spectrum. He has produced a short documentary about his living with Aspergers and he also talks to Temple Grandin, who also has autism and is also a leading researcher with animals. Maybe the ending for me is the best part as it shows a young Alex listening to a song and as it finishes, he walks away and starts flapping his hands only to walk back and listen to the song again. I remember flapping my hands as a kid, and I also remember having a bit of Obessive Compulsive Disorder well into my 30s when drugs were able to control it.

Watch the video and learn.

Monday, December 21, 2009

....It's For You

I'm not a big fan of phones. In fact, it would be safe to say, I have a phobia when it comes to phones.

At work, I can have a message on my phone that takes forever for me to check. I love my parents, but loathe having to make a phone call. In fact, I've tried to get my dear mother to use email to no avail.

If it comes down to talking to someone on the phone or by email, I would chose email all the time.

It's a wonder that I was a customer phone representative for four years. I wasn't a good one, but I was one.

For persons with Aspergers, dealing with what might seem to be a regular social interaction can seem like trying to climb Mount Everest. I know that it's quite common for aspies to have a fear of phones for the same reason some aspies hate being in crowds or going to parties: it means social interaction, something we are not good at.

Of course, I can't use autism as an excuse. Most people use the phone for communication and I have to learn to control my fear. For me, it might mean writing down what I want to say and even learning to only be on the phone for short bursts of time. But since I can't control the world, I have to learn to live with it as it is.

Just another one of my quirks...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Goodbye, DisciplesWorld

DisciplesWorld, which has been the denominational magazine for my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), announced today that it is ceasing publication. It was in operation for seven years, shortly after the denomination shut down The Disciple, the denomination's own in house magazine.

To say that I'm a little sad, would be an understatement. I think this is bad for the denomination and will hurt us all in the long run.

As I said, DisciplesWorld, which was an independent magazine, came into being because of the closure of The Disciple. Now the Disciple was not much a magazine. But what it did was keep us informed of what was going on throughout Discipledom.

I know that there are many of my fellow Disciples out there that look at the end of DisciplesWorld and will shrug. Magazines are so 20th century, they will say. We can get all our info from the web, others will say. All are valid reasons. But I also think all of them are a croc of...well, this is family blog.

Listen, when it comes to the web and social media, I am all over that. I've been blogging since 2002. I love Twitter and Facebook and I want to find ways to use them to foster better communication.

But despite all my love for modern communication, it will not replace what I think was worthwhile journalism. Maybe it's the old ink-stained wretch in me (I did get my bacheor's degree in jounralism), but the reason blogs exist is because of the traditional media that we so casually ignore. It's because there are people that make the work of reporting and writing their jobs, that we bloggers have anything to say. Now that DisciplesWorld is gone, does anyone really think that some blogger in Minneapolis is going to write about what some Disciples congregation is doing? Most bloggers don't have the staying power do the real live jounralism. We blog occasionally, but we have to tend to the rest of our lives.

Which is why I think the loss of DisciplesWorld is such a bad thing. We are losing a unifying voice, a place where we could come and learn from each other. We are losing a way to find out what is going on the wider church. We are losing a way to be challenged with thoughts and opinions that we may not agree with. We are losing some damn good reporting. I will forever be thankful for their stories on the Jonestown massacre, which helped a new generation understand what happened in the jungle in South America all those years ago.

One would hope this would be a case for Disciples News Service to kick it up a notch and come up with something new. It could be web-based. I don't care what it is, but something needs to happen to keep the tradition of Disciple publications going. From the times of the Millenial Harbinger to now, Disciples have used media to express thoughts and ideas.

I will miss DisciplesWorld. I am thankful for Verity Jones, Rebecca Woods and Sherri Emmons for all of their hard work, especially for Rebecca who interviewed me for an article earlier this year. You fought the good fight.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Grace, Judgement and Tiger Woods

I was checking out Rod Dreher's blog and he happened to have this to say about the recent transgressions of Tiger Woods:

He had the world -- fame, fortune, worldwide admiration, a wife and children -- and he blew it on extramarital affairs with floozies. I never could have imagined writing words like this about Tiger Woods (Tiger Woods!), but he is a contemptible human being. God help his poor wife and children. I thought he might still escape this morass with his endorsement deals intact, but that's looking increasingly unlikely. Good. Having betrayed his wife and children so grotesquely, he needs to suffer. He needs to hurt like the mother of his children is hurting. If that is possible.

That brought out some reaction from commenters who thought Dreher was being too rough on Tiger. Rod's response was rather blunt:

Nope -- not before he feels the full weight of what his sin meant to the lives of his wife and children. Anything else is false repentance. For me, the most moving scene of any film, ever, is in "The Mission," when Robert De Niro, the repentant slave trader, drags a heavy weight behind him as he climbs the jungle mountain to the mission where the Indians live. At the top, as he's covered with mud and filth, and exhausted, one of the Indians -- the same people he has persecuted -- severs the rope binding De Niro to his sins. He is free. He sobs in gratitude. If he hadn't felt the full weight of his sins, his repentance wouldn't have carried much weight.

I get so sick and tired of the cheap grace in our culture, especially attending celebrities. Tiger's publicists are no doubt already planning the Oprah interview to rehabilitate his image, and to repair his brand. How about let's remember that there are real people torn to bits by his infidelity? If I were ever to do that to my wife and kids, I hope none of you will let me off the hook so easily.

Dreher has always been an interesting blogger for me because he can get into this mode where he is calling this person or that "contemptible." His remarks have me wondering: what sort of punishments should Tiger go through? Does a Christian community have to be a place where we have people dragg heavy weights until they are "truly sorry?" And who decides that?

I don't have any easy answers, but I do worry that such a viewpoint would have us go back to the days of "shunning" and "scarlet letters" that might do more harm than good.

I dunno. I'd like to know what you all think. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Things of Heaven...Stuff of Earth

The whole sorry tale of Maurice Clemmons and his life of destruction has led me to think a lot about Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor is getting his share of blame for allowing Clemmons to walk free. Most of the political bloggers that I follow tend to view his road to the presidency as kaput.

Now I don't really like Huckabee's views on various issues. But right now, I feel sorry for man. Because while he made a big mistake in releasing an animal like Clemmons into the public, I think he did it for the right reasons.

What is interesting right now is how some tend think that relying on religious beliefs while in office is somehow dangerous. While one should rely on all aspects of knowledge, to say that a politician must not be informed by their faith is ludicrious. Christianity, and any other religion for that matter, is a worldview that informs all parts of an adherent's life. It is impossible to say that religious views be kept somewhere on the coat rack of life while we live our lives. For any adherent, it is the fabric of life.

Religion informs people's choices on all sorts of matters. Many of my liberal friends who support universal health care do so for religious reasons. Same goes for those who oppose abortion or war. The problem isn't that we have these views, the problem lies in how they are used.

The case of Clemmons poses hard questions because it strikes at the heart of something that both Huckabee and I strongly believe in: redemption. The belief that people can change their ways and live right, to turn away from wrong is at the heart of Christianity. We are taught of a loving God who cared for us even when we did wrong and compels us to live righteous lives. For a Christian, it is not enough that the we believe this, it is something that must be lived out, just as we believe Jesus did when on earth.

When Huckabee pardoned Clemmons, I have to believe he did it because he truly believed Clemmons' sob story of having changed. He wanted to live out his faith and he believed this man had been redeemed.

That's of course, the danger here. We try to live as followers of Christ in an imperfect world. We try to show love and mercy to a fellow human being and he in turn kills four cops who were just trying to get some paperwork done.

So what do we do? Some bloggers say simply that Huckabee should have simply thrown away the key. He should have known better. Once a skunk, always a skunk.

Maybe a future politician will do what many politicians do and ignore their religious beliefs and keep more felons in prison and maybe even execute a few to show the public he/she means business.

The citizen in me says just that: lock 'em up. But the pastor in me, the one who wants to try to live as Jesus did, wonders if doing that is the right thing. The pastor wonders if everyone that asks for mercy is a snake, or if some really are wanting to make a change for the better.

Joe Carter, in his excellent post about Huckabee muses that the governor was naieve. Maybe so, but isn't Christianity at its root somewhat naieve? It preaches love in a world filled with hate. It's hardly a rational faith.

The problem for all Christians, and maybe for everyone who has a faith is knowing when to as the Bible says, be wise as serpents and when to be innocent as doves. When can we allow for heaven to break through on earth, and when to realize that heaven is not here yet.

It's a problem I wish pastors dealt with more. Because while we want to have some heaven here on earth, we live in this world filled with grays. How do we strive to be a loving a forgiving people in a world of Maurice Clemmonses?

What has been frustrating to me is that few if any religious blogs are talking about this issue. I have searched and searched and found none at all. I find that amazing. Maybe we don't want to admit that this is hard issue. But it would be honest.

Mike Huckabee made the moral choice in wanting to give someone a second chance. But in this case, it was not the right choice and four dead police offers are the result.

Crossposted at NeoMugwump

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunday Sermon- November 8, 2009

“Healing Hospitality”
Genesis 18:1-5, Mark 2:1-12, Romans 12:9-16
November 8, 2009
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

While I was a student at Michigan State University, I became friends with three other people. We began a good relationship during my sophomore year and we started gathering weekly for prayer. It was a great time of sharing our lives with each other. It created a friendships that lasted long after college ended.

All of us were friends with an other person by the name of Chris. Chris was an agnostic and many of us had spiritual conversations with him. I remember one night he entered the room where we were praying. All of the sudden, the very smooth flowing nature of the group suddenly became frosty. Chris noticed how rigid we were. He could tell that he wasn’t welcomed and ended up making an excuse and leaving the room. We went back to our conversation.

A few days later, I was walking with Chris from class and Chris ended up confronting me on what had happened. “You say your are Christians,” he said, “ but then why didn’t you welcome me that night?”

I was stumped and ashamed. He had cut right to heart of the matter: here we were, supposedly loving followers of Jesus, and we had basically cut off someone who was curious about Jesus. We were not being hospitable.

That whole experience taught me about hospitality. What I learned is that as a follower of Jesus, how we treat people matters.

Today’s sermon is about hospitality. Now you are probably wonder what in the world does hospitality have to do with evangelism. As I was preparing this sermon, I decided to ask a few friends via Facebook to define hospitality. Here is what a few people said:

Inviting and accepting everyone into the group... making them feel welcome. Offering them my seat, while I stand or sit on the floor. Giving them my plate of food, while I have a cup of water instead.

Being a friend rather than being friendly. Opening the door to the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised. Opening the door to all who are different from ourselves. To me it means the same outside the church as it does inside the church.

Inviting, welcoming and generously serving the needs of others. Seems to apply both inside and outside the context of a church.

I also remember a time when my pastor had to call down our congregation during worship. Seems when a visitor would appear and try to take a seat in our frequently full sanctuary, oftentimes a member would say, "That seat's saved." John had to remind us--because so many of us hadn't had the experience in years--how difficult it is for someone to come visit a strange new church, without us making it harder by keeping them from finding a place to sit. He said, "No more saving seats in church."

The story in Genesis has Abraham meeting three strangers who basically walk up to old Abe one day. Immediately, he welcomed these strangers in and the scrpiture records how trouble he went into to make these strangers welcomed. What Abraham didn’t know is that these three people were two angels and God. He did all this without knowing that God was in his midst.

Then there is the story in Mark where four men are trying to bring their friend who is paralyzed to see Jesus. But they can’t get in. You would think that would be a signal to give up, but they got up on the roof and lowered their friend down to Jesus, who forgives him of his sin and heals him.

The stories in the Bible and the answer I heard on Facebook told me that hospitality is more than being a nice to people. It’s a process of being open, open to God, and open to those that we meet in our daily walk. It’s more than making sure visitors know where the bathroom is located, but about making a space where people can be who they are and where they are welcomed to God’s Table. Hospitality is not about doing the church doing something as much as it is about the church being something in the world.

Let’s look back at that first story in Genesis. Now, if most of us saw a couple of strangers come up to us, I’m pretty sure that none of us would be as friendly to these gentlemen. We don’t know who they are and they might be out to do us harm. And sometimes in church, we tend to do that as well. We want to be welcoming, but it has to be on our terms. We don’t go out of our way in trying to please our guests.

Or it could be that we are concerned about those people. They maybe different from us, from different race or economic background. But in keeping our distance from strangers, in not making them feel at home, we missing what God as to say to us. The reason is that those strangers in one way or another is God coming in one form. God might be speaking from this person and we miss seeing what God is up in the world.

Maybe the most basic rule of hospitality is being open to God. We have to have hearts that are willing to be open to God and what God is doing in the world. Too often we get trapped in customs and traditions that might be keeping us from hearing God.

Hospitality means wondering what God is up to in the world. Because God is not just found here on a Sunday morning, but is out there in the world and we are called to join in the Misseo Dei or mission of God.

In hearing all those responses on Facebook, what I learned is that hospitality is not something we do to get more members. If we think that we need to be nice in order to get more people in the pews, well, that is not biblical hospitality. Hospitality is about being the church. Let God worry about bringing more people in the church. What people out there wonder is if the church really cares about them. They aren’t looking to join a church, but they are looking for authentic people who welcome people and love and serve others as Christ did.

So then what is hospitality in the context of First Christian Church? Well, it’s when I hear of Warren and Karen Westphal as they stand and hand out brochures to people at Gay Pride showing that followers of Jesus love gay and lesbian people. It’s when several families here go on Saturday and cook a meal for the homeless at St. Stephen’s shelter. It’s when people like the Hesanos take part in building a house for Habitat for Humanity or when Deb Murphy starts a Children’s Sunday School class making the Little Ones that Jesus talked about feel welcome. Hospitality is about showing the love of Jesus in action to our neighbors and our friends.

Now, this doesn’t get people off the hook for inviting people to church. But it does put it into context. If we are talking about Jesus, but not welcoming the poor, or those of different races and nationalities, then what we have to say means nothing.

When someone enters the door of this church, we not only see God in their eyes, but they see God in us. Or can they? Are we open to welcoming people into our lives, not simply into membership?

What Chris taught my two decades ago, is that I was not open to God’s prompting. Here was a man wondering about Jesus and we told him Jesus was not interested in him. When we meet our co-workers, and friends and families, will be willing to be like Abraham and welcome them in as if they were family?

First Christian, I don’t think you’re done yet at a community. If we are open to what God is up to out there, then we can get ready for a wonderful journey. So let us get ready to welcome the world and welcome Christ- with arms wide open.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, October 26, 2009

John Elder Robison

One of the books that helped me as I was coming to terms with having Aspergers, was Look Me In the Eye, by John Elder Robison. It didn't hurt that John is the older brother of one of my favorite writers, Augusten Burroughs.

Below is a clip about John and Augusten from the Today Show.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Think I Can, I Think I Can...

I've recently noticed something about myself in relation to my having Aspergers. I tend to be someone that can be doggedly persistent about something. Where as others can be focused on something for a while and then give up, I tend to persist...and persist.

For example, whenever I've been without work, I've been dillegent in looking for work. I'm basically running like clockwork.

At church, I've noticed that others don't tend to have much hope the church will continue. Even though there are those that I think want change, because others tend to not be that interested in changing there is a sense that there is no hope and that we should just learn to die well.

Now, they could just be realistic. However, in my view, I tend to think that if there are some people that want change, then you just keep at it and ignore those who don't want to change.

In the whole conversation, I've been the one that seems to be the one that wants to damn all the naysayers and keep trying. I want to believe that God is not done with First Christian and that if we are just open to what God is saying, a miracle will happen. Even the Senior Pastor based on the evidence is not hopeful the church will survive.

Maybe they are all correct and I'm all wet.

When I was leading Community of Grace, I held on to that project with all my stregnth. I did finally give up and closed the ministry, but I still look back and think I didn't try hard enough.

I'm hardly an Pollyana. But I think because my Aspie brain is so focused, I can't really see other options. Of course that can be a bad thing. Sometimes you have to see other options and understand that what we want and hope for might not come true.

But I also think it has a good side. As I journey within mainline Protestantism, I tend to see a lot of what I would call defeatism. We look backward at the past and long for the "good 'ol days" when the pews were full. We look at our small flock and think there is no hope.

But what if the church saw things like someone with Aspergers? What if we were single-focused on doing God's will in our particular setting? What if we believed all those stories told to us about how God took all those "uncool" people like Gideon and performed a mighty deed?

My brain is wired in a way that I'm a doer. I might not be the best person socially, but I can do the work required. I really do believe with faith in God and hard work, there are still good days ahead for First Christian.

Maybe I'm an idiot, but I don't think God is done with First Christian in Minneapolis. I have to believe that God is just waiting for us to know that we still have much to give to the service of God's kingdom.

I think we can, I think we can...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unbinding Your Heart: Day One


Today's text was Psalm 139:

To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

7Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night’,
12even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

As I've been meditating on this passage, what struck me is that God knows me. ALL of me. And yet God loves me.

One the questions today is how I know God. I can remember musing about the nature of God when I was a kid, but it was an event in my early adulthood that really made me aware that God is here. I will share that later.

Right now, I am just reveling in the fact that I can't hide from God and inspite of knowing all of me, God loves me anyway. Quite amazing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Unbinding Your Heart


Beginning today, First Christian goes on a faith journey. Back during Lent, the church took part in Unbinding the Gospel. For those not in the know, this is one of series of books written by Martha Gay Reese, a Disciples Pastor who has a heart for igniting or starting the passion for evangelism in the Mainline Protestant Church. Being that First is a quintessential Mainline Protestant Church, this is right up our alley.

For the next six weeks, we as a church are taking part in the next phase of this project which is called, Unbinding Your Heart. One of the things we will be doing is daily prayer and also sharing our faith. So, during that time, I will use my blog as part journal and part faith sharing. I will be shortly posting something on my own faith story and why it matters that I am a Christian. So, feel free to follow along!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Support Me in the Minneapolis CROP Walk!

I'm walking in the CROP Hunger Walk. The CROP Walk has been something First Christian has participated in for a long time. After a few years off, we are doing this again.

I and hopefully a few others will be walking on October 11 at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Part of the proceeds from this walk will help fund Groveland Foodshelf's Youth Program.

So why am I doing this when I could be using my precious Sunday afternoon to take a nap? Because CROP Hunger Walks help children and families worldwide -- and right here in the U.S. -- to have food for today, while building for a better tomorrow. Each year some 2 million CROP Walkers, volunteers, and sponsors put their caring into action, raising over $16 million per year to help end hunger and poverty around the world -- and in their own communities.

I'm also doing it to help Groveland Foodshelf. This is a ministry First has been involved with since the Foodshelf began back in the mid 70s. Part of the monies raised will help their program to feed at-risk youth. No kid should go hungry and I want to do waht I can to make a difference.

So, yeah, this is where I ask you to consider giving a donation. I know that times are tight and money is even tighter, but I am asking those who can to give whatever you can to help the "least of these." You can donate online by going here. And if you live in the Twin Cities and have nothing to do on Sunday afternoon, please join me and others from First Christian as we walk and help the vulnerable in our midst.


Why Pastors and Churches Ignore Social Media

For those of you in Disciplesland, Bruce Reyes-Chow is the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He's a pastor of a new church start in San Francisco, and has become one of the leading voices in Presbyterian circles on social media. A while back, he wrote a great post breaking down the excuses used by churches about social media. Here is an example:

I often hear about those we are leaving behind by using all this technology. And while I love and respect those who have paved the way, to tell you the truth, I think that at some level if let out future be driven by those we may "leave behind," we are basically saying that those within the church are more important that those outside. Those of us who have reaped the benefits of our church heritage to this point should be falling over ourselves in order to reach people of a new technological worldview. My gratitude for the church in my life should open me up to the possibilities no matter how much I may not understand it. And don't get me started on class issues. People of all economic classes are using it technology and social media. Lets just be real about who we are protecting and are allowing to continue to drive the normative reality of church culture: it is those who are comfortable with the way the church serves them now and leadership who simply want to continue the status quo in serving them.

I've been using social media at First for a while now. We have a Facebook Page, a Twitter account, a blog and a Flickr page. I think all these are important. At times, I wonder if anyone is paying attention to those venues. I want to believe people are. And the thing is with social media, there are a lot of "lurkers" out there, watching and maybe waiting.

Anyway, what social media does is allow churches to tell a story...their story, Christ's story. People who are looking for a church can go to a webpage to see what is the story of that church. What is going on in that building in Minneapolis? Well, social media allows people to see what is going on, to see how we are following Jesus.

So that's why First Christian, Minneapolis is on social media. Why is your church using social media? Why isn't it?

Why Do Disciples in Minnesota Suck?

I've been trying to rein in my Aspie tendency to be incredibly blunt. So far, I've done a good job.

But I think I need to be blunt for just one moment.

I don't mean to be down on my own denomination, but I do think that here in Minnesota we Disciples just suck. I'm really starting to believe in a few years there will be no Disciple churches in Minnesota.

Why do I saw that Disciples suck? Because over the last few years, I've encountered frustrated pastors, lay people who leave Disciple congregations for other churches, a defeatist attitude, and a lack of willingness to be change agents. I keep wondering if Disciples here in the North Star state really care about the future of Discipledom. If we don't then we should just close up shop.

Take for example the fact that there are a fair number of Disciples that have left Disciple churches. Why is that? Do we ask those questions? What can we do to bring them back?

I don't mean to sound harsh, but I get frustrated in the lack of new ideas, of a willingness to think outside of the box. In many cases, I feel that we Disciples are stuck in doing church as it was in the 1950s. This was a time when the culture was nominally Christian and there was a certain way to do worship. But we don't live in that culture anymore and people under the age of 40 are looking for something different in a church, if they are looking at church at all.

I also get frustrated at the lack of diversity among Minnesota Disciples. We are still amazing white. I don't there is overt racism, but it would be nice if we had more people who looked like me in our churches. I would also love if we tried to find ways to plant more ethnic churches in the Twin Cities. We have a lot to learn from our Lutheran sisters and brothers that are busy planting Hispanic, Chinese, Hmong and countless other immigrant congregations in the area.

I also find myself frustrated at time of those who leave. Did they try to share their on complaints? Maybe they did, but it seems like they just took their toys and left. I wish they could put their anger into developing new ways of being a Disciple in the 21st century.

Now I love the church I am currently serving at, and I love the people there. I also love the many Disciples that are found in the other congregations, many that I know and have worshipped with. But I feel that there is a lack of the Spirit found among us. We seem to be without hope.

I would like to see a Pentecost experience happen among of the Disciples of Minnesota- an outpouring of the Spirit. I want to see the young having visions and the old dreaming dreams. I want to see a revival, a people who are not looking back at the good old days, but faithfully forward into the future. I want to see us dreaming of new ways to share the good news of Jesus.

I love my fellow Minnesota Disciples, but we need to wake up and stop sleeping. I pray that the Holy Spirit will awake our souls. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!

What if Starbucks Were Like A Church?

In response to my last post, I wanted to share this video about what would happen if Starbucks were marketed like the church. I can give you a quick summation: Starbucks would be filing for bankuptcy. Kinda what mainline churches are doing these days.

Thanks to Rebecca Woods over at Disciples World for the tip.

Monday, October 05, 2009

First Christian Church of Starbucks

Everyday before I go to work, I stop at Starbucks to get coffee. It's a habit, but I could think of worse things to get addicted to.

I've stumbled over a series of posts about the "Green Apron Book" a book given to baristas at the chain. It lists these five values:

1. Be Welcoming: Offer everyone a sense of belonging
2. Be Genuine: Connect, discover, respond
3. Be Knowledgeable: Love what you do. Share it with others.
4. Be Considerate: Take care of yourself, each other, and the environment.
5. Be Involved: In the store, in the company, and in the community.

The question all these other blogs ask is, what if the church were marketed like Starbucks? One blogger cuts to the chase:

it occurs to me why many churches are in decline. Because we have Starbucks! Starbucks tries to be everything to your community that your church used to be. They attempt to offer a sense of community, belonging, caring people, civic responsibility, genuine relationships, and enriching experiences. They basically offer everything but Jesus (which is the one thing in the church's favor).

It's kinda sad that the church is losing out to a coffee chain.

I've been thinking about how these principles could relate to my church. What if First Christian made the Green Apron Book it's mission statement? What if we stopped just talking about wanting to change and just did this for a month? Would we?

Sunday Sermon: October 4, 2009

“All in the Family”
Mark 10:2-16, Genesis 2:15-3:21
World Communion Sunday
October 4, 2009
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

I can remember the date well…it was January 4, 1978. I was seven years old at the time. I remember on that evening, my Uncle Pablo came to the door and my mother answered. Pablo announced that he had come home from work to find his wife and his children gone. He found out that his wife of seven years had left him.

That night was the first time I had come face to face with divorce. For the next few years, Pablo, his wife and my three cousins dealt with all the lows that comes when a relationship ends. They divorced officially a year later, but the scars remained, and in 1982, Pablo’s ex-wife moved along with the kids to California. Being an only child, my three cousins were like my sisters and brothers. Now, they were gone. For Pablo, the pain was worse: his children were hundreds of miles away in another part of the country. While he would see them on occasion over the years, it would never be like it was.

I don’t have to tell many of you about the pain divorce can bring, especially when children are involved. Many of you have experienced it either in your own life or in the lives of your children. Sometimes the divorce is needed, such as a woman leaving an abusive relationship. But there is always sadness of the promise of love that ends in heartache.

Today is World Communion Sunday, a day when Christians around the globe celebrate the Lord’s Supper together as one. It is a reminder that in a world where there is division and barriers, we are called to be a people that communes together, that strives to live for others.

In the Scriptures we heard today, we hear a lot about the importance of relationships. In Genesis, we hear the story of Adam and Eve, where God creates a mate for Adam who was lonely. In Mark, Jesus makes a strong case against divorce and the destruction of relationships. He also adds in there that we are to come to Jesus as a little child or we can forget about understanding the kingdom of God.

It would be easy to use these verses to support some practices that are not very helpful to the wider community. For example, one could say that divorce is against God and force women to stay in relationships where they are being abused. The story of Adam and Eve can be reduced to a statement for heterosexual marriage and against same-sex marriage.
But I don’t think that is what either of these verses are talking about. What both passages seem to be saying is the importance God places on relationships. When you read the Genesis text, you see Adam in good relationship with Eve and both are in relationship with God. What has been commonly called the Fall causes the bonds of relationship to be broken. Humans would find it hard to care for each other and to have a relationship with God.

And that’s why Jesus isn’t so gung-ho on divorce. Jesus is not saying that divorce is a sin and should never be done, but that it is a reminder of the brokenness of humanity, that we frequently break our bonds and commitments with each other.

So what in the world do these verses have to do with those of sitting here today? Well, it has a lot to do with us especially in the arena of what I like to call “evangelism without words” or hospitality.

Hospitality is an important theme in the bible. Part of that comes from the fact that living in a desert meant that that treated strangers with kindness was a matter of life and death. If a guy living out in the desert and he refused to give water to some strangers who happened to stop by, you were basically digging their graves.

In the gospel text for last week, Jesus says that if anyone causes the little ones to stumble, they should start cutting off parts of their bodies or drown themselves. For Jesus relationship was important and the gathered community was doing things that caused others to lose faith, well, that was a serious thing.

Hospitality is a strange thing in that it asks us to be form a bond with people we have never met, or think less of. Jesus got annoyed when the disciples were shooing away the children. He welcomed the kids. He wanted a relationship with even children who can be, umm, kids at times.

How hospitable are you? How hospitable is this church? How we welcome the stranger tells speaks volumes about what we believe. Do we welcome kids? Do we welcome gays and lesbians? Do we welcome those who speak a different language or are of another race or background? What about those dealing with a disability? Some of you might be tempted to say that we do a good enough job, but I want you to really think about that. Look around you here at church. Does the layout of the church, the signage and other parts of the church welcome the stranger or do they say, “go away?”

I am reminded of the work of Deb Murphy who wanted to do something for children. I am excited to see her use her passion of the arts to tell the story of God and God’s creation to a new generation. That’s show hospitality to the little ones.
I want to end this with another story. During the summer of 1990, I had the chance to intern with the congressman that represented my district in Michigan. That meant that I got to spend the summer in Washington, DC working on Capitol Hill. I can say that summer rocked. Along the way, I met a few people that became friends. One such person was a guy named Dan who hailed from Arkansas. I remember one Sunday trying to figure out how to get to specific church in the Virginia suburbs, since I didn’t bring my car. Out of the blue, Dan allows me to borrow his car. I was kind of surprised that someone would trust me with his car, but he did. I was amazed by his hospitality. What I found interesting was that about twenty years prior to this meeting, we might have never met. He was a white kid from the South; I was a black kid from the North. And yet, here we were, and he was letting me borrow his car.

I never forgot his act of hospitality. Maybe that’s why we still are friends 20 years later.

Then there is the recent experience I encountered during my trip to Puerto Rico. We went to visit my mother’s cousin, Laura. She is in her late 80s and has some severe health issues. We had a good time visiting. After a while she wanted to offer us lunch. A neighbor lady had made some pastels, a Puerto Rican dish and she wanted to serve them to us. Now pastels are made up of plantain, which is a banana like plant as well as chickpeas and usually pork. They get wrapped up in banana skins and then frozen for later use. To serve them to us meant that Laura had to boil water to defrost them, a lot of work for a woman not in good health. My mother kept saying that she didn’t have to do this, but Laura insisted. In the end, my Mom and Dad, my partner Daniel and myself were eating the pastels.

Laura did not have to do this. She is not a healthy woman and all we wanted to do is just say hello. But hospitality was important to her, even in her state. She sacrificed her comfort to make us feel at home.

God calls us into relationship, even with those that we don’t know. God knows we will fall short, but we are still called into making friends with strangers.

So as we go back into our offices, schoolrooms and cubicles, let’s show some kindness and hospitality to others. As we come to church every Sunday, let us remember the stranger and make them feel at home. Let us welcome them to the Table, and let us invite them to the Feast. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Heaven Is the Face

Back in the day, I was big fan of Steven Curtis Chapman. As I got older and away from college, I tended to move away from the evangelical Christianity of my youth towards mainline Protestant Christianity, and that meant listened to a lot less contemporary Christian music.

But even though I don't listen to it as much anymore, I still do every so often. Chapman is one of those singers I've enjoyed even if I don't always agree with his theology.

His latest single is a song that was written in the aftermath of losing his daughter in a freak accident a year ago. Below is a slideshow of this new song called "Heaven Is the Face" where he sings that heaven is not always so far away.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Where Am I Going? Hell If I Know.

This summer, I started a morning prayer time before worship. As church things go, it was moderately successful, especially for the summer.

I've been wondering if I want to continue it into the fall and I have this gut sense to keep on going, but I want to do it a bit differently. I really want it to be a time of coming before God in prayer and silence. I want some time where people can simply experience God.

I've been thinking about using a variety of materials that are out there, especially from the emergent community. I'm thinking of using the Missio Dei Breviary for some Sundays, maybe the Emergent Psalter on other Sundays, and definitely the Painted Prayerbook.

Of course, I am doing this in typical aspie fashion: just doing it.

I can't logically explain why I'm doing this, just that I see a need for it and well, this might seem selfish, but I need it. I need a time to be quiet and enter mystery.

Now comes the hard part: getting people interested in participating. I'm not that good in drawing people to events (my lack of a charismatic personality).

Well, if God is leading me to this, then maybe I will leave that to God.

Feel free to share any ideas!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

We All Fall Down

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports this morning that the pastor of a new church start in the Southern suburbs of the Twin Cities was arrested in a prostitution ring.

Looking at the church website, one can see that this church tends to be on the more evangelical side, which I can imagine will cause some schadenfreude among my fellow mainline Protestants. In fact I have already heard about how "these churches" are the ones that condemn gay folks and then turn around and are involved in sex scandals.

Others might make fun of this pastor, but I won't.

Maybe it's because I came from an evangelical background, I dunno, but I don't think this is an occasion to gloat. Nothing on the church website seems to say anything anti-gay, and even if it did, I am thinking more about the hurt this has caused than about laughing about the downfall of a conservative Christian.

I think about the family of the pastor that has to deal with all of this. I think about this new church community, including those who might be new to the Christian faith, who have had their faith damaged because of this. Sexual scandals involving pastors tend to have a damaging effect on faith communities, and these people need our prayers, NOT our laughter.

I also have to add that in the years since I've been a pastor, I have been aware of people who got into situations where they slipped up sexually. It affects everyone, be they liberal or conservative. There is a reason that middle judicatories have boundary training- to make people aware of situations where pastors might be compromised. Being in such a position of power makes us susceptible to breaking boundaries.

To make fun of this is to not love others and is plainly un-Christian.

Friday, August 21, 2009

All Are Welcome

Being a Disciple living in Minnesota, you tend to encounter a lot of Lutherans. MANY Lutherans. Since I went to a Lutheran Seminary, and fell in love with the son of a Lutheran pastor, it's fair to say that I know a few Lutherans.

And I happen to know a lot of gay Lutherans. My first boyfriend, Erik is a life-long Lutheran that I met in seminary. Erik was basically not able to go through ordination because he is gay and in a relationship which was the rule in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Same goes for my friend Brenda, who graduated seminary and has been waiting and waiting for the church to make up its mind.

And today, the ELCA finally did make up its mind and voted to allow gay men and lesbians in committed relationships to be clergy.

The vote leaves the decision up to individual churches and synods and gives room for those who don't agree.

This means that people like Erik and Brenda can now go through the process that leads to ordination. It also means that another friend of mine, Mary is now officially the pastor of the congregation she has served for six years in violation of the rules. (The synod had listed the church as officially "vacant," without a pastor.)

I am reminded of the hymn written by Marty Haugen called "All Are Welcome." Here is the first verse:

Let us build a house
where love can dwell
And all can safely live,
A place where
saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive.

Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
Rock of faith and vault of grace;
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions;

All are welcome, all are welcome,
All are welcome in this place.

Today, the ELCA lived up to that song. Amen!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


My partner and I went to see "Adam" at a local arthouse theatre just outside of Minneapolis last week. For those who are not in the know, Adam is a movie about a young man that has Aspergers. It was a good movie in many ways. While the whole thing of being someone with Aspergers is the main part of the movie, it isn't in-your-face and it was a very good portrayal unlike "Mozart and the Whale" which was another movie that came out a few years ago about two people with Aspergers.

My beef with "Mozart" is that it tended to see Aspergers as something more like a mental illness where as "Adam" seemed to "get it." You could tell the people behind the film really did their homework on what it is to live like a person with with Aspergers.

Maybe the best thing was that it helped my partner understand what it is to be an Aspie. Adam's traits were far more pronounced than mine are, but there were some similiarities.

If the movie is playing in your town, please go see it, especially if you don't have Aspergers. It will help you deal with those Aspies you will meet along the way.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Trials of Being an Aspie Pastor

I've had this nagging idea that has been rattling in my mind for several months. It's the idea of trying to start an early morning worship service (early as in 8:30am). I'm a worship geek by nature and love putting together services as much as taking part in them. No doubt, I could do a good job in putting a service together and I know I could do a kick-ass job leading worship (can one say "kick-ass" in post on worship?). But there remains one problem:

How can a pastor with Aspergers, get people to come to worship? How can he invite them? How does someone who has trouble connecting with people socially be an evangelist?

In the years since my ordination, I've come to learn how "social" being a pastor is. I've learned to do that, but in some case it tends to be hit and miss. I feel in someways like Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In his quest to be human, he tends to learn the ways to be human, but his application always falls short of the mark.

When I started Community of Grace (the new church plant), I was good at getting the bulletins together and putting the worship service together. I was good at all the technical skills. But of course, to be an effective church planter, you need people who are...well, people-persons. I was not, and to be the head pastor, you kind of have to be.

Looking back over the years, making friends was always hard and let's not get started on dating. Sometimes I feel it's a near miracle that I found someone who can deal with all my quirks.

Even in this age of Twitter and Facebook, much of what goes on in life is till face-to-face. So, if I want to tell the story of salvation more often than not, I have to be able to do in-person.

But back to the morning service. I would love to do it, but how do I get the word our to new people? Any ideas, people?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Search of Disciples Indentity

I am not what they would call a "cradle Disciple," someone who was born and raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I found the Disciples about a decade ago. At this point, having been ordained and now serving in a Disciples church, I can say that I am fully Disciple, for what that's worth. But back in my seminary days, I really struggled with what it meant to be a Disciple, if it meant anything at all.

I went to a Lutheran seminary, here in Minnesota- the heart of Lutheranism in America. So, being at the Lutheran version of Mecca, where there were few non-Lutherans, you were challenged on what you believed. I remember learning about how Lutherans approached theology and studied up on Reformed Theology, but when it came to my own tradition, I was a bit lost. What did we believe? How did that shape our way of being? What did it matter that we were Disciples?

More than once, I thought about leaving the Disciples, simply because I didn't know what my tradition believed and I wanted some sense of identity.

I do remember reading two books, Disciples and the Bible and Disciples and Theology, which did help me immensely in understanding the Disciples. I can also credit having Jan Linn in my midst. Jan is the pastor of Spirit of Joy Christian Church in the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities and an emminent Disciples scholar.

But I still lacked solid grounding in Disciples heritage.

Recently, I was in a meeting where people brought up the fact that the congregation did not do a good job of describing who Disciples were. The common refrain people hear from Disciples is the errorneous viewpoint that we are free to believe in whatever we want. Even I have been guilty of saying that we are tolerant and open to a wide range of views, which said very little about who we are.

I am beginning to believe that one reason Disciples are in such a bad lot in regards to our size these days is because we do a bad job in telling people who we are. When someone comes to one of our congregations, they want to know a bit about us. They want to understand where we are coming from.

But the thing is, in many cases we don't have much to say. And I suspect with such a shallow ground, people go elsewhere.

I know that these days, "brand loyalty" doesn't mean as much to people as it once did. There are few and fewer cradle Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists and the like. But even though people move from tradition to tradition, that doesn't mean that Disciples can be lax. In these postmodern days, identity means a lot and people want to know what is it that they are getting into. If it can't be defined in some way, they will go elsewhere.

I am thankful for the new book by Linn and Michael Kinnamon that tackles Disciples Identity. If this wonderful movement is going to continue, we have to start knowing who we are.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Quit Yer Complaining!

As someone with Asperger's I am always puzzled by people in that they never mean what they say. And one place where that is the case is in the church.

Over the last few years, I've had conversations with lay people where much is made about what is wrong with the church, or their church. In most of the cases, I could agree with them. What is interesting, is that while these people are good at pinpointing the problem, they are terrible in offering a solution.

More to the point, they don't seem interested in offering a solution. They can point to a solution, but they have no interest in putting the time into said solutions.

I've wondered a lot about that. If they know what the answer might be, why aren't they doing it?

As a pastor, sometimes it feels that you are working on your own. As much as we Protestants, and especially Disciples like to talk about the high regard we give to the Laity, most of us still believe it is up to the clergy to get things done. It's not a big surprise that pastors tend to burnout, distrustful of the church.

Part of me wonders if people in the pews feel powerless to really make any change. Maybe those who do have ideas and spark are afraid that they will be swatted down by pastors who fear their power is being taken away, or members that like things the way they are.

In my less charitable moments, I wonder if it is because they like to complain, but don't really care about making a difference. It's fun to be the one pointing out all the flaws. Better than getting down and dirty and trying to solve and issue or find ways to help revitalize a ministry.

I don't know. All I do know is that as someone once said, it would be nice to have people stop talking about what's wrong with the church and actually staring being the church.

Okay, my rant is done for now.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Happy Days

Sometime in the 1970s, I remember watching the TV show "Happy Days" and wondering aloud, what made the 1950s happy days. My mother remarked, that I would look upon the 80s as "Happy Days" one day.

I remember at the time kind of scoff at such a notion.

But, Mom was right.

This evening, as Daniel and I were heading to dinner, we stumbled upon a satellite station that played 80s music...actually to be more exact, it was playing an episode of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem, from June of 1984.

Hearing all of those old tunes, had me going back to that summer of 1984 when I was 14, soon to be 15. It was a very good summer. I remember watching the '84 Summer Olympics and that was the year that Michael Jackson seemed to be everywhere. Good times indeed.

Twenty-five years later, I'm 39 soon to be 40. I'm now a middle aged man, some of those bands I listened to in '84 are no longer playing and Michael Jackson is sadly no longer with us.

Those days of my youth were good days, but they weren't all good. My freshman year in high school was difficult. My mother spent several weeks in the hospital dealing with heart failure.

I'm thinking about how some congregations view their golden past, their happy days. They look back at those days with fondness and like me listening to an old American Top 40 broadcast, almost long to be back in those days when life was simpler.

But the thing is, I doubt it was that simple. I have to think that there were rough patches in those golden years as well as good days.

And the thing is, sometimes we get so wrapped up in our pasts, that we don't see what is ahead of us, which might be even better than what we left behind.

Congregations want to relieve those old days. They want it to be 1958 again when the pews were full. But we can't go back in time, and as much as I would love to go back to 1984 for a little while, I can't. Time only goes forward and that's a good thing.

A Disciples congregation in Nashville has put together a video that see what the church will look like 10 years from now. They are not looking at the past, but heading forward.

A friend commented that being in your 40s is pretty cool. Again, I feel like scoffing, but then I was wrong before.

The life before us can be pretty good, if we allow it to be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Prayin' by iPhone

I love my iPhone.

Yes, this is coming from a "Machead," but the specific reason I like my iPhone is because it has helped my prayer life.

Something tells me Steve Jobs didn't account for that.

About a month ago, I stumbled upon the website Pray As You Go, a British Jesuit concern that produces daily podcasts. Each episode contains a song and a reading of scripture and time to reflect on the words. I started doing this and later realized that I was doing the Lectio Divinia without realizing it.

Maybe what I like about it, is that helped me realize that prayer is not always about words, but about being quiet and listening to God.

What is so fascinating about this is how these Brits have been able to meld modern 21st century technology to an ancient spiritual practice. Pray As You Go has a worldwide following and I don't doubt that it has helped rekindle the prayer lives of countless folk.

Give it a try.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Sunday Sermon- June 7, 2008

“Come to the Table”
Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3:1-17
June 7, 2009
Trinity Sunday
First Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

A few months ago, my partner Daniel and I were invited to have high tea. A friend of mine this in an auction and she invited serveral of her friends to the event, including me.

I was not looking forward to it.

I had this fear that I would have to learn to how have tea. I was scared that I would not hold the tea cup in the right way and that I would make a fool of myself.

Well, the day came and Daniel and I went to a suburban house in Richfield. A woman in her 50s or 60s came to the door dressed quite nicely. We went in and sat down at a table that was adorned with nice china. It was all nice, but I was nervous. Finally, it was time for the tea and the cookies. But instead of worrying about if I had to have my pinky up or not, what happened was rather surprising. The circle of friends gathered and started sharing what was going on in their lives. My fears subsided as I realized there was less concern about getting things right than there was about the relationships that were happening at that moment.

The Sunday after Pentecost is called Trinity Sunday, when we focus on God as the Three in One: God the Father or Creator, God the Son or the Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit or Sustainer. This Sunday is an interesting Sunday for those of us who belong to this tradition in Christianity called the Disciples of Christ. Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of what became the Disciples, did not focus on the Trinity. The reason was that there was no mention of it in the Bible. Since we were a people of the book, it made no sense to spend time in a concept that was not mentioned in the Bible.

And he is right of course, if you read the Bible, especially the New Testament, you will not find the word, “trinity.” The concept of Trinity is not a biblical per se, it’s a doctrinal statement that came later in the life of the Chrisitianity. So, since it was considered a doctrine, and we Disciples tend to be non-doctrinal, the Trinity doesn’t get talked about a whole lot among Disciples.

Now, one doesn’t have to believe in the Trinity to be a good Christian. However, it is a way to think about the nature of God, a way to explain God. There are a lot of different ways to try to describe God and the Trinity is one of those ways. The Trinity also reminds us how we are to be church, how we are to be God’s children in the world. For some reason, the Trinity has me thinking of food and tea, tables, mission and grace.

In the John text, we introduced to Nicodemus. We find out that he is a Pharisee and is intriguied by Jesus. He comes to visit Jesus under the cover of darkness to find out more about this man. I can imagine him walking down the streets at night, trying to make sure no one sees him and then going to a door on a side street and knocking the door. One of the disciples opens the door and leads him to a room where Jesus is sitting with tea or coffee at the waiting. Nicodemus sits and the two converse among many, many cups of tea. Nicodemus was well versed in the law and believed he had done all the right things. But Jesus starts talking about being “born again” and about how being born of water and Spirit. Jesus tells Nicodemus that it is not about one has done for God, but what God has done for us; how God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus to live among us.

What happens during this late night visit is the beginning of a relationship. Nicodemus is captivated by this man named Jesus, and begins to get closer to him. We later see the Pharisee stand up for Jesus and after the crucifixion works with others to find proper burial place for Jesus.

In our Isaiah text, we see that a person is being called by God to a mission. Unlike the quiet setting found in John, this story seems rather frightening. There are angels with several wings that don’t seem like those gentle versions we see on television. We can imagine a loud voice calling the person to do this thing for God. And the person replies that he is not worthy to do carry out God’s mission. And then we have this odd vision of one of these horrid looking angels getting a fiery coal and placing it on the person’s mouth as a sign of his now being made clean by God. Once he was made clean by God, the person in this story can now claim in a strong voice, “here I am! Send me.”

If there is one thing I want you to remember, is that the concept of the Trinity is about seeing God as a God that wants to be in relationship. God is in relationship within God, and God wants to be relationship with all of creation, including humanity.

There is a painting by Andrei Rublev, a Russain artist, that shows what the Trinity is all about and gives a clue into what it means to be church. (show the painting).

Gathered around a table are three figures reprenting the Trinity. You can see the three seated around this table and sharing each others lives. Notice that there is one seat that is open. It’s an ivitation to come and sit with God.

God is not about trying to do the right thing. In some ways, many people are like I was before that tea party, worried that I would do the wrong thing. But God is more interested in having a relationship with us.

Sometimes we are afraid to be in relationship with God. Sometimes we feel that we are not worthy and sometimes we just stay away. But just as God cleaned the writer in Isaiah, we are made clean by God through Jesus Christ. It was through the life death and ressurection that we are made clean and called to do God’s work in the world.

As members of First Christian, we have been in the midst of a study called Ubinding the Gospel and we have been implored to learn to share the good news of Jesus with others. I can imagine, that at times, we might feel not up to the task. We feel ashamed that we are not sharing the gospel with others and feel unclean.

I want to challenge you to see sharing the good news not in the form of a task that one should do, as some boring task of duty, but as engaging in a relationship. It’s about sharing our lives with each other over a cup of coffee. It’s about inviting someone to dinner and seeing how your family and friends are doing. Evangelism isn’t not about trying to accost someone with the good news of God, but it is going out in the world and being in relationship with people; sharing our lives with each other. And since God is part of our lives, we will share that part of our life as well.

I want to read something to you: it’s the mission statement for First Christian. “In response to the grace of God, the mission of First Christian Church is to be a Christ-centered presence, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to witness through service to God’s World.”

We don’t go out and talking about how we encounter God because we have to. We do it in response for what God has done for us. God has in Jesus showed that God loves us. In response that we are loved by God, we can be a presence in the world, being in relationship with our friends and neighbors and even strangers. We seek to get to know people and get to know about their hopes and fears and seek ways to help them and to just be Christ to them. We seek to be in relationship when we serve food to the hungry at St. Stephen’s shelter. Being church is not about a building or committee, or pews or an organ. Those are all nice, but church is about a table,, where the Trinity invites us to come and share our lives and where we are so in love with God that we want to go out and invite others to the table.

And that’s what we do every week, don’t we? We come to this table where we are reminded of God’s love for us. We don’t have to worry if we are worthy, God has already made us worthy, God has made everyone worthy.

I want to leave you with a final image. As many of you know, there was a time long ago, when I was a member of this congregation. I remember the first time I visited this church, Labor Day weekend of 1996. I went to the service and then came home to do some other things. Later that evening, a I heard a knock on the door. There was a man in his 50s with a loaf of bread and a packet. The man was from First Christian and wanted to thank me for visiting. The man was Garry Hesser, who is a member here. I was invited to enter a relationship and decided to take up the invite. I would remember later on having conversations with Garry and Martha Harris over tea as we talked about the nature of God.

God is not calling us to duty; God wants us to be in realtionship with God and with each other. God is about having tea with friends and sharing our lives. We are invited to the Table. Come to the Table. Be yourself. Feel free to invite others. Thanks be to God. Amen.

The painting is called The Trinity, by Andrei Rublev.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Here Am I...Send Me?

I get to preach this Sunday.

The Senior Pastor, Bob, is away so, I'm up at bat. It's interesting that one of the passages that I will preach on is Isaiah 6:1-8, than ends with the words, "Here am I...send me."

Those words are also part of the famous hymn, "Here I Am Lord."

What's fascinating in that passage is how the writer felt "unclean" and not able to do what God was asking of them.

That sounds so familiar.

In the year since I was diagnosed with Aspergers, I've realized there are certain things that I can't do, like be a Senior Pastor. There have been times I've wondered if someone with Aspergers could even be a pastor, but I've decided that God tends to call some strange people to do God's work, so I've decided to stick around.

But then I wonder about other things. First Christian is at an odd place in its history where it is trying to transform itself. We are trying to find ways to see more people enter our doors. I'm always brimming with crazy ideas, and starting an alternative worship service has been in the back of my mind. In some ways, that would be old territory to me, since that's what I did back during the Community of Grace days. But then I remember why Community of Grace didn't do so well...because you need someone that can sell it and be the social butterfly and because of the Aspergers, I am not that. Yeah, put me in front and I can plan a good service, but to tell others about it? That doesn't work out so well.

But then in the Isaiah passage, God asks one of the angels to come by and place a hot coal on the tounge of the writer making him clean and able to say "Here I am, send me." Maybe I just have to trust that God will help me do my task. It might come in the form of someone who is a good with people who can team up with me. Who knows.

It reminds me again, that I just have to be faithful and realize that things are all on me. God can use my skills and gifts (if using Twitter and Facebook can be considered gifts) and can use someone else to use their skills of socializing for God's purpose.

Being an aspie means there will always be things I can't do as well as others. But with God all things are possible and God can use me, the way I am, to fulfill God's purpose.

So, God: Here I am...send me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Robot Love

Someone at church alerted me to this recent article in the New York Times about a man with Aspergers and his wife and how they try to make their marriage work. It reminded me of the common frustrations that Daniel has to deal with concerning little ole me. Marrying someone with Aspergers can be a chore. I think any neurotypical person who is in a relationship with someone who has Aspergers has to be a saint to put up with our quirks.

But I think in the end, it's worth it for them. Recently, Daniel was dealing with a bug. He was home resting and in his usual Norwegian fashion, acting like he could handle this on his own. I realized he needed to take something for this illness and went to Target and got him the medicine he needed. When I came home, he said he needed said medicine and that I needed to go and get some. I handed him the pills. For Daniel this was wonderful. It showed that I cared. For me, it was simply assessing the situation: Daniel was ill. This medicine would help. I will get the medicine so that when he is ready, it is available.

Simple and logical.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while we are not the most attentive persons in the world and can get on their nerves, we Aspies can be effective lovers, even if it is a bit robotic.

But neurotypicals help learn to be more empathic. Daniel has helped me understand the joys of life and is willing to get me out of my ruts. It's scary, but in the end, I'm glad when he has done it.

Marriage can be quite an adventure, huh?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New Movie About an Aspie in Love

It looks like there is an indie movie coming out this summer about a young man with Aspergers who falls in love with a young woman. It's called Adam and below is the film trailer:

It looks good. I will definitely be looking for it come the summertime.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Tempted to Torture

Lutheran pastor and blogger Mark Daniels expresses his outrage at a recent Pew Forum Survey that showed that a majority of churchgoers tend to support torture. In trying to understand why so many Christians would be willing to accept such a barborous act, he look to the Pharisees:

While there are more than a few preachers whose "theology" contains jingoistic nationalism and spiritual arrogance, many churchgoers, I'll bet, adopt such ideas, including the acceptance of torture, in spite of what they're being told at their local church...

...The inescapable conclusion is that many churchgoers aren't especially engaged in their faith. They're like the Pharisees of Jesus' day, people with whom Jesus often tangled. The Pharisees were, in many ways, laudable people. They were regular in worship, scrupulous about keeping religious law.

But Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. In spite of the insistence of the Old Testament that God loved his people as a matter of divine choice (grace) that should evoke faith, they turned faith into a legal transaction. God was whittled down to the size of the local peddler. "If I perform these religious duties, God must accept me," was the implicit notion of the Pharisees. When a person starts to think that they can deal on an equal footing with God, humility goes. So does a sense of humanity.

We have modern day Pharisees in our churches. They sing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me/I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see." But for too many, those have become mere words and what they really believe is, "How good I am and how clever of me to be moral, upstanding churchperson and how right I am to condemn others and make them tow the line." The actual teaching and preaching they hear is just background noise.

The existence of boastful Phaisaism in the modern US church must be one of the poisonous springs from which "Christian" acceptance of torture emanates.

I have to say that while I was just as shocked as Daniels about the casual acceptance of torture in our nation's churches, I found his answer wanting if not a tad bit condescending.

I think there are many people in our pews that do think torture is okay. But I also think that this tends to sadly reflect our culture. I would bet that a lot of Americans would think back to 9/11 and think that that it's okay since they hurt us first.

I remember having an email conversation a few years ago with a person who also happened to be Lutheran. When we got to the issue of torture, he basically said that it was okay since they hurt us in 2001.

It would be easy for me or others to simply say that they people are "whitewashed tombs" to condemn them for having such thoughts and to tell them to get right. But there is something within me that doesn't think that's the right approach.

Part of the problem here is that most Americans, even most who go to church tend to believe in a theology that says if you are good, you go to heaven, and if you are bad, you get punished. It's a natural theology that I think is part of the culture. So if you look at this in regards to torture, then people are thinking that these people are getting their just desserts. For many, September 11 is still a very real issue one that they can feel at a visceral level.

The other thing is that more often than not, the issues like war or torture tend to be "shouting" issues, things that are preached but not necessairly reasoned with. Read any blog these days and you get more people yelling at each other and clothing themselves with righteousness than in trying to handle some hard questions.

Part of the task of Christianity is to foster the countercultural values of Jesus. I think part of that task is to reason why torture is wrong. But it even has to be more than that. It has to be done in the context of 9/11 not as some hypothetical issue. Many of us who oppose the use of torture tend to act as if September 11 never happened. It becomes an abstract exercise. The average joe in the pews IS thinking about 9/11 and hence, his support for torture. We have to explain, with the memories of that dreadful day in September in the back of our minds, that it is still wrong. As religious leaders, we have to be able to feel the anger and still say with every moral fiber that it is still wrong and here is why. We have to be willing to feel the temptation to hurt our enemy and yet rebuke Satan the same way Christ did in the desert.

Maybe it seems silly to have to teach people that torture is wrong, but that's the world we live in. It's the way of the world. In the Beatitudes, Jesus begins every sentence with "You have heard it said." That's the way things have been and will always be. All of us are swayed by that reasoning. To get to "but I say to you" means having to be taught. Daily. Again and again.

It is dissapointing to see that many American Christians support torture, but that only means that I need to try harder. It is not a time for condemning, but a time to gird our loins and keep teaching.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eight Ways to Be A Missional Christian

A question I hear a lot at church is how we can invite people to church when all of the people around them already go to church? I've been trying to think of an answer and I've found one and boy what an answer:

Missional is not an event we tack onto our already busy lives. It is our life. Mission should be the way we live, not something we add onto life: “As you go, make disciples….”; “Walk wisely towards outsiders”; “Let your speech always be seasoned with salt”; “be prepared to give a defense for your hope”.

The writer then proceeds to share eight easy ways any of us can just be missional. Read it and be amazed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday Sermon- April 26, 2009

“So, Why did the Republican Buy a Prius?”

Genesis 1:1-25, John 1:1-14

Earth Stewardship Sunday

April 26, 2009

First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Minneapolis, MN

It was on a Friday night twenty years ago, that I went to conference at a Lutheran church in Lansing, Michigan. I was a junior in college and part of a Baptist college group which had arrange for me and for others to attend this meeting. The subject of the event was a seminar on creation and evolution, or more to the point, how evolution was a lie that was designed to bring about a “liberal agenda” and that what happened in Genesis 1 , that God created in the earth in six, 24 hour days- really happened. They tried to use scientific means to try to prove this.

I didn’t know what to believe back then. I didn’t wholeheartedly accept what they were peddaling, but I knew that Genesis 1 was true to me.

Six months later, a few of my friends went down to a park in Lansing where there was an Earth Day celebration. It was the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day in 1970, and being that I had an interest in caring for the environment, I went. I can say that I had a good time at that event, though I wasn’t planning on joining the people who dressed like hippies or were vegetarians.

Those two experiences left me wondering how one can be a Christian and care for the environment. I thought it was important, but people around me thought the environmental movement was filled with people who would take one away from God. I didn’t really buy that, but I didn’t see many people trying to connect our faith in God with love for God’s world.

Two decades later and we see that my question has been answered. We are honoring God’s creation today in worship and accross the nation and around the world, people of faith come together to seek ways to respect Creation.

But there is still a lot to do. The church needs to be a force that reminds the world that this is God’s world and we repent and change our ways.

But to do that, we need to understand why this is an issue of faith. Genesis 1 is perhaps one of the most well known texts, and yet it is the most misunderstood. For some, it is considered a true telling of how the world came to be. They treat it as science. Others see it as a silly tale that gets in the way of the real science. Now, I don’t think first chapter of Genesis is a scientific fact. It just isn’t. But if we are followers of Jesus, we can’t ignore either. So, then what does this passage have to say to us? What does it have to say about caring for the environment?

What Genesis 1 and John 1 for that matter, is that God created this world around us. At the beginning of time, before there was even a world that existed, God was there and God started creating. In one of the stories in the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, Aslan, the mighty lion which represents God, creates Narnia, by singing. Science and evolution has its place in describing how the world came into being, but this story is a poem, a love song that shows how God lovingly creates the stars, the seas and the animals. This isn’t some scientific text, but a love note. When we read this text, we are reminded that God loves the world, the whole world. This is what Genesis 1 says, “I am love with you.”

You see that behind me, there is a cross with flowers on it. The flowering of the cross is an ancient Easter tradition. It symbolizes life coming from death. Easter isn’t simply about Jesus coming back from the dead. It is about the healing of all of creation. Jesus, the Son of Man, which in Hebrew is adam, which is in itself a taken from the Hebrew word adamah or earth, is the one that not only brings humanity and God back together though his life,death and ressurection, but he heals the rift brought on by the first Adam, when he and Eve decided that those apples on that Tree of Life would mae a good apple pie. Jesus, Adamah, heals creation. The curse of the first Adam is gone.

So what does this have to do with us and the environment? Well, it’s this: if God created this world in love, if God in Jesus lived, died and rose again to heal creation, then what is our response?

When people start to talk about the environment, one can at times feel a sense of dread. Someone that is shaming us for not paying attention to the environment and urging us to give up our 21 century lifestyles to go off and live in the woods.

I can understand that people want to highlight the importance of caring for the earth and because of growing problems like global warming, but I don’t think we should be urged to do good by being made to feel guilty. I think we should do things out of joy and not simply obligation.

So, how do we as Christians care for the environment. With joy! We do this, because God created the world in love. We were created in love. And in response, we love God back by caring for that which God made in love. It’s that simple.

Now, to do this, you don’t need to go and live in the woods eating nuts and berries. It’s simple little things that can make a big impact and can be a love letter to God. It might be using a cloth shopping bag, or a compact flourescent light bulb, or using cleaning supplies that are less harmful on the environment. There is a lot more one can do, but this is a small way of showing love to God and to God’s world. Think of it as a love letter back to God.

One of those “little things” include buying fuel efficient cars which leads me to that sermon title. Ummm, well I’m the guy that drives the Prius and yes, I am the Republican as well. I didn’t bring up my political persuasion to endorse a candidate or to make you all vote a certain way, but to prove a point: caring for the environment is not a hippy liberal thing. It is not as the man at the seminar twenty years ago believed a way to bring on some wacky left wing agenda. No, caring for the environment is a moral and spiritual issue. We can disagree on how to best deal with it in our halls of government, but we as followers of Jesus, it is our issue. This is our God’s world to not care for it, to not acknowledge God’s love of all of creation is....well it’s being an ingrate. God has shown God’s love for us and when we don’t honor God’s creation, we spurn God’s love.

Can one be a Christian and care for the earth? Well, if you have to ask...

Thanks be to God, for the sun and the moon and the trees and the mountains and all of God’s creation. Amen.

Is Autism a Difference or Disorder?

Blogger Freddie DeBoer busts a gut today in explaining that autism is not a difference, but a disorder that needs to be cured. Here is just a sample:

Let’s not mince words: autism is not just a difference. Autism is not a category of diversity that has to be respected. Autism is a disorder, one which medical science should work towards curing. If you’d like to use the more inflammatory language, rather than cure, we can use “eliminate”. Autism has debilitating effects on many that have it, often with profound negative consequences for learning, self-control, communication, and the restraint of physical violence. I cannot personally comprehend the emotional toll of dealing with autism in a family– nor can I understand the depth and love found within the relationships between families with autistic members. The value of autistic people or the relationships austic people have are unquestionable. Who would want to question such things? But there is something wrong, and deeply sad, in eliding a love and respect for the people and relationships that are affected by autism into a respect for the disorder. Autistic people are beautiful. Autism is not beautiful.

Like Mr. De Boer, there was a part of me that used to not like the whole "differently abled" tag. And I don't necessarily have a problem with the word "disabled" if it means that people have lost the function of their legs or body. But that said, since I discovered that I have Aspergers, which is on the autism spectrum, I have had less desire to see myself as "broken" and in need of a cure. I don't think that I need to be cured as much as accomodated. I would tend to see it as a disorder, but one that has to be managed, not "cured."

What bothers me is that DeBoer doesn't seem to acknowledge that there are people with autism that are living full lives as adults. There are negative consquences, but there are also positive ones as well (witness Temple Grandin).

Frankly, I wished DeBoer would have chatted with people who have autism instead of making these sweeping assumptions.

I am curious what others think. How would you respond?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Donkeys, Elephants and the Body of Christ

As many of you know, I work full time for the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area as their communications person. It's from here that I can observe another denomination as it makes it way trying to follow God. What has been so interesting is seeing how people in the denomination sort themselves into affinity groups; conservatives joining groups like the Presbyterian Coalition and liberals joining groups like the Covenant Network. In some way, there is very little talking between the two groups. Even the churches are sorted into liberal and convervative churches with very few in the middle.

I could be all smug and say that we Disciples aren't like that, but then I'd be lying which is a bad thing. In fact in many cases, Christians are starting to mirror the wider culture in that we have sorted ourselves into places where we are with other like minded people. That's something that bothers me for several reasons.

One reason is that as mainline Protestant churches become more politically liberal, I find myself more and more of an outlier because my politics tend to skew right of center. In the olden days, I would have been called a Rockefeller Republican, and for the most part I tend to vote Republican with exceptions. But the churches where I have worshipped and worked at tend to skew left of center and tend to be vocal about it, which can make me feel uncomfortable.

But if you think I'm going to flee into the arms of a more conservative church, you would be wrong. Since I am openly gay, and most conservative churches don't like that, I don't think I'm going to be darkening their doors anytime soon. And to be honest the mainline churches do have some good points, if they would just stop making me feel I've just attended an Obama rally.

No, I want to remain in the mainline church because I want to be a witness for true diversity, to really reflect the body of Christ. I hear a lot of talk in the churches about community and diversity, but if everyone around you thinks the same and has a similar lifestyle, I don't know how diverse we really can be. Maybe I'm being an idealist, but I really believe we are called to be an example to the world, and in such a world as ours that is so divided, we need an example of people who might not always get along- well, getting along as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Presbyterian blogger Michael Kruse
has been doing a series based on the book the Big Sort, by Bill Bishop. In this book (which I have yet to read) Bishop notes that over the last 40 years or so, America has been sorting itself ideologically, with liberals congregating in one place and conservatives in another and really never communicating with each other. In a post today, Kruse focuses on the church and how we tend to segregate. Kruse is focusing on the religious left, but one could say the same of religious conservatives. This is his note on mainline congregations:

Many (mainline churches)now gather around a collection of social justice causes (with politically left solutions), gay inclusion, or being green. I find that many of these congregations and their denominations hold themselves out to be ecumenical and to be seeking diversity, yet the only partners they seek out are those who also share these values and share a similar politically left orientation toward societal transformation. Ironically, embrace of “ecumenism” and “diversity” has become one more social segment around which to create a politically left homogenous community. And not being politically left means (in their eyes) you are opposed to God’s mission of societal transformation.

“Churches were once built around a geographic community, [Martin] Marty said. Now they are constructed around similar lifestyles.” (173) Bishop points to Martin Luther King’s observation that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most racially segregated hour of the week and declares that now it is also the most politically segregated as well. He isn’t suggesting that most people look for a political position held by the congregation but rather they are looking for a church that comports will with their lifestyle; and political views correlate highly with lifestyle factors.

I think Kruse is correct here. I remember back in the 80s when some evangelical churches started bill themselves as "conservative." Now we see mainline congregations using words like "progressive" or "liberal." In short the church has followed politics: with "red" and "blue" churches.

But if churches are no more than extensions of the current red-blue split, then what is our witness in the world? Does the church become nothing more than a cheerleader or chaplain for their respective teams? Are we just enabeling the echo chamber that has been created in American life, where liberals and conservatives can read blogs, watch TV channels and go to church without ever seeing someone with a different outlook on life?

I don't have an answer for this. All I know is that I want to remain in my own creative tension with my liberal parishoners and fellow pastors. Because in the end, I need to hear them and they need to hear me. They are my sisters and brothers and I am theirs.

Maybe in the end the church isn't supposed to be a comfortable club, but a community of creative tension.