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.