Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Social Networking, Aspergers and Commander Data

One of the things that I have done at church is upgrade the congregational website and set up a presence at Facebook and Twitter. I've been a big believer in social networking sites and I tend to believe that social networking can do a lot of good. I've blogged on LiveJournal for 8 years and have made a few friends on the site and I've reconnected with old friends from high school and college days on Facebook.

But when it comes to church, I wonder if sites like Facebook make a difference.

I've heard all the stories of how churches have found an online community via Facebook. I look at our Facebook page and wonder: does anyone care that we are on Facebook? Does it matter? I've seen a number of churches start Facebook fan pages, only to have them become dormant and useless.

I'm beginning to believe that if we are interested in trying to get the word out about our churches, then we need to have a social networking strategy. What do we want to share on Facebook or Twitter? What is it we want to make known? How do we encourage conversation?

Related to social networking is the other social networking: the one that involves talking to people. I've marveled and been a little jealous a number of new church planters, one in Lino Lakes and a clergy couple in Rochester. They have been able to meet new people and have been able to bring them into their young churches.

And then there's the Senior Pastor who has put together a Bible Study group made up of people who work out with him.

It is interesting how all these people seem to strike up conversations with ease. Me? I find it damn difficult.

One of the main issues with autism is that people like myself have difficulty in social settings. Making friends has always been hard for me, same goes for romantic relationships. So, unlike the Senior Pastor, I probably would not strike up a conversation with the people I work out with since I tend to keep to myself and don't want to talk to people.

It's not really that I don't want to talk to people as much as it hurts to chat with people. I don't know what to say or how to really get into small talk. Case in point: I was at Ikea with my partner the other day. He was trying to make a phone call and walked away, when this other person came up and started chatting with me. I chatted back with him, but I can tell you that the whole situation was uncomfortable for me, almost painful. It's not that I can't strike up conversations with totally strangers, it's just that it is not second nature to me. And no, this is not simply that I'm introverted. It is truly a chore to meet with people I don't know. I don't have the inate skills that neurotypicals have to converse with others. I know I've brought this up before, but I do feel like Data from Star Trek. I think more often than not, he confronted situations where he did all the "right things" but didn't get the expected result. Somewhere along the line another character, like Deanna Troi, tells him that life is more of a dance than paint-by-numbers.

More often than not, I do try to be social, but like Data, it doesn't go the way I intended. I tried planting a church and was not able to meet people and maintain the relationships needed in church planting. Others seem to do it with ease.

But I keep trying. One of things I want to do is start some kind of Bible Study outside of the walls of the church. I've wanted to find a coffee shop or gay bar to do something that is outreach to younger folks and/or to GLBT folk. But I don't know how to get the word out or guage others interest.

So, does anyone know how you do that? Or can someone help me?

At some point, I will get this whole social interaction down.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Change We Can Believe In

In my short time as an ordained minister, I am finding one the most challenging things to take on is congregational transformation. It's one thing to plant a church, quite another for a 133 year-old church to change some of the things its been doing.

In my 17 months at First Christian, I know that people approach change with fear and trepidation. It's scary. It's the unknown. It might lead to people leaving the church.

Change is scary because it wrenches us out of our well-worn ways of doing things. It takes us out of our safe routine. It's just damn uncomfortable.

Believe me, I know. I don't like change.

It's funny how this fear of change so relates to me, especially since my Aspergers diagnosis. One the traits of this form of autism, is that I tend to follow some well worn ways of doing things. I don't like surprises. I don't like things messing up my ordered life.

So, of course I end up with a life partner that lives life at the spur of the moment.

For someone who is autistic and likes his very ordered life which calms him to have someone in your life who loves to be spontaneous can seem like a nightmare.

But as hard as it has been to deal with all this change, I have to say it has its good points. Daniel's spontaniety has helped me see a world that I might not have ever seen if left to my own devices.

Case in point: two years ago on Memorial Day, Daniel and I came home after spending a weekend visiting his siblings in North Dakota. His brother John and John's wife, Julie were expecting the birth of their first child. That Tuesday morning, was supposed to be a regular day where we go back to work-except that it wasn't. Instead we got a call early that morning from John indicating that Julie was ready to have this baby. That meant that Daniel and I would head back to North Dakota to see the baby. I think the look on my face must have been one of fear. I know I felt that way. My neat little world, my plans were ruined. I know that bothered Daniel. But as I later learned, sometimes taking a step outside of our comfort zone can lead to a great adventure.

I went with Daniel. And I got to hold John Luke who had only been born a few hours earlier. It was truly a wonderful experience, even though it through me for a loop.

Over time, I've learned to try to be more accpeting of change. It still isn't easy. It never will be for me. But through those hard experiences, I get to experience new things that I never would have known. I can do this because I have someone who loves me and cares for me and is with me as I traverse this trying crossing.

I tend to think churches don't like to change for some of the same reasons. We are afraid of upsetting our apple carts that we have grown accustomed to. We are afraid that people might get mad and leave.

But I think that in not changing, we might miss what God wants to show us. We might miss what new mission God is calling us to. God tends to be a God that wants us to experience all these great things. I can see God acting like Daniel in this very extroverted way, wanting to show us all the great things that are in store for us.

For me, I had to trust Daniel. I had to believe that he had nothing but the best intentions for me. It was then and only then that I could take those steps in faith.

For a faith community, it is about trusting God and believing that God has nothing but the best intentions for us.

We can believe in God because God loves and and wants the best for us.

So then, maybe we should be willing to change knowing that God is there with us every step of the way, holding our hands and opening our eyes to a world we have been too scared to see. Maybe we can try to not be so scared of change because in the end, it's change we can believe in.