Friday, September 30, 2011

Repost: Acting, Aspergers and Sundays

From November of 2010:


Gavin Bollard has a good blog post on how persons with Aspergers tend to be actors:

I think that aspies tend to be good at acting because they spend so much of their daily lives acting - and from a very early age.

For example, it's true that aspies often don't get jokes (although you rarely hear us complaining when neurotypicals don't get ours). Young aspies quickly learn that it's easier to "act like you got the joke" than it is to take the brunt and embarrassment of being the only one who didn't. We are quite often called upon to "act amused".

Then there are those sad and solemn occasions where sometimes we feel intense waves of emotion - and sometimes we don't. Again, honesty in these situations leads to ostracisation. Sometimes it's simply better to "act sad" or "act shocked".

For years, when there was a time of sadness, like a death, I would try to force emotions and even at times "act sad."

These days, the time that I tend to act the most tends to be on Sundays when I'm at church.  Being a pastor is probably not the best vocation for someone with Aspergers.  What I've learned over the years is that pastoring is an incredibly people-intensive duty that can wear even neurotypicals out.  But I believe God called me to this, so I learn to "fake it."  I've learned (the hard way) to be more outgoing, more willing to engage in small talk and listen to folk.  It's wearing and there are times I want to run and hide, but it's important, and I do get to learn more about the people at church.

Acting is something people with Aspergers have to do if they want to get anywhere in life, especially if we want to remain employed.

Gavin concludes by saying that there is a price to paid for all this acting:

Acting can be very tiring work. You can't expect the aspie to "act normal" all of the time. Aspies who are doing a lot of acting will often find that they need more sensory breaks and alone time than when they're not acting.

Indeed. Which is usually why after church, I have to take a nap just to "recharge."

I don't want to give people the impression that being an Aspie pastor is one big chore. A few Sundays ago, I was at church for six hours during the Trunk or Treat event. I left tired and "peopled out" but I was also jazzed about the ministry that was going on at church.

Acting can be draining, but it's also damn rewarding.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Testing Out Wordpress

So, I need your help with a bit of a dilemma.

I've been blogging for about nine years, and for most of that time, I've used Blogger.  It was one of the early blogging platforms and is easy to use.  However, over the past few years, I've also started using Wordpress, not just to blog, but to create whole websites

Over the last two years or so, I've been going back and forth about moving some of my blogs over to Wordpress.  I move them over and try to start blogging there and then get pulled back to Blogger. 

I'm going through that tug again.  I tend to think Wordpress has a better SEO than Blogger and I tend to like Wordpress better.  But probably in true aspie fashion, I like routine. 

Nevertheless, I've started blogging again at the Wordpress version of this site.  What I need you to do is let me know which one you like better and why.  I'd like to have some advice on which platform is better and maybe I just need a kick in the pants to follow my heart and (gasp!) break routine.

Anyway, for at least the time being, follow me at my wordpress pad:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Autism and "Alphas"

I've been fascinated by SyFy's new series Alphas, which wraps up its first season tomorrow. For the uninitiated, think a lower-cost version of X-Men. There's a lot about the show that I find cool and interesting, and one of those is the inclusion of an autistic character; Gary Bell, played by British actor Ryan Cartwright. Gary's ability is to see and understand electromagnetic frequencies, which he can move with ease through his hand movements. Cartwright's portrayal might not be the most perfect, but I do think it is one of the better ones in entertainment. In a recent story in the Washington Times, we find out that there was some thought put into how to correctly portray an autistic adult:
Naturally, the autism community carefully watches portrayals of autistic characters on television, something the show's creators seem to be aware of. "Everyone involved in the show is taking great pains to be sensitive to the autistic community," says Cartwright. Interest in creating a realistic portrayal of autism started before filming began with Dr. Susan Bookheimer, a faculty member at the UCLA Neuroscience Program, who has served as a consultant for "Alphas," offering advice on aspects of Gary's presentation and symptoms. Bookheimer also consulted on each script as it was developed. "I read the dialogues and gave input on how this character might have reacted, the kinds of things he would and wouldn't say, and generally tried to give insight into the inner life of a high functioning person with autism," she says. "I wanted to help make the character as genuine as possible, not a caricature, but a real person with many of the issues that an individual with autism has." For his part, Cartwright researched autism in order to be able to play Gary as a real person. He says that in addition to consultation with people who work with autistic individuals, he watched documentaries and read books by autistic authors Temple Grandin and Daniel Tammet, along with vlog and blog sites created by autistic people. "Reading about autism and neuroscience helped me understand the reasoning behind a lot of the physical attributes and difficulties of people with autism, which in turn helped me create, as opposed to imitate, a physicality for Gary," he says.
One autistic blogger was sold on Gary after one early episode:
With episode 104, or the fourth ALPHA show, I am even more fascinated. In this episode, Gary, who is most accurately portrayed by Ryan Cartwright, meets another autistic woman and his demeanor and attitude take a dramatic turn. Even with his lack of eye contact (which I absolutely adore seeing on the screen) does not hide his..affection for finding someone else, in female form, who speaks his language and with whom he can easily communicate. I soo identify with this episode and the profound and not so subtle changes that take place in Garys life upon meeting someone of his...kind. (I do not want to be rude or offend anyone with some of my word choices here, so bear with me) Quite suddenly, he is Not the odd man out or flying solo. He meets a woman and it really changes him.
I was also interested in that episode, not only because they got Gary's mannerisms and need for routine so dead-on, but because we find out that woman who is severely autistic has special capabilities of her own and reminds us that even those who are profoundly affected by autism can still communicate and have value. If you haven't seen the series, which has been renewed for a second season, download them and judge the Gary character yourself. I think it's a good step in the right direction.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Retread: This Is Our Hope

The following was originally posted on February 14, 2011. First Christian had its annual Anniversary Dinner yesterday, celebrating 134 years of ministry.  I decided to make a video outlining what missions and ministries took place in the last year at church.  Below is the result.

Prayer and the Public Sphere

From Professor John Stackhouse:

Evangelical Christians have been complaining about not being included in various commemorations of 9/11, whether in New York City, Washington, D.C., or even here in Canada. But we shouldn’t be...

...Prayer in public secular events is like holding up a photograph of your mother and saying, “I’ve got Mom on speakerphone now, so let’s all tell Mom how much we love her as our mother and how we hope she’s proud of us for what we’ve done at university/work/war.” People would look at each other and then at you and think, “You’re crazy. She’s not our mother, and we didn’t do it for her.”

Evangelical Christians of all people shouldn’t agree to pray at public events such as 9/11 services. Prayer is too great to be sprinkled on a secular occasion. That’s why I’m against formal prayers also in North American legislatures, city councils, school boards, and the like. These institutions, from start to finish, have no intention of conducting their business “under God,” with constant reference to the Bible and Christian tradition, seeking the Kingdom of Heaven in all they do. So it dishonours God to drag God in for a token celebrity appearance at ceremonies for institutions that otherwise ignore God all the rest of the time.
Read the whole thing.  (And yes, I do agree with him.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Retread: Faith in Low Tide

This post is from November 2010.

This past Sunday, our church held a Trunk or Treat event at church. A number of members got together and decorated their cars and welcomed people to come by. We had a few people who actually did come with their kids. One gaggle of kids included a little girl in a cheerleader costume who went around giving everyone hugs. It was priceless. Since we didn't have a ton of kids, one could see this as a failure. The thing is, very few of did see it that way. There was talking of doing this event next year, maybe on Saturday evening to attract more folks. People were generally excited to be doing something that opened the church up to the neighborhood and well, allowed them to have fun. First Christian is a church trying to accept the fact that it's not a big church anymore. In fact, it's more of a small church these days. There are two ways to respond to that, and I see both at times. Sometimes in the same person. One way to respond is with anxiety. Pastors feel anxious because they want to do something, anything, to make the church "successful" again. We might not want to admit it, but I think deep down, we pastor-types want to see the church grow numerically and tend to think it numbers. We get mad that the congregation isn't "doing anything" to allow themselves to grow. We get mad at ourselves for not being able to make the congregation grow. Lay folk also get anxious that the church isn't growing and get mad at each other and frustrated at the pastor for...well, you know what I'm getting at. The other response is to just get out there just do stuff. You go on mission projects or decorate your car and fellowship with others on a nice, sunny day. You basically walk in faith and just keep being faithful, feeding the poor, learning more about God and having fun. Episcopal author and pastor, Loren Mead wrote recently in a two part essay about the current state of the Mainline Church. In part two, he talks about trying to do ministry in an "outgoing tide," when churches are losing members, money and dealing large, aging physical plants. Mead suggests that pastors need to learn to do ministry in this context. The long and short of it, according to Mead, is that we all better to get used this, because it's going to be a while. He has some advice for pastors during this time, but I think it could apply to the laity as well: Clergy have, now, the hard job of learning to lead in a world where the tide is going out. It is my hunch that the outgoing tide has many years to go. How do we lead the church during the time of an outgoing tide? No one knows for sure. But as one who has enjoyed a time when the tide came in, and as one who has struggled to understand how to cope with the change of tides, and as one who has worked alongside the present generation of courageous pastors to hold steady during the outgoing tide, I have some thoughts about leadership in such times.
First. It’s not your fault. Something big is going on. It’s not you who made the tide come in and it’s not because of you that it’s going our. Second. Work on your own faith. We KNOW how to keep spirits up when things go well. We DON’T know how to thrive when things blow up on us. Find the things that feed your spirit – what are they? Study? Periods of quiet? Hard exercise or strenuous games? Deep conversation with colleagues or friends? Special spiritual exercises or worship? Carpentry or Gardening? Going on retreat or to conferences? Music – listening to it or making it –whichever is right for you. Remember the Psalms? — they are obviously what Jesus turned to when things went badly for him. Try them. Whatever it is, be sure to make time for it. And do it. Find. If you haven’t already, what feeds your soul and do it. Don’t let ANYTHING get in the way of your own renewal. Third. Pay attention to the institutional infrastructure – the things like the building, the training of leaders including yourself, the nurture of the organization, learning how to raise and manage funds. Those are the things that tend to get overlooked when things tighten up – but they are the very things you’ll need when the tide turns. The blessing for you is that this is something you can DO. DO, while you have to wait, wait, wait, for the tide to change. Get busy with some stuff you can do. It will make a difference for the next generation. Fourth. Stand steady, no matter what happens. Everybody is scared of the changes going on. Nobody knows what to do or how it’s coming out. (Remember Jackson at Manassas? “There stands Jackson like a stone wall” it was said of him. He didn’t know for sure any more than anybody else, and I’m sure he was as tempted to anxiety and fear as everybody else – but he stood, and the men around him found they could stand, too. So, pastors, you must stand. If you can stand, others will be able to also. Fifth. Remember our story. It’s not your denomination or your congregation. It’s a story that begins with Abraham and Moses. It’s a story of a God who promises and keeps his promises, even though his answers often carry surprises. It’s a story that’s seen a lot of tides come in and go out. Hold onto that story. Preach that story. Live that story. So the tide’s going out? So what? Sixth. You are not alone. Remember Elijah, cowering in fear, sure everyone had deserted him. A voice told him that 8,000 had not bowed to Baal. You have far more than 8,000. Some of them you know. Many you don’t know. But they are out there, working their tails off, often not sure exactly what to do. You are not alone. When you DO feel alone, it’s your depression that’s getting you. Seventh. You may not win. We did not sign papers when we came on board, papers that said “You will never face losses or failure!” As a matter of fact, the name on your ordination (not necessarily the papers) is the name of somebody who ended up on a cross. Eighth. Prepare for the long run. Tides change when tides change. We are likely to have to lead for a long time in hard times. Don’t expect anything to be quick or easy. It doesn’t work that way. You’ve been called into a marathon, not a sprint. You may have to pass the baton to another before the race is over.
At the end of all this, Mead says something that is the hard truth:
Advice. That’s the best I have to offer. But let me say one thing straight and clear: over the past 50 years, we and many church leaders have gradually begun dodging reality.
In someways, congregations have denied the reality that things were changing. We also tried to find some magic trick that would change things and get us "back to normal." But the fact is, the world changed, and in some cases there was nothing to be done about it. So what do we do? Living in faith. As Mead notes, we have faith in a God that loves us. Peter left his boat and Abraham gave up a nice retirement because they heard the call to follow God. They relied on faith. I think in the midst of it, we are called to be faithful and put our trust in God. We have no idea where God will lead us, but it will be a wonderful ride. In someway, that little girl who gave out hugs reminds me that this is what the church is called to be, a faithful community that embraces God's world, welcoming all who come by. Live in faith. Give out hugs. Have fun.

Friday, September 16, 2011

"The Table Reveals Who We Are"

Disciples like to call that thing that's up front in the sanctuary a table.  Lutherans used to call it an altar, but more and more they've started following us and calling it a table.  Far more humble and fitting in my view.

Disciples Pastor Lee Yates reminds us that the Table reveals who we really are.  If you want to know something about the life of a church, then look how they deal with the table, which means a lot of our churches are in trouble:

While much of our church rhetoric includes the table, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our casual conversation around the table. When people complain that worship is too long, we often point to how long it takes to serve communion. When we plan a Youth Sunday there is concern about how the kids serve, making sure they know the proper way to line up. Deacon and Elder training is often about where to line up and when to move. Unfortunately, much of our conversation on being church follows suit.

We talk about numbers and programs. We talk about what music will attract people to our buildings. We talk about what program will bring people to our church. We talk about how to structure committees to better be the church. We talk more about the institution of church than how to better live out our faith. We worry about numbers and structure more than passion and purpose. Again, the table reveals who we are.

For Disciples, if something new is going to emerge, it will probably come up at the table.

Since we Disciples place such a centrality on the Lord's Supper, maybe we need to take a good, hard and long look at how we do communion.  Who is it for?  Who do we welcome?  Who do we exclude? 

But I think we also need to examine how we feel about communion.  Is this just something we do every Sunday because its been done this way forever and ever?  Is it something we want to do, to take part in?  Are we reminded about the life death and resurrection of Jesus?  Do we leave the table wanting to serve Christ more, or are we waiting to meet up with our friends for lunch or catch the opening of that football game?

"The table reveals who we are."

Truer words were never spoken.

Super Simple Sunday School

I'm starting a new Sunday School class at First Christian that's called Super Simple Sunday School.  It's basically morning devotions/morning prayer.  The class goes a bit like this:

  • We read one of that Sunday's lectionary text.
  • We have a brief discussion of the text.
  • We share prayer concerns.
  • We pray.
  • We leave.
That's it.  The whole point of the class is for folks who might want a bit of quiet time during the week or those who for whatever reason, don't want to get into the big time Adult Sunday School class.  We aren't discussing major bits of theology, but just coming for some quiet time with each other and God. 

The first event was great.  One person showed up, but it was a holy time nonetheless and that made me feel glad.

So, if you are in the area, please join me Sundays at 9:15am for a time of devotion with a good cup of coffee.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgive and Forget. Not. (Lectionary Musings on September 11)

Thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost
Matthew 18:21-35
September 11, 2011

1Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

I found out about it on the bus.

On that late summer morning 10 years ago, I was on a bus heading towards work. I had graduated from seminary the previous May and was getting ready to do my 9 month experience in Clinical Pastoral Education in a week. As the bus made its way past the University of Minnesota and towards downtown Minneapolis I heard the news about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. I didn't think much about it, at first. I thought about the incident in the closing days of World War II when a military plane crashed into the Empire State Building and thought it was just a small plane that got lost.

But we now know that what happened on September 11, 2001 was not just a little event. Hell opened up and swallowed us whole on that day.

It's interesting that the gospel text this Sunday is about forgiveness. It seems like an odd that on the day we remember the horror that took place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we are faced with a question: how many times can we forgive?

How do we forgive when someone offends us?  How do we deal when someone is hurtful to us?  How do we learn to "forget" the other's sin?

God calls us to be a people who are forgiving, but it's hard to be forgiving in a world where people hijack airplanes and drive them into buildings.

Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Webber notes in her blog post on the lectionary text that the ability to forgive is not in our human nature and she's right.  The natural response to being hurt is to not forgive, to not forget.  We want to remember our hurt and we want to lash back. Forgiveness is not about being moral, it is supernatural.

Jesus calls us to being a loving and forgiving people.  God call us to be a people that doesn't remember people's sin.  But the fact is, we fall short and with good reason.  We can't forget that hurt and we want to hurt back.

It's only in Christ that we can forgive and love.

We can't forget September 11.  We can't forget the hurts that we are dealt in life.  We can't do it.  We just can't.

But because we are forgiven through Christ, we can forgive and live as a forgiven people.

So on this Sunday when we stop to remember the past, let us also remember we are forgiven, give thanks and then live in that forgiveness.

Go and be church.

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.

Crossposted at Theobot

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What Should Pastors Say on 9-11?

Good words from Methodist Pastor Alan Bevere:

1) First, I want to remind folks that there is indeed radical evil in the world, and because of that people commit heinous acts against other people. Moreover, when we reflect upon a day when such evil was committed, we need to do a "gut check" ourselves as to where and when we have been complicit in committing evil ourselves. The Bible portrays sin as a very seductive thing in which human beings become willing to participate even in the name of a moral cause. No one is immune from "Satan's snare,"--including Christians in America.
2) The Old Testament prophets used the occasion of Israel's national tragedies to remind God's people of their calling and raise the question of whether they were being faithful to the divine mandate. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 provides an opportunity for preachers to raise the question as to whether or not the people of God, the Church, is fulfilling its mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We do this not because we think the church is somehow responsible for 9/11, but because such evil and tragedy remind us that God calls us to be present in the midst of such times and that we must never forget the mission to which we have been called.
3) That leads me to my next concern. This Sunday Christians need to remember that the church has been called to be a suffering presence in this world. The suffering of others is not to be kept at bay. Christians are to enter into that suffering, just as Christ entered into our suffering on the cross. We are to enter the suffering of those who still mourn the death of loved ones these ten years later, and we are to enter into the suffering of all who who have suffered in some form because of that terrible day.
4) This Sunday is a day to honor the courageous-- firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and others who put their lives at risk (many losing their own lives) for the sake of others. C.S. Lewis said that courage was not one of the virtues, but the quality necessary to inhabit the virtues in our lives. Such examples of courage remind us that Christian faithfulness too requires courage-- the courage to live rightly, to act justly, and to reflect the image of Jesus Christ in this world, and to give our lives if necessary for the cause of the gospel.
5) Finally, this Sunday is an appropriate time to remind God's people that in Jesus Christ God plans to put this world to rights, and that evil will, in God's own time, be defeated-- the evil that impinges upon us and the evil we perpetrate. Despite what happens in life, in the end, God will get God's way.
If you're preaching tomorrow, how will you reflect on the event and connect it to being a follower of Jesus?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Aspergers, Love and Frustration

I was reading a blog post over at Married, With Aspergers about relationships and was reminded about my own misadventures when it came to relationships.  Coming out as gay was hard enough, but then throw Aspergers in the mix and well, it can be a mess.

The thing is, way back when I didn't know I had Aspergers, but I think most of the guys I dated had to think at some point, that "this boy ain't right." 

Relationships have always been kind of a hit or miss thing with me.  Sometimes I come on too strong, and sometimes not at all.

I have to thank my husband Daniel for being so patient with me.  He's had to put up with my quirks and I don't think that's any easy task.  I also have to thank my friend Erik, who was my first boyfriend, for also sticking by me when I could be odd, which I certainly can be.

Having a romantic relationship with someone on the spectrum can't be easy for the NT person, but at least it isn't boring.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Lillian Daniel, Adam Copeland and the SBNRs

My last post created a lot of comments on Facebook.  A colleague of mine disagreed with the article and me for the attitude against those who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious."  Actually, I was agreeing to a short article written by UCC pastor Lillian Daniel and her comments have received a bit of criticism themselves.  Here's what Presbyterian pastor Adam Copeland had to say:

  1. Really? An airplane? Would that be first-class or coach? I meet with people (young adults, mostly) every week who call themselves “spiritual but not religious.” They tend to be underemployed, live month-to-month, and are doing their best to find meaning in their tumultuous lives. Sure, the phrase “spiritual but not religious” needs some unpacking for pastors whose livelihoods depend on people’s public religiosity, but I’ve never heard it as “rebellion against the religious status quo.” Rather, the phrase is more a humble testimony that they just don’t seem to connect with fancy churches. And who can blame them?
  2. As opposed to what Daniel suggests, the “spiritual but not religious” folks I talk to yearn for community. I have not found one who wants simply to have “deep thoughts all by oneself” as Daniel accuses. What might be true, however, is that the community they seek isn’t offered at most mainline churches with our endowment funds and dress codes and judgmental matriarchs and patriarchs. You see, some “spiritual but not religious” folks sense a certain righteous attitude from these institutions (go figure?). Many were once burned by hugely negative experiences with the church and it’ll take the church reaching out — in love, not in snark — for healing to begin.
  3. God is working in the lives of the “spiritual but not religious.” I happen to believe they have a huge amount to teach the church about connecting to God, supporting true community, sustaining spiritual practices, and living out St. Augustine’s call for a “faith seeking understanding.” Daniel asks, “Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?” I say, Yes, feel free to do that in your church. But also be brave enough to listen to those encountering God in ways you don’t fully understand. Learn from them.

Copeland does have some points to make, but I can't help but agree more with Daniel's original snarky response, than with Copeland's defense of the SBNRs.  Maybe part of it comes from being in ministry a bit longer than Copeland.  Just a few weeks from my 42nd birthday, I'm not the angry young man I used to be.  Things that I thought were just the bees knees are now seen as sheer foolishness.  I'm not whining as much about how unfair the world is and more willing to say that we need to develop a spiritual toughness against the harshness of life.  The people inside the church are not as stupid and backward as we thought they were.  The folks outside the church are not the fonts of wisdom we once thought they were.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

What Church Is All About

This article has gone viral and I think sums up what church should be all about: the communion of the saints.  The writer goes after the person that likes to say they are "spiritual but not religious." Here's a snippet:

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.

Thank you for sharing, spiritual but not religious sunset person. You are now comfortably in the norm for self-centered American culture, right smack in the bland majority of people who find ancient religions dull but find themselves uniquely fascinating. Can I switch seats now and sit next to someone who has been shaped by a mighty cloud of witnesses instead? Can I spend my time talking to someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community?  Because when this flight gets choppy, that's who I want by my side, holding my hand, saying a prayer and simply putting up with me, just like we try to do in church.

I think one of the million or so things I've learned in during my time at First Christian is that church is about this wonderful and odd collection of people who come together weekly and share their concerns and insights with each other.  I've seen true community happen.  I see 90 year old women make a prayer shawl for someone they thought needed prayer and a warm blanket.  I've seen men and women welcome a first time visitor and treat them like family.  I've seen the women of the congregation come and celebrate the arrival of a newborn even though the mother (and father) aren't members and they don't know the couple super well.

Maybe it's cool to talk about how you can find God in sunsets (I can find God there too, so you ain't special, sunshine), but the church is one of the last places were we can be a true community and it's the only place where we can learn about God from the lives of others.

The church isn't perfect, but I don't know what is.  But I do know that every faith community is a wonderful jewel filled with people trying to learn to be Christ to each other.  That's truly interesting and inspiring.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Can We Just Be Church?

The writer of this blog post is writing from a Methodist perspective as well as from a local viewpoint, but I think there are a lot of people who feel this way:

Generally speaking, there is a perception in Springfield that there are only two options in choosing churches. The first I will call “evangelical.” Congregations of this option are perceived as large churches with relatively newer and fancier facilities. They are perceived as younger, comprised of families with school age children. The perception is that they are conservative, and focus exclusively on one’s personal relationship with Jesus and getting into heaven when one dies.

The second perceived option I will call “social justice.” It is perceived as the alternative to “evangelical.” Congregations of this option are perceived as smaller in size with older or more basic buildings. The perception is that they are comprised of older people, retirees and empty nesters. They are perceived as liberal, and focus exclusively on helping people who need help and making the earth a better place in this lifetime...

...A dynamic of these two prevailing models for congregations in Springfield is that people who associate with one tend to view the other in very generalized, stereotypical ways. The atmosphere in this community is highly polarized; there seems to be a strong either/or mentality in the Ozarks that predominates the public discourse. This trickles into the church culture as well. While the truth is far more nuanced, it seems that Christians in Springfield are labeled either an evangelical or a social justice type...

I have witnessed a spiritual hunger in this community for church-without-agenda. “Can’t anyone just be church?” is a question posed in some form in multiple conversations I have had with people who are not a part of a congregation. And a church “just being church” takes only one agenda as their own - God’s agenda - for which another term could be God’s mission, the mysterious and transcendent Missio Dei. God’s mission is made known in Christ Jesus, who not only came to announce the mission and undertake the mission, but to embody it. The mysterious and transcendent made flesh and blood in Jesus of Nazareth.
Since I'm an out, gay pastor, there are folks who probably think I have an agenda.  There are others who have an agenda and don't like my perceived agenda. 

But the reality is, I wish we could just be church.  I wish those of us who call ourselves Christians would learn how to love each other, even when we disagree. 

Of course, that would mean actually trying to follow Jesus, something that I think we fail to do, no matter which side we come down on.

Is "The Help" A Modern Tale on Materialism?

So says, Elijah Davidson:

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s serves as the backcloth for The Help, but I did not walk out of the theater with a renewed commitment to racial equality. I left deeply appreciative of women and deeply disturbed by how women are affected by our materialistic culture. To reiterate, The Help, I contend, is not about racism. It's not about sexism either. I saw in The Help a depiction of the destructive power of materialism.

The Help's villain is Hilly Holbrook, a racist, vindictive woman portrayed with vicious glee by Bryce Dallas Howard. Hilly reigns supreme at the apex of Jackson's social pyramid. She is the one lobbying for mandatory separate restrooms for blacks and whites. She is the one who excludes other white women who she feels don't belong in proper society. She is the one whose comeuppance symbolizes victory for the maltreated and misused. The audience is supposed to hate Hilly and all for which she stands.

It worked. For the first hour and forty-five minutes of the film, I hated her with passion. Then I realized the sadness and desperation of her own life. Hilly does not sit enthroned atop a gleaming pyramid. She reigns over a travesty. This is a truth not lost on the filmmakers themselves, as they make clear in Hilly's final confrontation with Aibileen.

Hilly is so desperate to keep everyone else down because all she has is her little self-created kingdom of social standing and wealth. Everything she does is an attempt to shore up the walls of this kingdom. She organizes "coat drives" to remind herself that she is not poor. Her women's committee lies to itself about making "a big dent" in African hunger. Her crusade against the housekeepers is born out of guilt that she is incapable of keeping her house on her own. She must denigrate the black women around her because they are ever present reminders of her own inadequacy and the weakness of her way of life.

Appearances are everything to Hilly and her covey of similarly self-interested wealthy, white women, because appearances are all they really have. The shocking revelation contained in the housekeepers' book isn't that racism runs rampant in Jackson society. It's that Jackson society is a sham.

The white women in Jackson are nothing without their housekeepers. They cannot cook. They cannot clean. They cannot take care of their children. More so, even with those responsibilities shoved off on their housekeepers, The Help demonstrates that the women cannot maintain their way of life, the deeper irony being that the oppressors (the white women) are themselves oppressed by the culture of Materialism.
 I will agree with Elijah that there is something in the movie about serving the gods of materialism, but I still think The Help is a story about racism.  Thankfully, the racism depicted in the film is now more a piece of history than it is the day to day life of black folks.  But in the end, this is story about America's recent past which had some racist bits.

It's also the lived history of a lot of living African Americans like my father, who grew up in Jim Crow Louisiana.  I remember recently hearing one of my older cousins who was born in Louisiana in the late 40s talk about his experience receiving care in charity hospital in Central Louisiana and let's just say the care wasn't top notch.

I'm not saying that materialism is a part of the story in the movie.  But this movie is about racism and how it affects the people in that situation.  I think that needs to be acknowledged and not downplayed.

There is one thing I totally agree with this take on The Help.  It's one of the final scenes that seems to me reminiscent of communion:

The scenes I found most poignant, though, were a scene in which Aibileen's friend and co-conspirator Minnie is presented with a feast by her employers and an immediately following scene in which Aibileen's church community applauds her and the risk she has taken to tell her story. I was struck then with the conviction that all women deserve a feast, and all women deserve applause for what they have done both to sustain us and to set us free.
Minnie ends up working for a white woman who is a bit of mess.  She can't cook and is shunned by the other women in Jackson.  The relationship that develops between the two outcasts is wonderful and the closing scene is one where the woman learns to cook and she makes a massive feast for Minnie.  The scene shows a white woman and a black woman sitting down together to eat a wonderful meal.  If that isn't a demonstration of what communion is all about, I don't know what is.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

"The Help"

My partner and I recently saw "The Help," a hit movie that takes place in Civil Rights-era Jackson, Mississippi.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the movie.  I didn't think it would be any good, but it was able to tell a good story about the lives of upper middle class white women and their African American maids.  There are a lot of movies that have tried and I think failed to tell the story of the civil rights movement (I'm looking at you, Mississippi Burning), but this one got the story right.

Presbyterian pastor Paul Moore did a good job of a giving a review of the movie.  Here's what he said after watching the movie with his young daughter:

I’m glad Hannah watched “The Help” with me. It gave us a chance to leave a world that values Facebook and brand clothes to talk about issues that really matter. There was something at stake in what happened in the movie. Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny didn’t change the world, but they shared stories that illustrated the ugliness of their age. Their courage transcends time. 

I don't really want to use the word "feel good movie," because well, the times were not feel-good.  But you do leave feeling that there are some courageous people in the world and some of them might be sitting right next to you.  Go see the movie, you'll be glad you did.