Stopping A Freight Train

I’m a little wary about writing this.

freight-01The reason for my skittishness is that I don’t want my frustrations to be misunderstood.  But I think I need to try to find someway to share these frustrations; otherwise they will eat me alive.

Anyone that knows me knows that I am a bit focused on new churches.  I’ve really wanted to see new Disciples of Christ churches in Minnesota reaching various populations.  Last year, there seemed to be some passing interest with a few people, but in the end none of the people who expressed interest were that passionate to do anything.

What has also frustrated me is the lack on interest in new churches.  For reasons that allude me, Disciples clergy and lay alike don’t seem to be rushing to find ways to plant new communities.

One thing you need to know about someone like me who has autism (and maybe ADHD as well).  When we believe in something, we are all in.  There is no half steps, no casual participants.  This belief is hard to let go.  It’s like trying to stop a freight train, it just ain’t gonna happen.

If I were in a church and saw someone like that, I would have a talk with them  They would be the best workers because they believe this.  Really, really, believe this.  But I think most churches and middle judicatories don’t know how to deal with someone like me.

It was the crazy speeding train passion that led me to start a church 10 years ago.  I still had a lot to learn and I made mistakes, but I felt I was able to find a place to channel my obsession.  Community of Grace never worked out and it was closed a few years later, but it was a fun ride.

I don’t know if I want to do that again, partially because I have a church to worry about and partly because I lack the people skills needed.

But I still want to see new churches.  What is frustrating is that it seems like no one else in my denomination here in Minnesota is interested.

I know that starting new churches is not everyone’s cup of tea.  I know there are other things that mainline churches are involved in such as social justice issues.  I know that most people aren’t this obsessed about this issue.  I know that my passion/obsession has pissed people off in my denomination (and for that I’m sorry).

I wish I could just be able to push this aside.  But this desire isn’t something I can switch off, as much as I would like it to.

I don’t think I can plant another church, at least at this time.  But I do want to help others (if there are others).  I do want to spread the word on this.

This post is not supposed to be a bitchfest.  It is showing how sometimes my autism and church life collide.  It’s hard to have a desire or calling, and be told no.

I have no idea if this blog makes any sense.  Maybe I have to learn as hard as it is to do, that sometimes your passions have to be set aside.

I guess that makes sense, but it is hard to accept.

Aspergers, Self-Esteem and God

Self-Doubt in relationships autism

I will be writing a blog post on partisanship and the church, but right now I need to chat about dealing with self-esteem when you are on the autistic spectrum.

People with Aspergers especially deal with low self-esteem, partially because of being bullied and partially because we tend to isolate ourselves when we’ve been bullied.  For me, there is this sense that I’m stupid, which isn’t true, of course, but it is there because of the low self-esteem.  Sometimes experiences tend to bring people down and it is a lot harder to shake things off than it is for someone who is neurotypical.

Last year, a blogger who also has Aspergers explained why low self-esteem goes hand-in-hand with Aspergers:

The primary reason that most people with Aspergers, including myself, have self esteem issues, is due to bullying and people not being willing to make allowances for our social mistakes. Personally I have never met anyone with Aspergers who did not experience bullying in their school years and often beyond. Being socially awkward identifies us as targets in the playground. The fact that a lot of people with Aspergers are also physically clumsy doesn’t help matters at all. I always found that certain aspects of my Aspergers made me more sensitive to childhood bullies than other people. One example is the fact that I am a very literal thinker. Until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t understand that people would say spiteful and malicious things that they knew to be untrue just to hurt somebody’s feelings. I always assumed that people were just being honest and genuinely thought that I was ugly or a freak. If you are told something enough times, you internalise it and it becomes part of your self image. Many children with Aspergers are miserable in their school years-they are often isolated and excluded from playground games. If the only reaction your peers have towards you is to walk away, how are you supposed to develop a healthy self image of yourself as someone who is nice to be around? Of course, having these sorts of self esteem issues lead, in turn, to low self confidence, particularly in social situations where you feel that others will be judging you and looking for your flaws so that they can take great pleasure in pointing them out and ridiculing you for them. This compounds our social awkwardness and thus the vicious circle continues. At almost 27, I am still suffering from the effects of experiences I had before anyone even knew that my difficulties had a name, I still have days when I think the world would be a better place without me in it although, thankfully, these days are now few and far between. I always say that, until you have looked in the mirror and genuinely despised the person staring back at you, you will struggle to understand just how pervasive and destructive low self esteem can be.

It can take years for someone to get to a point where they feel good about themselves. I remember early on in ministry, a fellow pastor ripped me to shreds. It took a long time to piece back together my confidence. Once I did get it back, it happened again a number of years ago. And again, I had to rebuild myself, a process that took years. What neurotypicals can shake off takes a long time for someone on the spectrum.

Then there are what one writer calls Self-Esteem attacks.  When someone with Aspergers does something perceived as wrong there’s a sense of shame that can act like a panic attack.  Blogger Amy Murphy explains:

“Self Esteem Attacks” occur whenever a person with low self esteem does or says something that he afterwards deems to have been inappropriate, stupid, rude, obnoxious, off target, or inaccurate. At that time, the person may experience immediate remorse, excruciating anxiety, his heart racing, his face turning red, a sinking feeling of embarrassment, depression and/or devastation. Wishing he could sink into the floor or disappear, he may immediately look for a way to escape. He may feign illness, sneak out without saying anything, or just become totally silent, hoping not to be noticed. He will believe that everyone saw his blunder and is thinking poorly of him, maybe even laughing at him. This is a full blown Self-Esteem Attack that may last for minutes, hours, even days during which he berates himself, is fearful of seeing anyone who was in attendance at the time he made his “mistake,” and remain seriously depressed.

I’ve had moments where I wanted to hide and just curl up into a ball after making a mistake. On the outside, I might not show much emotion, but on the inside I start to feel like crap. I berate myself and get stuck in feedback loop of self-loathing. It’s not pretty.

The final thing to talk about is how this low self-esteem can affect relationships. I think a lot of my friendships have been stunted out of my own fear that I’m not good enough, that I can socially engage others and reminders of other past relationships. So, I remain distant,to protect myself and because I don’t have confidence that I could be a good friend or fear that I will say or do something wrong. This has happened in romantic relationships as well, but it happens more frequently in friendships. Gavin Bollard has a good blog post on how self-esteem can wreck potentially good relationships.

One thing about how my faith and self-esteem.  I truly believe what has helped me not totally fall of the deep end is my faith in God and the belief in the concept of grace- that I am loved and called by God even when I mess up and feel like I’m stupid.  It doesn’t take the self-esteem attacks away, but it does surely blunt their punch.

I was a bit leery of sharing this.  I don’t want to focus on myself or get into a pity party in front of others.  But I do want to share what someone with Aspergers deals with on daily basis.  The world can be a harsh place for those of us on the spectrum and people who don’t have autism need to understand that.

I want to end with a quote from Steph, a woman with Aspergers, about understanding how people with autism deal with self-esteem:

Next time you see someone with Aspergers or autism, please remember how they may be feeling inside and have compassion for them. We struggle daily to get by in a world which often seems to revel in making us feel like failures and sometimes just a small amount of kindness can make our day so much better.

Indeed.

Rerun Sermon: “Three Beeps Means ‘I Love You'”

Dennis:

I’m preaching on Micah 6:1-8 this weekend. Here is a past sermon from 2005.

Originally posted on The Clockwork Pastor:

For those who look at my blog to get ideas for preaching (all two of you), I have a link to a sermon I preached for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany in 2005.  It even sounds timely because it focuses on same sex marriage. Click on the link below to learn more.

Sermon: “Three Beeps Means I Love You”.

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We’ve Got to Talk About Micah

This weekend will be an interesting one for me.

No, nothing really special is happening.  It’s just that this weekend I will be preaching from a passage that many progressive Christians take to heart: Micah 6:8 (Actually I’m going to preach on Micah 6:1-8).

You know the passage:

He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.

-Common English Bible

A lot of people who are into social justice issues love this passage and I can see why.  Micah 6:8 is probably one of the most well-known verses in Scripture.  It is used especially when talking about political and social issues.  More often than not, the verse is used to address the whole of our society.  It has been used when, for example there are planned cuts to a welfare program omicah68r for things such as the raising of the minimum wage.

But is this what that passage is all about?  Are we saying that God supports the Affordable Care Act or raising the minimum wage to $15/hour?

I’ve been thinking for a while that we are doing this wrong.

Progressives get on conservative for cherry-picking Bible verses to suit their worldview.  While I think that is a legitimate complaint, progressives don’t have clean hands on this either and Micah 6:8 is evidence number one.

People use this verse separated from the rest of the book of Micah.  It is taken out of any context and people unwittingly use it to support their own political agendas.  We forget that this passage was written to a society in Israel that had fallen away from God. Chapter 6 shows a God in pain, wondering why the people of Israel have gone their own way.  In verse 6 God is saying to the people that grand displays of piety are not what God is interested in.  God doesn’t need a large sacrifice.  What God wants is found in verse 8: God wants the people to act just, be kind and be humble.  God is calling the people of Israel to repent and follow God.  It’s difficult to use this passage to speak to 21st century American society, because that is not what it was intended for.

Methodist pastor Allan Bevere has made this misuse of Micah and other prophetic verses the subject of many blog posts and one bookThis is what he had to say last year in response to a progressive Christian’s blog post:

If the religious right and the left want to get the target of their hermeneutic correct, they need to understand that the commands of Scripture in the Old Testament are, by and large, directed toward the people of God Israel, and in the New Testament it is the church. It is the people of God that is to embody the prophets’ concern for justice and the Torah’s concern for morality and purity. And it is by that biblically based way of life that the church engages in the politics of witness that it is God and not the nations who rules the world. The church by its example bears witness to the nations what God wants of them as well. The church by its witness is not a prop for the state, but its alternative. Once the nation becomes the primary hermeneutical target of Scripture, the primary community of faith becomes the state. The church is eclipsed in this world and so is the kingdom of God, and thus Christians will in the end functionally identify more with what it means to be progressive or conservative than with what it means to be the church.

So, this passage is not about getting universal health care any more than 2 Chronicles 7:14, a passage used by conservatives to justify their agendas.

If verses like Micah 6:8 have a purpose today, it is relating to the church- the inheritors of God’s covenant with the Israelites.  So, we aren’t using this to go against Republicans, it was meant for all of us in the pews and those in pulpit.

In America today, we are good at using Bible passages to justify are own views and condemn others.  It is another thing to really sit down and think about what this passage is saying and what it has to say to me and to the church.

Progressive Christians misuse of this passage has in many ways weakened us.  We have used it to justify our progressive politics and dress up God in left-leaning garb.  We end up worshipping the state (at least when it agrees with us) instead of worshipping God.

None of this means people shouldn’t be concerned about health care or war or what have you.  But we can’t just take a passage that was meant for a different people in a different time to justify our own agendas.  Because when we do that, we threaten our witness in the world.

Adventures In Church Planting: 2013 (REPOST)

Dennis:

Writer’s note: I was going to write another post about church planting in Mainline churches, and I still plan to, but I think this post sums up a lot of what I am feeling still. One update: I am not leading the new church team anymore.

Originally posted on The Clockwork Pastor:

As most of you know, I’ve been the head of a new church ministry in my Region.  There have been some good and not so good developments in the area of church planting last year, though for the most part it was a down year in many ways.  The good news is that our group got bigger as a few more people expressed interest in being involved.  The so-so news is how I’m leading.  I want to give people the chance to step up and take part, but I have to balance that with the need to just get something done.

church planting quoteThe not-so-good things is the fact that a lot of potential church plants just died on the vine.  One planter looked like he was going to plant a new community in the eastern suburbs of the Twin Cities.  Things seemed to be moving ahead and then he back out…

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Pope Francis and the Culture Wars

pope-francis_2541160b

I like Pope Francis.

I like his tone, his willingness to live a simple lifestyle even though he’s basically a king.  I like that he is trying to be more pastoral with people, especially gays.

But while I like the pontiff, I understand that he operates within the sphere of modern Catholicism.  I know he’s not going to change teaching on gays or the role of evolution or how to treat those who have been divorced.  His style is to reach out and love people who he might think are sinning, not condemning them.

So, while this Pope is different in tone than his predecessors Benedict and John Paul I don’t think for a moment that he is shaking up the Vactican -at least not in the way that some would like.

I just wish the media would realize this.

Every time Francis says something about science or sexuality, the media treats it as if no other pope has ever said these things, when in reality what he is saying is not so revolutionary.  What this shows is that the media is obviously not paying attention to the intricacies of Catholic theology.  No, instead of doing something like, I don’t know, reporting, the media tries to make the Holy Father fit into their culture war story.

The lastest media spasm has to do with some remarks the Pope made concerning evolution.  From the media’s standpoint, the Catholic church were flaming creationists until Francis stepped in.

Political blogger Doug Mataconis shows that in the area of evolution, the Catholics have a long history of accepting evolution:

Specifically, the idea that there is anything “provocative” or “seemingly progressive” in what the Pope is saying requires one to either be completely ignorant about what the Church has taught about science in general or cosmology and the origins of the universe in particular. For one thing, the Catholic Church has not considered Genesis to be literal truth for a long, long, long time. Indeed, I am not at all certain that the idea that Genesis is a literal recitation of how the Earth and life on Earth came to be has ever actually been part of Catholic teaching, but I’m not nearly well-versed enough in the early Church to stake money on that idea. In general, though, the Church has viewed the Creation Myth set forth in Genesis, and much of what follows in that part of the Bible, to be largely allegorical in the same way that the parables that appear throughout the New Testament are allegorical.

As to the idea of the Big Bang, and even the idea of human evolution, the Church has largely accepted these ideas as scientifically valid while emphasizing that, in the eyes of Church teaching, they are the instrumentals through which God has acted. For example, in 1996 St. Pope John Paul II stated that ”Fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution as more than just a hypothesis.”  More recently, in 2006, the main Vatican newspaper published a column stating that the theory of so-called “intelligent design” was not science and should not be taught as such in schools. This was already the case in Catholic schools in the United States where, in science classes, evolution is taught as it should be and “intelligent design” is not. The next year, Pope Benedict XVI himself said evolution and faith can co-exist side by side and without contradiction, something that has long been Catholic teaching notwithstanding the fact that, at least initially, the Church did express some concern about Darwin’s theory when it was first advanced in the 19th Century. In other words, nothing Francis said here is revolutionary or “progressive” in any respect, something that even Hemant Mehta, who blogs at “The Friendly Atheist” acknowledges.

So, Francis didn’t say anything that Benedict, John Paul and many other Popes have affirmed.

The same thing happened with statements on gays at the recently concluded Synod of the Family.  And his statements on the economy.  He doesn’t say anything that contradicts his predecessors.

If secular reporters are going to cover this Pope, it might make sense for them to do some homework on Catholic theology.  But most reporters aren’t familiar with religion and so they try to fit this into the framework they do know: the culture wars.

But that isn’t the best framework to view this Pope or any other for that matter.  Yes, there are some similarities, but there are also differences.

I don’t think that only Christians should cover this Pope, but if you are going to cover religion, please do your homework.  Look for the nuances.  Look at what past Pope said.  Try to get an understanding of the issues.  And please don’t hype the stuff that isn’t that revolutionary. That’s not news. Go find what is.

Sermon:”You The Man!”

2 Samuel 11:1-12:15
Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014
First Christian Church
Mahtomedi, MN

 Listen to the Sermon

David and Bathsheba. By Marc Chagall.

David and Bathsheba. By Marc Chagall.

The story of David and Bathsheba is the Bible’s own political thriller.  It has everything: powerful men, sexual affairs, murder and cover ups.  Before there was Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, there was David and Bathsheba.  There’s even what I would call a Woodward and Bernstein character: the prophet Nathan who is the one that finally accuses David of the wrong he had done before God.

It’s easy to look at this story and leave it as a political thriller.  It’s easy to join with Nathan in accusing King David and ignore how close we all are to becoming just like David.  No, we probably won’t try to have people killed (at least I hope not), but the temptation to fall into sin is just beneath the surface.  I think we are all capable of becoming King David.

But let’s review the facts first.  The passage opens with David in Jerusalem.  It’s spring, the time when kings normally go to war with their armies, but for whatever reason, David decided not to go.  He was walking along the roof of the palace when he encounters a beautiful woman taking a bath.  He does some checking and finds out that this is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a warrior in the Israelite army.  He invites Bathsheba to the palace and has sex with her.  Afterwards she goes back home and David is probably thinking that nothing more would happen.  Of course, we know more did happen.  Bathsheba informs David that she is pregnant.  David decides to recall Uriah in the hopes that time with his wife would make it look like the baby was Uriah’s and not David.  But Uriah, along with all warriors swear off sex while in battle.  So in a last attempt, David has Uriah send his own death warrant to Joab, one of David’s generals.  At David’s urging, Joab puts Uriah on the front lines where he is killed.  David had finally covered up the crime.  He marries Bathsheba after the mourning period and the baby is born.  No one is none the wiser.

Except someone was the wiser: God.  Through Nathan, David is caught red-handed.

As fanciful as David’s sin was, it is important to remember that we are not that far from being David.  A few months ago, I read an article by anthropologist Helen Fisher.  She has done some extensive research on adultery among various culture.  She notes that while most humans do enter into a long lasting relationship with someone, also called pair-bonding, they can and do enter into extra-martial relationships quite frequently.  She notes that studies show that anywhere from 20-40% of heterosexual men will have an affair in their lifetime.  For heterosexual women it is 20-25%.  She adds that there is a 70% incidence of dating couples experiening infidelity.  And this final statistic is amazing: 60% of men and 53% of women admitted that they had tried to poach a partner, trying to convince a wife or husband to have an affair.

David isn’t the only one in trouble here.

“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” is what Romans 3:23 says describing humanity’s common lot.  David was considered a man after God’s own heart.  He was considered faithful to God.  Because of his faithfulness, Israel prospered.  And yet, this man sinned. Big time.  Like Nixon-level big time.

As you have heard me say since we started using the Narrative Lectionary, these stories are actually one story: how God works to bring salvation to all of creation.  The reason this story is part of the salvation story is that even though David committed a few sins, including some big ones, even though he had to face the consequences of his actions, even though he displeased God, it was through his lineage that Jesus came into the world.  God still used him to be part of the salvation story.  David experienced grace from God, grace that wasn’t earned, but was given nonetheless.

This story is important to us for at least two reasons.  The first is that this story reminds us that we are people who sin, who sometimes wander off, that we fall short of the goal again and again.  That’s not something we like to hear.  I remember a few years ago, hearing a fellow pastor preached.  He noted he didn’t like one of the words in the hymn Amazing Grace.  If you know the hymn, the first few lines go like this: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” He objected to the word “wretch.”  In his view it was a word that hurt people.  I can remember him saying that none of us our wretches.  Maybe that word is a bit harsh, but for the writer of this hymn, who was slave trader, the words were the truth.  We can’t understand God’s grace, unless we understand that we are not okay.  Nathan’s parable is a story that shines a bright light on David’s sins.  He has to face the music, he has to realize that he isn’t all that and a bag of chips.  He has sinned.  Maybe our sin isn’t adultery, but we have all sinned and will sin in the future.  A church is a meeting place of sinners, or at least it should be.  We come to church to join with other sinners to experience grace and healing.  A church should be a hospital for sinners, a place where we can be made whole.

The second thing to remember is that God still uses us for God’s work in the world.  We feel God’s grace, the love that won’t let you go even when we fall short.  None this means we should go and sin, but it is nice to know that we are loved even when we mess up which at least in my life is rather often.

In my time as a pastor, I’ve learned about pastors caught in affairs.  One such incident happen when a pastor was caught in a prostitution sting.  The revelation spelled the end of his time at a church where had he been pastor for over 20 years and had to be suspended from active ministry.  The faith tradition he belonged to had procedures to deal with pastors.  A church judicial committee had to place sanctions on the person and he had to do certain things to be restored as a pastor.  I happened to be at the meeting where his sins were made known in public, as well as what his path to restoration had to be.  Beside this man was another pastor, who stood by his side as an advocate and truth teller.  The pastor had his very own Nathan, that was there to stand beside him during the rough times and make sure he is on the straight and narrow.  It was an interesting mix of sin and grace taking place.

I can’t say that I would never sin.  I’m human.  What this pastor reminds me is that I’m not perfect.  And neither are you.  We are capable of doing terrible things.  But God has not given up on us.  There is judgement, but there is also grace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  Indeed.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

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