God of course, calls us to do justice. The issues we have talked about including the separation of immigrant children from parents demand that we speak out. But God also calls us to love our enemies. Paul’s letter to the Colossians calls us to be tolerant and forgiving.
If you heard my sermon from last week, you know I talked a bit about how we have been church in these last few months. The coronavirus has forced us to move the church into a virtual model. We are learning how to use technology for worship, fellowship, and coming soon, Bible Study.
While I know many of you would like things to go back to normal, that isn’t happening any time soon. As long as COVID-19 is still not under control, it is hard for us to get back into our building without putting people at high risk.
So, what is God calling us to do in this place at this time? Because, while we can’t worship together, we are still a church. But how do we do that?
As we head into fall, our new worship theme will be “The Church Has Left the Building: Love God, Love Church, Love Neighbors.” We are focusing on Matthew 16:13-20 where Peter confesses Jesus is the Christ.
First Christian Church of St. Paul isn’t closed. Instead, the church has been dispersed throughout the Twin Cities Metro area. So how can this church that is without a building remain faithful to God and serving our sisters and brothers? How do we live out our confession as Jesus being the Christ?
During the fall we will look at how to love God, love church, and love neighbors during this time apart. How do we fellowship during this time? How do we pray for each other? How do we continue to give our offering not simply to meet the budget, but as part of our discipleship to God? How do we help our neighbors who are suffering from lack of food or housing at this time? How are we a witness of inclusion and love in a time when we are so divided?
We will try to answer those questions and more starting on September 13. This fall we will be reminded that the building isn’t First Christian Church of St. Paul. We are.
What is God up to?
I’ve been hearing that phrase over and over lately. It’s the focus on a book I’m reading, the Crucifixion of Ministry by Andrew Purves. It’s the sense that instead of engaging in the business of ministry as if it’s all up to us, Purves wants pastors to step back and let go. God is the one that saves and redeems and it isn’t us.
I will admit, that frustrates me. You are taught all these skills in seminary and the culture around us tells us very plainly that if we aren’t doing something that can bring in more people to come to worship, then it’s all our fault.
I’ve been at my congregation now for seven years and in those years we haven’t really grown much over that time. It’s hard for me to not wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Am I praying enough. How about reading the Bible. I need to start a Faith on Tap!
But wondering what God is both intriguing and maddening. It’s intriguing because finding out what God is up to means trying to be attentive to what God is doing in our world and especially in our neighborhood. What have we missed by being so involved in busy work?
But looking for God is also scary, because it feels like quietism- meaning just end up doing nothing and waiting for God to do something.
Maybe that’s not what it means. Maybe it means living our lives and observe how God worked in our lives and the lives of others.
This past week, I was in a drive thru lane waiting to get my food. I come up to the window ready to pay for my meal when I find out that someone, probably the person that was ahead of me, paid for my meal. It was fascinating that this happened to me once, but it happened TWICE. Two times I was in a drive thru lane and twice someone paid my bill.
I do wonder if I should have done a good deed and paid it forward for the person behind me. I didn’t and I wonder if should have. What was God up to in those moments? What does it mean for my life or for the ministry I’m involved in.
Elizabeth Eaton, the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, wrote in early 2019 about the church is worried about our church. Churches are shrinking, budgets are tightening, people are leaving. We want to know what we can do an we spend time at conferences wondering what we can do to help our congregation grow.
But Eaton thinks we are asking the wrong question. We should be answering what God is up to. She quotes from Isaiah 43 about God doing a new thing and are we open to seeing it. Can we see that new thing happening or are we trying to recreate a past? Eaton writes:
If we want to attract people to our congregations to rebuild a memory, God will not bless our efforts. But if we—grabbed by the Spirit in baptism, changed by the word, intimately and lovingly connected to Jesus and each other in communion, and set free by grace to serve the neighbor—invite all people into true life, then we shall become part of the answer.
This takes attention and devotion. Worship, prayer, Scripture study, generosity and service—not in order to save the church, but in response to the new life God has given us in Christ.
What we are being called to do is basically to live our lives faithfully. Go to worship. Pray daily. Serve others. As she says, we don’t do this to save the church and we shouldn’t be spending time “saving the church.” What we are called to do is live a life of thankfulness to the new things God is doing.
I still don’t know what that paying forward meant, but maybe it’s reminding me to be thankful to God’s work in the world.
I pray that I not tie myself in knots in trying to “save the church.” I can’t save this congregation because it was never mine to save. But I do want to take the time to live out my ministry and see God working in the world. Who knows? It might lead to a renewal of my church and maybe your church as well.
Like a lot of congregations, First Christian has been worshipping apart since March. It’s been going okay, though I’m glad I had some skills in video editing before this all hit. I wanted to share with you a sample from last week’s service. The first is a video from the sermon by my friend Rob. The second is yours truly giving the prayer. If you want to see the full video, go over to the church website. I hope it’s good news to your soul.
Nonesuch is a video I do each Friday reflecting on the sermon text for Sunday. Below is the written version with the video below. There is some difference in the two, so read the reflection and then listen to it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about coming to terms with my Aspergers and possible ADHD ever since I was let go from my tentmaking job two months ago. When you have neurological differences that can make it hard to work and participate in society, you start to wonder what in the world can you contribute to the betterment of the world?
There are reasons that someone like me might wonder if they matter in the world and that’s because of how the world treats them. People make fun of you. Or they get mad at you. And they give up on you. You live with this sense of shame and start to think you are a failure. Someone who is always going to fail at what they do and disappoint everyone around you.
This coming Sunday I’m preaching one of my favorite texts, Romans 12:1-8. In my sermon, I focused more on verse one, but the rest of the passage has some good stuff. I want to read verses 4-8:
4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Paul is telling the church that everyone in the community has different gifts. There isn’t a gift that is more important than another. All of the gifts of the community are part of the body of Christ.
I think that means a lot. Maybe Paul didn’t have any idea about persons with disabilities when he wrote this passage, but I think it has a lot to say about the modern church. Because it tells us that everyone is part of the body of Christ, even those people who have autism or ADHD or dyslexia. The world sees them as failures, but God sees them as people created with value.
One of the things I never knew about Vice President Joe Biden is that he stutters. You wouldn’t have known that because he has trained himself to manage his stuttering. When he was young, a teacher at school made fun of his stutter. The teacher happened to be a nun. It was his mother that brought him back to school and tore the nun a new one over her behavior. Because his mother stood up for him, he was able to help a young boy named Brayden Harrington who also stutters. Biden met the 13-year-old in New Hampshire and gave him some pointers in how to deal with his stuttering. Last night, Brayden spoke on national television about his visit. He did it stutters and all. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen. We saw a kid that realized that he mattered. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t “normal,” he had gifts to share.
If you are part of a congregation, know that there are probably people in your congregation who stutter or have some sort of neurodiversity like autism or ADHD. Let them know in some way that they matter. Help them participate in church life. Be patient with them as they express their gifts. Always, always let them know that they are loved by you and most importantly, by God. You need to do that because in their lives, they are usually told that they don’t matter. They need to know that they can contribute to the body of Christ because they are part of the body of Christ.
So, to Brayden and everyone who has been told they don’t fit or have made to feel ashamed of who they are, know that you are loved by God and you have something to contribute to the mission of God.
Below is the video version of this post.
Anger and I have always had a strange relationship.
Throughout my life, the message has always been that I can’t be angry. If I respond angrily to something, people get upset or think something is wrong with me. The end result is that I learn to bury my anger. To not show people when I feel they let me down. To not express my exasperation plans go awry. To not demonstrate when people I care about seem to not give a damn about something. Other people can get angry, they can get angry at me, but I can’t get angry.
I sometimes wonder if that has anything to do with the fear people have of angry black men. Of course, not everything in this world is racial.
I don’t think it’s good to hide your anger. I wish I could be angry and the first thing people do is not react angrily to my anger. I wish they understood how I feel before rushing to defend themselves.
But maybe at the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter how others feel. If they are offended, oh well. If they want to break off a friendship, then maybe they weren’t my friend, to begin with. If they are hurt that I got angry at them, big whoop.
Because I’m tired of hiding my anger. Doing that is just taking poison into your soul.
Early this morning, I woke up with a thought in my head:
Why do people hate me?
I know that not everyone hates me. But I know that in the recent past I’ve encounter people in my worklife who are furious with me on one matter or another. Having autism means that work is already difficult and of course it shows itself at work. Most colleagues and supervisors don’t understand so they respond in anger telling you how you are lazy or uncaring. They never see how hard to you try to do your best and they never really acknowledge when you do good work. When it seems like everyone at work starts to yell at you, you start to wonder if you really are bad. You wonder if you are truly incompetent. You can feel the contempt for workmates or supervisors. Even worse is when people think you don’t shouldn’t even be doing what your doing. Maybe you shouldn’t be a pastor. This writing thing really isn’t for you. When you look for work, and see a job that you are interested in, you start to wonder if you should even bother trying. Maybe you should just work at flipping burgers.
But the thing is, I know that I am talented. All I have to do is look at my portfolio and remember my experiences. I know that I make mistakes. I know that I might not always meet people’s standards. But I also know that I’m not just a f*uckup either. Most people with autism or ADHD or dyslexia are talented. But people don’t understand, or don’t care to understand about hidden disabilities. They don’t have time to learn. But they do have time to criticize people and tell them they aren’t wanted in their workplace.
What I wish more people in work environments did is do more encouraging instead of looking down at people or letting them go because you don’t think they measure up. People who are neurodiverse hear that they are failures all the time, they really don’t need to have their bosses doing it. Maybe managers or coworkers think this holding someone’s hand who is an adult. Yes, it is. What the hell is wrong with that?
We’ve made work into some kind of Darwinian race where only the most talented or the best at hiding their problems are the ones that advance in their careers. Work is not some goddamn prize for the best people. It is a place that allows people to make their way in the world. If we can’t offer some help to those that need a little bit of help to get by, what kind of workplace are you?
I know I have my issues. I know that I can be frustrating to others. If you think you are frustrated, know that it is hard being in this skin. Start thinking about how the person you are talking to feels, because 9 times out of ten, they are frustrated with themselves.
I want to be in a place where I am encouraged and not always treated like I just murdered puppies for fun. So does a lot of neurodiverse people. We have a lot to offer if you stop thinking about yourselves and thinking about your wayward employee.
I don’t know why people hate me. And I’m learning to not care. I just wish I could hear more about why I’m valued and matter.
It’s funny how a number mean so much.
Ever since I turned 50 last October, I’ve been wondering if I am where I should be. What I mean is, am I doing serious work for serious pay? Am I even acting like a serious adult?
I’ve been dealing with those questions a lot over the last few months, but they went into overdrive after my most recent loss of a job. When you are let go of a job, you deal with a lot of guilt. If I had tried harder, then things would be different. I know that Aspergers and ADHD have something to do with my tumultuous career, but I still think I should have tried harder. As I said in a previous post, trying harder wasn’t going to change things. I probably would have failed even more spectacularly.
But when you have a neurological disability AND you’re fifty, you start to wonder if it’s time to try something new.
Now, I should add, I love the other part of my career, that of being a pastor. It’s not always easy, but I love what I do in that arena. But the pay right now isn’t enough to pay my way. I also want to do more than the pastor gig.
Usually, when I’ve lost a job, I’m looking at the job boards. I’ve focused mostly on nonprofits to find a position. But when you’re on the spectrum, working at a nonprofit is not always the best environment to be in. They don’t have the time or patience to work with you, and sometimes they don’t have the space to allow you to be creative. None of this is to say nonprofits are bad or the ones where I worked were bad. They just weren’t places where I could grow, or grow in my own way.
I’ve started to toy with looking for work sideways. Instead of looking for a job and sending in a resume, I’m looking at more freelance positions and I’m interested in positions and opportunities that are off the beaten path. I have enough communication skills to be able to hire myself out. I can write, I’m good with graphics and these last few months of online worship, sharpened my video editing skills.
I could see myself doing some freelancing, writing about politics or religion, or maybe cars. I could also work on websites and social media strategy. I’ve been interested in working on a team that produces a podcast or even create a podcast or YouTube Channel.
The challenge is trying to start. Most people say I have to do a lot of networking, which to be honest I really, hate. I know it is needed, but it feels fake to me. I also have to learn how to be a salesperson, which is also something I don’t like. I will have to learn how to do both in a way that I can tolerate.
So turning 50 might mean doing something new. Heck, I might find a “regular” job but find it in a different way.
If you know of any avenues I should give a look-see, please let me know. Of to find a new adventure.
American society has a strange view of work.
Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the reality of today’s global society, it is essential that “we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone,” no matter the limited interests of business and dubious economic reasoning. We were created with a vocation to work…
…Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work.
Work gives us meaning, it can help us grow personally, develop our talents and plan for the future. So work is vital to human flourishing.
So, why is it in American society in the 21st Century, work is viewed as a prize for the most talented?
Throughout my adult life, I’ve observed how work is not something where you are formed into a skilled worker. Instead, you must have all your skills ready to go. There is no interest in training an employee, they need to hit the ground running. In this environment, work becomes a prize handed out to the most talented. This is the meritocracy in action.
But we know that not everyone is ready the moment they start their job. Sometimes it takes time for people to grow into their position. In a culture where work is attained through merit, scores of people are forced to find whatever scraps they can in order to make a living.
There is a statistic that has gone around about the unemployment rate of persons with autism. The rate I’ve heard is somewhere around 85%. I’m uncertain how accurate is this picture, but I think there is some truth that the unemployment rate is high. I can’t answer for other people with autism, but I’ve always found the job market to be an uncaring place for me. The reason the unemployment rate for people who are autistic is this high is because of the kind of job market we have in America, one that is based on merit and one where professionals are valued and blue-collar positions are not.
Being on the spectrum means that I enter the job market with challenges. You learn soon enough that our society doesn’t have time to help those with neurological disabilities like autism or ADHD or dyslexia. Since those talents are easily visible or the mistakes are seen before the person, the potential employee is judged and more often than not is either not given a job or if they have a position are told to leave. In our merit-based system, if you have challenges, you are viewed as incompetent or lazy or stupid.
I’m not stupid, even if my self-esteem makes me feel that way. I have talent and skills. But when it comes to putting those talents to work in the workplace things have gone awry. I’ve tried to help my past supervisors understand my predicament and I hope for some grace and I don’t get it. Instead, I am let go for not doing a good enough job.
Most people with autism have talent, but it takes time for it to come to fore. What they need is encouragement that they are of value and that they have something to offer. It doesn’t happen by yelling at them or telling them to “step up,” as if they aren’t already doing that.
I then have to deal with the shame of having not lived up to expectations. Even though I’ve tried to make sure I don’t repeat the same mistakes. Even though I want to try harder and be better. But my autism always shines through and the mistakes happen. You live with this shame of not being a responsible partner to my husband. You live feeling that you aren’t talented, but an incompetent burden.
When you find yourself in a job where you make a mistake you feel you have to try harder to be a better worker. You think that way because your supervisors and coworkers think you aren’t really working that hard and just need to buck up. But the thing with autism/Aspergers, or ADHD or dyslexia is that you can’t simply work harder. Working harder doesn’t make a disability go away. The person with this kind of disability has to learn how to work with it and what they want from their employee is a little understanding; to ask questions before you start yelling.
Sometimes it takes time for someone to be at their best. Sometimes one has to work hard to get to the desired level. To get to that level means it takes time. However, time is something that is in short supply in the modern workplace. There is not a place for accommodation and training in a job market that runs according to the meritocracy.
I am working now with Vocation and Rehabilitation services from the State of Minnesota that will help with some job coaching. I’m hopeful it will allow me to find a workplace where I can grow and not feel a sense of shame or feel like a dunce.
But I think our job market must change- not just for people like me, but for everyone. We have to create an economy that is built more on seeing the worker as an apprentice, where people can learn their position, places where people can grow into their vocation. We need all of this because we need to stop seeing work as a prize, but as something that can be beneficial to the worker and society as well. If we want a society where less people are “on the dole” and more people are self-sufficient, then we need to see work as something that gives everyone, including people disabilities a semblance of dignity.
I know that there are things I have to do to work better with a disability. But this is a two-way street. One day, I want to come into an environment where I’m encouraged, especially when I fall short. I want to learn that I have value. I want start a new job knowing I don’t have to have all the answers or pretend that I know everything. I want to be secure at work and not worry if this is the day that I get fired for whatever reason. Work should be a place where you come as a student ready to learn.
Several years ago,I wrote a blog post relating to how persons with autism are like dandelions. A dandelion is a flower, but most of us look at them as weeds. People with autism and other people with disabilities are dandelions. For most of my work life, I’ve always felt like a weed to others. I’ve never felt that I had talent or smarts. I’ve found it hard to feel that I have worth. I know that some of this is me changing my own attitude, but it is hard to do that when you are judged so often. You start to believe what others say about you.
But I believe that I am more than a weed. I think I have some flower in me. I know that I have skills and passions in writing. I know I have a desire to try new things and to learn new skills and my portfolio is replete with work where I learned how to write better or make better graphic design. I know I am flawed, but unbeknownst to most hiring managers and potential and past supervisors, I am also someone of great talent and determination. I wish that people could see that before looking at my faults.
Our meritocratic society believes that people with neurological disabilities are worthless weeds. Nonsense. We are flowers that can be beautiful. You just have to look at things differently.
You just need to look at me differently.
Like a lot of people around the world, I’ve been wearing a mask for a few months. I used to always wonder why people from Asian nations wore masks and now I know. Most people are wearing them to protect other people from catching the coronavirus. The masks most of us wear aren’t going to protect us from the virus, but it can prevent the other person from you if you happen to have the virus and since you can be asymptomatic, it makes sense to wear a mask in public places. It’s weird for all of us to have to wear these masks covering our mouths, but if it can slow the spread of the virus it kind of makes sense.
Well, it makes sense to most people. Some like this gentleman in Florida, seem to think putting on a mask is some kind of conspiracy.
There is a movement taking place where wearing a mask is not something you do out of safety, but out of weakness. R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine caused a stir in May as he shared his thoughts on the issue. In one of his widely shared tweets he said the following:
Just to reinforce. Talked to my son in Seattle. The mask culture if fear driven. Masks+cowardice. It’s a regime dominate by fear of infection and fear of causing of infection. Both are species of cowardice.
Just to make sure people got the point he added the following tweet:
By the way, the WWII vets did not wear masks. They’re men, not cowards. Masks=enforced cowardice.
To say that all of this caused a stir is an understatement. Many, many people responded to the series of tweets with a lot of righteous anger. That response must have rattled Reno because he not only deleted the tweets, he deleted his entire Twitter account. So much for being manly.
Wearing of masks is not unheard of in America. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, there were people who wore masks and those that didn’t. Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle had ordinances requiring people to wear masks. Just as there were recommendations and laws were in place back then, there were people that opposed such a requirement. San Francisco had something called an Anti-Mask League.
Reno is a Christian, and he is presenting a view about what our faith says about wearing masks. In his view, Christianity is supposed to be strong and not weak. It isn’t cowardly and fearful, but it should be daring and bold.
But is that a Christian view? In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul lifts up Christ as an example of what it means to be a Christian. Paul says:
4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
To live as a follower of Jesus, means being willing to be humble and to live for other people. We aren’t wearing masks because we are scared, we wear them to protect others. Since someone can be asymptomatic, wearing a mask stops the virus from spreading to others. If we are follower of Jesus, we aren’t being cowards, but caring for the other. Wearing a mask protects my 86 year-old mother from getting the virus. Wearing a mask protects the person at the check out at the grocery store. Being a Christian is as much about living the faith than it is talking about faith.
One day, we won’t have to wear these masks and I will be happy. But for now, I’m going to wear the mask because when we wonder if Jesus would wear a mask, all I need to do is look to Philippians to know the answer.
Comfort foods. We all have them. We have something that we like to eat that makes us feel good inside. When you’re having a terrible day or you feel under the weather, having your favorite meal or drink can be a bit of a pick-me-up.
My comfort food is shrimp fried rice. I think I love it because it harkens back to simpler days when I was young. I remember eating shrimp fried rice as a kid and the best place to go get that dish was a Chinese restaurant in my hometown of Flint, Michgan called Kenjo’s. It was just at the edge of downtown and I remember we would go there at times to have lunch after church.
These days when I have a bad day, I will still order shrimp fried rice. At the age of 50, life is not as carefree as it was when I was 10. Getting a good dish of Shrimp Fried Rice especially when life seems to be going sideways, makes me feel good.
Comfort food makes us feel good. Comfort food is….comfortable.
Sometimes in life we need comfort when we feel beaten up by life. Or when we are grieving the loss of a loved one. Comfort is even found in the Bible. Comfort, comfort my people, God says to the people of Israel in Isaiah. That message is a balm to the Israelites who at the time of the writing are in exile, far away from their homeland.
But for Christians, comfort can be something that keeps us from taking part in God’s work in the world.
It’s so easy to want church to be comfortable. We want to meet our friends and listen to the choir or even sit in our favorite pew. As humans, we love the familiar. We don’t want to have to face our fears. We don’t want to fail. It’s much easier for us to stay in our comfort zones where things are familiar and things are safe. But is that what God wants for us? Did Jesus stay in a comfort zone?
In the tenth chapter of the book of Acts, Peter is called to go and preach the gospel to a Roman soldier, a gentile named Corneilus. At first, he isn’t crazy about this. He believed the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all was a message that was for Jews and not for Gentiles like Corneilus. God had to show him in a dream that yes, going into all the world preaching the good news and making disciples to was something God wanted shared with everybody. None of this was in Peter’s plans. But he listened to God and decided to go and visit Cornielus. Peter had to get out of his comfort zone and it’s a good thing he did. His message to Cornielius touched the Roman and his household and the Spirit moved among them. Peter realizes that the gospel belonged to these Gentiles as much as it ever did to him.
Peter got out of his comfort zone. What about us? A friend shared a quote attributed to Pope Francis that I’d like to share:
“The Holy Spirit annoys us. The Spirit moves us, makes us walk, pushes the church to move forward. [But] we want the Holy Spirit to calm down. We want to tame the Holy Spirit, and that just won’t do. The Holy Spirit gives us consolation and the strength to move forward and the moving forward part is what can be such a bother. People think it’s better to be comfortable, but that is not what the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit brings.”
The Holy Spirit comes to our lives and communities of faith in wind and fire and as comfort food. And that terrifies us. We don’t want the Holy Spirit sending us to do unfamiliar things. In some ways we want to be like Bilbo Baggins, the famous hobbit in JRR Tokien’s novels who was content to live a simple and comfortable life. But then life comes crashing in literally and he is pressed into service because the world was in danger and his help was needed.
Our own world is in danger. We have a pandemic that is flaring up again putting millions in danger. We are dealing with the long history of police going after people of color. Race relations are at a low ebb. What is God calling us to do? And are we willing to follow even when we don’t want to and wish the Holy Spirit would shut up every one in a while?
Comfort is great when it comes to food. When it comes to churches? Not so much.