With Malice Towards None

The following is my reflection for the Midweek Vespers service. You can watch the video below.

“Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

Colossians 3:13-14

It’s almost over.  We have still have a few states that are still yet to be called, but hopefully, in the next 24 hours or so, we should know for certain who is going to be the next President of the United States.  

Even though I’m a pastor, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t have a favorite in this race.  I did.  But I don’t want to talk as much about the election than about what happens afterward.  How do we live together as a nation?  How can the church be a Christ-like example to our nation and world?

We are a nation that is bitterly divided ideologically.  Liberals and conservatives look at each other with open contempt and as a nation, we seem to have less and less in common with each other.  We don’t understand each other.  I have to be honest, I’ve had my moments where I wondered if I should bother to reach out to those that planned to vote for the other candidate. It’s not any better in the church.  Churches tend to line up around politics.  More often than not, we tend to mirror the world instead of providing an example.

I’ve seen a number of people, including pastors that tend to downplay the calls for unity believing them to be a way of ignoring injustice. 

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.  Even after a hard-fought campaign, we who are followers of Jesus are called to tolerate and forgive others and at the end of the day be united in Christ.

As Christians, we have to be agents not just of justice, but of reconciliation.  We have to find ways to heal the bonds that have been broken by politicians and even by ourselves.  Sometimes that means going beyond who is in the White House and figuring our what is God calling us to do.  Yuval Levin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that some of what needs to be done rest on what we are being called to do at a local level. He writes in the New York Times:

“It can begin with a simple question, asked in little moments of decision: “Given my role here, what should I be doing?” As a parent or a neighbor, a pastor or a congregant, an employer or an employee, a teacher or a student, a legislator or a citizen, how should I act in this situation? We ask that question to recover relational responsibility.”

We live in a time where we are so divided that we want the other guy to be responsible.  But we are responsible for each other.  We are our sister and brother’s keeper.  

I’ll end today with the last paragraph from President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, given a month before the end of the Civil War and his assassination because it seems so fitting at this moment.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the

right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we

are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the

battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and

cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

May it be so.

Everything and Nothing At All.

Every Wednesday, I do a Midweek Vespers video where we come together for prayer and reflection. I will start posting them here on Wednesdays. Below is today’s video.

Midweek Vespers is a time when we gather to reflect and pray for our world. Join us each Wednesday at 5:30 PM Central fccsaintpaul.org

This week’s episode: From Matthew 19, Jesus meets a well-to-do young man who asks what he needs to do to have eternal life. Jesus’ answer? Everything and nothing at all.

Jesus drives a hard bargain, doesn’t he?  A young man comes by to ask what he can do to obtain eternal life.  Jesus repeats back to him the law, which the young man said he had followed since he was a child?  Then, Jesus asks him to sell all he has to poor and then follow Jesus.  That was too much for the young man who walked away sad.  

One of the questions that I have is why did the young man ask the question anyway? He had followed the law, but he seemed to think he was still not doing something right.  When Jesus throws him for a loop, that is usually interpreted as his holding on too much to his possessions.  There is some truth to that, but what if this is also showing that using the law as a checklist will never bring salvation.  The young man did everything that was required of him, but when Jesus told him to give everything to the poor, he realized how high the cost would be and for him the cost was far too much.

Jesus didn’t come to get rid of the law, but to bring it to fulfillment.  Using the law in the way the young man did would never bring the righteousness he longed for.  Jesus was asking him to see the law in a different way- as a relationship with God and with his neighbors. The grace of Jesus Christ doesn’t take away the law, it helps us to see it in a different way.  

A rich man can’t enter heaven, not without the grace of Jesus.  The young man believed he could do it with his hard work under the law. But that wasn’t going to work when it asked so much of him.  

So, what about us?  We still tend to  think that doing things is what brings us salvation.  However, it is only Jesus that can save us.  The apostle Paul shares in 1 Corinthians 13 that even if he gave everything it would not amount to much.  “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  

Grace doesn’t do away with the law, but it changes its meaning.  Following the law is about relationship and not about getting brownie points.  We can get off the treadmill that keeps us trying to please God and others and enter into the gracious love of Jesus.

What must you do to gain eternal life? Everything and nothing at all.

The Church Has Left the Building

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.

Finding God in the Drive-Thru Lane

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.   

Damage Report!

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.

Brayden’s Big Break

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.

Can I Be Angry?

 

 

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.

Why Do People Hate Me?

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.

Life at 50

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.

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash